08 February 2006

Hardship Etc

ST Forum Feb 8, 2006
Parents pamper their kids too much now

I WAS a bit bemused and saddened to read about the saga on getting up early to go to school. I think Singaporean parents are pampering the kids too much.

Please allow me to share a bit of my schooling experience to put things in perspective.

Back in the 1980s, I was one of the many kids who travelled daily across the Causeway from Johor to study in Singapore in the hope of getting a better education. Getting up at 5am to prepare for the morning session was a common routine for us.

Getting stuck in massive jams during festive months was common for us too. We could take two to three hours to get home.

When we were in the afternoon session, we could reach home as late as 9pm because of traffic jam.

Did we turn out badly? No, I don't think so. Many of us excelled and went to good schools and later on to good jobs. Our experience taught us the importance of prioritising and discipline. You don't have extra time to watch TV or play computer games. School work comes first. We also learnt about responsibility. I carried my passport to school since I was seven. I have learnt to take care of important documents since young.

In recent times, there has been an influx of foreign students from China, Taiwan and elsewhere who have to put up with separation from their families and an unfamiliar environment to seek a better education. Do they do badly? No. It is common to see them topping their cohort.

I hope Singapore parents pause to reflect on how fortunate our kids are and allow them to grow up with some 'hardship'. It will do them good.

Ng Tze Yik

Yeah, right. And in Kenya, kids run 15 km across the African savannahs each day to get to school. On the other hand, that's hardly a plausible reason for banning Singapore's children from taking school buses and MRT trains, is it?

Mr Wang does not believe in hardship for its own sake. Work smart, not hard.

Perhaps Mr Ng Tze Yik still laboriously scrubs and soaps and wrings and handwashes all his dirty laundry piece by piece, just like my grandmother used to do. After all, according to Tze Yik's reasoning, he will stand to benefit from the hardship. However, Mr Wang - and any other sensible, modern Singaporean - will stick with the modern washing machine.

"Oww, my back .... what I really need is
the Osim iDesire OS-7800 Massage Chair."


Recruit Ong said...

iDesire?? Grandma needs iGallop! Yeeehawwwww! -_-"

singaporean said...

If this Ng Tze Yik thinks hardship is good for the soul, he should have volunteered to serve NS instead of being a freeloader here.

Even clerks serving NS find themselves not having slept at 5am in some jungle somewhere overseas, carrying a lethal weapon before we are old enough to vote and see naked women in movies. I'm sure that's why Singaporeans are all superior because of that...hey waitaminute...then why do we need all these foreign talents like Ng Tze Yik then?

adriantan18 said...

I think the response is a bit too extreme. Yes, we don't have to emulate people like Kenya but what is a little hardship or discipline to toughen a person's character?

Just look at the bus overturn incident. Parents are asking for seat belts in response. How about helmets? and fireproof school uniform in case the bus catches fire.

Mind you, we all went through the old school system. We also woke up in the wee hours(maybe not as early as Tze Yik here) but did we suffer a lot from that? Permenent dark eye circle/bag?

What is with the current generation that they can't wake up the same time as we used to? Why the double standard?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Firstly, I'd like the Ministry of Education to tell me with a straight face that the reason they make school start at 7:30am is because they think that:

(a) this is hardship, and;

(b) hardship is good for building character.

Please, lah. If schools want to build students' character through hardship, then please do so effectively. Get the kids to play sports or join the Boy Scouts or go camping or whatever. At least they get to learn some skills, have some real adventure, be part of a team, AND have some fun at the same time.

Sleep deprivation does not build character. It merely impairs cognitive performance; mental concentration and general overall health. Etc etc.

And really - what is all this old generation/current generation talk again? Why should ANY generation do what any OTHER generation did, just because that other generation did it?

Please, everyone. Think progress, advancement, positive change, improvement. Don't do anything in a certain way for no other reason than that your grandmother or your father used to do it that way. Longkangs are NOT the way to go. 7:30 am may or may not be the best time to start school - but apply your mind, THINK about it - don't just stick to it just because that was how it was always done "in the good old days".

kite said...

A case of romanticising hardship?

If a problem can be solved so that life is better - for everyone really, parents included - insist that everything should be as per "when I was young"? How do we progress?

Imagine the boss suddenly announce that the whole company starts work at 7am so that you have to wake up at 5am. I'm sure you can zen, march around singing "rah rah rah" and say, "Hardship toughens me." An adult will try to find a job near his home, write complaint letters to the forum about the causeway customs - and insist the children suffer? Tell me about being bemused.

I didn't carry my passport since 7 but I will learn how to be responsible for it when I have to. Maybe we underestimate our abilities to learn and adapt.

The children today have other pains going for them - late bed time, a lot more technological stuff to keep up with, more CCAs to cope with in school, increasing competition from populous China/ India. These are the real testing stuff they have to face.

Helmets and fireproof uniform are probably not practical in this weather or cost effective, but I don't see, why not seat belts, if it has been proven to save lives?

Mr Jherek said...

You know the past always looks better than the present...ahhh now in my day..

singaporean said...

In my primary school days, I used to wake up at 5am too and reach school at 6am. Why? Because the schoolbus driver needed to fetch factory workers afterwards. The reason we have two sessions was because there wasnt enough classroom space way back then - a problem that doesnt really apply now.

Do you think this Ng Tze Yik gone through all the trouble because of the value in waking early and getting stuck in a jam? Obviously his parents think Malaysian schools stink and yet didnt want to/cannot afford to let him stay in Singapore. If there was an expressway to bring him across the causeway, you think he will CHOOSE to be caught in the jam?

