Singapore students suffering from test anxiety

From ‘Singapore students suffer from high levels of anxiety: Study’, 20 Aug 2017, article by Sandra Davie, ST

Singapore students may be topping the charts in mathematics, science and reading, but it is exacting a heavy emotional price on them.

An international study suggests that Singapore students, known worldwide for academic excellence, also experience high levels of anxiety and have been exposed to bullying.

The findings emerged in a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which conducts the triennial tests called the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa). The study polled 540,000 students from 72 countries and economies to look at the connection between well-being and achievement in the Pisa tests.

…Students were asked to respond to statements such as: “I often worry that it will be difficult for me to take a test”; “I worry I will get poor grades at school”; “I feel very anxious even if I am well prepared for a test”; “I get very tense when I study for a test”; and “I get nervous when I do not know how to solve a task at school”.

It emerged that their anxiety levels were significantly higher than the OECD average for all five questions. For example, 66 per cent of students across all OECD countries said they were worried about poor grades at school, but among Singapore students, it was 86 per cent.

One question that the survey did not address is the source of students’ anxiety, which sometimes may escalate to fatal proportions. The following statement should have been included: ‘I’m afraid of letting my PARENTS down if I do not perform as expected’.

In 2016, an 11-year old boy leapt to his death because he couldn’t bear to show his PSLE results to his parents. Master H would be caned on his palm ‘lightly’ for every mark that fell short of the ‘stipulated standard’ of 70 marks. More disturbingly, this was what his inconsolable mother wailed when she was next to her dead son:

“I only ask for 70 marks, I don’t expect you to get 80 marks.”

Yes, even when your son is dead, you still see the need to validate your obsession with grades.

For some children, 80 marks isn’t even good enough. A 13 year old got scolded by her mom for making a careless mistake despite getting 83 marks in mathematics.  Another was forced by his parents to RETAKE another year of PSLE despite passing. If it’s not kiasu parents, it’s the system that screws with you. Earlier this year, St Hilda students who scored 97 marks for Chinese STILL could not qualify for Higher Chinese. And these were in PRIMARY ONE students. 

In the article above, one possible explanation given was that Singaporean kids were ‘more driven’, but it’s hard to quantify this without adjusting for another emotion – Fear. Fear of falling behind. Fear of incurring the wrath of grade-obsessed parents. Fear of not meeting ridiculously stringent cut-off points to get into selected subjects.

We have two ministers with Education as their portfolio, and if even this doesn’t curb the stress levels that our children face, we’ll be faced with not just a diabetes epidemic, but rising rates of paediatric mental disorders as well. And there’s only one industry out there cashing out on all this test anxiety, like drug companies milking diabetes – the billion dollar tuition industry.

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Milk is milk, except for breast milk which is best

From ‘Milk is milk, however fancy the marketing’, 13 May 17, article in CNA

Authorities announced earlier this week that formula milk manufacturers will not be able to use nutrition and health claims, as well as images that make drinking formula milk look attractive, once changes to Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) regulations take effect. AVA will also also streamline its import regulations in order to facilitate the entry of more suppliers and brands of formula milk, and the changes are expected to be finalised by end-2017.

Mrs Teo who heads the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) in the PMO, shared her personal experience with her children on Facebook, saying she concluded that “milk is milk, however fancy the marketing”.

“Actually, breast milk is best and both the Health Promotion Board and World Health Organisation encourage mothers to breastfeed for at least 12 months,” she said. “However, for parents who need to supplement with formula, all brands sold in Singapore, regardless of price, provide enough nutrition for babies to grow healthily.

…She added: “As long as AVA approves its import, the milk is good enough. I had no reason to pay more and would buy whatever was cheapest or on sale. The kids didn’t always like adjusting but did so anyway. That’s what I found great about kids – they adjust given time and encouragement.”

