Primary 1 Registration – Going Into Ballot

81.

That was Xander’s alloted ballot number. I assumed it would be a smaller number, seeing as we were one of the first registrants for the Primary 1 registration under Phase 2B for this school. But it was just as well, because we got to the school about 10 minutes late. I overslept; it’s one of the ways I handle anxiety.

image

And when we finally shuffled into the packed multi-purpose room full of anxious parents (all not enough sleep, I bet), the school’s vice-principal was already reciting the list of registrants into the 30s. Midway through, another school staffer would interject, saying that the balloting equipment (the spinning dome, balloting balls, and procedures are supplied by MOE, and the entire process is strictly governed “to ensure fairness for all”.

One set of parents in the room were particularly anxious; they were parents to a pair of twins, both of whom were sharing one ballot number. The vice-principal made sure to explain the technicalities behind this arrangement (siblings go together as per MOE policy, so if their ballot wasn’t drawn, they’d draw another ballot ball at the end for the extra seat. They were allotted Ballot Ball 1.

When the vice-principal got to the last name, a call for questions is thrown to the floor. Everyone keeps quiet. After a 5-second pause, the spin begins.

They announce every single step,from the shuffling of the balls in the spinning dome, to the drawing of the balls announcing of the numbers and reciting the name of the child attached to the number.

Nerve-wracking is an understatement. Each spin of the ballot dome, every crackling of balls hitting each other sends reverberations of tense hope, and every time the dome stops, so does the heart of every single one of the 100-odd parents sitting nervously in the room.

At the announcement of the 3rd or 4th ballot ball, one mother couldn’t contain her yelp of joy and relief. The slight commotion was met with awkward stares all around the packed room, and the excitable mother couldn’t compose herself quickly enough. No one else dared yelp after that.

15 balls in, the school bell rings. Children are cheering for the end of one period and the beginning of another, oblivious to what’s happening in the room packed full of parents. I couldn’t take much more of this. I turn to look at the Wife with a slight pained expression, and say to her in a hushed, serious tone, “I need to go toilet.”

That’s another way I handle anxiety.

I return, relieved somewhat, and Xander’s ball still hasn’t been called. Towards the end of the balloting, Ballot Ball 1 is called. The announcement is followed by a loud murmur throughout the room; the twins have their places. The vice-principal then addresses the murmur by saying there are now 11 vacancies left. The tense reminder silences the room again. The dome spins again, then stops. A ball is drawn, and the vice-principal raises his microphone.

“81.”

***

What of the unsuccessful registrants? The vice-principal was mindful enough to let them know after the balloting was done that their registration documents will be sent back to them, and the parents will be required to re-register again for the Phase 2C.

Postscript Update: It must be said, this post was meant to be a first-person documentation of at least this part of the P1 registration process (as detailed as MOE’s explanation is on their website, one can barely find any commentary on what goes on at any given part of it – now we all know the primary school balloting process is really like an official drawing of winning Toto numbers).

The Blogfather feels just as iffy about the entire phasing mechanism as anyone who has an opinion about it does (and it looks like there’s a lot of people who have an opinion about it). But whatever can, should and will be said about the Primary One registration process in all its wonderful segregatory glory, it’s the only process we have at present, and it’s a national process. So we’re all going to have to get with the programme.

For now.

Every School a Good School – But Which One is Best?

The atmosphere is infectious. And not in a good way.

Young parents stand nervously around the school porch waiting for their number to be called. Those who’ve volunteered their time to help handle the crowd at last year’s registration will know, the timing of your number being called is crucial. If your number is called too early, it usually means a document is missing, or a qualifying criteria wasn’t met. If your number is called late, there’s likely been a hitch in administration, and your agonising wait is made even more agonising by the delay.

It doesn’t help that the parents come to register in pairs as a safeguard in case one parent is holding information or documentation that the other one wouldn’t have on hand. The waiting crowd visually inflates the actual number of registrants vying for the vacancies (and, based on the registration phases progress chart helpfully posted on a makeshift whiteboard nearby, not much more than the 20 reserved seats for just this phase).

