Friday, 9 November 2018

Now A Tween

Dearest J,

You have officially become a tween. Happy birthday! Memories of your younger days made me tear recently. I cannot believe you only have one more year left in primary school. May you continue to grow in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and men.

From young, you have preferred just being with a small group of friends rather than being the limelight of a party. My constant prayer is that you will find godly friends who are able to encourage you and that you will in turn be edifying to them. This year, I am glad you were able to help a friend collect his homework when he was absent from school for a period of time. May you always be helpful. 

We witnessed God's blessings this year in many ways. For one, you got distinction for Grade 5 violin! I was your accompanist and we both knew my fingers slipped during the Allegro, causing some fumbling. Your teacher called the last piece "Nightmare" as it sounded weird, but the examiner gave you a score of 28 out of 30. Praise God! 

The month of November is usually rainy. We trusted God for good weather on the day of your BBQ party. The weather was cool and there was no rain at all. Also, we had booked two pits and it turned out that the two other pits next to ours were not booked, so we had sufficient seating space for our guests. The kids even had a games table. Praise be to God. Speaking of birthday celebrations, I was glad to see you enjoying the trail that Papa planned for you and your friends.

Your CCA group also received a distinction award during the SYF. Besides that, you did well in English and math. We pray that there will also be improvement in the other two subjects next year.

You surprised us by taking part in a singing contest. I thought you were really brave to sing in front of such a huge audience. You looked shy while singing but I pray you will stand tall during future performances. God has blessed you with a musical gift. Use it for His glory. I was also glad you were unfazed by someone's unkind remark and chose instead to focus on those who were kind. You reminded me that we should always count our blessings and not focus on the negative. 

I like it when you are kind to your sister and cousin. You were the game master for your sister's birthday and you ensured that little Gwen had a treasure during the treasure quest. Popo praised you for looking out for the younger ones. You also gave instructions clearly.

Sometimes you get annoyed by your sister but do remember that she looks up to you and adores you. When she hangs around you and wants to be with you, it is because she likes you and appreciates your company. Her eyes lit up when you told her you could play with her after the exams. Even though she was tired, she did the world map jigsaw with you. Do be patient with her.

You have also continued to serve faithfully at the homework centre. When no one could solve a primary 4 maths problem, Uncle Ivan called Papa to ask you to solve it. You went down to the centre after violin class and saved the day. Good job! You also went on two mission trips this year and served when you could. Someone on the first trip told me she was impressed by you. Remember that you are God's masterpiece. Have confidence that He will use you mightily for His name's sake.

Life tends to get more challenging as you grow older and become more independent. Press on through every challenge and never give up. Goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life and there is nothing or no one too difficult to handle with God. You can always share your thoughts with Papa and me too and we will stand by you.

May the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face shine on you. May you know Who your strength is, just as David and Daniel did. May you always walk in His ways and shine for Him.

Love you lots,

Monday, 5 November 2018

Rainforest Lumina

Dearest J and An,

I am glad we made the trip to Rainforest Lumina. Little An, you were rather frightened at first by the darkness, but you slowly warmed up and declared that you enjoyed yourself at the end. J, I can see that you have grown to be more courageous. May you continue to grow braver but stay safe. :)

There are a number of pretty exhibits along the trail, like a cascading waterfall and a path of luminous flowers. At some parts of the trail, the music added to the surreal atmosphere. We wondered what happened to the animals as the only real animals we saw were the pelicans and J concluded that the other animals were sleeping. I hope we human beings did not disturb them too much.

At one point during the trail, we were supposed to pick a wristband for ourselves. Each band had a characteristic (e.g. patience, creativity, courage, resilience, playfulness etc) printed on it. J, you went around considering which word described yourself best and finally settled on ........playfulness! I was quite surprised by your choice but I guess there is an element of playfulness in you. I can see that you enjoy humour too. Little An, you looked at the colour of the bands instead and your choice was a pink band. The word did not really matter to you. 😊 When you got home, you said we should have got a wristband for Papa. That was thoughtful of you, but we could not have taken one for him as each of us was only entitled to one band.

There were three interactive exhibits and both of you enjoyed jumping on coloured pads and seeing animals on a screen jump as you did. You (especially Little An) also liked singing into a mic and seeing how the light show responded as you sang. Little An liked scanning the QR code on her band and seeing her face appear on the screen.

There was also a very short light show along the way. Little An kept asking what the show was about and was trying to make sense of the scenes. She came up with her own synopsis of the show. Keep up the good thinking and questioning, my dear An.

It was a 47-minute walk through the trail and we paid $47 in total, so J said each minute on the trail cost us $1. We thought it was a good experience although we had read some unfavourable reviews.