Milk is Milk. Diapers are diapers. A pram is a pram. Childcare is childcare. Education is education. If the Ministry of Making Babies is serious about encouraging us to have more babies, then they should put a stop to runaway advertising across the board for all baby-related products and services. Yet parents being parents continue to splurge on their little ones, from giving premium quality milk powder to Porsche-grade prams all the way to putting them in an elite school or tuition centre if they could afford it.

A quality infant formula, as the ads go, would be your child’s ‘best start’ in life. In the 70’s, milk powder was enriched with nothing more than vitamins A and D and given unappetising names like ‘Cowhead’.  Today you have an whole armamentarium of fortified goodness targeting baby organs such as the brain, eyes and intestines, with fancy brand names such as Gain IQ (the IQ stands for Intestinal Quality), Dugro (formerly Dumex) and MaMil Gold (as in Ma’s Milk?). In TV ads, kids fed on premium formulae are dressed as little Sherlock Holmes solving practical problems to save the day. It remains to be seen if these enhanced abilities extend to solving Maths problems for PSLE.

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It’s not surprising that Josephine Teo would have no qualms about going for the cheapest milk powder on the market. After all, it’s this ‘bare-minimum’ attitude that led her to conclude that couples only need a small space to have sex. And hence small pockets to buy formula milk too.

But maybe there is a deeper social problem that explains our dependency on milk formula and why companies are capitalising on it – the stigma surrounding breastfeeding in public. If mothers didn’t feel a need to hide their suckling infants from prying camera phones like a recent case on the MRT, then perhaps companies wouldn’t be making shitloads of money selling milk powder, and we needn’t be hearing platitudes such as ‘milk is milk’ from MPs.

Schoolchildren doing area cleaning is pointless

From ‘What is the point of cleaning activity?’, 14 Dec 16, ST Forum

(David Soh Poh Huat): We need to ask ourselves what is the objective of getting children to do cleaning as part of their school routine (“All schools to have cleaning activities daily from January“; Dec 12).

Is it to help the schools save on costs? Is it to create social responsibility in children, and if so, does it work? Do the schools just not have any other programmes?

Already, it is compulsory for children to return their food trays after eating in their school tuckshops. It is enforced in school, but when we go to public food courts, how many children actually remind their parents to return the trays or do it themselves?

I hope the planners of these activities will look at what the objectives are.

As early as the 70’s, concerned parents echoed the complainant’s objection to having pupils ‘slog like slaves’. There was even a time when kids were made to wash toilets, with parents then whining as they would today with the ‘I send my kid to school to study, not to clean toilets’ mentality. These likely being the same parents herding their kids into enrichment programmes anyway even if they spend 100% of their damn time in school studying.

Being a environmentally responsible citizen extends beyond merely returning trays at food courts; from leaving the toilet seat free of pee stains to conscious attempts to minimise carbon emissions when you travel.  Despite decades of schools instilling ‘social responsibility’, we continue to be spoilt by an army of foreign cleaners, horde NTUC plastic bags and jet-set on budget airlines like nobody’s business. So whether passing the broom and toilet brush to kids now to inculcate the clean and green habit would be better long-term for the environment remains to be seen.

What you can’t argue against is that doing chores is actually a decent form of exercise, especially with today’s kids having their lazy arses chauffeured to and fro school by their parents.  For the less athletically-inclined pupils, it would the preferred option to tossing medicine balls during PE. For the kids who spend their waking life on homework and tuition, wiping the windows would likely be the most physically strenuous activity of their day. So yes, if there would be a valid point of making children do the ‘maids’ work’, it’s to make sure they don’t die of diabetes before they hit 30.

I believe the yoke of repetitive chores also brings benefits beyond helping boys cope with area cleaning in the army. It’s like trekking up to Shambala to seek enlightenment and having your master grill you into picking weeds for hours on end. You may not see the purpose now, but years from now you’ll look back fondly on your gardening days and appreciate how the mundane practice prepared you for nirvana.