Aside from the school administration staff handling the paper shuffling, who have to put up a brave front during these events, no one else is smiling, even though some of us know each other from our parent volunteering stints over the past year.

P1-reg-wait

Our number gets called up. We submit the one and only form we were asked to fill out in triplicate indicating our family’s information and that we fulfilled our parent volunteer obligations as a pre-requisite for Phase 2B. About 15 minutes later, our number was called again, and we were handed one of the copies of the form indicating that the results of our application would be announced on Friday.

The next day, a fellow parent volunteer messaged me to tell me we’re going into balloting.

***

Phase 2B this year has turned out to be more tense an affair than last year, with a record 31 primary schools oversubscribed compared to 24 from last year. It also puts to rest once and for all any speculation that parent volunteering ensures you a place in the primary school of your choosing. There’s been rising dissent to the phasings of the Primary 1 registration process, so much so that stop-gap measures had to be put in to ensure certain groups get priority over others (right down to who gets to go in the balloting box: first priority to Singapore citizens, followed by closest distance between applicant’s residential address to the school). Unsuccessful applicants from a previous phase can try again in the next phase, but again, this is by no means a guarantee of a spot; if anything, the competition will only get stiffer with every unsuccessful play because you’ll be contending with a new, larger batch of applicants together with the spillover from the previous phases.

When Education Minister Heng Swee Keat first came up with the tagline “Every School a Good School”, parents of young children across the nation let out a collective, sarcastic snigger so loud he had to re-explain the phrase he tried to coin. Top school principals were reshuffled into heartland schools, school banding was eliminated, and the MOE Facebook page started regularly publishing features on neighbourhood schools that, in the Minister’s own “let-me-clarify” words, “good in its own way, seeking to bring out the best in every child.”

But the reputation of the really good schools precede them, and that precedent has so far only managed to overtake the efforts to play down their worth. And having brought us all up to judge our peers, our environment, and ourselves based on the logic of meritocracy, one simply cannot expect to stop a nation of self-respecting parents not to want the best for their child. No one has ever faulted the Singapore education system for being sub-standard (in fact, we’re actually complaining that our kids aren’t failing enough),  but with a list of 187 primary schools, all segregated in clusters, inevitably parents will seek to do some banding of their own. Therein lies psychologist Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice, creating his similarly-implied anxiety to both the parent shopping for a primary school, and, as it were, the national education provider.

I know of parents that have refused to partake in this anxiety, choosing to be allocated a school in their immediate vicinity; they have the Blogfather’s full respect for being able to resist what we could not, but even they will tell you the only reason they took the stance was because they, too, were afflicted with the same anxiety when it was time to take on the Primary 1 Registration monster. As I said in the beginning, the atmosphere is infectious, and not in a good way.

Ultimately, the only thing you can be assured of is that your child will go into a primary school, thanks to the government’s long-standing no-child-left-behind policy.

The primary school of your choosing“.

Interestingly, my son, who is the centre of our whole ordeal with the registration process, has absolutely no idea what is going on. Until things are firmed up as to which school he will ultimately enrol in, we’re just going to let him lead his almost-carefree kindergarten life for the next few weeks…

… while we continue to infect the atmosphere with our anxiety as parents of a child going into Primary 1.

[The PV Series] The Children’s Day Funfair

Children’s Day has been pretty confusing of late for us parents. I always preferred the 1 October allotment over the current First Friday of October arrangement, simply because it was so much easier to remember. But I did see the point for the day to be moved right into a long weekend for the kids. And so it was that the school I volunteered in was planning a funfair for the kids just the day before they had their long weekend break.

funfair

Now, technically speaking, the annual Children’s Day Funfair is a Parent Support Group (PSG) event, and for the uninitiated (that means pretty much all of us young parents) there is a significant different between the PSG and parent volunteers (PV), namely that the PSG volunteers are parents whose kids are already in the school and PSG volunteers are self-managed, while the PVs volunteer in the hopes that their kids can eventually get in, and these volunteers are managed by the school.

