Trisha Reloaded

Dedicated to Trisha, as always. Dedicated also to L, my source of inspiration, and the reason why I choose to see the bright side of teaching.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Do we really need tuition?

In 2007, I would have to make a major deicision concerning my daughter and it's got to do with tuition. Specifically, it has to do with whether I should get her a Maths tutor because she scored just over 60 marks for her Pri 2 SA2 last year.

I think for most parents, this is a non-issue. A Maths score like my daughter's would send alram bells ringing and the parents scrambling to get the best tutor money can buy. But to me, deciding whether to subject my girl to extra tuition lessons is a big, agonising issue. Because (and apologies to the many private tutors out there making a living) I believe tuition is a major evil in our society. Perhaps a necessary evil, but an evil nonetheless that we should spare our kids from. For it robs your kids of precious time they could spend doing more enjoyable activities, it chips away at your kids' self-esteem unconsciously, and it sends the message to your kids that they are not good/fast/smart enough and hence need the extra help.

I believe that if schools are doing things right, most kids would not need tuition at all. The fact that many kids, even those from good schools, are having tuition, is a sign that something is very wrong, either with our education system, society's or parents' expectations or a combination of these.

I try to be objective, logical and analytical about my daughter's performance. So I tell myself, her Maths scores are below average possibly because :

1) the Maths syllabus is beyond that of an average 7 year-old
This means that the kids who do well in her school are either Maths geniuses (out of the norm), or have Maths tuition to help them cope with the demanding curriculum (that means the syllabus IS flawed); this also means she may be able to cope with the syllabus if given more time for her mental development to catch up (but streaming will start in Pri 4 - can she catch up by then?);

2) she is a right-brain child, i.e. not strong in Maths
This is fine with me except that the Singapore curriculum favours heavily the left-brain faculties (e.g. students must pass Maths at O levels to get into JC/polytechnic, PSLE aggregate is weighted heavily towards Maths). So while it is acceptable to me if she hates Maths and likes art, for example, she is not going to make it very well in a system that demands every kid to be an all-rounder (must be bilingual, passes Maths and loves Humanities subjects!);

3) she had an incompetent Maths teacher who didn't teach her well
Well, if that is the case, then it is not something I can solve. Being a teacher myself, I hesitate to label any teacher incompetent because I know it is not easy to cater to the needs of so many kids. Also, the reality is that not every teacher is a super teacher so we as parents need to recognise that in the course of our children's schooling, there will always be teachers who are mediocre, uninspiring or less committed. In spite of this, if our education system is sound, our children should not have to suffer such crippling penalty by being under the tutelage of a below-average teacher because such teachers should be the minority - unless of course, our system is not as sound as we thought.

Having gone through points 1 to 3 above, I am still in a conumdrum. I feel paralyzed against a system that seems stacked against my girl's natural inclinations (a fondness for art, imagination, handicraft) and one that is bent on producing cookie cutter models that excel in 2 languages and love numbers. An 8 year old shouldn't have to feel that she's not smart enough for school!

So I'm resisting the urge to look for a Maths tutor for I'm very worried that once we start on this road to tuition, it will become an uncontrollable slide into educational handicap. For while I see there's nothing deficient with my girl's academic abilities, tuition will somehow make her feel that there's something inferior about her. Tuition will become a crutch, and we can forget about developing independent learners. Yet, if she doesn't catch up soon in Maths, she will get more and more left behind in this madcap academic race.

Perhaps I'm exaggerating the negative effects of tuition too much. I see many kids who have tuition and they seem pretty self-assured to me. However, the cynical instinct in me tells me these are kids who have been indoctrinated with the belief that tuition is necessary for them to survive, and because they are no longer in the minority, it is perfectly normal to spend your weekends going for extra classes. That, to me, is a sad situation to be in. Tuition should not be the norm. It is abnormal. It is unnecessary. It should only be a last resort, like a secret underground operative that people turn to when they run out of all options, not a thriving multi-million dollar business the way it is here.