Preschool kid made to wear hair clip in front of class

From ‘Pre-school teacher suspended after parent complains about ‘humiliating’ punishment’, 10 July 2016, article by Sanjay Nair and Chew Hui Min, ST

A teacher has been suspended by a pre-school after a parent lodged a public complaint about her behaviour towards his son. A Facebook post by Mr Eric Cheong on Saturday (July 9) accused the teacher at Zoo-phonics School’s Serangoon Central branch, identified as “Ms Theresa”, of making his son stand in front of the class for sporting long hair, and then putting a “girl hair clip” on the boy, “much to the amusement of all the other kids”.

Mr Cheong added that the teacher threatened to repeat the action the next school day if the boy did not cut his hair by then.

…In his post, which has been shared over 1,500 times, Mr Cheong said that a school should be a place where learning is “fun, encouraging and engaging”, and was worried about the psychological impact of the incident on his son.

He wrote: “A simple verbal warning or even standing for a period of time is acceptable. But to humiliate a kid, made to wear a classmate’s hair clip in front of the class, is totally unnecessary and intolerable in a school environment.”

I’m surprised the father of the traumatised kid didn’t lodge a police report. Making a boy wear a girly accessory is terrible for the self-esteem. It’s like forcing him to play with dolls in front of other girls. He may turn out to be a cross-dresser when he grows up, all because a teacher meted out shaming as a punishment for long hair. Quick, send him to a child psychiatrist before he plays with mommy’s lipstick.

With a name like ‘Zoo-phonics’, you wouldn’t imagine that it’s a preschool teaching kids how to pronounce human words. I initially thought it’s a place where you could train your kid to mimic animal sounds so that they can communicate with our bestial brethren like Tarzan. Maybe the kid was just trying to blend in by sporting a mane. But wait a minute, what’s a toddler doing in enrichment in the first place? Isn’t he still a bit too young to get permanent mental trauma, or know what Pink Dot is?

Well, thanks to Mr Cheong’s complaint, someone risks losing her job, and further aggravates the burden on aspiring educators who have to face the wrath of overprotective parents if they believe that the best way to instill discipline in a brat is to make an example of him in front of the rest. ‘Ms Theresa’ didn’t drag the boy around like a rag doll like another abusive teacher did in a high profile case some years back. Dad should count himself lucky that the teacher didn’t cut the boy’s hair herself. Now that you probably need to send in the SWAT team and SCDF too.

Kids used to be taunted for being sissies all the time by other kids, and our parents didn’t come rushing to our rescue back then. Old school parents adopted a ‘serves you right attitude’. Today, they witch-hunt teachers for abusing their darlings. We eventually grew out of the harassment, and if our teachers punished us by shaming, whether it’s throwing chalk at our faces or mocking our masculinity, we learnt to forget and eventually thank them for their tough love. Today, parents are so afraid of kids being emotionally scarred they don’t realise their constant meddling will only do more good than harm in the long run. Ms Theresa was simply preparing the kid, albeit a bit prematurely, for the shit he’ll get in the army, which will be far worse than simply putting on a Hello Kitty hair clip for laughs. Don’t worry kid, if your drill sergeant calls you a ‘gu-niang’ for your long hair, Daddy is there to make sure he gets sent to detention barracks.

By the way, why are fierce teachers always named ‘Theresa’?

 

Parents setting up social media accounts for babies

From ‘Never too young for social media’, 1 May 2016, article by Venessa Lee, Sunday Times

One-year-old Kallista Choo has several social media accounts, including Instagram, Facebook and Tumblr. When she is old enough to access those accounts herself, she will see herself growing up via the photographs her parents have uploaded over the years.

They set up an Instagram account for her when she was two months old, and then a Facebook page and Tumblr blog.

…On Instagram, Kallista has more than 1,300 followers. Mr Choo says: “We wanted to give her a voice before she could even talk.”

