June 26, 2017


Raffles Girls's School's students putting their arms around the shoulders of their schoolmates. Image sourced from Facebook user: Raffles Girls' School (since 1879)

by Brenda Tan

REMEMBER the case of the ex-Raffles Girls’ School (RGS) student who tried to sue the school for not protecting her from bullies? You might have missed the article in ST about the High Court striking out her claim last week.

Justice George Wei found that while schools have a legal duty to provide a safe environment for their students, it was “plain and obvious” that schools are not duty bound to intervene in the kind of bullying which the student specified: name-calling and being ostracised.

As a parent and a former teacher, I would have to agree with Judge Wei on his ruling.

Reading the teenager’s story in the earlier report left me bewildered – how would anyone even consider that Ms Cheryl Tan had a case against her school?

Unlike the Shuqun Secondary School bullying incident which happened a few months back, where two boys were captured on video being physically hit on the head several times by a bully, the verbal criticism suffered by Ms Tan from her peers, accusing her of being “selfish” and “greedy”, and seeking “glam and glory” in her Co-Curricular Activity when she was in Secondary 3, sounds mild in comparison. In fact, it doesn’t sound any worse than my Primary 3 daughter complaining to me that her friends are “bullies” because they don’t want to play with her during recess.

I am not trying to belittle the effects constant verbal criticism and ostracism can have on a child’s self-esteem by comparing what Ms Tan went through with the complaints my daughter makes about her schoolmates, but it is troubling to note that Ms Tan and her family felt that they could actually make RGS pay for Ms Tan’s S$220,000 overseas education, when they were the ones who opted to leave the school and head to England for Ms Tan to continue her studies.

Judge Wei did not dispute that the school had a duty of care for its students, but that “a law that requires schools to intervene in every episode of unhappiness between their students… would impose a heavy burden on the school and its teachers.”

It is worth noting that while the school can create the best positive environment of learning via a culture of respect, collaboration, and acceptance, there will always be occasions in school that create unhappiness for our kids, simply because a school is a place of learning.

At one level, our children attend school to learn a specific set of content/knowledge – literacy, numeracy, and basic facts about the world. However, there is an implicit understanding that schools also teach students how to relate to one another in a social setting, via a set of culturally acceptable behavioural guidelines and principles.

So schools try to reinforce these guidelines and principles by iterating their school values at assemblies, highlighting good behaviour as well as admonishing and counselling those who fall short of its standards.

It is too much to expect that schools will always be a ‘happy place’ for our children, simply because the interactions of our children in our high-pressured and competitive education system is bound to create vulnerability and unhappiness at some point in their learning journey.

I recall that when my eldest son was in Secondary 1, he and a few classmates were assigned a group project during the school vacation. The load fell on him as his classmates had intensive sports training classes. He ended up building a 3D model of a volcano himself and even doing the accompanying write-ups. He didn’t mind it; he had always loved the subject and had done well in it.

So it was a surprise when he scored dismally for subject. At the Meet the Staff session, we found out that the group project’s grades made up a large part of the subject’s progressive score – and he had done very badly in it.

It turned out that because of my son’s aptitude in the subject, his teacher had put two of the weaker classmates into his group in the hope that they might benefit from peer work with him. But because the marking rubrics of the group project included points given for confidential peer evaluations, his team-mates had made a pact to mark down my son’s scores and give each other much higher scores instead. So while the rest passed the group project with flying colours, my son failed to make the grade.

You might accuse me of batting for my son. But the fact is we had witnessed the amount of work he put in it. His teacher, knowing his past grades, recognised the discrepancy in the scores and intervened on my son’s behalf.  His grade was moderated. His team mates were counselled for their actions. But my son was unhappy over the issue for some time.

Should I have then sued the school for my son’s unhappiness and distress? After all, at some level, I could even say that my son was bullied by his team-mates.

But how would my son benefit if I sued the school for neglecting to detect the issue in the first place? We may perhaps feel that some level of ‘justice’ has to be meted out and have someone ‘pay’ for my son’s unhappiness and distress but is this true justice? Or is this merely revenge for my son being targeted by his peers?

Besides, what exactly would I be teaching my son about how to deal with conflicts, whether he’s the target or the bystander, if my mode of operation is to seek restitution by going straight to the courts (or the police, or the Ministry of Education, for that matter)?

Would he learn to forgive and move on without having to constantly seek some sort of legal redress? Or would it be better if he recognised that it was his own personal response that makes the difference between his being happy or unhappy at any situation?

Truthfully, it is during the unhappy times that our children encounter, when resilience is best taught. These lessons are memorable, not only because heightened emotions are involved, but also because these are practical lessons in actually overcoming the conflict. In learning to deal with such a situation – why we feel the way we do, seeking solutions where possible, and learning to let go where there are no clear solutions – these guiding principles are of far greater value for our children in the long-run to live well, than getting top grades at exams.

Such a philosophy raises adults who aren’t afraid of failures and trusting in others. Such an adult is definitely more likely to see the best in others, be it more forgiving of failures – both their own and others’, or be it someone who can be a positive force in his or her environment.

Besides, if schools are liable every time our kids are unhappy with their peers, we end up with poorer schools – not just because of schools’ financial loss, but because our children will never learn to be better people.


Featured image from Raffle Girls’ School Facebook page

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by Brenda Tan

IT’S frustrating to read that when the Ministry of Education takes one step forward to de-emphasize PSLE T-scores in our primary school, ‘well-meaning’ parents took it upon themselves to crowdsource and compile a list of the top PSLE scores and rank our primary schools – taking all of us two steps backwards in helping to change the educational focus for our kids.

MOE has not announced the top scorers since 2012, and in a few years’ time, the PSLE T-scores will make way for band grades, much like how the ‘O’ Levels are scored.

This is clearly part of MOE’s strategy to remove the spotlight on academic grades and adopt a more holistic look at learning and what all our schools can offer.

A focus on PSLE top scores (What three digits? Which school? How many above 270?) may reveal how successful a primary school is in churning out scholastic champions, but it doesn’t indicate whether there was any real learning taking place in the process, if the child’s moral character was also developed in tandem, or if parental interventions like tuition and enrichment classes were a part of the student’s academic success. It certainly doesn’t take into account the child’s innate talents and gifts to do well academically.

To top off how arbitrary that particular T-score is year on year, that number shifts according to the average score of that year’s cohort. Which means that if the exam was particularly difficult in that year, the top PSLE score could potentially be higher.

As a parent, I question whether there was a true education-driven purpose behind the website, Kiasu Parents, crowdsourcing for the PSLE top-scores.

In the ST article, the parents interviewed said:

“It is about managing expectations. At the end of the day, we don’t want our child to be disappointed if he can’t get into a particular school.”

How would knowing the top T-scores give any indication of whether the child has a shot at a secondary school of their choice?  That has nothing to do with the scores of the top students – unless that child in question is within the top 2 per cent of the cohort, in which case, the other 98 per cent really don’t need to know what those top three digits are, nor would they care.

Every year, MOE issues the S1 Posting Exercise for primary school leavers to enroll in a secondary school. In that document, there are directions for the family to locate their school of choice’s Cut Off Point (COP). That’s the key to manage the child’s expectation of whether he or she gets into the school they opted for, not needing to know the scores of top pupils.

“We started this because parents may need help deciding which schools to put their children in,” he said [the parent], adding that the scores are indicative but may not be an accurate reflection of actual performance.

Again, this ‘helpfulness’ is questionable because the experience of the PSLE top scorer’s six years in school isn’t likely to be the same with any potential primary one’s school experience.

