A Father’s Love Letter to His Daughter On Her Education Journey

You’re six now. Next year, you’ll be in primary school. Your education journey has only just begun, and as your father, I’m scared as hell.
I’m scared because the choices you make determine the nature of your journey, especially early on in school. Teachers, subjects, CCAs, exams, and friends-all these influences will mould your worldview. As your father, I want to share some of my life lessons so you’ll learn what I’ve been through.
Life lesson number one: Don’t become me, be you.
My distractions were girls and computer games. For you, it’s now Google Home, Netflix, Siri, iPad, Amazon Prime, Hasbro toys, pink v.Tech stuff, and kindergarten mates who are constantly choosing who they want to be best friends with. Trust me, if it isn’t complex now, it’s gonna get a little more complex in the years ahead.
Anyway, the girls in my class were mostly attached. Games were expensive (they came in compact disc boxes with actual printed manuals), and my only other option was to take the Singapore-JB train from Tanjong Pagar to Holiday Plaza to hunt for chiong ones. Nowadays, you just play them on mummy’s iPhone with a snap of your fingers.
“…tells students it’s okay to waste time, get an ‘F'”
Tan Min Liang, CEO, Razer, quoted in an interview with Tech in Asia, 2013
Having been through what I have, what I’m trying to say is this: don’t worry too much about school. Singapore’s education policy is undergoing a sort of renaissance; a kind of shift, I suppose, from knowledge to softer, more experiential skills. I studied obsolete software programmes like Lotus Notes and Wordstar in Polytechnic-stuff you’d probably think were characters from Care Bears.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) folks are abolishing Normal (Technical/Academic) and Express streams. They are introducing subject-based banding. They’re also doing away with graded assessments and exams for Primary 1 and 2 students, and removing mid-year exams for Primary 3 and 5, and Secondary 1 and 3 students. Which means three weeks of curriculum time freed up every two years. Which means more time for other activities and projects.
Which also means, more time for parents to slot in extra tuition hours? Just kidding, I promise to tell Mum that we shouldn’t. As your parent, I shouldn’t enforce principles the same way my Tai Kong enforced them on me. You’re not me. You’re you. Besides, the time I was a student and the time you’re in now are two different timelines. What use is there if I punish you for failure or add pressure on you when the effect is just going to add more pressure on all of us? Some level of tolerance is necessary and definitely some perspective to see your point of view for both Mum and myself.
You will see all this.
This then is life lesson number two: Your capacity to accept failure. I want you to know that it’s okay to fail. As long as you learn from these failures and become better, you’ll be a better student and a better person.
There will be students who are constantly pushing themselves for higher scores because they (or their parents) cannot accept failure. There will also be students who aren’t afraid to fail, pick themselves up, and learn from their failures.
As a parent, I want you to experience the latter, because I’ve been through the former path myself and I know failure is never taught, it has to be experienced. My personal hope is that instead of a culture of competition in schools, you will live in an education culture of collaboration, where failure is part of the learning process, not a form of embarrassment through peer pressure.
“With the removal of one mid-year examination in every two-year block, teachers will not need to rush through the syllabus. This gives them the time and space to explore new areas, and try out more effective pedagogies.”
Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education
I won’t lie. Mum and I are worried. Singapore’s Institute of Mental Health (IMH) has said that their Child Guidance Clinics have been treating stressed-out children since 2012, with about 2,400 cases every year. Many of them relate to stress, anxiety, and depression.
Most causes are related to school, like homework and exa…
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