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Kallista Choo, Instagram talking baby, social media darling, is an influencer extraordinaire in the making. While other parents set up bank accounts, enrol their toddlers into modelling classes, or sign them up for cutest baby competitions, our ‘millennial’ parents have created the modern equivalent of the ‘Truman Show’ around their oblivious children.

We know how that movie ended. The protagonist, sick of having his life documented to micro-detail and shown off to the world by a father figure-dictator named Christof, walks out of his manufactured stage, saying ‘Kthxbye’ to surrogate Daddy and his tens of thousands of followers. Today, Harry Truman lives on among our children thanks to their over-enthusiastic, controlling Christofs.

In the neglected recesses of my old house my parents keep an endearing nude pic of me as a baby, among an embarrassment of forgotten memories like me dolled up for a kindergarten play. It’s the kind of stuff you would dig up only once in a while and laugh at the sheer stupidity of it. And that’s all it’s meant to be, as a private family joke, away from prying eyes of kaypoh relatives and pedophiles. Mentioned once or twice and then we move on. If it’s bad enough you will remember it FOREVER. You don’t need Facebook to send you random throwbacks. If they had put me on Instagram, or worse, Tumblr (renown for its porn blogs), with the caption ‘I’M TOO SEXY FOR MY DIAPERS’, for over 1000 buggers to scoff at, my teenage years would have gone beyond pustulant acne, exam stress and thoughts of cutting. I could be picked on at school because the first friends I have on Facebook are my damn parents.

Social media is a rose-tinted filter. You don’t see the likes of Kallista throwing a fit, bawling and giving them hell in the middle of the night. Her parents have presented her to the world as a cute-as-a-button bundle of joy. When the time comes for Mom and Dad to hand over the accounts to their teenage kid, she would have been drilled into believing that ‘I post, therefore I am’. She risks being overdependent on Likes, Facebook Reactions, the opinion of others, affected by ‘Unfollows’, and growing up constantly seeking mass approval, an ingratiating mess. On the flipside, if your kid screws up his life and ends up in the papers some day for felony, people would go ‘OMG that’s @hamsumboiboi! He used to be SOOOO adorable!’ But breeding a narcissistic complex, attention-seeking behaviour, a rebellious streak or generally annoying the heck out of singles or couples trying for kids are probably the least of your worries.

Over-sharing your children’s pics puts their safety on the line. For anyone with ill intentions, your baby photo could end up as a link to a paedo porn site. If some psychopath wants to steal your baby, stalking has never been easier with social media tagging. In the past, if I wanted to kidnap your baby I would have to physically get out of my house and follow you around, peep around corners and even buy a pair of binoculars. Today, all I need to do is log into Instagram from the comfort of my home in my dirty underwear. Grudging baby-haters may cyberbully her before she could even walk. And if you think you own the right to your pictures and they should never be reproduced without permission, think again.

But the absolute shittiest thing you could do to a baby online is Faceswap away whatever dignity’s left in your child. What kind of sick, creepy-ass parent are you, really. I formally disown you, Faceswap Father!

I’m sure parents would have thought all this through and adjusted their privacy settings accordingly. Except that most of us get so excited when our babies express their first sentences or emit farts louder than Grandpa’s that we lose our minds and let our fingers and thumbs take over. I don’t know how many of Kallista’s 1300-odd followers are friends, random admirers, spambots or lurking sickos. I don’t know how many of those would remain loyal followers when the kid grows up to be a boring as hell teen. It’s a good time, nonetheless, to be a child psychologist. My Dad abused me as a baby – by putting his ugly mug over mine for laughs and I haven’t been sleeping well since.

Maybe all this isn’t about the baby at all, but a vanity showcase of ourselves as awesome parents. Some folks have been known to even set up accounts for their unborn foetus. If I insist on documenting the birth of my child from scratch I may post a photo of Mummy’s positive pregnancy test, right down to the graphic details of how I pumped our shared DNA into Mommy’s cervix.  I long for the old days when parents remain as parents and do normal parenting stuff like teaching their kid how to ride a bike so that kids can, well, be kids, and grow up in a world where their development isn’t being constantly hampered by the pressures of being an unwilling Internet celebrity, where a memory doesn’t need to be hashtagged and commented on for it to exist.