As noted before, school leadership is changed regularly, and this affects the school’s programmes and culture.  Furthermore, the child’s classroom experience is usually set by the form teacher, and whether the teacher is effective is sometimes a matter of luck.

Nevertheless, we have to face facts that it is a popular site. But is it responding to parents’ needs – or is it feeding a parental fear?

It gets a big spike in traffic in the days after the results are released. It also gets lots of traffic in the run up to July’s Primary 1 enrolment exercise, where data like how a primary school is ranked academically is important for parents to make their decision on which schools to volunteer in, to gain balloting advantages to enroll.

Then there is the perennial traffic from parents of children at all ages seeking tips on how to game the system – feeding the ugly kiasu traits of competitive parenthood, where the parental stakes is on how well their children do in school – and how with a kiasu early intervention they could map out the best outcome for their children’s academic journey by marking out the best routes to that top primary school, top secondary school, top junior college, and top university.

Thus, the need for data about what ‘top’ looks like – 283? 291? Nanyang? Rulang? Raffles? Hwa Chong? Oxford? Harvard?

On the one hand, it’s understandable that all parents want the best for their children. However, the fear of losing out creates a situation where the focus on learning is of far less value than whether the child is successful in the numbers race, and how parents can help get their children maintain or improve on that grade.

Success stories of how kiasu parenting ensured their children got better grades because of certain exclusive tuition centres or tutors that feed into other parents’ anxiety when their children don’t seem to be as successful academically. There’s often a sense of rivalry and high-pressure stress reading about how other children are doing stratospherically well, while our average children seem to struggle in the doldrums of exam results (It doesn’t matter that Ah Boy is enjoying school if he is only scoring 70s and 80s in the exams – why not 90?)

In fact, kiasu parents thrive on the high-stakes exams, having conditioned their thoroughbred children to ace them. They get upset with schools changing the exam format or switching to a more progressive report on the child’s learning. Kiasu parents are least happy if the PSLE is to be changed in any form, and indeed I wager that would be most upset if it is done away with.

I happen to think that the better the child’s grades, the more challenging it is for the child to deal with failure and build resilience. If the grade is not the focus, then the language of success can be diverse, and a successful student may not necessarily be the child with the top grades, but one who was able to overcome immense odds and take hold of whatever opportunities that come their way to thrive.

Thus, that crowdsourced data isn’t doing anyone any favour.

Imagine telling your child that you based your knowledge on Kiasu Parents data. Is that really a trait that you want to teach your children? To be as kiasu as you are?


Featured image They’re Off by Flickr user Don GunnCC BY-ND 2.0.

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Renn and Aira standing beside their art exhibition. Image sourced from Facebook user: holycrap.sg

by Bertha Henson 

SO A couple of siblings had to remove their art pieces from a cafe Gallery & Co. at the newly-opened National Gallery of Singapore (NGS). Their parents cried foul, the mother went on social media and posted the incident on Facebook as “URGENT INFORMATION” in caps. There was even a video of their children crying and about how one of them made the artwork while going through the all-important Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) year. It appears that that latter sentence has since been deleted.

What to make of this kerfuffle by Holycrap, a family collective of four comprising Claire, Renn, Aira and Pann Lim (hence, crap) who wanted to exhibit When Renndom Met Airany: A Visual Duologue by Renn and Aira Lim? There were supposed to be a total of 19 artworks about the siblings growing up together and inspiring each other. In the days leading to the opening on Nov 24, a series of (mis)communications between Holycrap and Gallery & Co. (and the National Gallery somewhere in the background) led to a re-configuration, fewer pieces and more books on display and finally, the word came that the number of pieces should be cut down to three. That was when the family decided to walk out entirely.

The MSM has picked up the story, and it is making the rounds on social media. It is a human interest story (crying children!), it has some art politics (what kind of expression is permitted?), bureaucratic structures (rules are rules!) and some wonderful quotes by the aggrieved mother trying to explain to her children why their work had to be taken down.

So of course, there will be plenty of viewpoints. Like whether children – Renn is 11 and Aira is eight – should be treated this way, the sort of space devoted to the arts in Singapore, and whether the National Gallery was being too autocratic about the use of space.

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The family has come under some scrutiny as well, for letting it all hang out on social media with phrases like “shocking and disrespectful handling” and “incredulous sadness and extreme disbelief”. They have been mocked for belonging to a select elite who can afford such luxuries as teaching the children life skills through art. To be sure, the language was emotive and meant to tug on heartstrings. Gallery & Co. has apologised profusely describing its mis-communication as a “fatal” mistake. It’s taking on all the blame. But as in cases when big organisations are involved, you sense that the National Gallery was to blame.

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But seriously, take out the crying children and the extreme words and what really is the issue? It’s about a couple of artists who had to take down their work because of a miscommunication over rules.

To recap: an exhibition of 19 works was “commissioned”, the individual artworks approved, but the method of exhibiting (hanging on walls) not approved. The rules state that gallery staff strictly approves all “exhibitions”, however this particular one was not, because no one thought of it to be an exhibition till it was installed for whatever reason. The “exhibition” would therefore need to be made to look less like an exhibition and the number of artworks cut down. This process eventually became too much of an infringement of creativity for the parents and, combined with what they described as disrespectful behaviour from the staff at NGS, they walked out.

If you want to take the discussion further we could discuss whether National Gallery is being too uptight about the rules given that its objective is to promote south-east asian art; or discuss the supposedly hoity-toity NGS representative who spoke to Mr Lim. You can segue into a discussion of what is an exhibition –  too many paintings on a blank wall with the name of an artist? –  and whether retail outlets should only stick to selling artworks instead of, hmm, stealing the limelight (?) from the magnificent pieces curated by experts on display at the main gallery. Or whether workshops must accompany exhibitions or whether there should be more sale items than exhibitions.

But that would be getting into the nitty-gritty, and affect the lives of only a few (Unless you were a hawker, for example, you wouldn’t quite care about the coffeeshop owner’s rules on what can be sold or not sold or what type of stall front is allowed. You go there to eat.)

Of course, you can also wonder why the National Gallery didn’t bother to correct this earlier newspaper article about Gallery & Co., which said that the multi-concept shop hopes to entice gallery visitors to stay on after browsing the artworks, with two eateries, shopping and programmes such as art workshops AND pop-up exhibitions.

As for whether the mother is making too big a deal of this affair, well, that’s individual parenting styles for you. And in the social media age, there just happens to be a tool for everyone to vent about supposedly bad or unfair treatment. The more important issue is how people should respond to such incidents.

Maybe like this:

We’re really sorry Renn and Aira that you had to be disappointed in this way. But there is always a next time. So cheer up. It’s really, really not so bad at all.


Featured image from Holycrap’s Facebook page.

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by Brenda Tan

RECENTLY, a group of children from seven to 16 years old were driven around the Marina Bay area in luxury cars. This wouldn’t have caused much comment, except that these were underprivileged children whose parents were or are in prison.

While no one doubted the good intentions of the organisers of the event, the Industrial and Services Co-operative Society (ISCOS), which helps ex-offenders and their families, in collaboration with the Singapore Motor Sports Association and Valencia Club de Futbol, or the good intentions of the car drivers, many netizens had misgivings about how the event might be received by the children and their family members who were unlikely to ever own such vehicles.

Some felt that the unintended message of flashy cars as success symbols sent a wrong message about what success meant and looked like, while others felt that there were probably better ways to give the children a fun experience in the Marina Bay area without resorting to them being ferried about by such atas status symbols for a joyride. At their age, a Hippo bus ride or even a Duck tour would have been just as exciting, if not more enriching.

