11 December 2013, by Violet Lim

A Tale of Two Students

My son Corum started Primary 1 this year. Recently, there has been much talk about the education system. Some say it is too stressful. Some say it is just right. Some say to make it any more relaxed will make Singapore lose its edge.

I grew up in Malaysia. I went to a Chinese school which means the method of education is very much similar to the Singapore system. In fact, the school I went to might even be more ‘grueling’ than the school my son is currently attending in Singapore.

I went to school from 7am to 5pm everyday. The morning session (7am – 12pm) is based on the Malaysian national curriculum taught in Chinese, in addition to English and Malay Language lessons. The afternoon session (1pm – 5pm) involves more English, Math and Science classes based on UK and Singapore syllabus. Every term, we had morning session and afternoon session exams. We are easily talking about 5 to 6 different exams each term for a 8 year old. Sounds pretty crazy and stressful right? Not just for the student but probably for the parent as well.

In my case, I pretty much sailed through that education system. I aced all my exams in primary school and topped the entire form for 5 years. I did my homework and I revised before my exams. But did I work my butt off? Definitely not.

I believed the reason for me doing well in primary school is not because I am smarter or more intelligent than my peers. It was simply because my learning style suited the education system. I am a visual and auditory learner. I can sit still and listen to the teacher talk for hours in the classroom. I can sit through stacks and stacks of homework. I do not need a reason to learn. Neither do I need to be passionate about a subject in order to learn.

Is this kind of education system suitable for everybody? Well, after I got to know my husband Jamie, apparently not. My husband had never done homework in his life. When his Chinese teacher entered the classroom, she sent him out immediately. It is no wonder that my husband fared badly in his Chinese O Levels exam. He was always chided by his teachers for day dreaming. In fact he was failing most if his subjects in Sec 4 prior to his prelims until suddenly he ‘woke up’ and realized that it was crucial that he passed his exams. His Principles of Account teacher was shocked to see his scores went up from 30+% to 70+% in one term. Yes, overnight, he suddenly found a reason to learn.

Unfortunately for me, Corum took after Jamie’s learning style and not mine. He needs a reason to learn. If he is not passionate about something, he loses interest quickly. If he is interested in something, he would have an extremely in-depth knowledge about the subject, probably way more than the average kid, or even adult.

Honestly, in the beginning, it was hard for me to understand or appreciate his learning style. Reason to learn? What?

Piano lessons started to become a chore. He did not like the songs that teacher was teaching in the group class. Hence he did not practice at home and as a result he fell even more behind. He then started to dread going for classes and there will be a lot of tears and tantrums before every class. Finally, I decided to pull him out of the group class before he totally lost all interest in piano playing.

Subsequently, I managed to find him a piano teacher who was willing to teach him songs that he likes. So, we actually tell the teacher the songs that he likes and the teacher would actually look for music scores for those songs at the appropriate level for him! He has blossomed under this new teacher. He even played in his first piano recital at the annual event that the teacher organized. And now, he practices the piano because he enjoys it. I do not even need to nag him to practice.

Learning Chinese is another challenge that we face with Corum. I have to constantly devise ways and methods to remind him the relevance and reason of learning the language. As we speak English at home and he converses with his friends in school in English, he does not see a reason to learn the language. For auditory digital learners like him, learning to pass exams does not suffice as a good enough reason.

He is currently extremely interested in wars and battles. He watches documentaries on History Channel about World War 2, tanks, war planes etc. So I asked him, “Which country has the biggest population?” He replied confidently, “China!” “Does that make China a very powerful country?” “Yes!” “Should we ever go into war, do you think you are more likely to win if you understand your opponent’s language?” Suddenly, he became a lot more open to learning Chinese! (Disclaimer: By the way, I am not suggesting that we should go into war with China. Am just using this as an illustration to help him understand the importance of learning or mastering another language by tapping on his current interest.)

What I have learnt from my husband and my son is – there are definitely many different ways of learning. And the current education system unfortunately does not necessary cater to all learning styles. I might have scored 90% and above for all my primary school exams but it is not the end of the world if my children do not. Just look at my husband and I – two extremely different students, and we ended up at the same place – entrepreneurs running our own businesses. 🙂

As parents, it is our responsibility to identity our children’s learning styles and help them leverage on their strengths and continuously encourage their love for learning through their own learning styles. And it is a really wonderful feeling when our efforts start to show some positive results… 🙂

Happy parenting to all! 🙂

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