I'm sure this gungho Ng Tze Yik rides a bicycle to work everyday and has never taken a lift or an escalator in his lifetime: after all physical hardship is good for his body and soul, and his time has no value.

What this Ng Tze Yik is trying to expresss, is his sadistic desire to see the future generation to suffer the same way he did. And it is not like he has achieved anything great worth mentioning, let alone emulating.

斯铿 said...

i also tink that his eg of china n other students coming to singapore is not entirely useful. singapore students do go overseas to study aniwae.

and yes, if people continue to tink back to the 1980s, or better still to the 1800s, then it's hard to see where society will progress.

my mum uses the washing machine. i noe how to use the washing machine too. i volunteer to wash e clothes in tis manner. i believe, in some sense, this shows that i learn responsibility. volunteering to handwash ALL e clothes juz makes me an idiot. =)

Merv said...

Mr Wang:

Other than changing the school time/duration, it doesn't matter if it starts early or late.

Start early, end early. Start late. End late.

What they should be fighting for, is shorter school hours.

Sleep deprivation can be solved by sleeping earlier.

xenoboysg said...

There is of course the mother of all hardships, NS.

So perhaps we should have mandatory NS for all Singaporeans regardless of gender and from the age of 12.

darrnot said...

"Sleep deprivation can be solved by sleeping earlier."

Studies show children experience a shift in their internal body clocks during puberty and the onset of sleepiness is delayed (Delayed Sleep Syndrome). These children tend to only feel sleepy after midnight. These are the lucky ones. The more unfortunate ones don't feel sleepy until 2am.

Not everyone can force themselves to sleep at 11pm and wake up at 6am for 7 hrs of continuous sleep (8hrs of sleep is recommended for children).

Besides, the reality is that with a more 'connected' society, children are distracted from sleeping early with 24hr entertainment being readily available through all forms of media.

We should keep with the times. Times have changed. People are sleeping at later hours. We now better understand the effects of insufficient sleep on the body and the sleep cycles of children. It makes more sense to allow school children to wake up later. Children who choose to wake up at 6am to do their homework are free to continue doing so.

darrnot said...

Times have changed. No pun intended. Heh.

Oh, and why not make this an election issue as part of the education system reform? Opposition parties listen up! Or is this not "bread and butter" enough for Sporeans? Hmmm...

Merv said...


Most people I know, never have enough sleep. Even when they can wake up later?

You know why?

Because knowing they can wake later the next day causes them to sleep even later.

Happens to everyone. This is human nature.

A little discipline like sleeping at a set timing and waking up on a set time does more good than harm to anyone.

Yes. Times have changed. People are staying up later.

But honestly speaking, are they staying up later to do something useful?

Times has changed = changed for the better?

darrnot said...


i believe that whatever people do with their time is their own business. The question of whether they are staying up later in the night to do something 'useful' is in itself not a useful enquiry regarding this issue.

The fact is that there are children who cannot consistenly sleep before 11pm, whether for the lack of self-discipline or because of genuiene difficulty. How do we help this group of children get enough sleep? Is there any good reason we cannot allow children to start school later so that the chances of them getting more sleep is higher (admittedly an assumption)?

Biased Observer said...

I am pretty sure the education system will slowly (but surely) move towards a single session starting at 8-830 or so. But it's not something you implement with a snap, there are many things to consider aside from just the issue of school facilities and tax cost.

If I remember correctly, if school were to start at 8-830, it would end at 2-3pm, the extra hour or so being necessary for lunch break for all students and staff.

The later start means that students will be using public roads at the same time as the workforce - there'll be a lot more traffic to contend with, buses and MRTs will be even more packed, and school bus fares will increase dramatically because bus companies will no longer be able to ferry students and workers using the same fleet.

I'm not saying that these are reasons for not having school start later, but just considerations which must be addressed adequately first.

Later start, later end, may mean less time for after school activities like piano, ballet, tuition, tennis etc.

And if school wraps up at 230pm or so, I hope parents don't then complain that their poor babies have to trudge home or attend their CCAs in the wicked afternoon sun. I mean, it does suck, but I don't know how there'd be a perfect balance of everything.

singaporean said...


just because you and your friends find it challenging to find something useful to do at night doesnt mean that the rest of Singapore is as unimaginative as you.

For starters, parents working long hours would have less time to interact with or even see their children if they sleep earlier. And if the children go to school later, the parents can yet spend more time with their children taking them to school.

Of course, if more children are taken to school by parents rather than school bus, that will open another can of worms: rush hour traffic. If the argument against school starting later at say 8.30am is to avoid rush hour squeeze, I will accept that.

But to say that people have nothing better to do with their time, or that waking earlier somehow makes one tougher all based on anecdoctal evidence is just lame.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

There are numerous ways to skin the cat. What I don't like is the blanket "no" implicit in the line of thinking that goes "Last time we have to get up at ____ o'clock; why can't the current generation do the same?". Which to me is ridiculous. The innovative, problem-solving INTJ in me objects violently to that kind of argument.

Just to demonstrate how many ways there could be to skin the cat, I will offer 10 points to think about:

1. Not all schools in Singapore need to start at the same time. Some can choose to start at 7:30 am, others can choose to start at 8:00 am or 8:30 am. The starting time for a school will then be a factor for parents and their children to consider when selecting a school. For example, if I live very close to a particular school that I'm considering applying to, I may not mind the school starting at 7:30 am because I can get up, say, at 7:00 and still make it in time. But if I live quite far away from a certain school and the travelling time would be quite long, then I may decide to apply only if I find that it starts at 8:00 or 8:30 am.