Now that J's exam is over, I hope we can have more quality time together. I am looking forward to more outings with you.

Mama. :)

Friday, 2 November 2018

Birthday Blessings, Little An

Dearest Little An,

Both you and I celebrated our birthdays last month. I enjoyed planning your party and shopping for the party necessities together with you!

It was a unicorn-cum-My Little Pony party and these were the activities:

Gege helped to give instructions for the craft and led the games. You helped to dye the pasta the day before the party and were most enthusiastic about everything. You collected the most treasures during the Treasure Quest, revealing how observant you are. I would like to see you sharing your treasures with others though, as caring and sharing is more important than winning.

I enjoyed baking a rainbow unicorn cake with you. Although our cake hardened on the day of the party and was not edible, I realised you are very helpful in the kitchen and can follow instructions well. Keep it up!

This was the inside of the rainbow cake we baked. :)

Besides the party, I would like to remind you how much I love spending time with you. You are such a sweetie pie.  This was a recent conversation we had:

Little An: Mama, which planet is the furthest away from Earth?

Me: Neptune.

Little An: Neptune? Mama, I love you to Neptune and back.

We also started a message book in June and we have been writing messages to each other. Your messages are filled with love. May you always be loving.

You enjoy interacting with family members and in the car, you are frequently thinking of what games to play. You prefer chatting to listening to audio books.

That does not mean you do not enjoy reading, because you do! Reading with and to you is fun because your eyes light up at funny or familiar parts. When we read Percy and Pam, you roared with laughter at the hilarious parts. You also suggested playing the games that Little Nutbrown Hare played with Big Nutbrown Hare. Your favourite series of books is Amelia Bedelia as you enjoy the play of words. (Check out our book reviews on our instagram account on books)

You also love singing and dancing, although you have been very sure you do not want to take the pre-primary ballet exam next year. You are quite different from Gege in that sense - he bought his grade 6 violin books the week after he finished his grade 5 exams. Haha. I am happy to see you singing and dancing away at home. May you use this interest to glorify His name.

As usual, I love it when you and Gege play well together, like when you both cooperated to finish our world map jigsaw or when you played your violins together the other day. May you both always be peaceable towards each other.

May the Lord keep you and bless you and make His face shine on you. May you always walk in His ways and shine for Him.

Mama. :)

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Then Sings My Soul

My heart is so full of gratitude that it can sing. Sometime ago, I mentioned on the blog that a report I wrote did not sit well with one of the reviewers and I may not have a chance to present it. I committed the situation to the Lord and the outcome was that I not only presented the content of the report, I passed! Praise the Lord Almighty!

It has to be God because firstly, I am totally devoid of eloquence usually but He helped me speak fluently and coherently during the presentation. Although there was critical feedback on the content of my presentation, the chair of the panel said that he could see I had done a lot of work and he added that he had attended many of such seminars before. I could sense that the favour of God was on me and that He was making His face shine on me.

Also, the seminar was supposed to have taken place earlier but was postponed as a member of the panel had other engagement. It was a blessing in disguise as I read the following in a devotional after the original date:

"And the priest shall value it as either good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall be."
Leviticus 27:12 ESV

"In the Old Testament, when someone brought what he had to the priest for a valuation, whatever the priest assessed the value of the item to be, it was so. If he assessed it to be of good value, then it was of good value. If he assessed it to be of poor value, then it was of poor value." - Joseph Prince.

It gave me comfort as I started assessing my work as good, rather than let fear take control. Thanks be to God.

Then sings my soul
My Saviour God to Thee
How great Thou art

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Changes made by MOE

I think MOE is trying its best to de-emphasise exams and reduce unhealthy academic competitions. I am happy that there will be no more weighted assessments at P1 and P2. I remember the relentless slew of tests (be it show and tell or mini tests etc) that J was subjected to and am glad that Little An will not be given (counted) marks for these.

I am also glad that more time can be allocated to hands-on and applied learning, as well as critical thinking. I hope there will also be more emphasis on values and that teachers could be more equipped with strategies to impart these skills and values to students. As it stands, the syllabi do not seem to define critical thinking and I believe many people have different impressions of what critical thinking is.

I have some qualms about the MOE announcements though. With the PSLE still looming at primary 6, it is no wonder that some parents are not welcoming of the news that there will not be SA1 at P3 and P5. This year, J's school did not have CA1 so that they can be eased into the P5 level. While it was a thoughtful move, students without tuition or enrichment to provide a test-taking environment were not prepared to solve 17 word problems in 1.5 hours. With the change, this shock will be delivered in Oct. The PSLE is one year from the P5 EOY exam. Will there be sufficient time to prepare for the PSLE? Also, will the weighting for the EOY exam be increased since there is no SA1? This exam is quite crucial for those applying for DSA.

