April 28, 2017

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by Daniel Yap

I CAN feel the massive ship turning ever so slightly. A raft of changes to the education system signals a shift in the balance, and even a cynic cannot help but wonder how far it will go.

The Polytechnics’ Early Admissions Exercise (EAE), which weighs student interest and aptitude in addition to grades, will now admit up to 15 per cent of the cohort, up from 12.5 per cent last year and 2.5 per cent the year before. The Institutes of Technical Education will also be admitting 15 per cent of the next cohort on these terms.

And then NUS, NTU and SMU will increase the proportion of discretionary admissions from 10 to 15 per cent. It’s the G’s realisation that the best lawyers and engineers aren’t only the ones with straight As. It’s an awakening to the fact that some have been “gaming” the system with academic hothousing, and that students with a headful of knowledge may be pursuing courses of study and careers that fail to light a fire in their hearts.

And then there’s the Skillsfuture Earn and Learn programme, which is as close a programme to an apprenticeship that Singapore has right now. It covers 23 sectors, and the number of takers this year is expected to double to 1,000 which is still only a fraction of the student cohort. But its key takeaway is that the best way to learn a job is by doing it – something that the tertiary education system in Singapore has previously tried to do too much of from within the classroom.

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The civil service has done away with the division system that puts a false ceiling on those without academic qualifications. Teachers and those in the uniformed services now have unified career paths for polytechnic and university graduates.

What more is to come? The Straits Times recently published an op-ed calling for 100 per cent aptitude-based admissions to universities – will Singapore go the distance? Will we be able to push deeper “apprenticeships”, whatever form they may take? Can we break down the walls between work and training into one seamless system of organic but structured self-improvement?

Can we do away with the current “scholarship” system that all but guarantees career paths (and sometimes goes out of the way to ensure the paths are followed) and find another way to develop and attract top talent?

But even in the midst of change, there are fears that the tide is against us. The greatest risk is that parents, employers, students and even workers themselves have ingrained mindsets that will not change. But a ship is made to cut through the waves and push against the forces of nature whereas our port of call will not come to us by itself.

There is hope for this skills-and-aptitude-favouring trend to accelerate if Singaporeans get on board. For one, there has been very little public pushback against these changes. Criticisms about this trend are often a product of a lack of faith in the ability to change rather than unhappiness with the proposed changes.

The majority of Singaporeans seem to, jadedly, acknowledge that all these are good changes, but they think like passengers rather than sailors – unsure of what their role is in helping to move the ship towards their too-distant destination.

When we shrug and keep our heads down, we miss out on the changing view. Parents miss out on their key role in helping their children navigate their education and career options based on their strengths and interests so that their children will be able to make informed choices. If you’ve already decided from the day of his or her birth that your child shall be a doctor/lawyer/banker, then you will be neglecting the most precious parts of your child’s personality.

Pushing your child to get the best grades they can is important, but so is helping them to discover their strengths, make a positive impact in society and find heartfelt satisfaction in life.

Students must be going to school with the long-term view that one day, all these studying will end and the transition to working life is going to be a question of skills and applied knowledge – rather than a test of grades. They need to learn to chart their own career path and understand how to continuously work on walking down that path.

Parents, as today’s workers, need to show their children that they too are constantly learning on the job and outside of it, and that learning is fulfilling and is part of a deliberate plan to better oneself.

The ship of education, of work, of learning, is turning, and everyone on board will inevitably turn too. But how fast we turn and how quickly we move depends on how many of us are sailors, and how many of us are merely passengers.

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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Morning Call, 0830, clock

GOOD news for soon-to-be fathers: If your baby is born from Jan 1 next year, you’ll get two weeks of government-paid paternity leave instead of one.

You’ll also get to take up to four weeks from your wife’s maternity leave, up from one currently.

That’s the big headline in the papers today (Nov 11) – but the bigger prize from yesterday’s Parliament session may be for adoptive and unwed parents, who will be getting better benefits as well – a move that could signal a shift in G policy when it comes to “undesired alternative households”.

Here’s the breakdown of the changes:

1. For adoptive mothers who say they want to adopt from July next year, they will be given 12 weeks of adoption leave, up from the current four weeks. But only eight of the 12 weeks will be government-funded for the first two adopted children.

2. For unwed mothers whose children are born from January next year, they will get 16 weeks of paid maternity leave – same as their married counterparts.

