A few days ago, while attending the Colloquium for Parent Education in Taipei, I came across a handbook published by the Taiwan Ministry of Education, entitled Fathers and Mothers, Please Relax – 8 Q & A for Parents with Young Children. Commissioned by the Ministry and edited by Lin Pei-Jung, Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education, the handbook consisted of contributions from diverse professionals in the field. The government printed 500,000 copies for mass distribution.
This handbook aims to alleviate the anxiety of parents by addressing their most frequently asked questions in eight areas, such as brain potential development, tutoring in mathematics, and priority in learning Chinese phonetics. By enhancing the parents’ understanding of the issues at hand, it is hoped that they would adopt a more relaxed stance towards their children’s education and development. The Ministry had undertaken this unprecedented project because it felt a pressing need to confront the worries of Taiwanese parents towards their children’s education, at a national level.
What about parents in Singapore? They are an anxious lot too. Not only do they worry about their children’s health and nutritional intake, they also keep a tight rein on the latter’s educational needs. Many send their children to kindergartens or childcare centres to give them a headstart on academic subjects. They feel that their offspring would learn well when the school ‘teaches more’. As a result, they do not take into account the appropriate type of learning for young children and the importance of allowing them to learn at their own pace.
Moreover, to boost their children’s ability to ‘cope’ with their school work upon admission into a top primary school, parents, aside from keeping close tabs on their children’s learning of the 3Rs, would send children who are barely of pre-school age to all sorts of extra-curricular courses such as mental and abacus arithmetic, right brain training, multiple intelligence, speed reading, and memory training. These young children thus spend much of their childhood attending one class after another with their parents in tow. For these parents, their ‘quality time’ with the children during weekends involves chauffeuring the latter from one learning centre to another.
Just where do the parents’ fear that their children would fail to cope in their primary schools stem from? It is difficult to trace its origins. Parenting know-how, educational policies, school management, and/or marketing tactics — all these aspects play a part. One cannot be certain if the parents’ obsessed belief that a top school would be able to turn their children into talented individuals with superb abilities, or their fervent wish for their children to be successful in life, originate from their own frustration and life experiences. However, the propagated school ranking system would only strengthen such a belief.
Upon hearing the requirement for literacy, writing and arithmetic ability at the school orientation for new students, parents' anxiety level would shoot through the roof. Teachers’ negative comments about the students during their first few months of primary school such as “You mean your kindergarten never taught you how to count?” would prompt parents to believe that preschool education should be preparing their children for the demands of primary school and that triggers their fear that their children are not learning enough to cope.
At the same time, marketers of children’s educational products seek to profit from this anxiety and fear, as evidenced by the promotions galore of an assortment of courses for children in the mass media. Parents join the fray to get their children to learn and master diverse skills, anxious that they might not learn them all.
The website of the Ministry of Education (MOE) lists clearly the appropriate and important skills that pre-school children, in particular those between the ages of three and six, should acquire:
• Willingness to share;
• Discrimination between right and wrong;
• Ability to get along with others;
• Ability to explore;
• Ability to listen and express themselves;
• Confidence and happiness;
• Development of physical coordination;
• Healthy habits; along with
• Love for one’s family, friends, teachers, elders, and kindergarten.
These attributes are in line with the recommendations of educators, academics, and education professionals all over the world. Given the clarity of the guidelines expounded under the national education policy, it should thus not be too difficult to alleviate the anxiety of parents.
First and foremost, channels of communication between preschools and primary schools should be established to enable them to identify their specific functions and delineate their work scopes based on the stipulations of the national education policy. Through sustained communication and dialogues, they could come to an understanding and work together to educate parents on the roles of primary schools and kindergartens.
The MOE should also help parents to understand the facets of learning at the different ages and the changes in education policy, through various means. In recent years, the Ministry of Education in Singapore has adopted an increasingly multi-pronged approach towards learning and assessment. Thus, parents have much to catch up on, and more has to be done in the area of parent education.
Ultimately, only when primary schools, kindergartens, parents, and the government have a common understanding of what preschool education is about and provide the necessary support to one another would our nation’s most precious assets and future generations retain their joy in learning, while growing up.
Parents are willing to do just about anything for their children in the name of love. However, when parents blindly sign them up for extracurricular courses out of fear and anxiety, they are only aggravating the youngsters’ already heavy burden. What good would come of that? One could not help, but wonder. Thus, I recommend that parents take a step back and check out Carl Honore’s book, Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-parenting, targeted at anxious parents of the 21st century. Let’s rethink “what it means to be a child and what it means to be an adult”.