Schooling Systems – America vs Singapore?

In an effort to get me more connected to the world outside our home and Calvin’s preschool, I decided to join up to be a volunteer. Since I’m contemplating teaching tuition in the future as a part-time job, I decided to go for an assignment where I help out with reading in a classroom.

So that’s how I got to experience America’s elementary school for an hour a week. I was surprised by the amount of work the teacher has to deal with. There are kids moving in and out for different programs and classes that she has to keep track of. At the beginning of the literacy session, one kid went off to see xxx teacher, then halfway through our reading session, the kid I was helping had to go for another language lesson. And even for the kids in the classroom, they were split into 3 or 4 groups working on different things like sight words or independent reading, depending on their ability. And then there’s the kid who is still struggling with recognizing letters and letter sounds. I feel bad for him because he clearly felt discouraged by how difficult it was. In just one small classroom of 22 children, there are such a variety of competencies that the teacher needs to group them by what they need to work on.

In that sense, I see the logic of streaming in the Singapore system. instead of having one teacher split her attention 4 ways on 4 different groups. Isn’t it more efficient to gather all the children who are of the same ability and have one teacher dedicated to teaching them what they need to learn? I guess that is the theoretical ideal. In reality, it seems like there is a lack of upward mobility once you are streamed into the lower levels, which then leads to the whole crazy tutoring craze. I read on the kaisuparents forum that some parents even send their kids to two enrichment classes for English. So that’s like 3.5 hours of extra classes and that’s not including all the other classes he might have for Chinese, Math and Science(?).

The Finnish way I think is to let the students who have already mastered the material help the ones who have trouble. This sounds quite good in theory too as it helps encourage more social interaction. On the other hand, if teachers need training to be able to teach well, will students who are still maturing emotionally and socially be able to teach too?

I wonder how we would be like when Calvin is schooling age? Certainly I wish for him to be interested in learning for the sake of learning itself but that seems too naively idealistic. The fact is when you try hard but still end up doing worse than others, you’ll feel like your efforts didn’t pay off. Why would a child continue to put in effort? I think this is probably true of the children who are forced to endure the drudgery in the form of enrichment classes or repetitive assessment books. I heard some of the English classes get the children to memorize model essays and vocabulary etc to quickly improve their scores but ultimately it does not raise their standard of English very much because the most important part of learning  a language is to read. I don’t think I do my child any favors by making him spend time memorizing boring texts when he would have enjoyed a book during that same time. That’s why I’ve been working hard to find more Chinese books for Calvin to read especially since there are barely any chinese books in the library here. While I’m not hoping that he will be a wiz in Chinese, I hope he will learn enough to not have a painful experience learning Chinese if/ when we go back to Singapore. I saw some of the work that a colleague’s child is doing and I’m not sure Calvin will be able to handle that by the time he is primary one.

As it stands now, I hope never to enroll him in any enrichment classes. If any, it will probably be Chinese… but hopefully we would not have to resort to that.


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