3. For unwed fathers who say they want to adopt from January next year, they will also get two weeks of paternity leave.

Members of Parliament yesterday welcomed these pro-family measures but some felt more could be done.

Backed by no fewer than four MPs, Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) asked if the G could help unwed mothers get housing, or be given the $8,000 Baby Bonus cash gift awarded to married couples. He described the changes as “a baby step in the right direction”.

“The ministry must be aware of the housing problems faced by unwed single parents with young children,” added Associate Professor Daniel Goh, a Non-Constituency MP.

The parliamentarians’ remarks are striking for its empathy, compared to the G’s previous stance on helping unwed fathers and mothers, noted The Straits Times’ Janice Heng.

“In previous parliamentary debates on the issue of unwed mothers, office-holders – and sometimes even MPs – often struck a judgmental or cautionary tone,” she wrote.

Consider this statement from Dr Lam Pin Min, then an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, in 2011: Yes, let’s help single parents, but the G should not encourage “the growth of undesired alternative households and the erosion of Asian values”.

The changes are welcome to any parent-to-be, but they also send a message of inclusivity to the broader society, which has not always approved of adoptive and unwed parents or treated them fairly.

By the way, it’s November 11 – so Happy Singles’ Day to all the single folks out there, parents included. Now, will the G be handing out any goodies for non-parent singles anytime soon….?

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Suhaile Md

HOPEFUL parents who have difficulty conceiving can take heart: You may have more options to increase your chances of having a healthy baby. The Ministry of Health (MOH) is reversing its position on genetic screening by setting up a trial which would start next year.

Called Pre-implantation Genetic Screening (PGS), the procedure has long been championed by doctors who believed it would increase the odds of a successful birth. Chromosomal abnormalities, which a PGS can detect, account for more than half the miscarriages that occur, reported The Straits Times.

A pilot three-year trial will start next year, said Minister for Health, Dr Amy Khor, in Parliament today (Nov 10), in response to questions raised on the subject.

This was previously not allowed by MOH due to its experimental nature. Its effectiveness was also “unclear”, she added.

However, recent developments in PGS in other countries has led MOH to review its position on the matter. Said Dr Khor: “In recent years, however, newer technologies for pre-implantation genetic screening have emerged and some jurisdictions have now allowed pre-implantation genetic screening.”

Countries where such screening is practised include the United States, Australia, and Malaysia.

Responding to parliamentarians Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC), Dr Khor added that MOH is considering both the procedure’s clinical aspects as well as its “ethical implications”.

The ministry will do so by consulting “relevant stakeholders” as well as the public. Dr Khor made clear that PGS will not be used by couples to choose the gender of their baby.

Details are lacking for now. Matters like funding and eligibility criteria of those who can take part in the pilot project will be revealed closer to the start of the project, said Dr Khor.

 

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Felix Cheong

HOW your Ah Girl do for PSLE?

Like that lor. 200 plus. Never study, but still get 200 plus. If study harder, sure can get 300 plus!

Three hundred plus cannot lah! Only Prime Minister can score like that!

Really ah? Luckily we have a Prime Minister with good PSLE result! If not, cannot hold head high. Your Ah Boy how?

Also 200 plus. That one, quite playful. Whole day long want to play drum in school band. At home, also play. Chopsticks, pens, anything also can. Bang, bang, bang! So noisy. I tell him: You play drum, cannot make money. Maybe during Chinese New Year when you play for lion dance.

He can also play in funeral band mah. No need skill. Just dong dong chiang, half hour, then you get big angpao.

Maybe hor! Last month, my block already got six funerals. If one dong dong chiang can earn 100 dollars, then 600 dollars a month. Good money hor!

But 600 dollars not enough to live lah! Must get degree first. No degree, better go sweep floor or clean table at food court.

I hear on news cleaners now also can earn $1,000.

One thousand dollars, you go spa once a week, gone by end of month. That’s why I tell Ah Girl: I want you go to RGS, then to uni. She say she want to go SOTA to learn dance. I say: SOTA, your head! I want to throw sofa at you. She say she want to, what, “pursue passion”. I don’t know why now a day, ‘passion’ so important to young people.

Yah lor! When we younger, we got ‘passion’ or not to be housewife? No, right?

That’s why I tell Ah Girl: ‘Passion’ make no money. Tomorrow, I go market buy you a big basket of passion fruit, throw it downstairs. You go and ‘pursue’ all the passion you want!