 

 

 

Millennial parents over creative with baby names

From ‘Hello, my name is Abcde’, 6 March 2016, article by Antika Varma, Sunday Times

When 24-year-old Rachel Siu was looking for a name for her son, she went to Greek mythology for inspiration, searching through names of gods and emperors for something “bold and different”.

The mass communications student’s online search led her to the Greek god of flowers, Dianthus, whose spelling she modified to Dyanthus for a twist. She, her husband and son currently live in Perth, where she is studying.

The name is supposed to be pronounced Dee-an-thus.

…Drawing inspiration from diverse sources such as the hit HBO fantasy series Game Of Thrones and popular celebrities, and freely mixing up the spelling to create tongue-twisting, phonetics- defying new words, these parents want a name that no other kid would share in the playground.

So goodbye to John and Jane, and hello to Matz, Ckash, Zoen, Zeremy and Abcde (pronounced Ab-si-dee) – which are not typographical errors, but the tricky names that Ms Sherlyn Chan, 28, a teacher at enrichment centre The Learning Lab, has encountered in her young students.

Dear Mum and Dad,

Glad we caught up over Chinese New Year. Ben already misses his grandparents. Trust you two to have the experience and wits to manage a 2 year old monster.

It’s been great here in Perth since I took up the new job posting. Boss is awesome and the colleagues are more than what any foreigner can ask for. But there’s something I couldn’t bear to tell you over the holidays. Mum cried the moment she saw us come out of the arrival hall, so I held back. I suppose this letter would do.

No I don’t have cancer.

I decided to legally change my name.

I know you two were inspired by both Star Wars and Game of Thrones when you had me. Giving kids an unusual name was the ‘in’ thing then. I remember asking you as a kid what it meant and you said ‘golden child of summer radiance’ in some fantasy fiction tongue, that it reminded you guys of your first picnic date at Marina Bay. It probably didn’t occur to you that not everyone binge reads Lord of the Rings.

Pronunciation was just one of the problems. In primary school there were at least 3 variations, and even the English teacher was stumped. She confessed to me that she tried to Google it but failed. Since then, I was that special kid with a weird name, who grew up holding up Starbucks queues because no one at the counter knew how to write on the cups. When I told them there’s a double consonant in there, they gave a pained expression, as if I just told them to write out Pi to 10 decimal places.

But the real killer was the jokes. I had already switched to my dialect name when introducing myself to new people, but I couldn’t escape when I had to show people my ID. When I got caught illegally parking, the LTA officer shot me a look and backed away ever so slightly. My former boss let it rip at the New Year office party, and everyone was laughing, slapping their thighs because they wouldn’t dare tell him how offensive it was. I couldn’t take it anymore.

So I moved on.

It’s probably not your fault that people make fun of my name. It just happened to be a fatal coincidence. I should be thankful I didn’t get something slightly worse. I’m glad it’s not Ckash, Abcde, wxyz, Antron, LITTLE or BOULDER. I mean, I would have settled for Tan Ah Kow anytime, rather than sound like a gangsta rapper, the sides of a parallelogram, an unflaterring adjective, a megalomaniac evil robot from the Avengers, or a large rock. Though I have to admit it was a conversation starter, and partly because of it I have Sarah, and we have Ben.

Still, given the current situation, I thought it was best that I gave myself a name that didn’t remind people of a deadly virus, but was close enough so that you wouldn’t be too upset. I hope you understand.

Love,

Your son, Zachary (formerly known as Zykker)

I Love Children campaign is ‘scaremongering’

From ‘Fertility ads give birth to controversy’, 5 Feb 2016, article by Tan Weizhen, ST

A voluntary welfare group advocating early parenthood has defended an advertising campaign featuring four controversial cartoons.