2. Changing the starting time of the school from 7:30 am to 8:00 am does not necessarily mean that school must end later. It may simply mean that the school must get a little more efficient & creative in using its time. For example, if students sang Majulah Singapura and the school song once a week or once a month instead of every day, then morning assemblies could be greatly shortened or perhaps held only once a week.

3. Schools could use the early part of the morning (7:30 - 8:00) for informal, non-compulsory "breakout" sessions between students and teachers. For example, students who want to approach their teachers, either individually or in small groups, to discuss anything or interact in a less formal, structured environment can come at 7:30 am. Or "informal tuition" kind of time. Students who don't want or don't need to discuss anything can come at 8:00 am. Teachers must come at 7:30 am. Formal classes start at 8:00 am.

4. Instead of seeing the problem as a "should it be 7:30 or 8:00 am" problem, perhaps the schools should think about the issue about why are parents raising this in the first place? Do they see their kids being stressed out and overworked, doing their homework late into the midnight hours and then being unable to get up in time for school? Then the question is whether schools are overstressing their kids; and how should we tackle that.

5. Why can't schools start lessons at the same time as universities? NINE a.m.

6. Can a school have staggered starting times? Eg primary 4 onwards - start at 7:30 am, younger kids start at 8:00 am.

7. Possible for MOE to do a proper study? Get 10 schools to change their starting times for half a year, and then gather feedback.

8. Conduct non-compulsory, outside-the-PSLE/O-level-syllabus activities in the early part of the morning? Students who can come early, come. Students who prefer to sleep an extra 45 minutes, sleep. Examples of activities (will vary according to students' age):

outside-the-syllabus science experiments;

creative writing;

school can screen educational TV programmes (eg National Geographic documentary) for subsequent discussion;

teacher can introduce kids to intellectual games/puzzles like crossword puzzles; Boggle; Soduku; chess;

mini-drama or music or art activities;

informal reading time; eg students can bring their own English/Chinese books and read; if they need help, teacher will be there to explain words etc

9. School starts at 7:30 am for weaker kids who need extra time with their teachers; attendance at 7:30 am is voluntary for other students who can choose to come at 8:00 am if they like.

10. School starts at 10am and runs to 4 pm (CCA time is built into that space) - avoids all problems relating to overloading public transport system.

Merv said...


"just because you and your friends find .... as unimaginative as you"

but of course, always attack the commentor, not the comment.

I did not say waking up earlier will instill toughness, what I did write, is that waking up according to a set timing, and not moaning about it, instills discipline.

As for the time spent by parents with their children.

How much of it is actually quality time, and not time infront of the xBox or telly, or go to the mall?

What Singaporeans need to do, is know how to spend their time well with their kids.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

One more thought:

11. Schools can analyse the demographics of their student population. I suspect that the average and below-average neighbourhood schools are mainly attended by students who live in the vicinity. Whereas the better schools eg RI or ACS may draw students from all over Singapore. Schools in the latter category has a stronger reason to start later, since some students may have to wake up a lot earlier and travel a lot further to get, say, from their home in Jurong West to their RI school in Bishan.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Personally (and I'm really speaking for myself), I find most of official school time to be a waste of time.

I literally attended about a grand total of three lectures in my last two years of law school, and less than 10 tutorials. The only reason I got away with all that is that I consistently finished in the Dean's List despite skipping so many lessons. However, in truth, the only way I could consistently finish in the Dean's List was by skipping school so that I had lots of time to do serious studying on my own. In fact, the only year I didn't get into the Dean's List was my first year, when I was still dumb enough to attend school regularly.

My school-skipping behavior dated all the way back to primary school days. I used to pester my mother to write false letters of explanation to my school to say that I had been ill and hadn't been able to attend school for the past three days etc. My mother, remarkably enlightened parent as she is, usually agreed. I stayed at home and studied on my own and finished PSLE with a score that even in the much-more competitive environment today, would see me comfortably into any of the top secondary schools.

My strategic manoeuvring mindset persisted into my NS days, where I eventually escaped the suffering & drudgery of routine NS jobs and wrangled myself a post at the Ministry of Defence writing for Pioneer magazine and organising media events. I wore civilian clothes; had my driver to fetch me around Singapore to interview people in different SAF camps; met journalists; learned a lot about writing & publishing; and had many interesting hours discussing and analysing national defence policy with captains and majors.

Don't get pigeonholed, people. There are always better ways to do things. Expand your thinking. Especially - quit washing your laundry in the river.

Discipline is good. Creativity & imagination is better. Don't be afraid to change things, to do things differently.

freemoulin said...

During my time in primary school, most schools had both morning and afternoon sessions due to space constraints. I believe the morning session had to start early so that classes in the afternoon session didn't have to end too late , i.e. beyond 6:30pm. It is a compromise between the 2 sessions which I think is reasonable.

However, I understand that many schools nowadays have moved to single session? If that is the case, then I no longer see the need to start at 7:30am.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

There we have it! That word - "fair". For goodness sakes, what has this got to do with fair? The issue is NOT about how to inflict equal amounts of suffering on our children. The issue is NOT about inflicting suffering at all. Once you start thinking that way, you are headed on the wrong track.

And the issue of discipline is also irrelevant to the discussion. How can making the starting time later lead to ill-discipline?? If that is so, then the afternoon-session kids, starting at 1:00pm, must be like English soccer hooligans or crazy Woodbridge lunatics.