Just tell her lor, our Prime Minister never ‘pursue passion’. That’s why can become Prime Minister.

 

Featured Image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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by Brenda Tan

RECENTLY, my Facebook friends were reposting an article, “Not too late to say ‘thank you’ to a caring teacher”. The article had resonated with my teacher and parent friends because the writer highlighted a much taken for granted aspect of teaching – teachers going the extra mile in unmeasured ways to instil values such as discipline and right learning attitudes in our children.

The article’s thrust was that parents and students could encourage the teachers’ efforts with a simple “thank you” during the school year, and not just on Teacher’s Day.

Interestingly, that article spawned ST Forum letters about respecting teachers and teachers’ part in inculcating respect. It left me curious – what does appreciating teachers have to do with them inculcating respect?

The initial article cited difficult parents as being a major frustration in teaching, which resulted in the sprouting of a letter urging parents to respect teachers as “important people that shape your children’s future.” In response, another letter came up which implored teachers to be “exemplary models of respectful behaviour”.

Having been a teacher, I agree that difficult parents can take the joy out of teaching.

Singapore teachers have the challenge of teaching up to 40 pupils in a class (not counting teaching multiple classes at different levels). That’s 40 diverse personalities with 40 different family backgrounds and 40 different learning needs. When teaching such diversity, the teaching professional is usually equipped with various methods to ensure that despite the number, learning can take place.

Our teachers undergo teacher training at the National Institute of Education (NIE), before starting out as teachers, as well as in-service, in order to hone their craft and stay relevant to changes in the pedagogical landscape – such as using computer technology to teach.

Apart from formal training, teachers are grouped by subject or level in schools to facilitate information sharing and to highlight best practices for topics in the curriculum. Within these collaborative circles, older teachers  would also naturally mentor younger ones (because teachers teach, even when they are not in class) beyond the nuts and bolts of the curriculum, sharing tips and personal experiences in organising the classroom, marking scripts efficiently, and dealing with difficult students and parents.

Personally, I am deeply in debt to my senior colleagues who taught me more about the practical aspects of teaching in a Singapore classroom that are not covered by pedagogical theory in NIE. These older teachers not only enabled me to cope, but to flourish in my profession as a teacher.

Thus, like any professional, teachers have an intrinsic professional pride in their work. In this case, a teacher’s personal KPI is in seeing their students do well holistically in the social environment of the classroom and school.

Therefore, it is highly frustrating when parents undermine the teachers’ authority or when they excuse their children instead of complying with teachers’ requests. Most parents don’t realise that their non-compliance isn’t something that’s affecting just their child, but it affects the entire classroom dynamics which the teacher has to take into consideration and work around. Multiply that non-compliance with a handful of other parents, and suddenly, having to cater for these differing compliance levels results in a logistical nightmare.

This professional frustration is akin to when clients dismiss their lawyers’ professional advice, or when patients disregard their doctors’ directions, simply because they are educated, Google-savvy, and “know better”.

I’m not discounting that there are times parents do know better than teachers.

Clearly, parents have the advantage over teachers in knowing their own child’s background and learning patterns, especially in our school system where most teachers have only less than one year to get to know their class of 40, before they are promoted to another class with a different teacher. Parents also know better the capabilities and capacities of their child, even though this may be challenged by teachers who, having spent more time with children of a particular age, probably understand them in that phase of life better.

For example, I knew that when my eldest son who was promoted to a Higher Chinese class in primary two had only obtained his good grades the year before because he had studied for the test, not because he had a mastery of the language. His language teacher disagreed. She insisted that he understood her perfectly, and believed it was only “a matter of time” before he showed the corresponding competency in his schoolwork. Sadly, all we saw was our son becoming miserable about going to school, that in the end we opted to homeschool him.

Then again, when I was teaching a primary two class, one of my students developed a habit of deliberately taking her friends’ erasers and surreptitiously throwing it away. When I alerted her father about it, he got angry at me. He said his daughter never lies and would never do such a thing – even when I had been monitoring the situation after tearful complaints from her friends and had caught her red-handed. Within a week after meeting the father, he transferred his daughter to another school.