Thus it makes sense that the PSG committee take the reins in planning annual events such as this, since it would take experience to run such things relatively smoothly. But then, how did The Blogfather get involved with the PSG as a PV then?

For one, I can draw (specifically, on Adobe Illustrator).

signs-group

When the signs were produced, the committee members were so enamoured with the artwork, they proudly included the signs in practically every single groupshot they took at the fairground.

signs-collage

And then, there was the fact that I knew some people who knew some people who could get me some things that some people I knew might find useful.

contri-hasbro

‘Nuff said.

I will add that I was with the funfair planning committee through the 3 months it took to get everything together. And boy, were these people resourceful. Most of the games equipment were sourced online from suppliers based in China, which were then delivered to a PSG member’s sister’s China office and flown over via a couple of trips worth of check-in luggage. The rest were either made or recycled from last year’s funfair. And by the day of the funfair, the committee managed to bring together about 100 volunteers over two shifts to take care of 17 game stalls and large waves of primary school children from every level.

The foremost thing on everyone’s mind, though, was making sure the kids had something to remember their life in school by. Unfortunately, The Blogfather isn’t quite able to comment on the proceedings of the day, but I did get The Wife to attend the funfair, partly to help me document the event in words and pictures, partly to get her to experience parent volunteering at a primary school for the first time.

How did it go for her rather pregnant self? All I can say for now is that my phone was buzzing non-stop at work that day from her excited up-to-the-minute WhatsApp updates. You need to keep an eye out for her post, coming soon on Mother of Xander.

ty-hasbro

In the meantime, on behalf of the schoolchildren, the school PSG and me, I’d like to give a thousand thanks to HASBRO SINGAPORE for their generous contribution of toys and other goodies as part of the funfair’s prizes and games equipment. Your generosity added even more brightness into the hearts of our funfair volunteers, and in the faces of a thousand happy children.

The Fairy Tale Must End

Last week, friend and mum blogger Rachel of Catch Forty Winks published a post about a set of answers by a child from a Primary School test paper (it’s since gone viral) that were marked incorrect based on the contextual understanding of fairy tales instead of grammar and sentence construction (which would otherwise have been no problem at all).

I left a comment there saying it was an extremely problematic test question if the teacher were to bank in on a single model answer in an “answer scheme”. If you’ve seen the questions Rachel featured on her post, then consider the following answers:

The snake turned the fairy godmother into a handsome prince.

The handsome prince turned the snake into a fairy godmother.

As far as grammar and sentence construction goes, absolutely faultless. And if put in context of a properly twisted story, easily proven sensible (prince found a wand, scared of snake, so turned him into a fairy godmother instead lor).

Or how about this:

The castle on the green field was beautiful.

That brings the context back to what the teacher would deem as conceptually correct. But if this was not provided as an alternative in the answer scheme, what would be the course of action?

Well, I do know of at least one story where the fairy godmother would likely turn a prince into snake.
Well, I do know of at least one fairy tale where the fairy godmother isn’t nice.

The commentary about local educators’ staunch adherence to an established/archaic academic standard?has been pretty well-covered over the years by parent bloggers and education pundits around the island (even me); I won’t revisit the argument here. But there was a comment in the discussion following Rachel’s post that I just had to take issue with (with no offence to the commentor specifically), which cast fairy tales (as we know it today) as an established genre carrying “certain predictable plots and characters”, an “element of magic and fantasy” and stereotypical “good vs evil” plots and “happily-ever-after ending(s)”, some with a moral of the story meant to guide children along a correct path, both in terms of character education and – by understanding the genre thoroughly – in creative writing as well.

The argument actually sounds quite, uh, sound… until you dig a little deeper into how fairy tales evolved, from spoken word to written form and its modern iteration in media and pop culture. But (rather more frivolously), it also gives me an excuse to give you a brief introduction on how fairy tales came about, and why, as the closet perverts most of us are, you will undoubtedly get more curious after reading this.