Discipline means you set the starting time and the kids come to school by that time. What that time should be is an altogether different question. It could be 7:30am, 8:00am, 8:15pm, or 1:00 pm or 2:00 pm. Discipline is not the point. Be clear!

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Still don't get it?

Oh, ok lor. You get up at 5 am, and walk to the nearest river and scrub your laundry on the rocks lor.

Waaaah, so disciplined. And stupid.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Tell you what lah, I'll show you another way to think about this issue.

Imagine you are a school principal. You have the power to set the starting time anytime. Which of the following do you choose ...:

5:30 am
6:00 am
6:30 am
7:00 am
7:30 am
8:00 am
8:30 am
9:00 am

... and why? What are the different factors you would take into consideration?

I think once you think more logically, you will see that there are many considerations.

Discipline being the one of the most insignificant ones.

hugewhaleshark said...

Reasons cited in ST for an early start to the school day: "most schools have to fit in two sessions a day; many parents prefer the early start; and school bus drivers want their school runs done quickly so they can switch to ferrying office and factory workers." You've got to feel sorry for the kids, nobody seems to give a shit what *they* want.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Of course, if we were to believe Mugster, we would say:

"Teachers believe that if school starts early, overall discipline would improve and fewer students would bring handphones and MP3s to school."


Just by the way, I actually do NOT think that there is anything morally wrong about students bringing handphones to school. If a student brings a handphone to school, I would NOT think that therefore he must be an ill-disciplined, naughty boy. I would expect certain rules to be obeyed - for example, phones must be switched off or on silent mode during lessons - but I really don't see what's so wrong about students using their handphone to make phone calls, say, during recess time.

Frankly, lots of school rules were ridiculous in my day, and I bet many school rules are still ridiculous today. I remember when I was a kid I fell asleep during a class because the teacher was so boring and lousy at teaching, and I wasn't the only one. Naturally we were all scolded and punished. Objectively, however, the TEACHER should have been scolded because if so many kids are falling asleep during your class, then you must be a pretty LOUSY teacher.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Mugster -

As a matter of fact, if some kinds of lessons COULD be effectively taught by webcast or some other technology, then yes, why NOT?

The question is whether it CAN be effectively taught that way; and whether such a method would be better than other existing methods.

As for your example about not eating in class - well, frankly, if there are good reasons to eat in class, then why NOT? Personally it is quite common in my organisation to have corporate "brown bag" lunch meetings - we eat sandwiches for lunch while having serious meetings about serious matters. In the school context, again it should be a question of the pros and cons. For example, if students are permitted to suck sweets or snack on biscuits during lectures and this helps them to stay awake, then why NOT? We only need to set a few basic parameters like don't make a mess and don't bring food requiring forks and spoons as that would impede note-taking.

darrnot said...


Appreciate your insightful treatise on the lack of discipline in neighbourhood schools.

However, I fail to see how delaying the start of school necessarily results in ill-discipline among students.

Like Mr Wang pointed out, discipline is about arriving in school punctually before the stipulated timing and does not depend on whether school starts at 7am or 8am.

Matrix said...

Mr Wang, when a person does not share your view doesn't necessary mean that he/she is stupid.

Yes, what has worked in the past does not necessary applies in the future. But looking at all the feedbacks from the teachers and those in the education field, one must wonder what has gone wrong to make teaching become increasingly difficult. I don't see what's the big deal in waking up early or what's the big fuss in waking late. It makes no sense to argue over this. We should be focusing on how to better educate the kids.

Perhaps, it's the parents that have become pampered.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Let me put it to you this way. Mugster has done his stint of relief teaching and he thinks that somehow his opinion about school starting times ought to carry more weight because of his practical experience.

The simple fact is that there is absolutely NOTHING he has told us, based on his practical experience, which makes his view about starting times any more persuasive & convincing.

For example, he says that he has encountered ill-disciplined kids who use handphones, MP3s and may end up breaking the law one day etc etc.

His practical experience lends weight to this observation, but how can this observation in itself lend any weight whatsoever to his view about starting times?

I ask you -

how will changing the starting time alter the kids in any way? If you change the time to 8:00 am, will they therefore really turn into worse devils than they currently are? Conversely, if you change the time to 7:00 am, will they suddenly start improving for the better? Does starting time really correlate with the rates of misbehaviour in students? Are p.m session students really more apt to commit crimes than a.m session students, since p.m session students start school many HOURS after the a.m session students do?

Answer those few questions. I mean - just answer them. Yes or no?

Or look at it this way. Suppose there are many, many ill-disciplined kids in a school. Kids are rude; they misbehave; they steal things; they won't keep quiet in class; they litter everywhere; they fight in the canteen. You are the principal. What can be done to solve this problem & improve discipline?

Possibly things like - cane them; scold them; report them to their parents; shame them in front of their peers; have more prefects; suspend naughty boys from school; send them to see the principal etc etc.

But do you think changing the school starting time (whether to make it later or earlier) would HELP?

Please lah. That is a different kind of matter altogether.

Merv said...

Mr Wang:

But Mungster did not say that.

The whole long drawn debate on handphones and soduku started because mugster is trying to say why your some of your ideas on 'skinning the cat' is shite.

I see no where did he link disipline with starting times.

Instead. He wrote that the lack of discipline will cause your suggestions not to work.

That's when you decided to 'put words in this mouth' by writing

Of course, if we were to believe Mugster, we would say:

"Teachers believe that if school starts early, overall discipline would improve and fewer students would bring handphones and MP3s to school."

