23 May 2006

A Little More About Education For The Very Young

First, read my previous post.

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.


Anonymous said...

We're living in a socio-economical-political system (tripartite eh! mai siao siao!) that assumes one size fits all man, hehehe...

And we all see the end-products of that system, our outstanding PAP MPs...and the products like to perpetuate the system to continue for it to be that way.

The System perpetuates itself.

Just my opinions, cheers.

Best regards,

Dr Oz bloke said...

From Merrian Webster Dictionary

1 a : to provide schooling for b : to train by formal instruction and supervised practice especially in a skill, trade, or profession
2 a : to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically especially by instruction b : to provide with information : INFORM
3 : to persuade or condition to feel, believe, or act in a desired way eg educate the public to support our position
intransitive senses : to educate a person or thing

1 a (1) : to gain knowledge or understanding of or skill in by study, instruction, or experience eg learn a trade (2) : MEMORIZE eg learn the lines of a play b : to come to be able eg learn to dance c : to come to realize eg learned that honesty paid
2 a nonstandard : TEACH b obsolete : to inform of something
3 : to come to know : HEAR eg we just learned that he was ill
intransitive senses : to acquire knowledge or skill or a behavioral tendency

So I guess the Ministry of "Education" is doing what it's name suggests; educating people.

Whereas perhaps we are more concerned with our children learning rather than being educated.

No wonder it's the Ministry of Education and not the Ministry of Learning (MOL). Interestingly, I think MOE is actually planning programs for our MOL's(Ministry of Labor)benefit.

Get good obedient workers who are well educated! LOL!

Anonymous said...

wahaha.. then they will fall heads over heels praising little wang, "singaporean makes it big in (place)", "pride of singapore!", "where no other Singaporeans have gone"..
and then we have talented ppl like ike see.....


moomooman said...

Hi Wang,

Will send you an email with regards to his. Hope you can reply in your free time.


Cappella said...

It is not just the education system. Even in worklife, strange things are happening. Mandatory retirements at the age of 55 is happening at SingTel, and now that NTU professors are given half-pay when they hit 55. This *just* does not happen in other places. I hope you can bring your kids to a more suitable place at an earlier time to induce their learning progress. Hopefully, they be a talent in an earlier time that bring themselves to even greater heights.

Anonymous said...

I suppose Mark Twain said it best: "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education."

Having said that, I thought the Singapore education system was excellent preparation for working life. I was already used to doing things I'd rather not do, being bored out of my brains all the time and constantly being made to feel inadequate, relative to my more gifted peers.

Anonymous said...

Something seems amiss, as I see it, the vast majority of kindergartens are run by the PAP and MOE provides the license for it yet the sad state of the less than innovative education in the most formative years are left to baby sitters!
Is the political agenda subjugating the nation's need to evolve a better way to unleash its human resource?

Anonymous said...

It would be helpful if you could enlighten us on how you conclude that your child is "gifted". My first child was selected for the GEP, and I came cross certain methods of teaching that was, say we say, suspect. Compared to my daughter's progress in the Express Stream, I started to realise something indeed was amiss in the MOE's GEP methodology. From my personal observation, the new IP "route" is a cover up for the GEP failings. Worse, the IP will create more problems. The then Education Minister RADM Teo Chee Hean never really explained what IP was all about, except that time spent for the GCE O Levels could be better used. Guess what? IP students are still sitting for the exams that the Express students are sitting for right now, but with one notable exception. Express student depend on it for promotion to the next level; IP student can fail and yet move on to the next 2 years of the "through train" program, since the O Level hurdle technically does not exist in the new scheme of things for them. If this makes sense, please explain.

Monkey said...

hmm Mr Wang, isn't it true that classes from schools like G are very expensive? My nephew is 4 and also quite advanced and my sister considered such schools but they are rather exorbitant. In the end, I think he's going to some speech and drama class to improve the bits he's not too adept at and decide to go without speeding up. I am not sure if he's going to kindergarten anymore. He might be though... gosh.

schools are a difficult issue. My bf and I were debating educating our kids to US or Singapore in the future because he's based there and I actually LIKE(D?) the education system here. I could not imagine my kid going to a public school nor a private prep school in US.

Maybe homeschooling is the best. No wonder my other sister who lived in US and now in germany prefers homeschooling.

ok sorry for the long verbal diarrhea. the topic is close to many people's hearts, including this monkey's.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Jerry & MooMooMan:

You probably know about developmental milestones in young kids. The milestones indicate what's "normal" development for a child at a particular age (eg six months, 1 year, 18 months, 2 years etc).

Their main purpose is actually for doctors to verify that there's nothing medically wrong with the child (eg not retarded, not deaf etc).

The milestones measure development in a number of different areas - eg use of language; gross motor skills; fine motor skills; responsiveness to sound & music; ability to count; ability to interact with others etc. More information about milestones is easily obtainable in parenting books about kids.

