5 Problems Singaporean Parents Must Address (that Our Schools Cannot)
Education begins, but doesn’t end, in the classroom. In our experience, the difference between top performers and weak students happens in the home. Teachers guide your children for a few hours a day – the rest of the time, it’s their parents and home environment that shape them. Here are some problems that only you, as a parent, can address:
1. Growing Addiction to Hot Media
Media (television, games, music, etc.) can be placed on a spectrum ranging from cold to hot. The colder the media, the more mental effort it requires from the viewer (see McLuhan’s Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man).
A book, for example, is one of the coldest forms of media. It requires the reader to concentrate, imagine what’s being described, and pick up on the subtext. Television is hottest form of media, as the viewer does not need to do anything – just sit in the chair and watch.
Since hot media is easier, it is more popular and abundant. But society’s addiction to hot media is causing developmental problems in our children, creating symptoms such as:
- Inability to concentrate
- Lack of flexible thinking (waiting for the answer instead of trying to solve it)
- Poor memory
- Inability to analyse or think critically (results in later life problems, such as heightened likelihood of drug addiction, or falling for scams)
In a study conducted by Stanford University from 1994 – 2007, households that encouraged cold media – reading, visiting art galleries, playing chess – were more than 70% more likely to produce first class graduates.*
(*This is also an issue of social and economic class. Wealthier families are more likely to engage in such activities – it is uncertain if it’s the wealth that prompts the activities, or if the activities result in higher employability and thus wealth. It may be both.)
2. Poor Reading Material
Think back to your University days. Notice how top students had ideas and opinions they could eloquently express – and that they could do this better than their peers, even if they had come from the same Primary and Secondary schools.
That extra edge comes from having the right reading material. If your children never grow beyond True Singapore Ghost Stories and Low Kay Hwa novels*, then obviously an opinion on minimum wage or gender inequality won’t spring to their minds. So much for good essays.
Changing this comes down to what you read as a parent. If you read Robert Louis Stevenson to your children, they won’t grow up being unable to read past Stephanie Meyer. If your idea of literature is The Alchemist or The Fault in Our Stars, don’t expect your child to join the literati.
Make the better books the more accessible ones, and remember you can only share about them if you’re well-read yourself.
(*There is nothing wrong with reading pulp fiction occasionally, provided it’s not a constant indulgence).
3. Trivializing Non-Academic Talents
Malcolm Gladwell examines this phenomena in Outliers, a book that every parent should read. One of the traits of top performing students is how their parents react to their talents; particularly the non-academic sort.
Students who are worse off have these talents trivialized. Their parents think their aptitude for playing a guitar, painting, or writing stories is “cute”. It’s an extracurricular activity that’s unimportant.
On the other hand, you have parents who rush to cultivate these talents – they find the music teachers, art teachers, young authorship courses, etc. to back their children. This latter category produces phenomenal results: it’s not hard for a student to stand out and be confident, when she’s holding concerts at 13 or published by 18.
Schools often struggle to support students this way. The first reason is that parents see it as interference in “serious” activities, like more exam cramming. The second reason is simple cost: there are only so many extracurricular activities a school can budget for.
It comes down to you, as a parent, to nurture these talents if the schools can’t.
4. Unusual Learning Styles
Some students have learning styles that are unusual, and cannot be catered to in a typical classroom.
For example: Students who have an insensitive amygdala (a part of the brain that processes stimuli) study better with background noise. They are most effective with music or the television blasting in the background, as compared to studying in silence.
Students who are kinesthetic learners often underperform in a classroom – but given the right tactile examples (e.g. using blocks to matchsticks for maths), they often outperform their peers by a wide margin. Too bad kinesthetic learners make up 5% of the population, and don’t have many schools that cater to their style.
Practicality dictates that, when a child has an unusual learning style, the onus is on the parents or guardians to deal with it. Schools have to teach the bulk of the populace, and cannot compromise the majority of students’ education to cater to each unique case.
This is one reason why we set up LiteTutors; so that each child can receive a customised syllabus from their own teacher.
5. Forcing Children to Choose Their Career Too Early
At what age should someone “know what they want to be”? 15? 20? 35?
To date, no amount of research has yielded a clear answer. What we do know for sure is that forcing children to choose too early is damaging.
Younger children and adults, for obvious reasons, do not fully understand what a career entails – they might not realise that being a professional musician means having almost no social life, or that being an investment banker is one of the hardest ways to get rich.
The majority of tertiary level drop-outs cite this as their cause: they are so disillusioned or uninterested, that they are unable to carry on studying. In many cases, it would be less damaging for them to spend a year or two finding out what they want, before forking out the hefty fees for a degree or masters course.
So don’t join the chorus of parents who repeatedly ask their children what they want to be – or worse, tell them what they want to be. The real world will do that for them, quite without your intervention.
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