Other netizens felt that those who questioned the use of luxury cars to ferry the children were indulging in sour grapes – that just because these commenters don’t have the chance of being driven in luxury cars, they were depriving others from having an experience being driven in one. Besides, it was just a fun outing for these underprivileged children, so why make such a fuss of it?

Personally, I find that it is not wrong to be concerned about how the show of wealth might send a wrong message to the children. In fact, I wonder how much thought we privileged ones put into our acts of charity to those who are less well-off, beyond our good intentions.

Of course it is not wrong for us to be motivated by the intention to do good! In fact, it is highly commendable! Singapore Kindness Movement’s “A Nation of Kindness starts with One” reminds us that being kind to others begins with the individual. We are the start point in considering the needs of the people around us, and in being kind to others we all gain a gracious society.

Yet, I feel that just having good intentions is not enough; it is merely the tip of the iceberg. We also need to be mindful of the other person’s needs and situation, and how our “good intentions” may actually complicate things or cause more pain for them later.

The Yellow Ribbon Fund-ISCOS (Industrial and Services Co-operative Society) Fairy Godparent Programme’s aim of breaking the cycle of inter-generational offending is certainly a worthy and meaningful cause. The programme for the children of ex-offenders focuses on education and family support through tuition bursaries and mentoring programmes, which will help these children to break through the poverty cycle via education, and having positive role models to guide them.

However, I wonder if the organisers considered whether a glitzy car ride would fit into its programme and purpose? Perhaps in the excitement of organising a big event that even has press coverage, the organisers may have overlooked the aftermath of the “good deed” for the children and their families.

Certainly, if the programme’s aim is to break the cycle of inter-generational offending that has to do with poverty, how would driving the children around in luxury cars inspire them to break out of that? It has certainly inspired a 12-year-old to want to own his own car when he is older, whether he needs it or not.

Furthermore, while we may say that it’s only a well-intentioned joyride for children that would otherwise never have the means to be driven in such luxury, have the organisers thought about how the parents would feel when their seven-year-olds compare how good their driver is because of his ‘haves’ with their parents’ ‘have-nots’? Or when after the ride their 16-year-old decides that she could get used to the luxury of being driven in fast cars, and may be tempted by easier ways to attain the high life?

The intention may be good, but was there mindfulness regarding the recipients of the ‘kindness’? Was it kind to show what a “good life” looks like, when in truth, it’s actually a different life? And in fact, is living a “good life” defined by material comfort, which is quite different from living an upright life.

In the late 2000s, my husband designed and ran a five-year overseas service learning project where he and his team brought students to a remote fishing village south of Batam to dig ditches and wells and to paint and build up walls for their village school. The students were from classes which often had discipline issues in school, and the project aimed to enable them to learn to work better with their classmates. It was made clear at the onset that what the students would do in the village is not an act of charity, but an act of service. That the poor village, where a family lives on about US$6 a day, is a place of dignity and pride, where the menfolk work hard for their families in fishing, and where there is community spirit in the way they work together to get infrastructure up for the village. The boys were there to help provide manpower, as their presence meant that the menfolk had to take a day off fishing to supervise the work of digging and building. The boys, in ‘service learning’, were there to learn from the village as much as they were there to serve.

I remember an incident my husband related to me. A well-off boy had given his sunglasses to one of the village boys and he was roundly told off by my husband. Wasn’t it an act of charity and kindness for him to give his sunglasses to someone who had none? He did it out of good intentions, didn’t he? My husband had to help him understand a key principle of community development – that any ‘helping’ group by their very presence in the village has already brought a disruption to the community’s patterns, and therefore, it was vital to ensure that it was a positive disruption.

Thus, the act of giving that pair of sunglasses may have unintended consequences such as dividing friendships the recipient might have when he shows the gift to his mates or that helping groups in such a way inevitably creates unhealthy expectations in the recipients of the next ‘helping’ group that comes along.

The road to hell, as the proverb goes, is paved with good intentions.

My husband was very strict about the ‘gifts’ his team brought for the village. Second-hand clothes were collected from staff and students, but these were sorted out long before they got on the coach to Harbourfront. Spaghetti-strapped blouses and t-shirts with inappropriate pictures and words were set aside, as were winter wear. Clothes too ‘holely’ or too faded were destined for the bins, because the recipients never asked for these gifts. But if we brought gifts – even pre-loved ones, they ought to be gifts that strengthen the recipients’ dignity and self-respect, and that uphold the community’s norms.

Stationery and coloured pencils for the children in the village school were bought, so that all the children would have the same items, with a view of aligning utility and unity. The lesson to the Singaporean kids was that it is not just the act of giving but being intentional about the giving. Giving what people really need is essential. It’s not what we think they need, or worse – that our giving is framed by our own definitions of needs and wants. My husband showed me pictures of their subsequent trips. The children had used their precious gifts to draw pictures of the ‘abangs’ who distributed the items to them, and would run to show our Singaporean students proudly that they still had them.

But more than giving appropriate gifts, it was important to receive the hospitality of the villagers who cooked a village lunch for the boys after the communal work of rebuilding drains and wells. This was also a very powerful lesson about hospitality and communal living, where it is not the gift per se but the act of receiving it graciously. The boys were made aware that the ayam goreng they were treated to were special fare for the village, and not the common fare they would have taken for granted to eat at home; that sharing the meal with the villagers put them on a shared level.

And most importantly, that our lives are different – not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – and ought to be lived purposefully and meaningfully in the service of others.

But back to the children and the fast cars.

Another question that may not have occurred to the organisers is about escalation and expectation: Having been taken for a joyride in a Maserati, would the organisers now plan the next event for the children to ride a helicopter? Or would this luxury joyride be an annual event, something that the children can expect? Having been inspired to buy his own car one day, Shakir might want to be driven in different models every year until he turns 16.

Organisers working with the underprivileged do need to align their events with their mission and values, and manage expectations in those they work with – especially children. After all, even if it is “just a joyride” that we need not get worked up about, it may be something the children would look forward to with some regularity, if only to show that continual care and friendship by the drivers of luxury cars.

“Love is not patronizing and charity isn’t about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same — with charity you give love, so don’t just give money but reach out your hand instead.” – Mother Theresa


Featured image Maserati by Flickr user simone.brunozziCC BY-SA 2.0. 

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Top view of two boys sitting on steps each playing with iPad
Children fiddling with iPads

by Brenda Tan

I’VE noticed that once my kids enter primary school, the time they spend on the iPad is naturally reduced.  Apart from the usual school homework, the occasional assessment books, the library books, the YouTube videos they watch on television and the general hijinks they get up to daily, my childrens’ overall time for playing on the iPad is much diminished, compared to when they were in preschool.

Furthermore, when my primary one boy and the primary three girl ask to go online, it’s usually for an e-assignment given by their teachers to be completed via the school’s e-learning portal.

I much prefer my children using the laptop to access the e-learning portals because all the trusted “official” sites and apps are already grouped together.

However, we do have the occasional situations when we’re commuting, which is perfect for some iPad time on-the-move. There are also the times when I feel that my girl’s multiplication sense needs refreshing or a new subject that my boy is learning could do with some more interactive drills on the iPad.

Here are some apps that I have on my iPad that focus on Mathematics and the current topics they are working on this week.  The apps are free, unless otherwise stated:

General math fun:

Math ChampionsMaths Champions - fun brain games for kids and adultsView In iTunes

This app is designed for both iPhone and iPad
  • Free 
  • Category: Education
  • Updated: 24 July 2015
  • Version: 2.8.1
  • Size: 17.7 MB
  • Languages: English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Simplified Chinese, Spanish
  • Developer: Nicolas Lehovetzki

Rated 4+

  • Made For Ages 9–11

Compatibility: Requires iOS 7.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

I have the free lite version, which has 2 games. The full version is S$1.48, and has 8 different games.  It has the 4 operations (addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication) and some spatial puzzles on a grid.

