Growing up in Singapore, I was always told to study hard. My grandparents would ask me if I got ‘tey yi mia’ — top of the class. My parents weren’t ferociously demanding. Still, I pretty much had after-school help from grade four all the way through to high school. I understand why my parents pushed me the way they did, and to be fair to them, I had a competitive streak myself to want to get into the best schools.
I didn’t hate the system, but I intuited pretty early on that all these tests and exams I was sitting for were pointless. I gamed the system like most of the students who got into the schools I did — learning exam techniques, spotting exam questions, memorising model answers and spitting them out when the time calls for it.
Many adults my generation grew up without much of a childhood, shuttled from one after-school class to another. The Asian parent’s ambition for their child to become a doctor/lawyer/banker is real. But the world has moved on. Robots are replacing humans in many jobs, and at the same time, technology is creating many new jobs. Parents need to ask themselves whether all that time spent in after-school classes prepares kids for jobs of the future and whether there are more meaningful ways for kids to spend time outside of the classroom. You can make your child chase every last mark for every exam, but to what end?
Childhood is precious. It’s when human beings are the most creative, curious and eager to learn. I enjoyed my childhood getting shuttled from one after school class to another, said no one ever. Give your child time and space to explore and play. Ask them what they are interested in and what they want to learn. Get them to spend time in nature. Forest school is a thing. Tell them it’s ok to not get perfect grades or go to the best school, because ten years from now will college degrees still matter? Tell them skills are more important than knowledge, and mindset is more important than skills. Broaden your definition of success — it’s not just about getting a job in a respectable white-collar profession. Will those jobs still exist anyway?
This is my favourite line in the Saturday Kids manifesto:
Listen to your parents but not too much, break rules a little and add your own touch.
Take what you want from this line, but please just give your child some breathing room.
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