Saturday, July 23, 2005

Why should primary schools matter so much?

I find it rather strange when parents place so much emphasis on the selection of primary schools. Personally, I do not think that the choice of schools matter at all at the primary level!

Let me state this simply: I think that primary schools are all about the same. There may be one or two that are particularly famous, such as Rosyth, but the fame of the school does not translate into better education for the students - in other words, I still think there is very little substantive difference between Rosyth and another 'average' school. I'm not saying that the famous primary schools do not provide good education; instead, my point is that all primary schools can provide rather good education for your children.

So what differentiates the so-called 'top' primary schools from those that are not so prestigious? I think the only difference is the climate of competition: top primary schools are probably more competitive. My personal preference is to send my children to less competitive schools, because I do not see the point of forcing them to cross swords with the smartest kids when they are so young. As far as primary education is concerned, I would rather see them develop at their own pace, and build up the self-esteem and confidence that I regard as much more important than results per se.

In fact, I also do not think that secondary schools matter much. I know that many people will disagree with this view, but that's alright, because that's what the 'comments function' on this blog is for! :) Basically, I tend to think that there must be a 'fit' between the individual and the school itself - in terms of affinity for competition/tolerance for a kiasu culture, English- versus Mandarin-speaking orientation, and social class of the majority of the students (e.g. some schools are full of rich kids, and a child from a poorer family may not fit in so well). Thus, schools like Raffles Institution may not provide the best environment for the academic development of every student, contrary to what many parents think. For some students, even if they can make it to the top schools, they might be better off studying in an average secondary school. The above argument applies to junior colleges too.

I have seen many people who had been star performers at one or more of the three levels (primary, secondary, and JC). But they failed to shine when it came to university, for some reason. Conversely, there are many who did not shine at all, or 'fumbled' at one or more of the three levels, but performed brilliantly at university. The moral of the story is this: every stage of education is a new game.

Hence, this is my central argument: that primary schools really do not matter. A weaker version of this argument will apply to secondary schools: that is, secondary schools may not matter as much as parents think (although they may matter as far as the 'disciplinary culture' of the schools are concerned). An even weaker version of this argument will apply to JCs: that is, JCs may not matter that much, unless parents want their kids to aim for the various competitive scholarships. At all three levels, it is the 'fit' between the student and the school that is important, which means that a student may well find that school X, which is ranked somewhere in the middle, is best for his or her personal and academic development, given his or her academic power, personality, and social background.

So parents, please relax, don't be so kan-cheong....! :) It's definitely not the end of the world if your child cannot or chooses not to enter a top primary school, secondary school, or junior college!


Blogger John Lim the-one-who-splits-PAP-apart said...

you are back !

Sun Jul 24, 01:01:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

I had a harrowing week fighting Spyware.... :(

The result of the duel with Spyware: Heavenly Sword lost.

Sun Jul 24, 12:38:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Merv said...

Its nice to think that we want our children to learn at their own pace, rather than to slog it out in a competitive enviroment.

But the fact is, in Singapore, if your child is the 'learn at your own pace, relec type', he's going to be massacred in any school, because every school in S'pore is competitive.

I don't think people here can choose to be 'less-kiasu', its more of being forced to do so.

Want to be 'less stressful'? study abroad.

Mon Jul 25, 01:02:00 AM 2005  
Blogger jeffyen said...

Use Firefox! :)

Mon Jul 25, 09:35:00 AM 2005  
Blogger crumbee said...

Its all about branding...& snob appeal for the parents !

Mon Jul 25, 10:25:00 AM 2005  
Anonymous Lei's Mom said...

Speaking as a teacher in a neighbourhood sec school, I must say that although I believe there are good and dedicated teachers in every school who are committed to helping your child reach his fullest potential, I also feel that which school your child goes to does matter to some extent. While I do not advocate the current jostling for places in the top pri schs, I think parents who just send their child to ANY sch in the belief that it doesn't matter may regret it later. I've seen the students who hail from neighbourhood schs and those from the more 'prestigious' ones and they are very different!! They carry themselves very differently. And do not underestimate the power of peer influence. In a 'tough' neighbourhood like Geylang for example, your child will meet classmates who speak dialects, hang out in void decks after school, play truant...etc. Of course, not all Geylang kids are like that, but you do get more of such students in this area. Unless you are so sure of the strong foundation of good moral values you have built for your child that the effects of peer influence are negligible, I suggest you devote some time to studying the profile of students in a particular sch before you enrol your child there. Yes the fit is important and not everyone will benefit by studying in RI, but the chances of being adversely influenced in RI is lesser than that in a neighbourhood school. Does that mean we give neighbourhood pri sch the boot?? Frankly, from a parent's perspective, I can only say do your homework, and don't enrol blindly. If your child will thrive better in a competitive environment, then I guess Rosyth is a good choice. But don't subject your child to a random decision that you make without any due diligence done on your part. Schools in S'pore are definitely not equal, sad to say.

Tue Jul 26, 10:33:00 AM 2005  
Blogger jllt said...

I think local children cannot think back on their childhood happiness in the future because it seems like there is none. You see parents forcing extra lessons onto them and schools holding many additional classes.