(I may ruin a number of children’s fairy tale plays running in a few theatres right now. You’ve been warned.)

I grew up on the same understanding of the mainstream fairy tale genre as everyone else; saccharin sweet damsels-in-distresses waiting for their charming prince to defend them against monsters and witches who would eventually be cast away for a happy ending. Then, a few years ago, I spotted a copy of the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales sitting in my sister’s bookshelf. Knowing it to be a collection of short stories, and having a couple of minutes to burn, I flipped through the stories. And the more I flipped, the more my eyes widened; I ended up borrowing the book for an extended study.

A Gustaf Tenggren illustration in an 1823 edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales (via Animation Resources)
A Gustaf Tenggren illustration in an 1823 edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (via Animation Resources)

Wikipedia has a good summation of what I read from the original Brothers Grimm stories:

“The first volumes were much criticized because, although they were called ‘Children’s Tales’, they were not regarded as suitable for children, both for the scholarly information included and the subject matter. Many changes through the editions – such as turning the wicked mother of the first edition in Snow White and Hansel and Gretel (…) to a stepmother, were probably made with an eye to such suitability. They removed sexual references – such as Rapunzel’s innocently asking why her dress was getting tight around her belly, and thus naively revealing her pregnancy and the prince’s visits to her stepmother – but, in many respects, violence, particularly when punishing villains, was increased.”

The argument for instilling fairy tale morals as values to be followed becomes more flawed over the next paragraph (which I can also attest is present in the original Grimm’s stories):

“The tales themselves have been put to many uses. Hitler praised them as folkish tales showing children with sound racial instincts seeking racially pure marriage partners, and so strongly that the Allied forces warned against them; for instance, Cinderella?with the heroine as racially pure, the stepmother as an alien, and the prince with an unspoiled instinct being able to distinguish. Writers who have written about the Holocaust have combined the tales with their memoirs, as Jane Yolen in her Briar Rose.”

Having read the old tales, I will say with some authority that the Brothers Grimm qualify as the 17th?19th century (thanks, JoAnn!) German writer’s equivalent of Quentin Tarantino. I mean, there’s a lot of sex in there! And violence! And… stuff. And it’s not just the brothers, either: many of the fairy tales we’ve come to know and love that aren’t Grimm’s products have similar less-than-savoury elements.

Needless to say, our modern versions (available at all neighbourhood libraries and your nearest video store) have been quite well-modified for a much more acceptable G-rating. And the most defining traits of the genre – the stereotypical characters, the good vs evil premise and the feel-good endings – are the result of the editing, manipulation and?extensive exercising of their creative licence?of one corporate entity that we all fondly know of as The Walt Disney Company.

The modern-day fairy tale may be regressing to its original coarseness though.
The modern-day fairy tale may be regressing to its original coarseness though.

It’s all well and good, but there’s a little niggly feeling inside of me that finds the whole argument for a fairy-tale module hard to swallow, particularly if the morals and values of said fairy tales, so well accepted by our local language educators, were in fact shaped by a multinational media company, and not, as all other primary school subjects are, subject to scientific, mathematical or (at the risk of contradiction to the “archaism” argument) historical or even (at the risk of sounding like I support this) governmentally underwritten socio-democratic standards.

I remember putting down my sister’s book, feeling like I was living a lie this entire time. One can view this with nonchalance, or even say “Well, it’s been corrected now, so what’s the problem?”, but somehow, I cannot bring myself to live down the hypocrisy. I guess The Blogfather is not as forgiving as he would like to be.

And the scariest thing is, this is just one facet of the many complexities over the different subjects, modules and syllabuses we have to face as parents when we try to contend with the education system at large our children enter into; the debate can go on forever (and I’m fully expecting someone will say something to contribute to this discussion, too).

***

Oh yes. If you want to borrow my sister’s Grimm’s tome for a look-see, she says no.

