PARENTS, KIASU-ISM, STRESSED KIDS – AN OPEN LETTER TO KUIK-SHIAO YIN

Dear Shiao-Yin,

When I read the interview (http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/defenders-of-kiausu-ism/2784834.html) which you give to 938Live, I notice a few things which struck a deep chord within my soul.

I am a mother to many. I have children both in formal education and in preschool. I have children of differing academic abilities, some requiring more support to learn, and some rather independent. All these years, I’ve prided myself in being a fairly chill person and I started out being determined to go against the tide when my children entered formal education. I was told many times before my kids enter formal education, “hold your horses, lady. Wait till your kids start P1”. I was unfazed, surely I could fight off the tide of peer pressure, school pressure and focus my kids on the important things in life.

To start, you spoke about your life changing experience which influenced your outlook on life. I get that. I had mine. What I have learnt in my years working with vulnerable groups is also this: you and I, we’re blessed to be able to make choices that deviate from the usual path of our peers. The income mobility for our cohort has also been found to be relatively high and we have many people to thank. Many of our peers who do not enjoy the same resources by and large still have a shot at life, so we see many of our peers from poor socio-economic backgrounds being very successful individuals in life as well. Also, the sheer fact that you have a father to “engineer a prestigious internship for you in the States”, suggests that you have greater social capital than the average Singaporean of those times. So in some sense, you and I were able to deviate from the usual route because of the resources and connections we enjoyed in our formative years.

But we can’t be so sure these days. I admire your team’s innovative ways to build intellectual learning through the School of Thought. I applaud the many initiatives your team has embarked on. However, intergenerational poverty and poor intergenerational mobility are what frightens me now.

I’ve seen many teens and young adults in the last 10 to 15 years being trapped in the same cycle as their parents. I’ve checked the school bags of young children I work with and found scores of about 8/100. I’ve seen these kids barely trying to survive our system. Their prognosis, in my humble assessment, is poor.

Then you shared passionately about choices. You talked about how “each of us can choose to write our own story about the kind of life we want to live”. You described how people respond to your decision about life with “it’s okay for you to talk about being anti-kiasu now, but wait till you go to Primary One, then you will know.”You know what? I used to be you. I think I finally “know” a little what these parents mean. Remember I said I was also anti-kiasu. My kids went to a neighbourhood childcare centre and have friends from different socio-economic classes and races. They attend the primary school that is nearest to my home. They did not attend any academic enrichment, only swimming and piano (and piano is only because they inherited my husband’s musical inclination). Unfortunately once we hit formal education, boom! The pressure from teachers and school kicks in. And it’s not always something you can fend off. The teacher writes to you asking you to do parent-child activities at home, the child starts to do poorly in some subjects (usually math or Chinese, thankfully my child is competent in the English language I dread to think the impact of the system on those who are late readers) and kids start feeling demoralised and overwhelmed.

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