Heavenly Sword said...

Interesting post and comments! I personally think that:

(1) It's possible to have very disciplined students even if the schools start at 8am/830am.

(2) We cannot talk about the problem without taking into account the views of parents and teachers. Parents, teachers, and students are all stakeholders of the school.

(3) The 'discipline-is-most-important' argument is infinitely powerful: it can be used to justify too many things (eg. NS should be lengthened to 20 years; HDB flats should not have lifts; buses should not be frequent; and so on).

(4) 8am/830am appears to be not that much of a difference from 730am, BUT it can make a big difference in the quality of lives of the students, teachers, and parents. In other words, I think that this 'small change' can have a 'huge impact'.

(5) Re traffic jams, discipline, etc: One can still choose to send his kids to school (or make them go to school) earlier than the official assembly time. They can reach there at 6am/7am if they want to - thus avoiding traffic jams, and enhancing their self-discipline. And they'll have 1-hour to 'hang around'/do their homework etc in the school campus before the morning assembly begins...

(6) Conclusion: Back to Point (1) - it's still possible to produce well-disciplined students even if the schools start at 8am/830am - which seems to be a reasonable starting time.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

If that is the case, then I have misunderstood him.

And in case you have misunderstood me, the point of my many, many ideas is that there are many, many potential solutions - some better than others.

A blanket "no" for no other reason than "oh, the older generation did it, so the younger generation should too" is just ridiculous.

Huge Whaleshark has helpfully summarised the position:

"Reasons cited in ST for an early start to the school day: "most schools have to fit in two sessions a day; many parents prefer the early start; and school bus drivers want their school runs done quickly so they can switch to ferrying office and factory workers." You've got to feel sorry for the kids, nobody seems to give a shit what *they* want."

... which in themselves generate logical lines of inquiry:

- what about single-session schools? What time do they start and why?

- can overall schedule even in double-session schools be adjusted, to accommodate more sleep?

- how many parents prefer the early start? How many parents prefer a later start?

- should schools change their school bus systems? For example, have their own buses, without drivers who are eager to dump the kids and then rush off to pick up the factory workers?


All these are legitimate, sensible lines of inquiry - far more sensible than the guy who said:

"School should start at 7:30 am because in my day, I had to wake up so early and carry my own passport and travel so far to Singapore and there were awful traffic jams and look at me today, I'm so wonderful and capable, the traffic jams have made me the man I am today, if all kids were forced to undergo the same lousy public transport system and the early starting times as I did, they would be as capable and talented as I am."

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,

It is possible that my stint of relief teaching somehow NOT helped me reach a more informed decision. But unless you yourself do a stint, I doubt you have the grounds to say that.

My main point, as I have said, is that many practices from the Middle Ages should be abolished but school starting time is not one of them. Why? Because there's really no evidence that students are getting their brains damaged from waking up early. Waking up early is seen by many as a good practice.

If you realise, schools have already relaxed a lot of rules to avoid becoming irrelevant. For example, handphones are now not confiscated on sight, and only if they are taken out during lesson time. This is a concession, and it HAS an impact on discipline.

While it is not my intention to conclude that allowing kids to sleep in later will result in them being baddies, I am saying that cultivating a habit of waking up at 6-6.30am is beneficial for character. The opposite of a beneficial effect is not a negative effect. It just means that SG kids have one less instance in which the school trains them.

It's all fine for you to suggest that schools hire buses and bus drivers not pick up factory workers to supplement income. But you should realise that this imposes costs on society, and it all boils down to the question of how much we are willing to sacrifice for our kids and other people's kids.

I'm not saying that doing relief teaching makes me a guru on educational matters, but since you relied on your anecdotes of being a dean's lister, surely I am entitled to state my views as someone who went to a so-called premium school, and up to this year, was pretty much unaware of the challenges that many Singaporeans face.

Mugster (Miss)

Anonymous said...

And I take umbrage at people who easily accuse bus drivers of "dumping" kids. As if the journey does not take several hours, and as if doing so makes the job of driving a bus 8 hours a day a cinch.

I myself took a bus during primary school days, and I know the challenges of these humble people. Not everyone is able to become a professional and earn money in an air-conditioned office. No one becomes a tycoon from driving a bus, for goodness' sakes.

Mugster (Miss)

chnrxn said...

Interesting round of comments with good insights. What Miss Mugster said makes sense. I don't think Mr Wang should be picking on her like that.

Ng Tze Yik's letter should NOT be seen as advocating "inflict equal amounts of suffering on our children". He is only saying "it's not THAT bad".

I particularly enjoy seeing Mr Wang tear apart arguments like this and this. But please go easy on the Devi Ng's and Ng Tze Yik's.

Disclaimer: I'm just giving my 2 cents worth, not trying to dictate what someone can or cannot write on his/her blog. Alright? Objective replies are welcome, flames go straight to /dev/null. :P

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I think that seriously, Mugster believes that waking up early requires discipline and is a good thing. Quote:

"... I am saying that cultivating a habit of waking up at 6-6.30am is beneficial for character."

I don't. I do believe that punctuality is a good habit. For example if school starts at 1 pm, then students should be in school by 1 pm.

Whether school should start at 1 pm (or 6:00 am or 7:00 am or 8:00 am) is altogether another question.

I think that the basis for deciding what the most appropriate time is for starting school, there are many factors to consider. For example:

1. number of hours required for the overall syllabus

2. what the overall syllabus should contain

3. constraints and problems with the school bus system

4. traffic considerations

5. the times that parents need to go work

6. feedback from parents that 6:30 am is too early

7. feedback from parents that their children are not getting enough sleep.