[The PV Series] Canteen Duty During Ramadan

The past month, I’ve been hanging out at the primary school where I volunteer almost every evening. Parent volunteers and Parents Support Group (PSG) members (volunteers whose children were already enrolled in the school) were being called in to assist in caregiving during the Ramadan period, so the Muslim teachers in the afternoon session could leave earlier to break their fast. The classes they were in charge of during the last period of the day would all be seated in the canteen for about half an hour to the capable hands of the available 1 or 2 non-Muslim teachers, and us.

PV-Canteen-Duty

When we were first briefed in what the school called “canteen duty”, we were handed a list of standard operating procedures (SOPs) to follow, which went to the tune of the following:

***

SOP for doing Canteen Duty during Fasting Month

1) Do ensure that the pupils are doing their own work in the canteen.

2) Do ensure the safety of our pupils in the canteen.

3) Assist the pupils in their work (when needed).

4) Allow only 2 pupils to go to the restroom at each time for each class.

5) Assist in the dismissal of the pupils from canteen to the parade square at 6.30pm.

6) During wet weather, do assist in the dismissal of the pupils from canteen to the respective gates upon the instructions of the teacher-in-charge.

***

It seemed simple enough… until the pupils came in.

How Do The Teachers Do It?!

The most notable difference between full-fledged teachers and parent volunteers is the volume of their voice: parent volunteers will tend to speak gently to the oh-so-cute Primary 1 and 2 kids, making sure we attend to as much of their needs as possible within the stipulated guidelines. The teachers, however, have no qualms carrying their voices across the entire canteen area to make one simple point to the 5-6 classes – SILENCE, OR ELSE.

You can imagine whose heads the kids will tend to climb over.

About 4 sessions later of observing how the teachers skilfully navigate their way around the rowdiness, and I was barely getting the hang of controlling a crowd I never imagined I would have an audience of, though I was gaining a reputation among the other parent volunteers as “the one who will scold”.

As for the SOPs…

1) Do ensure that the pupils are doing their own work in the canteen.

PV-Pupils-Work

It’s one thing to guide your preschooler through spelling 8 words on a Sunday night just before bed (though the wife and I will still attest to it being suitably stressful). But just try to ensure a class of 30 kids will complete their allotted schoolwork in the span of half an hour, and you will appreciate why it takes 1 year of training for university graduates to qualify as a primary school teacher.

2) Do ensure the safety of our pupils in the canteen.

We had very little problems with this one, because the kids were mostly able to look out for themselves. In fact, they were so adept at it, they would avoid certain tables because “Uncle/Teacher, here got bird poopoo! We cannot sit here!”, and subsequently ostracise the poor table and benches for the rest of the period.

3) Assist the pupils in their work (when needed).

Again, easier said than done. You know you shouldn’t be giving them straight answers; they come to school to learn, don’t they? But it takes brain cells to come up with a suitable roundabout way for the pupil to come up with the correct answer him- or herself.

Pupil: “Excuse me, uncle. what is the answer to this?”
Me: “Okay. 7 plus 6 equals… what?”
Pupil: “I dunno.”
Me: “Er, well, count with your fingers.”
Pupil: “6, 7, 8, 9… Uncle. I not enough fingers.”
Me: “Uh… borrow some more from your friend.”
Kid next to pupil: “I duwan.”

4) Allow only 2 pupils to go to the restroom at each time for each class.

There’s a trick to this that I did not understand until a few days later: most kids do not go to the toilet because they need to pee. They ask to go to the toilet because they want to be anywhere but where they should be.

I learnt this the hard way, when two girls came up to me the first day of my canteen duty and asked to go to the toilet about 5 minutes before it was time to leave the canteen for the flag-lowering ceremony. They did not return until after the national anthem was sung and everybody was carrying their bags, ready to bolt.

After a while, you learn to identify when someone seriously needs to go to the toilet and when someone is just trying to make a break for it. When a pupil comes up to you with a slightly worried look, legs pressed together and doing tiny hops from left to right, they need to go. But when a pupil comes up to you, with a cheeky smile and an inexplicable glint in his eye, you say NO.