Giving information about the mean, min and max marks for each exam has been a useful practice. Merely looking at one's marks will not give a good gauge of how he has performed as there is no information about the difficulty of the paper.

Most schools have already done away with printing class and level positions in the report books, as far as I know. Will there still be academic prizes awarded? If so, then there is not much difference for this aspect.

So much effort has been made to reduce competition and to encourage lifelong learning but the PSLE is still one big competition where the results are public. I await the day the sacred cow is removed. I know I have to wait long long.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Life beyond grades

I applaud the parents who started the Life Beyond Grades movement. Their intention is noble and I do hope that it helps other parents to stress their children less. However, while I am sure I will hug and be assuring to my child regardless of his PSLE score next year, I think there is still a need to re-look at the PSLE. After all, the child does not only socialise with his parents. He interacts with the entire society.

I know I have dedicated many blog posts to address this issue. I feel very strongly about it. Many things have been done to transmit the message to children that grades do not define them. My son tells me that there was a talk in his school for that purpose. Students' class and level positions are no longer printed on report books. Yet, at the grand age of twelve, the child sits an exam where his achievement for that exam is made public. The secondary school that the child goes to and his stream will give a gauge of how well the child has done during the PSLE. This will not change with the new grading scheme. I have mentioned that I sincerely believe all schools have good infrastructure and capable scholars have been posted to less well-known schools to teach. However, there are about 55 (out of around 159) secondary schools where the cut-off point is 200 or less. I believe these are the schools with more N(A) and N(T) classes. When you put students who are academically less inclined together, do you think they can motivate one another to reach greater heights? Teenage is when a human being is very much influenced by peers and students spend many hours in school at the secondary level. Eventually, the PSLE score may not matter, but for four to five years, the child's life is partially shaped by his peers and his school. My younger brother, whom I think showed a lot of creativity and brilliance when he was a child - for sure more than me, surprised all of us by doing badly at the PSLE. He dropped out of school at secondary 2 and though there could have been many factors for that, one observation I made was that his friends were more interested in gaming than in studying.

Although there are programmes like the Applied Learning Programme that help students make sense of their learning in schools, much of the primary six year is dedicated to solving one word problem after another or mastering answering techniques for science. My nephew who is taking the PSLE in a few days' time has completed all the 2017 and 2018 preliminary exam papers he can get his hands on, and is persuading his mother to print the 2016 papers as well! If he has been getting more than 90 marks consistently in school exams, it probably means he already has a good grasp of what he needs to know. The time spent completing past-year papers could be more productively spent on acquiring new knowledge!

I also feel that the PSLE is stifling. Instead of solving real-world problems, students mule over how many pies were baked if the baker sold half of the pies in the morning and one quarter of the remaining pies in the afternoon. Wouldn't the baker have known how many pies he baked? Earlier this year, I met a group of students whom I had taught when they were in primary six. Some of them are in the polytechnic now and they were passionately showing me buildings they had designed or animations they had created. One of them remarked that he was finally studying something that mattered. Well, we do learn things that provide the foundation for future learning at primary and secondary school, but overdoing word problems and memorising elaborate words and phrases for composition writing may not be the best use of time. Also, I have met many dedicated teachers but how many of them are truly nurturing avid readers among their students? How many science teachers are helping students identify common bird calls or insects found in the school garden rather than mainly teaching answering techniques? Are we encouraging learners to be curious about the environment?

What bird is this? What does its call sound like?

On a related note, because of time constraints in the maths exam, most students do not have time to effect recommended problem solving techniques, which include checking of their answers. You immediately need to identify a strategy, use it and move on.

From the brave people who have posted their PSLE scores via the Life Beyond Grades movement, we saw a PhD candidate who scored 190 at the PSLE. At 12, that score meant she was around the 40th percentile of her cohort. When she earns her PhD in the near future, she will probably be among the most qualified of her cohort. We often hear of people with poor PSLE scores doing well later in life. My own magic number was 256 and I am not even earning the median income of Singaporeans. Why do we think that the PSLE has been sorting people effectively then?

I am doing research on critical thinking and I know that keeping an open mind is important. Thus, I tried to list the benefits of PSLE instead of immediately rejecting it. The PSLE aims to group students of similar ability together, and I hope the reason is to teach students at appropriate paces. However, apart from the top 20% or so, the other secondary schools will have students with a mix of abilities. Some may be excellent writers but be struggling with maths or vice versa. It seems like the top schools have the easier job since they only need to cater to those who did well in every subject.