However, I do not consider the following to be relevant factors:

A. "Hardship" is good for building character, therefore it is important for kids to start school at 7:30 am

B. "cultivating a habit of waking up at 6-6.30am is beneficial for character.":

Certainly I see them as far less important than the 7 factors I mentioned earlier.

And I certainly do not believe that when the Ministry of Education set 7:30 am as the starting time long, long ago. they felt that one reason to do so is that this is "character-building".

Mugster, of course, tries to obscure and confuse the issues by deflecting into all sorts of irrelevancies, one of which is accusing me of attacking the poor harmless humble bus drivers. When in fact I was responding to a specific point raised in the media:

"Reasons cited in ST for an early start to the school day: "most schools have to fit in two sessions a day; many parents prefer the early start; and school bus drivers want their school runs done quickly so they can switch to ferrying office and factory workers."

In my opinion, Ng Tze Yik IS spouting nonsense. We do not set starting times at 7:30 am for the purpose of imposing "hardship". Also, in my opinion, enduring traffic jams and travelling long distances to school are pretty lousy ways of "building character". Traffic jams, to me, simply mean that there is a public transport issue to be looked into, and travelling long distances, to me, simply means that there was no decent school near your home that you wanted to attend or could get into.

Don't get confused.

IMHO, the most ridiculous argument of all is that just because it was done in the past, it should continue to be done today. To me, that reflects extremely backward thinking. We should ALWAYS be looking for ways to do things better.

And I can easily believe that students today would appreciate a little more sleep, because students have more subjects, more projects, more CCAs, and more studying to do into the late hours, etc than they did in the past.

Anonymous said...

Don't be a nit-wit, Mr Wang. For a so-called and self proclaimed thinking man, you are really narrow. Ministry of Education does not mandate schools to start school at 7.30am. Schools make the call, and they choose to do so for some practical reasons. If they have 2 sessions, you go calculate when you think they should start. Don't forget in the afternoon session, we are going to get parents to say: Why do my child have to come back so late? The sad thing about you is that you know the reasons. You stated it in the first comment. But you needed to take a potshot at Ministry of Education because ...well I don't know why...maybe it makes you feel good. Since when did Ministry of Education tell you that starting school early is about character building. No need for the Education Ministry to look into your eyes and tell you that. Straight face? blah!

Having said that, we are also saying that the journey of hardship does bring out the unintended consequences of building character. Because the generation are deprived, they learn to appreciate things a bit more. For instance, my observation is that the Chinese New Year used to be more looked upon by me and my brothers with more anticipation than my children and my siblings' offsprings. Why? Well, as children we were less well-of and Chinese New Year meant getting some money to buy the things we want to buy. Our children are more fortunate and they can buy more things they want. Because of the different experience, we develop differently, and I think something good about the earlier generation fades away. The question is how do we try to retain these values which we think are worth keeping.

Therefore, Mr Wang, what are the things/values you think are worth keeping? And how do you keep them. You have children, you think about that...or you give everything to your chuildren.

Don't be a clown to get an audience, please!

singaporean said...

In the middle ages, peasant children dont go to school. They join their parents to work the fields. Schooling for all children, like the prison system, is a relatively recent experiment, and it's necessity is not a given.

In most areas of work, we do not need general education beyond Primary 6. All one needs is vocational training. So what happens in the interim, is waiting time for the minds to mature (if they are indeed destined to be working in intellectually challenging fields) or quite simply, keeping them occupied so that they wont be tearing up public property out of boredom, not unlike a prison.

I have taught in a polytechnic for over a year, and my wife is a primary school teacher, so I think I have at least some experience in education to comment. If you think it is hard to discipline kids wearing uniform, consider how much harder it is to control kids with "blond" hair and tongue studs. But nevertheless, there is a good proportion of students who clearly display a good learning attitude and do not need a harsh disciplinary system or an inspirational teacher. The worst behaving students are those who have no interest in what they are studying but were forced to do so. I assure Mr Wang their is no way you can "carpe diem" them.

In fact, Mr Wang has a rather extreme view on education and I do not agree with his "What is good for Mr Wang is good for everyone else" philosophy. He may be right, but I have trouble accepting it, because Mr Wang is one unique and special dude (that's a nice way of saying "freak").

I agree self-discipline is a necessary ingredient for success, but I am not so sure if it can be forced upon. If you are born a lazy bum, you can be forced to conform, but once the external force is gone, but you go back to your original state.

I dont think anybody here have been teaching for successive decades to conclude that students today are different from those of yesteryears. I dare say that if students today look unmotivated and distracted, it is not necessarily the fault of teachers or technology. How many of us adults behave like Pavlov's dog to the ringtone of our handphones? If school discipline made a difference to us, we ought to behave differently, except we dont.

If we have to place the blame, it is the lack of contact time between working parents and their children. From a tender age, parents divorce themselves from their children's world. Teenagers no longer look up to parents as authority figures worth emulating and they are forced to seek care and attention among themselves and the handphone is an essential tool.

Anonymous said...

well said Singaporean! Mr Wang a freak... well maybe he is, but I think it stems from a lack of knowledge of life in Singapore. Everything is academic to him. He has lots to learn.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, that kids come at 7.20am does not benefit me personally, so I see no reason why you would hold me in a negative light for suggesting that waking up early is not a catastrophic thing to have.

Please bear in mind that teachers have to be there earlier than students, and leave much later. So you can be assured that I do not have any vested interests.