5) Assist in the dismissal of the pupils from canteen to the parade square at 6.30pm.

PV-flag-lowering

This brought back memories for me. The off-sync, faster-than-what’s-being-played-on-the-PA-system singing, the class-by-class dismissals, the occasional teacher silently sneaking up behind an overtly fidgety pupil who only notices too late that he’s just gotten into trouble, and the crying boy who was made to stand right in front of everybody at assembly because he already got into trouble earlier on in the day.

I used to be that boy.

6) During wet weather, do assist in the dismissal of the pupils from canteen to the respective gates upon the instructions of the teacher-in-charge.

This happened only once. The parade square was still a little damp from the afternoon rain that day. I’ve never seen such a large group of kids disappear so quickly.

The more I do this, the more I can’t wait for my own kid to get into primary school.

Parents vs the Singapore Education System

1st day of school

As Mr Brown put it, Facebook on 2nd January 2013 was “Kids-Going-To-School-Photos-Book”. Beyond the fact that our local chapter of Facebook users are very much dominated by young parents in their 30’s, those pictures of little smiling schoolchildren also betray their parents’s anxiety towards their children’s new year in school, and the rest of their academic lives that follow.

“Better take photo while my kid is still smiling. Otherwise come March they won’t be smiling any more.”

3 months later

Blogfather Nick Pan already feels the tension, and he makes no qualms about his fears in his blog. Despite his determination not to delegate any of the pressure he feels to his children, he wrote his eldest daughter a sentiment that no doubt carries over to his two other daughters: “We worry. We worry a lot for your studies.”

From as early as preschool, that tension begins to manifest for parents ?all over the nation. My wife and I are no exception, as evidenced here. And it slowly builds from year to year, plateauing at such milestones as primary school registration, PSLE, O-levels, A-levels, and just about every semester of polytechnic/university. For decades, we’ve lived — and flourished –under?a meritocratic education system that saw its golden years in the 80’s and 90’s, but has unfortunately started to turn toxic over the last 20 years.

Today’s schoolchildren literally bend over backwards for their schoolbags, cry over schoolwork that requires their parents to attend classes in order to understand, and then when they finally graduate, they find out that much of what they’ve learned in school doesn’t actually apply in real life. NUS Law Faculty dean Simon Chesterman summed it up best in his article, “Hurdles in childhood give good training”, reproduced in the Ministry of Education website, no less:

“Until now, much of their education was built around being posed questions to which there was a single answer, taught by teachers who knew what that answer was. Extra tuition and parental support ensured that they could provide that answer in exam conditions. These skills are of limited value in law school?or in life?where there is normally more than one possible answer.”

Problems in Life ?Don’t Have?Just One Answer

Chesterman points out 3 failings of the Singapore education system. First, that it drives our children to focus on and excel in specific fields (streaming), but forgets to teach them that there are so many other ways to look at a problem, and even penalises them if they try. So if John has 7 apples in one hand and 8 oranges in the other, easily a Singaporean schoolchild will answer that he’s got 15 fruit, but no one will hazard to point out that John either has really enormous hands, or in just a few seconds he needs to explain to his mother why there are apples and oranges scattered all over the floor.

Failure Is Not an Option, But It Really Should Be

Second, our current system has effectively churned out a good few generations of citizens that are scared stiff of failure. If you ask me, I look at the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Jabez Tan (the ex-convict turned entrepreneur that serves up some seriously mind blowing bak kut teh at Jalan Kayu), and I almost want my son to flunk his studies.

(Almost.)

Incentives & Disincentives

Third, we are rewarded for what we do right, but we are penalized for what we do wrong (I need go no further than?the fine example our Singapore Sports Council makes of its bottom two S-League teams beginning this year); it’s a de-facto trait of a meritocratic system, and while it puts any individual achievements clearly in black and white and trophies and medals, it robs us of the creative thinking and risk-taking spirit so apparent in our own fathers and mothers who grew up in a time before it all started.

Change: Whose Responsibility?