TangramTangram FreeView In iTunes

  • Free 
  • Category: Games
  • Updated: Jan 02, 2013
  • Version: 1.4
  • Size: 4.0 MB
  • Language: English
  • Seller: JiuzhangTech Ltd

Compatibility: Requires iOS 3.2 or later. Compatible with iPad.

Excellent for spatial awareness and looking for shapes within shapes. This is good training for later when children learn shapes, angles, area and perimeter.

Specific math topics: Four operations

ArithmeticWizArithmetic Wiz Free - Singapore Math DrillsView In iTunes

This app is designed for both iPhone and iPad
  • Free
  • Category: Education
  • Updated: 02 October 2014
  • Version: 2.3
  • Size: 5.3 MB
  • Language: English
  • Developer: Daniel Chong

Compatibility: Requires iOS 7.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

This app is simple, but I like it because the answers are not multiple choice, so the user needs to work out the answers instead of guessing. The App has excellent classical piano music as background music to aid focus and concentration. (Confession: I sometimes just turn on this app for its classical piano while I’m working on other things.)

The app also has a ranking board to see your standing against other users, in Singapore and globally. The in-app purchase unlocks 10 additional levels for $4.98.

9X9 TrainingMultiplication+View In iTunes

  • Free 
  • Category: Games
  • Updated: 31 July 2015
  • Version: 1.6
  • Size: 5.6 MB
  • Language: English
  • Developer: The App Tower Inc.

Compatibility: Requires iOS 6.0 or later. Compatible with iPad.

I like this app for its no-nonsense simplicity. It’s not so much a game as a quick reminder of the multiplication table. The answers in that multiplication set is all in one area, so it helps with number association.

Also, it’s almost impossible to find a multiplication table that doesn’t include the 11 and 12 times tables in the app store. This app stops at the nine times table, which is perfect for our Singapore curriculum.

Math: Multiplication TableMath - Multiplication table FreeView In iTunes

This app is designed for both iPhone and iPad
  • Free 
  • Category: Education
  • Updated: 03 January 2013
  • Version: 3.0.0
  • Size: 11.2 MB
  • Languages: English, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Swedish, Traditional Chinese, Turkish
  • Developer: Online Science Classroom, LLC

Compatibility: Requires iOS 4.3 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

If your child enjoys Tetris, they will immediately recognise and love this app! The user clears the “bricks” which are the multiplication questions. If they don’t get the answer right, the “bricks” start piling up and filling up the screen. The user has a second chance to clear the board if he can answer enough correct answers to fill up a “bomb”, which does a satisfying job of blasting out a line of wrongly answered bricks.

The full version can be purchased at $2.58.

Last week’s math topic: Fractions

Coop FractionChicken Coop Fraction GamesView In iTunes

This app is designed for both iPhone and iPad
  • Free
  • Category: Education
  • Updated: 23 August 2014
  • Version: 2.0.2
  • Size: 18.1 MB
  • Languages: English, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Swedish, Traditional Chinese, Turkish
  • Developer: eChalk Ltd

Compatibility: Requires iOS 6.1 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

The premise for this app is quite silly and fun, with really bad puns like ‘egg-streme’ and ‘simply-frying’ (simplifying). The user navigates through five activities in a chicken coop to help the chickens in their tasks, and the user gains a sound grasp of fractions along the way.

The free game version gets users to estimate a fraction given. The user is given a fraction, and they have to estimate on a number line the corresponding decimal value. The fraction is in the picture as a circle, on a number line and as a decimal.  While decimals may be a little advanced for primary three, the estimation helps the user understand the idea of the fraction as not merely the segments of a circle, and removes the fear of not getting the answer perfectly right.

The in-app purchases (bundle: $6.98) have the same thoughtfulness in teaching math without it being obvious as working on a tedious math question. The capers of the chickens are happy distractions.

‘Chicken Coop Painter‘ is ‘egg-cellent‘ in getting the user to see fractional values in terms of a rectangular shape. This is particularly useful for our Singapore curriculum, where fractions will be used in the model approach and the ability to see fractions in a rectangle is of greater value than seeing fractions in equal pizza slices.

In ‘Bad Egg Fractions’, the user chooses the ‘bad egg’ out of the rest which are equivalent fractions. Although some of the denominators are three-digit numbers, the principle of estimating a fraction is at play, so the user learns not be intimidated by the large numbers.

I particularly like the app’s ‘Simply-Frying Fractions’. It’s really well done to get the user to see the factors required to simplify fractions. Furthermore, if the user takes too many factors to reduce the fraction, the app will show how the user could have taken a shorter step by using a higher common factor.

Finally, ‘Rocket Rooster’ requires the user to think about the value of fraction of a unit, and then make a good estimate to combine a few fractions of a unit to launch the rooster via a rocket pack into the nest.  This particular segment is perhaps more suited to the upper primary kids, but it’s nonetheless a good way to reinforce the idea of fraction of a unit, and make quick guesstimates about which rockets to choose so that it may carry the rooster across.  The Rooster Cam tracks the rooster’s short flight, which is hilarious!

Oh No Fractions!Oh No Fractions! - Curious Hat Lab View In iTunes

This app is designed for both iPhone and iPad
  • Free
  • Category: Education
  • Updated: 15 March 2014
  • Version: 2.41
  • Size: 3.7 MB
  • Languages: English, French, Italian
  • Developer: Curious Hat, Inc.
Rated 4+

  • Made For Ages 9–11

Compatibility: Requires iOS 5.1 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

Visually, this is a lovely app. The numbers are large, the design is engaging and thoughtful. I really like how the comparison of the fractions are side-by-side for clarity.

This week’s math topic: Time

Most of the apps are simple ‘read-the-clock’ games. Or they require you to adjust the hands on the clock face as instructed. It’s more difficult to find apps that deal with time intervals or ‘before time‘ and ‘after time’.

What Time Is It?What time is it? Learning games for children to learn to read the clock View In iTunes

This app is designed for both iPhone and iPad
  • Free 
  • Category: Games
  • Released: 16 May 2014
  • Version: 1.0
  • Size: 20.8 MB
  • Language: English
  • Developer: Johannes Metzler

Compatibility: Requires iOS 5.1 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

Simple interface with happy music. What I like is how as the game progresses, the app removes the numbers on the clockface, so that the user has to identify the time based on the clock hands’ position.

Time MathTime Math FreeView In iTunes

This app is designed for both iPhone and iPad
  • Free
  • Category: Education
  • Released: 14 July 2012
  • Version: 1.0
  • Size: 6.1 MB
  • Language: English
  • Developer: Recession Apps LLC

Compatibility: Requires iOS 5.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

This is a simple app, but what sets it apart is that it has two sections: “what time will it be” and “what time was it”. The user can set difficulty levels of going by hour, minute, or a mix of both.

Kids Time FunKids Time FunView In iTunes

This app is designed for both iPhone and iPad
  • S$ 1.28
  • Category: Education
  • Updated: 03 September 2015
  • Version: 6.0
  • Size: 10.4 MB
  • Language: English
Rated 4+

  • Made For Ages 6–8

Compatibility: Requires iOS 8.3 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

This app was clearly made for girls with its sweet pink background and flowers, but it’s the only time app I found that has calculating time intervals, time before and time after. It’s $1.28 from the App Store.