It would be good to send your child to a school where he/she ranks above the average in terms of academic competence because he/she is more likely to be able to excel and thus build confidence. Furthermore, there are the bursary awards!

Wed Jul 27, 02:35:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Greetings, everyone!

merv: thanks for dropping by! :) Some schools are really too competitive; I would think that there are some that are a bit more

jeffrey: thanks for the suggestion! Pardon my ignorance but what's Firefox? Is it a kind of pet? :)

crumbee: I think you might well be right! For some parents, they care more about being able to show off in front of their friends than their children's well-being...(E.g. "Eh, my daughter is from RGS, you know...yours from where? Ikan Bilis Secondary...tsk tsk")

Thu Jul 28, 06:03:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...


jllt: I agree with you....Anywhere that enables the child to excel is a good place!

lei's mom: I am once again impressed by the quality of your comments. In fact, I still don't know how to rebutt your comment in my earlier post on Women & Cooking... :)

I do agree that the school's culture/profile of students matter somewhat - something which I have acknowledged in my original post (re 'disciplinary culture'). That's why I am only confident enough to present a weak version of the argument for Secondary Schools and JC (and a strong version of the argument for Primary Schools)...

Thu Jul 28, 06:10:00 PM 2005  
Blogger jeffyen said...

Firefox is a browser that decreases the probability of getting spyware etc.

Try it and see if you like it at

There are also many nifty addons called 'extensions' that can be installed to improve the user experience...

Fri Jul 29, 11:31:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Thanks, jeffrey! You are indeed a Spyware expert!

Sat Jul 30, 07:57:00 AM 2005  
Anonymous Lei's Mom said...

Let me add a less serious take to this whole debate on whether pri/sec/jc schools matter. I once commented to a teacher from another school that my (neighbourhood) school now have training sessions for students who are strong in maths to help them compete in the Maths Olympiad. Then I learnt, to my dismay, that a certain top sch has Maths Olympaid as a CCA. And that sch has consistently produced winners in the Maths Olympiad year after year. My heart sank. How can we compete against the Maths Goliaths in top schs who has the resources to form an Olympiad CCA?? It's like Singapore soccer trying to get into the World Cup. A fellow teacher from another neighbourhood school consoled me with this: don't compete with the RI and Chinese High la, Singapore also needs hairdressers and mechanics. So while teachers from neighbourhood schs may not get many chances to say, with pride, that "Davinder Singh was my student!", we will, more likely, be able to have our car serviced by an ex-student, or get a good haircut from someone whose lives we have touched before. Come to think of it, we're likely to need a good hairdresser more often than a Davinder Singh to sue the pants off an enemy. So, to all parents who want their kids to go to a top sch and be lawyers and doctors, I ask this -- who's going to cut your hair in future? Or repair your car, or bake your cake? Lets stop stop wishing our kid can be this or that, and appreciate them for whatever talents they have.
(My frequent mention of Davinder Singh is intentional. Can't resist it. He's my HERO! Now if only he's my ex-student....)

Sat Jul 30, 01:23:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Sze Meng said...

To heavenly sword:
Spyware - You may want to use Spybot-Search and Destroy and Adaware (from Lavasoft). You can downloand from the net. Email me if you have questions.

Primary school: My point of view:

Sat Jul 30, 10:27:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

To Lei's Mom, following the spirit of my original post, I would say that it's possible to have another (younger) Davinder Singh who comes from a neighbourhood school. In fact, neighbourhood schools should aim to challenge the stereotypes...

Sun Jul 31, 05:30:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Thanks, Sze Meng, for the tips. Now I know who to turn to if my computer (touch wood) gets infected with Spyware again - you and Jeffrey! :)

I've read your article - it's very well-written.

My view is that if all the schools in Singapore offer good education, then we need not worry so much about the 'branding/ranking' issue.

I also feel that a truly good education system should not require a supplemental or support system known as 'tuition'.

Sun Jul 31, 05:50:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Sleepless in Singapore said...

I think what Lei's mum says makes a lot of sense. Allow me to share me experience.

My wife is a teacher for nearly 20 years. She has taught in 2 neighbourhood schools and now in an independent school. When it was time to send our son to sec sch; she insisted we send him to an indep school. I thot she was too ks; but 3 years down the road, I think she was right. I am very happy with the kind of well rounded education my son is getting; and those of his classmates I met are all very respectful and well-behaved. (School's' motto is "scholar and gentleman").

I have attended some briefings by the school's principal and teachers and was really impressed by the professionalism.

Mon Aug 01, 09:23:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Dear Sleepless in Singapore, thanks for visiting my blog and sharing your experiences. I think I can accept the argument that secondary schools may be very different. Just for interest, what are your views regarding primary schools being very different?

Tue Aug 02, 07:43:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Sleepless in Singapore said...

Hi Heavenly Sword, Sorry for late reply. I am afraid I have no experience on Primary Schools. My kids all went to missionary schools and so directly from primary to the same secondary school. My wife has never taught in primary school.

Tue Aug 09, 03:03:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Hi Sleepless in Singapore, no worries. I think I'll send my kid(s) to the nearest primary school next time - more convenient... :)

Tue Aug 09, 09:24:00 PM 2005  
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