It has been said, time and again, that things need to change. We’ve been looking to our government as the potential instigators of that change for a while now, but funnily enough, in between trying to instill creativity, risk-taking and innovation into us and?extolling the virtues of the very system that keeps us from being creative, risk-taking innovators, it seems our political leaders haven’t realised they just plonked themselves rather uncomfortably in between a rock and a hard place.

But wait a minute. Can’t we initiate that change ourselves? For?the?same inadequacies raised by Chesterman?– the need to broaden horizons, to learn failure, to breed creativity, innovation and risk-taking — who better to fill the void that our schools can’t fill but us, the parents?

As parents, just having children alone puts us through the very processes that increase our experience in fields not previously taught to us (think identifying poop colours to determine the health of our infants’ digestion). Who among us hasn’t seen failure on multiple occasions (just count how many ex-boyfriends/ex-girlfriends you have)? And creativity? Pffft. I know enough mothers (my wife included) who have attended scrapbooking, jewellery-making and craft-making classes to make up their own “creative” industry. And the biggest, most important risk all of us have embarked on? Deciding to have children in the first place!

We have, on our hands, the very skills that turn the tables on our education predicament. Instead of making our children compatible with the local school system, it is entirely possible for us parents to bring up the same broad thinkers, creative craftsmen, innovators and risk-takers that we already are, a generation that the system needs to be compatible with instead.

Obviously what I’m suggesting isn’t a top-down initiative. Heck, I don’t even consider it bottom-up. It’s very much lateral, because we’re really in as good a position as our parliamentary cabinet to influence our children’s academic future. Really. And it’s so simple; we just teach your kids what you know, about the things that aren’t in their ?textbooks, about picking themselves up after a fall, about thinking out of the box, taking risks and being true to themselves, whoever they may be.

We teach them how to live.

School of Life: Teaching Math As a Life Skill

As you guide your child through his or her first steps through primary school, you may have realised that there are plenty of non-curricular material to help with most primary school core subjects: storybooks in English and Mandarin for both languages, factbooks and fun experiments for Science, even storybooks addressing social issues for teaching moral education and social studies. But for mathematics?

Aside from assessment books, mathematics is the one subject that children have difficulty grasping, simply because its technical nature cannot be easily applied to their own real-life experiences. Textbooks will use apples and oranges, cars traveling certain distances at certain speeds, but at this age, children are more likely not to like eating fruit in the first place, and certainly don’t have driving licenses. However, there is one thing they will certainly take an instant grasp to: money.

Bear with me here, this is just a suggestion, but there is a bigger lesson to be considered beyond the idea’s surface.

Primary school is where school allowance is introduced into their lives. So instead of giving them a daily allowance of, say $2, how about you provide them with an upfront weekly allowance of $10 instead?

You will have to first introduce your child to the various denominations (from 5 cents to $50 at least), then teach your child how to enquire about prices before purchasing anything, and finally, addition and subtraction of prices to determine change. By the end of the exercise, your child will hopefully have learnt basic mathematics for up to 2 decimal points, which is pretty advanced for a 7-year-old.

There is a catch, however; should your child end up spending the $10 before the week is up, there is no more money to be had until the following week. This has to be a non-negotiable agreement, and that applies to you, the parent, as well. This is the discipline portion of the exercise, and also enables your child to learn to be budget-conscious when handling finances over a fixed period of time, much like how corporate finances are planned over a fiscal year.

Be prepared for your child to falter in the 1st week or two, though. This means ensuring your child will have something to eat when he or she comes home, even though it may not necessarily be something your child actually likes eating, like fruits.

You also want to ensure your child doesn’t resort to borrowing or asking for money from others by teaching self-reliance, i.e. that taking money from others means you take away the means for the lender to afford his own meal for the day, and vice-versa.

The most important lesson that your child can take away from this exercise, however, is that money is not an unlimited resource. By maintaining the discipline of providing only weekly allowances of a strictly fixed sum, you can also teach your child that money isn’t easily attained, and prudence is key for your child to ensure he or she can survive the week without going hungry at school.