Tell Time: Match UpTell Time - Little Matchups GameView In iTunes

This app is designed for both iPhone and iPad
  • Free
  • Category: Education
  • Updated: 07 January 2012
  • Version: 1.2
  • Size: 17.0 MB
  • Language: English
  • Developer: Innovative Investments Limited

Compatibility: Requires iOS 4.3 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

This is a fast activity for reading time quickly and matching the time to the clock face.

Fix the Clock

This app is designed for both iPhone and iPad
  • Free 
  • Category: Games
  • Updated: 14 September 2013
  • Version: 1.1
  • Size: 32.0 MB
  • Languages: English, German
  • Developer: Mogic GmbH

Compatibility: Requires iOS 4.3 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

This was a bonus app for my kids after doing time with time. Fix the Clock is not a mathematical exercise, but an interesting puzzle game involving gears, time, and collecting bolts in a clock.


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By Ron Ma

MEMBER of Parliament Ms Tin Pei Ling welcomes a new addition to her family.

According to Mothership, Ms Tin went into labour at 2pm on Tuesday (August 4) at the Singapore General Hospital and delivered a healthy baby boy about 12 hours later.

Ms Tin announced the good news on her Facebook page at about 10am this morning, thanking well-wishers and supporters.


Ms Tin reportedly told Mothership that she has yet to decide on a name for the baby boy with her husband, Second Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Law (Editor’s note: Mr Ng’s previous position was the Second Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry), Mr Ng How Yue, who snapped a picture of mother and son snuggling up together.

“The nurses, doctors and staff at SGH took great care of me,” the first-time mother added.

Ms Tin had still been active in her role MP of Marine Parade GRC right up till last Sunday when she visited Circuit Road and Aljunied Avenue on a walkabout. Ms Tin also attended her Meet-The-People session just a week before her delivery. Macpherson has been carved out as a SMC for the upcoming general election.


With Macpherson SMC up for a contest in the upcoming GE elections, we wonder if Ms Tin would be opting for maternity leave this time or keeping a hand in campaigning. As a full-time MP, does Ms Tin even get maternity leave?

MP Ms Lee Li Lian gave birth to a baby girl back in 2014 after going through an unstable pregnancy. Ms Lee has since spoken about challenges faced by working mothers as an important area for policy-making in Singapore.

Ms Tin becomes the third MP to give birth while serving the term in office. MP Ms Sim Ann of Holland-Bukit Timah GRC also gave birth to a baby boy back in 2011, becoming the first MP to do so while serving term in office.



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by Brenda Tan

MY friends on Facebook have been sharing and commenting on the Newpaper’s article, “Straight A student commits suicide over O-level results, mum takes her own life months later”.

In a nutshell, this is probably one of the most painful fears every Singapore parent has over their children. More than our children not doing well, we fear that our children do not have the resilience to accept failure – and worse than that, that we have inadvertently contributed to their deaths because we either set our expectation of their abilities too high, or that we did not have a relationship with them that is intimate enough to detect our children’s difficulties, or that somehow as their parents, we should have known and prevented it.

In our meritocratic society that looks to academic grades as a key marker of a child’s success, it is natural that loving parents want our children to be successful in getting good grades. After all, we know that the rewards of a high-salaried prestigious job for our children would be gained via their good grades in school; that the simplest, most straightforward path to financial independence would be cruising at the crest of the top five per cent of the school cohort, from the PSLE all the way through to the university… and it would be best if that’s done with a prestigious scholarship.

With that goal in mind, parents are driven by both a healthy dose of best intentions and guilt when thinking about how to help our children.

Ah boy is not doing so well in maths – is it time to start tuition/change tutors/sign him up for that expensive tuition centre that all the top school kids are attending?

P’s children all do well in school and she says it’s because of the expensive fish oil she feeds them – where can I buy these? If it’s too expensive, I think can just buy a cheaper version one lah… But try the expensive one first and see.

E’s children are all attending abacus class. I think my kids must do so too. It’ll give them an advantage in calculating fast.

D bought a series of assessment books that seems to do wonders for her children. I wonder where she got them from? If too expensive, maybe see if can buy secondhand from Gumtree.

The best that we hope we bring to our children is an environment for them to thrive, but the flip side is the sense that we feel we are not doing enough, especially when we see other parents appearing to be more successful at helping their children succeed in school, while our children are not doing as well.

We end up mimicking our friends and their strategies, but we tend to forget that their children are not ours, and our children are personalities so different from our friends’ children. Unthinkingly, we end up placing undue stress on our children, believing that we are doing this “for their own good”.

Sometimes, in our desperation and frustration, we also fall back on the easiest messages; the sort of loud cajoling/scolding to remind our children that they need to put in effort to get that grade we know they should be able to get – This question you should be able to do! Why you so careless? Why are you not studying?Why are you on the computer again? If so-and-so can do it, you can too because YOU’RE NOT STUPID!

But even when we say, after the drama of all that rebuke, that whatever they scored in the end is fine with us, our children know when they’ve disappointed us. They know that we will see the bottom line of the grade score, and they feel sick at having to let us see them under-performing… or not performing at all.

It is as a friend says – a tough balancing act, because what is enough motivation on our part? And more importantly, what is too much?

Some friends have pointed out that it’s not only parents sending this message of high excellence. Schools also play a part in influencing our children in how they see themselves as successes and failures. Perhaps there is also an element of peer pressure and low self-esteem, coupled with our children’s own idealised future, that causes them to feel that life is not worth living if they don’t get the results that can open the door to that future.

But to actually commit suicide? According to Samaritans of Singapore’s National Suicide Statistics, there were about 17 deaths per year in the 10- to 19-year old category in 2012 and 2013, an increase from 2010 and 2011.

We feel a sense of loss and grief for each of these lives lost and the families that are left behind, and we wonder at each of their situations: Were there signs? Were there other factors like broken family relationships affecting these children for them to think death would be a way out of unhappiness? Were there things their families and friends could have done?

A few of my friends reminded the rest of us that child-suicides that stem from school pressures could be prevented if parents help our children measure success differently. This could mean going against the norm and just celebrating whatever success our children achieve, even if the results are dismal.

I don’t know if I could do that. As a parent, one of my roles is to be my children’s guide, and like all guides, there would be times that I would need to push my children to try and to stretch and to grow, in rocky pathways that are difficult for them to traverse and where they are afraid to even try to walk, or on long, dry, boring pathways of tedious revisions and homework. My children’s school results would definitely be one of these road markers point out whether they have shown discipline in obeying their teachers’ directions and whether they have been putting in the effort of studying.

If my children’s results are dismal even though they have tried, I hope they know that I’m still proud of them for their effort. If their dismal result is because they haven’t put in any effort, then, hopefully they’ll know that my disappointment isn’t because of a number, but in their failure to try. And more importantly I hope my children know that they won’t remain failures forever if they can pick themselves up after disappointing results to try, try again.

Nonetheless, I won’t merely rely on hope when the day of any results come. Of more value, to me, is to help my children to see, as often as possible, that life is worth living for: 

Life is for love – and immersing my children in the heart of the extended family and community in their grandparents, cousins, and our friends, I hope that they will see how their lives matter to people beyond themselves. For me, the thread of each of these relationship creates a strong fabric that cloaks them in warmth in cold, dismal days, and in turn, they reciprocate to be a thread of the fabric for others in their circle.

Life is for others – and to this effect, teaching my children compassion towards others in our family and community, building their empathy for other people, will help them to understand that we all go through tough times, but we are more blessed than most. And being blessed, we can be active in making a difference to the lives of people around us.