Then again, there are teachers who do the bare minimum of teaching, expecting parents to hire tutors for their students to catch up with the class. My son’s teacher taught by assigning worksheets and expecting her students to figure it out themselves. When the students did badly, they were “lazy” or “needed tuition”. It was frustrating talking to her at the Meet-The-Parent sessions, where I ended up feeling angry on my son’s behalf, yet having to encourage my son to spend more time on that subject and seek help from his friends when he was in doubt. His result for that subject that year was dismal, but thankfully, he had better teachers later.

With a secondary four son and two younger kids in primary school, I have had my fair share of the many unsung-hero teachers and the one or two go-hire-a-tutor teachers, just as I’m sure most parents would have experienced.

So why then the call to “respect teachers” and the reminder for “teachers to inculcate respect” on top of their teaching duties, as if respect for teachers is lacking or that teachers aren’t doing enough to inculcate respect?

Personally, I don’t subscribe to the idea that respect must only be given to a special group of individuals or that respect must be earned. For me, respect simply means to give courtesy and consideration for that other person. I like how the Inuit tribe greet each other with a word that translates into “I see you”. To me that’s basically what respect is – to recognise and give attention to the other person, without judging if that person is worthy of simple courtesy.

Therefore, I believe that the responsibility to inculcate respect is not the duty of a teacher nor the parent per se, but that of the village in that wonderful African quote: “It takes a village to raise a child”. Respect ought to be the cultural norm and social lubricant in how we treat one another, regardless of our age, status or background. In fact, it ought to be the value that underpins our “one united people, regardless of race, language, or religion” ethos, and give us new lens to re-see (re+spect) one another in our community life.

The idea that respect must be earned or given to special groups may be due to the confusion people have concerning respect and regard. Regard has to do with an admiration of a quality that another person has that one may aspire to, usually a quality that the person has earned. And where there’s regard, we give honour or special consideration to them.

Hence, it follows that the first letter-writer wishes to encourage parents and students to respect teachers, to honour their professional expertise, and the second letter-writer raises questions about teacher competency and the need for teachers to ‘inculcate respect’, to remind that this honour is ‘earned’ by their a continual professional development and to impart this idea by example.

Technically, neither writers are wrong in wanting more consideration for the teaching profession by both parents and teachers.

Parents do need to re-see how we are supporting our children’s teachers, whether they are the “unsung heroes” or otherwise. Teachers also need to re-see whether their communications hinder or encourage collaboration with parents, even as they continue to hone their teachercraft.

Respect, when freely given, allows us to have a refreshed look at where we each come from and how better to support each other for the larger work, whether we are parents or teachers – or even school-bus drivers, canteen operators, school cleaners, or other parents in the school. In doing so, we create a positive and nurturing environment that benefits those in the middle – our children.

But in the classroom, when both teachers and parents have mutual trust in their partnership, that is where our children feel most secure, knowing that their loyalty to their teachers and parents are not torn, and that the key adults in their lives all seek the best for them.

To me, that’s how we as a village ought to demonstrate respect so that our children can be raised as a gracious adult.

 

Featured image The Sick Classroom by Nge Lay by Flickr user Jnzl’s Public Domain Photos, CC 1.0

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A child daydreaming at school

by Brenda Tan

At the recent National University of Singapore Business School’s 50th anniversary gala dinner, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, highlighted the need for our children to daydream, so that starting early in life, they are able “to breed that instinct of wanting to think… in original ways.”

He said that daydreaming helps promote a social culture where there is intellectual diversity and a tolerance of social diversity. In such diversity, people do not expect early consensus and are more likely to test their assumptions, leading to innovation and creativity, and helping Singapore keep ahead of their competitors.

For parents, Mr Tharman’s advocacy of daydreaming seems counter-intuitive to our drive to teach our children to focus in order to succeed in school.

Earlier this year, my primary one’s form teacher informed me that my son had a tendency to wander. It was a challenge for him to remain seated in class and his curiosity about what his friends were doing at the other end of the classroom distracted him to the point where he often failed to complete his own assignments. I remember joking with his ever-patient teacher that my son had replaced the school’s value of wonder with wander. But being a good mother, I promised his teacher to help him to learn to focus on his task, so that he could hand in his work on time.

But I don’t think I’m the only parent with wandering children.

The funny thing is, both wonder and wander are related. One definition of wonder has to do with curiosity and speculation – a wandering of the mind. And Tolkien appreciates that “not all those who wander are lost”.