The gifted kid will not merely meet the milestones, but exceed them. He will not exceed all of them, and he may even fall slightly behind some milestones (this is known as asynchronous development - also common in gifted kids). But by and large, he will exceed the milestones in several areas, and exceed them by quite a lot.

Note however, that some gifted kids are gifted only in one specific area. Eg they may be gifted in music. At an early age, they dance a lot, sing in tune, clap their hands and keep time (rhythm) accurately with songs with the radio; and display a lot of emotional sensitivity to music (eg a sad song may make them cry). But they may not necessarily be gifted in anything but music.

For most gifted kids, the giftedness is more broad-based, and you can expect to see them exceed the "normal" milestones in not just one, but several, areas of development.

Some other experts say that in gifted kids, you don't merely expect to find signs of advanced development (these could mean that the child is merely "bright" or has a high IQ - but brightness or a high IQ is not exactly the same as giftedness - there is correlation but it's not the same, which many people don't realise). You would also expect to find certain personality traits eg intensity; complexity; high energy; perfectionistic traits; persistance; some somewhat obsessive tendencies when doing an activity that interests them (eg if they are engrossed in painting, they will scream like hell if you say "stop now, time for dinner".


In Little Wang's case,. the kindergarten principal made enquiries for him to be formally tested by a psychologist, but the MOE did not offer any such services. Apparently, private testing is available, but the MOE also said that he won't be allowed to jump to Primary 1 even if he is tested and confirmed to be gifted, That being the case, we haven't bothered to send him for formal testing.

Little Wang basically started talking early; he learned to count early; he's quicker than me at jigsaw puzzles; his reading skills are very advanced (I've often caught him trying to read my blog on the computer at home); he actually mastered the alphabet before he could talk; he has a fascination with patterns and systems and he will arrange blocks, toy cars etc in very complex patterns; he invents his own nursery rhymes and stories, so that his favourite characters can meet (eg "Barney the Dinosaur likes eggs, so he went to look for Humpty Dumpty ...")


The principal believed Little Wang to be gifted because of her observations of his abilities, in comparison with children of the same age. She noted that he is very strong in two areas: (1) mathematical/logic concepts, and (2) language.

Anonymous said...

lelong! lelong! One size fits all! If it doesnt fit, we'll make a law to make sure it fits. Lelong!
That's what you get for living in a big kumpung.

Anonymous said...

Most of us tends to think of schools as the place to nurture the cognitive development of our children, and all too often forget that their social-emotional development is just as important. Nowadays, the school is the only place where most children get to play and interact with their peers. Many young families has only one or two kids. I noticed that children these days do not play with neighbours much, as we do in our generation. We need to provide our children with as much opportunities as possible to interact with others of the same age, to learn social skills, form friendships, build characters.

On testing, most psychometric tests are less reliable with younger subjects. That is, results may differ significantly if a child is tested twice, say three months apart from one another, with alternate forms of the same test. It is recommended to wait until the child turns 7 or older, depending on the test used.

Joseph Chiang said...

Dear Mr Wang, I fully support your idea of moving abroad for your children's education if you have the chance.

I have a seven-year-old in primary 1 in a SAP school, but I have to re-teach everything the school teaches her everyday!

I sent her to a private kindergarten where the emphasis was on creativity and play, and the kindergarten did a good job by instilling the joy of learning in her by the time she left the school last year. I just hope primary school education won't kill that interest!

I have never understood the emphasis on the importance of 'spelling' in lower primary school and in all 'PAP' kindergarten. What is so important to be able to spell a word correctly at so young an age? Pre-schoolers as young as five years old are forced to have spelling tests almost every week, and if that don't kill off their love of language so early an age, what will??

I believe the syllabus and education system is totally wrong here. If I'm allowed to, I would have her home-schooled since I couldn't afford to move abroad. So, the best I can do now is to re-teach her whatever I think the school has taught her wrongly. After six months in P1, she has almost forgotten how to play. I have to persuade her to put her books aside and bring out her toys at times. I believe the best way to learn is to play.

I worry for the future of Singapore kids.

Anonymous said...

Your kid is like how old? 3years old? And you are already categorising him/her as gifted? Please lah, you keep complaining about singapore system but turn out you are just like one of those people you keep complaining about. Give me a break.

Joseph Chiang said...

in fact, i believe every kid is gifted in one way or another.

i too was a gifted kid, but unfortunately, i grew up to become quite an ordinary guy. i think the burden of the 'gifted' tag since i was six years old proved too heavy to carry. Sigh...

Anonymous said...

There's lots to worry about the Singapore educational system. First Lee Hsien Loong assigns this Indian minister to revamp the method of teaching Mandarin, now they make this Rear Admiral Liu to be Minister of State for Education. Hello, this guy was a joke at MPA, then hentak kaki for 10 months at HDB to wait for the elections (and beef up his resume) to waltz him into parliament. Why can't they get a real education professional to do the job?