Life is for growing – and growing like a tree means an ever-increasing expansion upward and outwards, yet growing our roots ever-deeper downwards to into our identity and core, so that we are balanced and not easily toppled. This for me is the challenge of teaching my children who we are as a family, our family values, our beliefs, as well as leading my children to explore the interesting differences that are out there in the world, the different perspectives of different people, the amusing and interesting facts of nature and history, and the innovations and technology that hopefully serve to make living easier for more people.

Life is for thinking and reflecting – as we ought to do periodically, in order to be grateful for the blessings we currently have, in order to be able to go through the difficult times. And yes, to even be grateful for the difficult times, because by undergoing those times, we gain insight and growth, and sometimes even mastery over our fate. Gratefulness provides a valuable perspective on the reality of a bad situation – if one can still be grateful for one or more things, then any bad situation can still turn around for good.

Life is for joy – and sorrow, and all the different emotions in-between, that has their place in expressing what we feel at that point within us that makes us human. It isn’t wrong to feel sad or angry or frustrated when we encounter difficulties, because that is a valid expression of the pain we feel. However, I don’t let my children make a habit on dwelling on these emotions for too long, but help them see that they have the power to let these emotions go – whether it is through restitution and sincere apology, or forgiving others or themselves, or just to close the door on an episode and move on.

I believe that helping my children set their compass needle on joy will help them to navigate better the tricky terrains of negative emotional impact that is inevitable in living. They will fail. They will be hurt. They will find themselves lost. But joy has a natural buoyancy in lifting us up and filling us with hope of better things to come. And providing my children with happy memories peopled with love will help remind them that they have a part to play in creating the space to receive and give joy.

Life is worth living for – ultimately, there is a more to life than just existing. Living has a vibrancy of action and purpose and generation, but it is not merely about getting to an ideal future alone.

I like the idea of life as a journey filled with unexpected encounters and discovering capacities in oneself that we have not known. And I agree that life leads us in many unknown places; into valleys and pastures, walking through long dark tunnels and fording raging rivers, wandering desolate plains and scaling mountain tops… but unlike the Lonely Planet thinking where we journey through much of these alone, the reality is that we journey these places most often with people beside us, if only we would refrain from just looking down at our own feet during our journey. In those times when my children would look inwards only to themselves and feel lonely and alone, I hope that they will be reminded to look for the people walking that same pathway as them, and connect.

The truth is, we never do walk alone, and even when the journey gets fearfully lonely, there are always guides available – family, friends, mentors and teachers – to not only reach out for help, but to be a companion on that journey too.

My best hope for my children is that they understand that the meaningful life is one lived with people: in intimate communion with others; in celebrating with community; in finding connections via shared interests. And in discovering that they have capacity to grow to make a difference and that they matter.



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Photo By Shawn Danker.
OCBC Bank at Battery Road.

by Brenda Tan

THE Baby Bonus scheme, according to a recent IPS survey, is having trouble enticing Singaporeans to have more children, so it should come as no surprise that the Child Development Account (CDA), which is part of the scheme, seems to have been neglected by Singaporean parents as well.

More than 11,000 parents have yet to even open a CDA, much less deposit any money into the dollar-matching (up to a cap based on birth order) fund that can be used only at Approved Institutions – mostly medical and pre-school needs.

Now the Baby Bonus Online System has undergone a revamp to make it easier for parents to join the Baby Bonus Scheme and open a Child Development Account (CDA) online.

Previously, parents would have to complete relevant CDA application forms found in the Baby Bonus kit obtained from the hospitals’ birth registration counters.  Even after submitting the application forms at those counters, parents were still required to visit the participating agent banks to open the CDA with an authorisation letter sent to their homes by mail.

With the new online system, either parent can join the scheme and open a CDA online with one of the three banks (DBS, OCBC and UOB), and appoint one parent to be the CDA trustee.

Also, there are changes to the banks managing the CDA. Standard Chartered Bank will phase out its CDA arrangements by the end of 2018, and DBS and UOB will become managing agents this week. All CDA banks save outgoing Standard Chartered will now offer an interest rate of 2 per cent per annum for their CDA holders, compared to 0.5 to 0.8 per cent per annum previously.

This would mean that for a first child whose parents have contributed S$6,000 for the G to match dollar-for-dollar (making it $12,000 in all), the interest rate will yield S$240 per year! That’s quite a lot of money in all, if you have the cash to put aside.

The CDA must not be confused with the outright cash gift component of up to $6,000 or $8,000, depending on birth order, given to parents under the Baby Bonus scheme. Meant to help parents cope with the additional expenses for the newborn, this cash gift is credited into the parents’ bank accounts in 3 instalments following the child’s birth; 50% at birth, 25% when the child is 6 months old, and the final 25% when the child is 12 months old.

Cash gift and CDA - two different parts of the Baby Bonus scheme (screen capture of Baby Bonus website)
Cash gift and CDA – two different parts of the Baby Bonus scheme (screen capture of Baby Bonus website)

The CDA, on the other hand, is a special co-savings account where parents’ deposits are matched by the G, up to a cap ranging from $6,000 to $18,000, depending on the birth order of the child.

CDA funds cannot be withdrawn in cash, but parents can make GIRO arrangements from the CDA to pay for Kindergarten or Childcare fees, or Medisave-approved private integrated insurance plans, or access the fund using the provided NETS card to pay for visits to the GP or dental clinics or even to purchase a new pair of spectacles from approved optical shops.  There are over 900 Approved Institutions registered with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), and these services may be utilised by any of the child’s siblings, regardless of age.

However, the CDA funds cannot be used to purchase that bicycle or air tickets for the kids for that family holiday in Vietnam, no matter how much a parent may wish to consider those an educational experience.

For children born in or after 2006, their CDA will be closed when they are 13 years old and any balance in the account will be transferred to the child’s Post-Secondary Education Account (PSEA) managed under the Ministry of Education. However, if parents have not saved up to the G’s contribution cap, they can still do so until their child reaches 18 years old.

Like the CDA, the PSEA funds may be used by the child or his siblings to pay for fees at institutions like the ITE, G-approved Special Education schools, the Polytechnics and local universities.

Interestingly, the take-up rate of CDA is about 95%.  By July 2014, about 11,600 parents have yet to open a CDA for their child.

This leaves me wondering about why these parents have not created the CDA when their children were born.

1. We didn’t know.

It’s not unlikely that parents don’t about the CDA because the Baby Bonus scheme carries two components and can be confusing, especially for new parents overwhelmed with pregnancy, birth, hospital charges, Medisave considerations, maternity and leave applications… Furthermore, the cash component (which is the same amount as the matching G contribution for the CDA) is directly credited into parents’ bank account, so some parents may think that that’s the whole of the Baby Bonus Scheme.

2. We knew, but it’s not urgent, right?

A second group of parents know about the CDA, but as the CDAs can only be used by Approved Institutions, they don’t see the urgency to get the CDAs created.  These parents may wait until their babies are kindergarten age to create the accounts for GIRO arrangements to pay their children’s school fees.

3. We knew, but we don’t have the money.

Unlike the second group, this group may not have spare cash to open the account or contribute to it.

I’m wondering if instead of a cash contribution for these families, whether they could use their CPF monies for the contributions.  It would also be helpful for families that have more than 2 children close in age, as the amount for cash contributions will exponentially increase.

After all, the monies cannot be taken out for frivolous expenditure, but would be use for the family’s healthcare and educational purposes.