It’s interesting to observe children when they have a task to do. Whether they are working or playing, they sometimes zone out for a few moments. A longer zone out sometimes looks like daydreaming, and research on the mind shows that it is moments like these when the brain is making sense of what we are experiencing.

Therefore, it may not be a good idea to constantly keep our children focused and on-task – not if we also want them to make sense of the learning they are engaged in.

Mr Tharman said that “we can’t overfill the curriculum for kids, we can’t keep them engaged continuously in specific tasks, we’ve got to have enough space for diverse experiences, for their minds to wander, and we’ve to provide that space as kids grow up”.

It is so much easier said than done, especially in our high-stakes education system where there is a constant need to try for perfect grades, and free time is usually seen as dead space where potentially another assessment paper could be done to give our kids an edge.

So what does this mean for the average Singaporean parent? Should we now look for an enrichment class on daydreaming to send Ah Boy and Ah Girl to?

Come, let me daydream up five simple ways to get our kids daydreaming, and still get their schoolwork done:

1. Set time for task completion… So that there’s time later for the mind to wonder/wander.
My children daydream best when they have to complete their school assignments. It’s inevitable because sometimes their homework is so boring that the mind gives up and begins wandering. However, it’s not a good habit to cultivate in children to have their mind wander into epic dragon-slaying journeys mid-way into their worksheets. What if they do this during exams? What I do is gauge the time needed for homework to be completed and add about five minutes to that time, in case they have mini zone out episodes. I still have to re-direct their attention to the task sometimes, especially when the mini zone out moments morph into something longer. But my main message to my kids is: Finish your schoolwork first, so that you can have time to play. And despite the temptation, I keep this promise and don’t pile them with extra assignments, especially when they have completed the needful work within the scope I set them.

2. Encourage waste-of-time hobbies that allow for a lot of uninterrupted time.
For example, doodling, colouring, playing with LEGO, crafting, playing an instrument, mucking about. The key is to engage the child’s interest and imagination so that there’s space for mindful wanderings as well as unmindful wonderings. There ought to be no target outcome for thinking for daydreams; happy, engaged experiences are usually enough fodder to build up fantastical connections in the mind. Likewise, refrain from seeking a perfect product, like a colouring masterpiece, at the end of the session. The point of the exercise is not the product, but the process of trial and error (especially error), thinking, imagination, and possibilities involved in the endeavour.

3. Get active! Get outside!
Think daydreaming and the picture is usually of a person who sits and stares into space. There are correlations between expansive thinking and the amount of natural space – sunshine, fresh air, green nature – we inhabit when doing the daydreaming. We should take advantage of our green outdoors, and allow our children literally to think with the sky as their limit. Taking the kids on an hour-long walk or bicycle ride on the Park Connector Network, playing with sand at East Coast, playing at the playground with the neighbourhood kids, or just allowing the kids to sit at a park bench and watch out for wildlife – these activities help provide materials for fantastic daydreams.

4. Read, read, read!
Reading is one easy way to launch the mind into the realm of daydreams. Fiction works better to set the mind daydreaming in the hero’s role. For parents, there is an assurance that staring at words seems more productive than staring blankly into space. But refrain from the temptation to pile on the non-fiction books in the mistaken idea of filling the mind with facts like little pieces of LEGO bricks.  One happy way to balance fiction and non-fiction books is to get books by your child’s interest – astronomy, dance, wildlife, culture, etc. This way, you get the LEGO bricks and the possible ways to make fantastical connections.

5. Be provocative – What if? What does it look like from his or her point of view?
This is may be a bit difficult for parents to do, especially when we are always concerned about teaching our children to be right all the time. Also, it doesn’t appear to directly help daydreaming. However, helping our children see different perspectives and possibilities in any situation broadens their thinking (and daydreaming). Daydreaming, by its very nature, is expansive. A habit of divergent thinking allows daydreams to make interesting and non-linear connections.

“I never regretted the fact that I did a lot of daydreaming when I was young because it turns out to have been very useful.” – Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam

After all, if Mr Tharman never regretted that he daydreamed a lot when he was young, and it turned out very useful for him in his journey to being our Deputy Prime Minister, daydreaming would benefit our children too. Right?

 

Featured image 1st Place -105 by Flickr user Resolute Support Media, CC BY 2.0

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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.

 

 

Featured image is from Flickr by user FennecCooper.

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