I am not trying to confuse anyone, but surely it's ridiculous to insinuate that all bus drivers are mercenary and want to dump their students asap. They're just honest people making a living, so they should not be left out of the decision about school starting times. Please consider that bus drivers also face rising fuel costs nowadays.

In the west, schools have been debating this issue too, and it may come as a surprise to you that some schools reject the delaying of starting times. This goes to show that it isn't entirely ridiculous and archaic to retain the 7.20 starting time. There are benefits to keeping this rule, which are difficult to articulate. Pick on my words if you want, Mr Wang, but what you and I are doing on this blog is called in Chinese "纸上谈兵". You are basing your thoughts on lofty theories, without practical experience as a disciplinarian of kids at their rebellious age.


Anonymous said...

I have a daughter in primary school (morning session) & I think what Mr Wang says makes a lot of sense. All this talk about discipline and character is crappy nonsense in the present context and the real problem is that the school authorities are just too damn lazy to make the effort to look at whether its possible to shift the starting time by one lousy half hour. Good kid, bad kid, rebellious kid, stupid kid, smart kid, aiyah all kids need sleep so I don't see what any of this got to do with any discipline issue about handphones or MP3.

And hardship, hell, there is already more than enough hardship in our crappy system. It's hardship all the way from Day One in Primary One to university or poly or ITE (if that's where you flunk out). Oh, then after that you got NS. If hardship builds character, then you got lots of opportunity to build great character in those two full-time years of your life mah. So what's the hurry.

By now we should be seeing lots of great characters in S'pore. NS been around for a long time already hor. Fucking every day wake up at 5:00 am for drill, we NSmen sure must have damned solid character by now what, haahahaa.

Anonymous said...

And I don't think it's illogical links hardship to success later in life. When Claire Chiang came to our school to talk, she talked about going to a Chinese school in the morning, and to an English school in the afternoon. (Or could be vice-versa). Olivia Lum also talked about her rough childhood and having to do part-time work to pay for her school fees.

Does it make sense to ask specifically: "Claire, how did going to 2 schools make you a better person? Surely you could have thought of a better way to instil character in yourself?"?


Anonymous said...

Correction: "And I don't think it's illogical to link hardship to success later in life."


singaporean said...


I think you misunderstood Mr Wang. Many of his blog entries are nothing more than challenges to conventional thinking. It is too easy for us to slip into autopilot mode and accept the familiar, even vigorously defending against change for fear of the unknown.

Before I started teaching, I share Mr Wang's belief that there is an Einstein or Mozart to be discovered in every child, given the right inspiration. Now I know that not all are born talented or inspirable, and some literally need to be whipped into shape just to achieve mediocrity.

But just as Mr Wang errs in thinking there is a Mr Wang in every child, we should not think that hardship can hammered out a Claire Chiang or Olivia Lum in every child.

Yes, their hardship contributed to their success, but is it reproducible by imposing the same to other children? Conversely, do we have a twin for Claire Chiang or Olivia Lum who enjoyed the good life growing up and now work as toilet cleaners?

Our society romantises hardship because we all like to imagine the odds favour the underdog. The hard life is newsworthy and we selectively focus on the hardships faced by successful people, and ignore people with no painful tale to tell. Take the richest man in world, Bill Gates, for example. Like Mr Wang, he grew up in comfort and had the freedom to do whatever he wanted, including attending Harvard and then dropping out of school without violent objections from his parents. Gates was born driven and he is not going to let a comfortable life turn him into a lesser being. OTOH, go talk to any toilet cleaner and you can hear misery piling upon misery with no light at the end of the tunnel. But we dont want to hear that either, or we do, we choose to focus on what we like to see, like financial indiscipline, lack of schooling etc. We want to think that hardship => success.

If you take a look at other developed nations, how many has a 7.30am morning session? Having two sessions is a relic of our third world roots. While there are clear benefits, there are clear downsides as well. We ought to weigh the pros and cons instead of defending the status quo like a sacred cow.

Anonymous said...

Too many comments and non is going anywhere, you guys talking at each other huh.

I thought it was interesting that some people can postulate hardship being a requirement for cultivating character. So a natural question for me to ask is the character being built is assumed to be on the 'good' side of things right? But why could it not be the case that some children undergoing such character building hardship may cultivate the wrong side of things? It should be possible that they resent such rigid unthinking rules that are imposed on them, and thus grow up to detest such a system, and perhaps by association, authority in general. But I guess the probable gains from the imposition of hardship is acceptable for most people or that they do not in general think about such things very much unless it impacts them directly (parents for example).

Well, as for Miss Mugster, guess it's not too late for her to be exposed to the wider real world of the neighbourhood schools. Real naughty children would skip school rather than to attend them. Hehe although I do relish a rather sadistical thought that people from the elite schools receiving a rude shock at the extent of the reality when they become new teachers and get posted to neighbourhood schools. (Not directed specifically at Mugster).

Anonymous said...

My point in bringing up Claire Chiang and Olivia Lum is to show that it's not entirely illogical of me to link hardship and success. Mr Wang is making me out to be quite the loony here.

Personally I think waking up early is hardly hardship. It's an inconvenience, and it's really no big deal. That you consider it some kind of torture is worrying.

Ted, I think the relief teaching scheme is a good thing because it's an eye opener to the challenges teachers face, the extent to which parents can be ridiculous and to the fact that many children have turning points in their lives, and they thank those teachers who were strictest with them. My experience has made me read the O-level stories in a different light. On the other hand, you've got to know that elite school students do not all come from elite families. I've no doubt that some of my students come from families richer than my family was 10 yrs ago. They also have a jolly good time creating havoc and passing time in school.