The ads – which show sperm and eggs in situations such as rowing together in a boat or playing darts – were placed in train stations by I Love Children (ILC) this week, with slogans like “Even the best marksman could miss the target” and “Women are born with a finite number of eggs”.

The group hopes they will encourage people to conceive earlier while they are more fertile, but they have been criticised by some members of the public for being distasteful and insensitive.

Women’s rights group the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) has called the campaign “scaremongering“, saying it might have an emotional impact on women who might be infertile or who have had miscarriages.

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It’s not just married folks without children who’ll be irked by the naggy tone of the ads. Even those with curious kids who’ve seen the ad will have trouble explaining to them what a sperm is and where it comes from, before they start asking you whether those two happy creatures are new Pokemons.

Like all evangelical fertility campaigns, I Love Children only presents a one-sided rosy picture of childbearing, and with it being launched in perfect timing with CNY, it’ll only add more fuel to the fire for those having to face the traditional interrogation by pesky relatives during visiting. This sudden urgency to bump up baby stats is a far cry from the ‘anti-natalist’ movement in the 70’s, where you’re advised to ‘take your time’ before settling down. If you ‘take your time’ these days, you’ll get parents giving you dirty looks assuming you’re a ‘children-hater’. You can ‘take your time’ to choose the right primary school, the right career, the right house, but when it comes to babies, it’s ‘WTF are you waiting for already!’

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From ‘Fertility and the Family:An overview of Pro-natalist Population Policies in Singapore’ Theresa Wong, Branda S.A Yeoh

To be fair, it’s hard to come up with a fertility campaign with the right nuance. Some mild threatening is needed for it to be effective. Like ‘Children – Life would be empty without them’. This would make sense in the 90’s. Today, if you don’t have children of your own, there’s always Netflix and line dancing to fill the gaping void in your otherwise lonely, miserable existence.

In 2013, some NTU students came up with a ‘Singaporean Fairytale’, which featured ‘negative stereotypes’ in the form of a Golden Goose laying eggs, with the terrifying warning that your ‘egg making device may become rusty and old’. Again, the usual scare tactics of that timebomb ticking away in your oven. Time to put a bun in it!

In 2012, Mentos created ‘National Night’, urging you to ‘perform your civic duty’, and tapping your partner’s body like an ‘EZ-link card’. Cringeworthy, but for different reasons.

ILC, you don’t need to tell me what I already know. Jubilee Babies, SG50 baby bonuses, enhanced parental benefits. We already have agents out there, intentionally or unintentionally, promoting procreation for free ALL THE TIME. Not just the Government, parents and kaypoh aunties, but every father mother son who’s ever posted a montage of their bundle of flippin’ joy on Facebook. I’m reminded of putting my sperm to good use everytime I send a Whatsapp message to a friend with his baby as his icon.  If I see a baby dressed like Obi Wan Kenobi, I get the urge to impregnate the nearest womb I see. When I see a mini-series about families with 8 kids it gives me a newfound passion for harem-making.

So there’s no need for pro-lifers to hire graphic designers to draw cartoon sperm and ova rowing a boat, doing pole vaults or doing the Lambada to give us the warm, tingly  ‘AWWWWW..SO CUTE..LET’S HAVE SEX NOW’ moment. In fact, these ads do the exact opposite. Like a badgering aunty telling you so-and-so just had a fourth kid and still got that promotion at work. It saps the romance right out of any form of sexual intercourse, oral, vaginal or otherwise. Unless you people are telling me ‘Screw romance and do it like they do on the Discovery Channel!’

In short, money wasted, which could have been put to better use helping people struggling with kids so badly they resort to giving them up for adoption, accidental teenage mums thinking of throwing their neonates down the rubbish chute, or going into some fund for assisted reproduction for desperate couples. If you Love Children so much, help children that are living NOW, not play bedroom Peeping Tom, matchmaker, and midwife.

This is all we need.