After posting that, I thought a little deeper about preschool education issues in Singapore. I have two little kids of my own, and therefore some personal interest in these matters.
Little Wang, my older kid, is gifted. He goes for enrichment classes at a certain place (let's call it G). G is run by a woman who was professionally trained in the United States in (1) gifted education, (2) early childhood development and (3) multiple intelligences theory. I shan't go into specifics, but let's just say that this woman, and her team of teachers, are a lot more highly qualified than the average PAP kindergarten teacher.
G isn't a regular "preschool" or "kindergarten". It merely offers a variety of courses, classes and playgroups and you pick the one you think best suits your kid. Many of these courses are offered on just on a once-a-week, 90-minutes-per-session basis, while others are on a three-times-a-week basis etc. Some parents pick and choose and mix and match a number of courses, so their kid end up attending G as regularly as a normal kindergarten.
The courses at G are a lot more fun, interesting and challenging than what you'd get in a normal kindergarten. Many of the lessons, I suspect, are what MOE would frown upon as being "age-inappropriate" (that is, too difficult for kids of that age). For example, in one science class, the 4-year-olds are already doing science experiments with things like batteries and lightbulbs. In another class, the 4-year-olds discuss current affairs and paint pictures depicting events like "What Would Happen If Bird Flu Spread to Singapore?". In yet another class, the children are already composing and writing their own stories, at an age when in a normal kindergarten, they might not even have mastered their ABCs.
Yet from my personal observations, the kids at G almost invariably learn a lot, have plenty of fun and enjoy themselves thoroughly. G operates on the principle that what you want to engage is the higher cognitive functions of the child's brain. Since the higher cognitive functions are impaired when the child is stressed, worried or anxious, the teachers strive for the opposite effect - they endeavour to make the lessons as fun and enjoyable as possible.
Looking at the MOE registration guidelines for kindergartens, we realise that G, despite its excellent standards, wouldn't qualify to be registered as a kindergarten. That's because a kindergarten, according to the Education Ministry, must offer:
"... a structured 3-year pre-school education programme for children aged 3 to 6. The 3-year programme consists of Nursery, Kindergarten 1 and Kindergarten 2. Kindergartens function daily, five days a week, with schooling hours ranging from 3 hours to 4 hours each day."Furthermore, a kindergarten must have a certain kind of syllabus:
"... language and literacy skills, basic number concepts, simple science concepts, social skills, creative and problem solving skills, appreciation of music and movement and outdoor play. Children will learn in two languages, English as the first language and Chinese, Malay or Tamil as a Mother Tongue language."
G doesn't have a "nursery" or a "Kindergarten 1" or a "Kindergarten 2". It doesn't have a "3-year education programme". As I mentioned, it merely offers courses, classes and playgroups, and of course, no particular course by itself would meet the MOE's syllabus requirements.
So G simply wouldn't qualify to be a MOE-approved kindergarten.
Which kinda shows you how stupid the MOE can be. No wonder the MOE did what it did to CGL (as discussed in my previous post).
Little Wang also attends a regular kindergarten (nursery level) - an MOE-registered kindergarten. Or rather, Little Wang used to attend it. Officially he's still enrolled, but he found the classes very boring and became disruptive in class. So we've stopped sending him to class for some time now.
The principal of that school, to her credit, recognised Little Wang's giftedness on her own. However she isn't quite sure how to deal with gifted kids (and to be honest, her MOE-approved curriculum is just not suitable). Her teachers are also not trained in dealing with gifted kids (so much for being MOE-approved teachers).
She did take the initiative to offer to "promote" Little Wang from nursery to Kindergarten 1, jumping ahead of his peers. I'm still thinking about that offer, but more likely we'll just quit that school entirely. Early "promotion" doesn't help a lot. If Little Wang does K1 when others his age are doing nursery, then he'll do K2 when others his age are doing K1 ... but the following year, he'll have to repeat K2 or otherwise bum around for a year, because MOE doesn't allow kids, gifted or not, to start primary school early.
I do appreciate the principal's helpfulness. She was the one who made all the various inquiries to MOE on our behalf, about the possibility of jumping grades. In the end, it's the system that didn't work out for us.
On a separate note, I work in a very international organisation and my big boss was recently talking about career development. He raised the possibility of overseas postings and left an open invitation for me and my colleagues to approach him to discuss, if ever we wished to be transferred elsewhere (that could mean London, Hong Kong, Shanghai, New York etc).
One of my colleagues later suggested to me that if Little Wang is so gifted, and his sister turns out to be gifted too, and the Singapore system just doesn't suit them well, then perhaps I should seriously consider an overseas posting. Just to get the family out of Singapore. To a place where the education system suits them better.
I like living in Singapore. But the idea of moving out, for the sake of my kids, is something which I suppose I'm duty-bound to consider. Maybe not now, but in a couple of years' time. BoY, writing about Ike See's case in a post entitled "The Relentless Marginalisation of The Gifted", talked about Singaporeans as square pegs being forced by the system into round holes. I really wouldn't want that to happen to my kids.
And who knows, when they've all grown up, I could return to Singapore as "foreign talent". Heheh.