Perhaps the PSLE also compels students to take their learning seriously. However, do we want students to study only when there are exams, or do we want students who learn because they enjoy it? Many students also forget the models they have drawn and most other crammed knowledge shortly after the exam.

The distinct purpose of the PSLE is to place students. It does give students a sense of how well they perform in that one exam. However, students will never know how they can improve as they do not get to see their papers. It is a very objective way of sorting people, but is the sorting necessary?

On the flipside, the PSLE causes learning to be stifled for at least one year, sorts students such that mainly those who perform well benefit, places students who are not academically inclined together such that they are unlikely to have peers to motivate them, publicly announces one's performance to the whole world and forces several parents to send their children to tuition or enrichment as these parents are unable to teach their children themselves (Some parents become their children's tutors). I have yet to meet a child (of the current generation) who performs well in every subject with no tuition or familial help. Does that imply that instruction in school is insufficient in order for a child to excel in the PSLE?

I have read of people who say that Singaporeans are whiners and we should just accept the PSLE and encourage our children to work hard for it. If accepting the status quo is the way to go, I am afraid we would not be enjoying the comfortable lives that many of us lead. We may still be using oil lamps instead of electric lights or manually-operated fans instead of air-conditioners.

Also, my qualm is not against assessments in general. Timely assessments are necessary as it gives students a sense of how much they have understood and which areas they can improve on. My concern is that the PSLE heavily influences who a student's peers may be during his most impressionable years and may prematurely give information to a child about his academic ability or lack thereof.

I have some suggestions:
- Make the curriculum for those who do not qualify for the express stream more attractive. There could be more options for students, like entrepreneurial skills or business management and so on. Perhaps these students need not stay in the secondary school system for five years.
- Change the names of the streams to academic, technological, technical etc. How can the existing normal stream be normal if two thirds of students qualify for the express stream?
- All schools should have students from different streams, rather than have elite IP schools.
-There could be advanced placement for certain subjects.
- Some NMPs have suggested including project work and other continual assessment in the PSLE score, rather than depend on the child's performance on one exam. I think this is possible, although the tasks should not be done at home for integrity's sake.
- Include solving of real-world problems in the assessment that elicit 21st century competencies - in particular critical and inventive thinking, while making use of sound principles that they have learnt.
-Increase the duration of tests so that students have time to think and employ problem-solving skills.

Hopefully, pedagogy will be less exam-oriented and students can be free to acquire knowledge not for exam purposes but for life. I also hope there can be more collaboration where students who are more academically inclined can help those are less academically inclined. This can help create a more caring society.

Here are some other posts on education in Singapore: Link to education posts

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Peace in the midst of trials

Being a PhD student has been truly humbling. I thank the Lord for giving me strength and perseverance as well as family and friends who have been encouraging.

Just two days ago, I was told that someone who mattered was unhappy with a report I wrote, as I did not include his suggestions in it. For the life of me, I can only remember one thing which he may be referring to - something which he mentioned about ten months ago - and I have included that in my presentation slides. It was not in the report as I followed the guideline strictly and that component was not in the guideline. I felt defeated as I had laboured over this important report and now there is a possibility that I may not even get a chance to present it. Thank God that I can go to Him with all my cares and worries and exchange them for the peace that surpasses all understanding. Lyndon also reminded me that God had opened the door for me to study so I should not give up so easily while my aunt said that failure provides opportunity for resilience to be demonstrated. How true!

I realised God has provided me with peace whenever I prayed. About a month ago, I had to submit five copies of the said report. I went to a photocopying shop to make the copies. When I collected the copies, I flipped through the pages and saw unsightly marks on some pages. I was appalled but did not say anything as the staff was attending to someone else. However, after I went home, I discovered that the diagrams were very blur and the words on the diagrams could not be made out. Apparently, the unsightly marks were not only on a few pages. Almost every page had a blemish. I blamed myself for not getting a receipt and for not checking every page when I was at the shop. I had paid $37 for the service! I even had a nightmare that night about how the poor printing sat badly with the reviewers and everyone was disappointed with my performance.

As my heart pounded from the dream, I prayed for God's peace, which I found. I visited the shop again and told the staff that the reports were very important and I could not submit them with the blemishes. The staff said that I could print my report from the printer instead if I paid an additional $10. I was so relieved! The printouts from the printer were very clear, even better than my originals. Praise God!

I have decided to be thick-skinned and teachable. No matter what the circumstance or outcome is, I will grit my teeth, learn from it and move on. I am also believing that if I lack wisdom, I can ask God and it will be granted to me. I have full confidence that goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. God bless you too. :)

My peace I give unto You
It's a peace that the world cannot give
It's a peace that the world cannot understand
Peace to know, peace to live