4. We already have the CDA for korkor or jiejie.

This group may have the mistaken understanding that since the CDA can be used by the child’s siblings, they do not need to create a separate CDA for subsequent children to get the G’s dollar-for-dollar contribution.  Or they may think like the second group of parents that it is not urgent to create the CDA for the younger kids, and ensure that the full amount is put into the elder sibling’s CDA before creating a CDA for the younger child.


Of my three children, only the two younger ones have the CDA because my eldest was born two years before the Baby Bonus Scheme was created.  But my eldest has benefitted from using his younger sibling’s CDA funds for making spectacles and visiting the GP.

Nonetheless, although I made the accounts for the younger kids, I did not contribute to the account very regularly to maximise the interest rates on the accounts, despite knowing that the G would match my contributions dollar-for-dollar.

Like many parents I know, the lump sum of S$6,000 and S$12,000 is difficult to put into a savings plan that cannot be withdrawn in cash.

The CDA is useful and the contributions by the G is appreciated, but it doesn’t pay for toys and books and other living expenses. Also, the cash gift in the first year is usually very quickly utilised for general family expenses.  As many in the sandwiched class understand, a family’s expenses aren’t just focussed on the children; the changing financial needs of the extended family at a time when the children comes along can be unexpected and many.

Furthermore, when a family has more than one child close in age, like the G hopes we will, that family may find it even more difficult to fork out that lump sum at the start. Therefore, even with the enticement of 2 per cent per annum interest rates, this would only benefit families that have the means to set aside S$6,000 to S$12,000 at the onset to maximise that interest.

For my family, we stretched out the contributions over our children’s first six years. We used the CDAs as a savings account for the younger kids – all of meimei and didi’s cash gifts: one-month-old hongbaos, birthdays, and Chinese New Year monies, were put to their CDAs until they were six years old.  When the kids were in kindergarten, I would also top up the accounts to ensure there was enough money for the school’s GIRO deductions.  I only made sure to deposit fully to the G’s contribution cap when meimei was six years old as the extension to the CDA scheme wasn’t announced then.

It was only when my younger ones were in primary school that we opened up a savings account for them to save their pocket monies and cash gifts.  Over the years, and we have periodically put back those pre-primary cash gifts that we deposited into their CDAs into their personal savings account.

Now that the CDA contribution window has been extended until the child is 12 years old, and for the PSEA until the child is 18 years old, it is good for families that thought their opportunity to deposit had passed to maximise the G’s dollar-for-dollar matching.  Parents can check the status of their children’s CDA remaining cap via the Baby Bonus Online System.

Besides, the ease of using the CDA NETS card for payments at the Approved Institutions for any of the children really is a bonus.



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ST17072010-170125/Nuria Ling/Sandra Davie/Primary one kids taking mock exam at Growan Learning Centre, in Parkway Centre. for story on how parents are using tuition centres that conduct mock exams. In photo: (first row from left) Tan Wee Joe, Asenath Loh, Bryan Neo, (back row from left) Grace Yong and Pang Yen Gi, all seven, sit for a Primary one mock exam.

by Bertha Henson

WHEN my five-year-old nephew started Chinese tuition classes early this year, I actually heaved a sigh of relief. Finally, I thought, he would have to sit down and focus on reading and writing Chinese and, hopefully, actually speak the language. He would have to face a stranger who wouldn’t take his tantrums about having to learn the language, which he somehow has a great aversion towards. He doesn’t balk at going for tuition, he actually enjoys his time with his lao shi. Phew.

But why would he need such help at this age? One reason: his pre-school seems to have a pretty high, and in my view, unrealistic standard of the language. I asked him about his ting xie, held weekly, and am pretty amazed that he had to learn complex characters which required so many strokes. His English spelling tests, also weekly, had a shorter list of simple words.

So the boy goes for tuition three times a week, after a full day in kindergarten. Looks like four in 10 families do the same for their pre-school children, spending about $155 a month, according to an ST survey. We’re getting our kids “prepared’’ at an early age – and of course, questions are raised about whether we are destroying their childhood. According to ST, four in 10 parents felt that tuition helped pull up their children’s pre-school grades. I agree. My nephew will probably get a big fat zero for his ting xie without tuition. My worry is this: Will he think that the focus of learning Chinese is only about passing ting xie? Because he is still reluctant to use the language, turning off the car radio whenever it is switched on to a Chinese channel with a very loud bu yao.

I sympathise with parents who feel the need to get their kids tutored outside school. It’s not just about keeping up with other children with better grades, but also to make sure their kids don’t feel “stupid’’ or “left out’’ and end up actually really hating the subject because others are so good at it. It’s a confidence booster. Don’t you think a kid will feel bad because he failed when others achieve results with flying colours? He will develop an inferiority complex, right? Right?

One point in the news report stuck out: that better off families forked out more for tuition than the less well-off. Those with monthly incomes of more than $6,000 paid about $200 each month for pre-school tuition. Those earning less than $3,000 paid about $100. I am actually surprised that the less well-off would pay so much for tuition. It goes to show the pressure on parents to have their kids well-schooled (or over-schooled?). And I am sure people will talk about how the advantage is all to the kids of rich parents who are pushed ahead of the proverbial starting line.

According to the 2012/2013 household expenditure survey, the monthly household expenditure on private tuition and other educational courses amounted to $105.70, making up 1.8 per cent of expenditure. I dread to think what private tuition would cost a family with three children, aged five, 11 and 15? That would be $155 plus $205 (median tuition fee for primary student) plus $255 a month (for secondary school student) or $615 a month.

The ST survey, however, concentrates on paid tuition and ignores the free or heavily subsidized tuition such as those by the self-help community groups. So perhaps, those earning even less have a chance to get their kids to “level up’’.

What does the Education ministry say about this? In a reply to a parliamentary question on the effects of tuition on mainstream education in September 2013, it said: Our education system is run on the basis that tuition is not necessary. Some parents believe they can give their children an added advantage by sending them to tuition classes, even though their children are doing reasonably well. We cannot stop them from doing so.

“However, tuition can be counter-productive for students who are already doing reasonably well in school. It can create unnecessary stress, make them easily bored in class and take time away from other programmes and activities which would have contributed to their holistic development.’’

The MOE’s view therefore is tuition is not needed for bright students.

It seems, however, that the MOE’s warnings are being ignored given that seven in 10 of all families send their kids for some kind of paid tuition, from pre-school to secondary level. That seems little changed from another survey published by Blackbox Research Ptd Ltd in 2012, where two-thirds or 67 per cent of Singaporeans with kids currently have or have previously enrolled their children in tuition.

Perhaps, two years is too short a time for any change in parents’ mindsets.

But ask the parents who pay for tutors for the children whether tuition is needed and they will say yes. You see, it all depends on whether parents think their children are doing, as the MOE said, “reasonably well’’.

And, like me, parents can come up with all sorts of justifications for tuition.



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By Brenda Tan

When my children were in preschool, it was far easier to monitor their time on digital devices. It was only a matter of when they can get their hands on the iPad and ensuring that only certain approved (read: Educational Mandarin) Apps get downloaded for them to play with. It was also simpler to keep their focus away from virtual reality because they could be easily refocused to play with their physical toys.

Now that the kids are in primary and secondary school, this has become a far greater headache.

For one thing, their schools require them to have time online for exposure to the digital world. Each of my three children has a personal account for their school eLearning portal that they are sometimes required to log in and work on. Singapore schools have an ‘eLearning Day’ where students do not need to turn up at school, but complete their learning assignments from home via the home computer (or via the school computers if they do not have computers at home).