Parents who have gone through similar struggles please share your insights with me. When I told my daughter that she may need tuition this year, she gave me such a look of despair that I couldn't find it in my heart to inflict more damage to her self-esteem!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Panic Button

What do you do when your boss had told you, way back in November, to do a certain job, and you had procrastinated, and hemmed and hawed your way, till now, less than 24 hours from the year-end staff meeting, you had not done a damn thing and can't think of a good excuse?

I'm a bad bad bad teacher. How do I tell my students to hand in their work on time next year?

Monday, December 25, 2006


"I've got Japan withdrawal." I sms-ed my sis-in-law, while on my way to Takashimaya, 4 days after I returned from my holiday in Japan. I needed to breathe in some Japanese air, I had told her. Pseudo or not, it didn't matter. Pathetic, I know, but I can't help but be mesmerized by the Japan I had a glimpse of.

Maybe it's the legendary Japanese service I had read of, and then encountered on my short trip there. How the 8 front desk staff of the small hotel we were staying at had come out in near 0 degree temprature to stand along the sides of the pathway to wave goodbye to us while our tour bus drove off. How the old lady who sold apples in a market had refused the Y200 we wanted to pay her for the small apples she gave my daughter. And how in a crowded shopping street in Osaka, like this one :

cyclists pedalled silently behind you, too polite to ring their bells to tell you to make way for them, and instead waited for you to realise their presence and move aside for them to pass.

Then there were the breath-takingly beautiful foliage on the temple grounds, such as these:

as well as quaint houses and shops:

There was also the memory of the sparkle in my girl's eyes as she saw snow for the first time, and how she adamantly refused any help to build her first snow man:

Then when Mt Fuji loomed majestically behind the rooftops, we squealed with delight. "You are very lucky," our guide told us, "Mt Fuji is only visible 56 days in a year. Most of the time, it's hidden by the clouds." But there it was, right outside our window. We tumbled out of the bus to marvel at the spectacle, a primeval behemoth that made you gasp in wonder. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth!" I wanted to shout, for in the face of unspeakable beauty, there are no other words adequate enough to express my sense of awe.

All too soon, it was time to leave the Land of the Rising Sun. But Japan had cast its spell on me. I was hooked, seduced, captured. And I know I would be back.

Monday, December 04, 2006

This auntie can run

This post is 2 days late but it's taken me that long to get my butt off the sofa since I've completed the Standard Chartered 10km run on 3 Dec.

10km may be a walk in the park for seasoned runners. But for me, it is the grandmama of marathon. I have never ever completed any course more than 3.2km (and this was at my school's Cross Country event this year). During my annual Physical Fitness Tests in school many years ago, I remembered struggling excruciatingly through my 2.4km run, coming in looking ashen and in a collapsible mess, and had to be escorted to the sick bay later to recover from the trauma. Needless to say, I had never passed the 2.4km event. I was just relieved I didn't have to be sent off in an ambulance after the torture.

So when my brother asked me if I would like to join him for the 10km run this year, it took a while before a lily-livered me mumbled a reluctant yes. The only reason I insanely thought I could survive this ordeal was my sis-in-law (bless her heart!). She told me she did it last year, while 2 months pregnant. Instantly, the Ah-Beng instinct in me was roused. You know, when an Ah Beng gets challenged like that, he cannot take it lying down right? Never mind that my sis-in-law is years younger and hence less rickety than me, I mean, if a pregnant woman can run 10km, surely an unemcumbered tennis-playing auntie like me can do it too?

So my day of reckoning came on 3 Dec. I was awed by the electrically-charged atmosphere and the festivity of the occasion. The fact that I wasn't the only cellulite-laden, wobbly thighed middle-ager there was a huge comfort to me. The weather was superb, the mood exuberant and when the start-off signal sounded, it was me, my Zen V, and thousands of sneakers that pounded the streets of the CBD and beyond.

And then, more than 1.5 hrs later, as if I was hallucinating, I heard the cheers of the supporters. The end was near. My legs were moving as if they had a mind of their own. The agony in the muscles was numbingly present, yet I was oblivious to it, because the delirium of finally accomplishing what I thought was impossible was finally threatening to wash over me.

I looked up at the time board at the Finishing Point. 1 hr 40 min. I forgot to smile for the cameras. But it didn't matter. I had done it, ran the race of my life and survived.