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Goodness. 56 comments on a topic like this. And my preceding post, about all the challenges faced by Singaporeans in all the different age-groups, gets ... 9 comments?

This shall be my last comment for this post, because I really don't think it deserves that much time & attention.

If Mugster's theories are correct, then we should expect to see that p.m session students are more ill-disciplined than a.m session students; are likely to grow up to be less successful than a.m. session students; or otherwise have less robust character than a.m session students.

I doubt this very much, but readers can draw their own conclusions.

Mugster says I have no knowledge of the ground, but conveniently forgets that the whole issue about school starting times was initiated by people who are very much "on the ground" - that is to say:

parents of young schoolgoing children, who are involved in waking their children, getting them ready to school, sending them to school, helping them with their homework, observing their children's sleep patterns every day -

in other words, people who really know what this is all about, but whose feedback thus far seems to have been rejected on a wholesale basis by the authorities.

As for the hardship/success points, I consider all those a major deviation (interesting nonetheless) from the topic; since we are not even agreed on the point of whether waking up early for 7:30 am is hardship;

personally I would consider it not as "hardship", but a significant inconvenience which quite possibly could be done away with, with benefits for parties all round.

Perhaps at another time, I will post separately about the hardship/success correlation (or lack thereof). Singaporean thought of Bill Gates as a counterexample; I, being a Singaporean, thought of Lee Hsien Loong; Lee Hsien Yang; Lee Wei Ling, among others.

Anonymous said...

One final point I might add then, that I don't think sleeping more is in itself a bad thing, rather, I think that tweaking rules that are reasonable to suit the convenience of students is a bad thing.

ie: A lot of students don't tuck in their shirts. Let's abolish this rule!

Mr Wang for goodness' sakes, will you stop misinterpreting what I say? As a parent, you deal with ONE kid, as a teacher, even a temporary one, I deal with about 100 kids each day. Different kettle of fish altogether.

I did say that both parents and teachers should be involved in the decision making process, didn't I?


Anonymous said...

It would seem rather out of place to make a comment on an article written more than 2 years ago. But what the heck, I just read it :)

Mugster wrote:
>tweaking rules that are reasonable to suit the convenience of students is a bad thing.

And why is it bad? That's the difference between democracy and dictatorship: in a democracy, tweaking rules that are "reasonable" to become more reasonable (even if it's just a slight improvement), "just" to suit the convenience of students/citizens is the only right thing to do!

...unless of course, you prefer to be living in a dictatorship, where rules set by a dictator are like commandments cast in stone, only to be tweaked if it is unreasonable, but never to be teawked "to suite the convenience of students"!

>A lot of students don't tuck in their shirts. Let's abolish this rule!

Yes! Let's abolish this rule! It will NOT result in poor discipline - your experience as a relief teacher holds no water: did you do any scientific study that shows that that of 1000 students, the 500 who has a school rule demanding them to tuck in shirts ended up more discipline, compared to the other 500 who has no such school rules? Lots of schools all over the world has no such rule (they dont even insist on a uniform). Did your relief teaching experience show that they are less disciplined.

But aha, you are not going to argue this way. You are going to argus instead: the rule is there... it is cast in stone.. it is spoken by "god" (LKY?).. and so it must be followed at all cost so long as it is reasonable and tweaking it to suit the convenience of students is bad.

Bad for who? for the face of "god"? for undermining his authority? We should abolish tucking in shirts because yes, it is more convenient for students AND there is no scienticic studies to show that not having this tuck-in-shirt will lead to ill-discipline!

Everything should be tweaked/changed for the conveience of students/citizens, so long as the request is reasonable. Not the other way round. That's why people love democracy - by the people, for the people!

Anonymous said...

Q1: will starting school at 8am instead of 730am be more convenient for students and parents?

A1: Yes

Q2: Will it lead to poorer discipline.

A2: No. (unless you are arguing that your years of teaching experience proved scientifically that those who start school at 1pm have poorer discipline than those at 730am!)

Q3: Will it lead to some logistics problem eg. traffic jam, bus driver getting less pay due to inability to fetch factory workers?

A3: Yes.

Q4: so what should we do?

A4: So, we should try to solve the problems mentioned in Q3 so that we can tweak the starting time of 730am to 8am to suit the convenience of the students (and their parents)!

Q5: why must we go through all these trouble "to suit the convenience of the students (and their parents)? Why
not just insist on 730am since it is reasonable (though less convenient) anyway?

A5: because that's what democracy is about: citizens (students and parents in this case) is the boss! The gov (moe, which set the 730 time), which is the civil ***servant***, should do its utmost to bend backwards to tweak whatever policy to "suit the convenience of their ***boss*** - the students/parents/citizens!

So, don't give me cock and bull story along the line of: "god" said 730am, so it shall always be 730am unless there is a compelling reason to change (and anyway 730am will also instill discipline and is reasonsble, blah blah blah). That's the wrong i.e. anti-democracy approach.

The correct approach: students/parents want 830am, so let's bend backwards to accommodate the change it to 830am, unless it is impossible to do so (even though 730am will instill discipline and is equally reasonable blah blah blah)!

Remember: YOU are the boss. policies should be tweaked to suit your convenience (unless impossible). You should not need to tweak yourself to suit the policy and inconveneicne yourself in the meantime (unless the policy leads to something good - and we have just gone through that: 730am does not mean better discipline. period)