Apart from the occasional digital homework requiring them to log into the portal, the children also have assignments that require them to utilise the computer to work on school projects, practise their Touch Typing, access Google for information, watch a YouTube clip for language use, or just simply print out pictures for pasting into their workbooks.

As a parent, it would be counterproductive to severely limit my children’s access to the computer, if Information, Communication & Technology (ICT) is part of the school curriculum, and my children would be expected to be as fluent in ICT as in English or Math.

For another thing, my digital natives no longer need a computer to go online. My teenager has a smartphone, my two younger ones have iPads, the home television is hooked up to the Internet. And that’s not counting the many devices that they can access from relatives and friends! Soon they can even access the Internet via their watch.

I can and do limit my children’s time on the computer, but it’s impossible for me to sit by each of them as they use it. Also, it’s impossible for me to monitor their online access if they get online via grandma’s smartphone or their friend’s notebook in school.

Furthermore, it would be extremely hypocritical of me, who practically lives online, to expect my children to have no knowledge of how Facebook operates, what YouTubers are, and what games their friends are playing online and talking about. Would it be fair of me, in the fear that they would encounter “cyber dangers”, to severely curtail their time online, or limit their use of Apps, and then expect them to know how to navigate the Internet in such a way that they can benefit from it later in life? Or like teaching my kids road safety – might there be principles that I can teach my children, systems to be put in place, to ensure that they are able to navigate cyberspace as safely?

In a Straits Times Forum Letter on 26 June 2015, Dr Park Yuhyun cited a recent survey where more Singaporean parents worry about their children’s online safety, but fewer parents are taking action to protect them, compared to five years ago. Her premise is that parents are finding it hard to cope with the fast changing complexity in cyber dangers, and her advice is for parents to empower their children with a strong value system to help them distinguish right from wrong.

I agree with Dr Park that fundamentally, it’s about our children’s value system, so that they can recognise what online danger looks like. But the bigger question is how do we equip them so that they know what this is? Much like our children interacting with strangers in real life, what can we teach them so that they know when and how to engage, and when they should run away and call for help?

Like each child having an online account for school, I have created different personal accounts with passwords for each of my children to access the home computer. For my younger children, this is a basic lesson on cyber security. It was not long after giving them their access that my primary one child came to me to complain, “Che Che is using my account, can you make me a new password?”

The issue of his big sister using his account isn’t a nefarious plot by her to steal his online identity, but to use my youngest’s computer access time. For each of my children’s accounts, I’ve created settings to limit their daily computer access time depending on their age and need, made their Internet access child-safe, and included software that they might need to complete their schoolwork.

Once their computer access time is used up, the computer locks them out, and I’m the only person who can grant extra computer time to them as the Administrator.

Creating each of my children a personal account also helps me monitor their online exploration via the History tab on the browser. Therefore, I know that my younger kids spend most of their Internet time on YouTube watching a variety of channels like Nerdy Nummies, EvanTube, Vat19.com ads, and animations like Thomas The Tank Engine cartoons. Recently, they were introduced to the “Mind Your Language” series by their grandfather – but that’s a story for another day.

In a sense, YouTube has replaced television viewing in my household.

My younger ones have yet to use Facebook to upload their thoughts and activities, but they understand the principles behind what can be uploaded and what shouldn’t be uploaded via looking at my Facebook experience. There are times when my children demand that their achievements be put up on my Facebook because they enjoy reading the comments my Facebook friends make about their antics. But, they are just as quick to remind me that I mustn’t post pictures or update my status when it makes them look bad. Part of educating them about using Facebook is highlighting my Newsfeed to them when posts are not edifying, or when comments border on cyberbullying, or when hoaxes are paraded as truth.

This ongoing education about what is acceptable online behaviour supplements their cyber wellness classes in school, where the curriculum is more structured compared to our more organic home experience.

It is due to the separate accounts on the home computer that I am also able to monitor my teenager’s computer usage and note who visits which sites. Unlike his siblings who are more innocent in their exploration of the Internet, my eldest’s interests leans towards gaming websites, game forums, and parking himself at 9gag.com. He reads fan fictions from Fanfiction.net and his YouTube feeds are mainly music videos and even more gaming tips. He spends most of his time on online games, often via his smartphone, which he has to surrender to my locked drawer when he’s at home. His online gaming is a concern for me as he will be sitting for his O Levels this year, and like many Singaporean parents, I too believe that his time would be better spent on revision than the Internet.

This is why I’m glad that I have a screen sharing function on my MacBook, because when he says he’s at “work” on his school assignments, I can see if that “work” involves him firing a souped-up machine gun at mercenaries while dodging heavy enemy fire. Needless to say, I’m not so enamoured of him doing such a fine job of saving the world. And so it’s back to the tedium of E-Math (Elementary, not Electronic) sans the computer.

Fortunately, while my son is wily with the use of his devices, he’s also smart in dealing with online strangers in the team the App forms for gamers. He knows to avoid giving his personal details when engaging with his team, learns to ignore cyber taunts, and blocks out people who are prone to profanity.

My eldest doesn’t even update his Facebook page, and the only pictures he has there are of the neighbourhood cats. When I tag photos of him on my page, he would sometimes untag himself, sometimes even with a verbal “MuuuuuUuuuuM!” to remind me that he finds being tagged so, so lame! His Facebook security is tighter than mine, and while he no longer asks permission from me to add friends, I know when he does as the email account linked to his Facebook was created by me, and I receive all emails he gets. This is how I know what new sites he has signed up for, and what nicknames and personas he has created to play in that site.

My conversations about online dangers with my eldest differ greatly from my younger ones. For him, we talk about the jokes he reads on 9gag.com, and I find out what he thinks about the more risqué ones (much to his embarrassment) as much as what he understands about cultural jokes. (“Mum, who’s Marty McFly?” “That guy from ‘Back to the Future” “Ohhh! Now I get it.”) I ask him about his online use, even though I have “intelligence” from his History listing. I ask him what he thinks about some of the non-gaming sites he visits, what sites his friends are visiting, and what he thinks about those sites.

I find out his opinion about radicalised youths, about Amos Yee’s blog and YouTube channel, chat about consequences of ‘free speech’ and the difference between cyberbullying and speaking out for the weak. We talk about posting what’s edifying, what’s right, what’s delightful and amusing, versus sharing stories that creates unnecessary strife and conflict, that rob people of their dignity, that channels hate and oppression. I share videos and news stories that make me angry or glad or hopeful with him. And lots and lots of funny and novel stuff, which is the delightful side of going online.

For all my children, it’s an ongoing conversation, shifting the family to embrace the digital rather than making the digital the enemy. For me, the real-time connection of the Internet in linking my kids to me via FaceTime, when my husband and I travel for work, is something I am immensely grateful for.

The Internet, like our roads, might have many hidden dangers, but there is a sensibility to it when we teach our children how we use it. The younger our children, the tighter we hold their hands and teach them the habit to look right, left, and right again, before crossing with us. We even get them to mimic us, in modelling the pattern of looking right-left-right and we might even have them raise their hands when they cross the road, reminding them that they are short, and drivers can’t really see them. We point out where there might be safer crossings and exhort them to use them, and not to play along the road. We point out articles in the newspapers about terrible road accidents to highlight the dangers of jaywalking and the importance of road safety. When they get older, we walk beside them, keeping our eyes out for danger and pointing these out to them. Even when we sense that they can be trusted to navigate the roads themselves, we still remind them to be careful while crossing the roads when they leave the house.

Because we are parents and we love them. And because we can’t tell them they can’t use the road.


What about you? What are some ways parents can take to help children identify cyber dangers? What are some methods you use?


Feature Image from IDA’s Flickr

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