Memo to parents of young children

Photo: Singaporeans are consistently ranked top when it comes to international education rankings. Singapore’s education system is among the most highly regarded in the world, but it is also famously known as a pressure cooker. Cherlyn Lee memo to parents of young children just 11 years old but she has already won many awards at mental arithmetic competitions, including one for being the fastest to add ten-digit numbers mentally.

Top performing countries in maths and science:1. She first started mental arithmetic classes at the age of five where she learnt how to add sums mentally. Most children at her age from other parts of the world would probably be at a playground exploring their environment. But this is Singapore, home of “the world’s best education system” according to an OECD-led study from May 2015, and parents are pulling out all the stops to give their children a head start. It is very common for parents to organise such enrichment activities for their children at a very young age, choosing to use books instead of the outdoors to ensure their development. Other East Asian countries such as South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong show similar trends as well, with rote-learning and regular examinations used as key methods of assessment.

Cherlyn’s father, Brandon, said the objective of starting mental arithmetic at that age is because “brain development is fastest and most robust during this stage”. Through training it can achieve very fast and good results, which will lead to a better performance in learning due to improved memory and better concentration,” he said. Singaporean parents like Mr Lee have contributed to the country’s stellar performance in education rankings year after year. Literacy rates have skyrocketed, and Singaporean students are among the best in the world when it comes to scoring at international exams. OECD director for education Andreas Schleicher said its students have a good foundation in mathematics and science, which has contributed to Singapore’s success. Indeed, the focus on education is very clear when you walk through the streets of Singapore. Advertisements are plastered around suburbs showing the latest tutoring and enrichment classes parents can enrol their children in.

Local newspaper The Straits Times reported that more than 70 per cent of parents sign their children up for these extra classes outside of school hours to help them brush up on English and mathematics. 250 per month, creating a very lucrative industry. Photo: Assessment books, based on the education curriculum in Singapore, serve as extra practice to help students. In local bookstores, more than half the floor space is dedicated to assessment manuals, consisting of practice questions based on the school curriculum from pre-kinder to Year 12.

However, there are concerns that this supercharged education system is too grades-focused and is taking the fun out of learning. When the ABC spoke with two teenagers from a Singaporean high school, the word ‘stress’ was often used in our conversation. Nicholas Tan, 16, recently finished his high school examinations and hopes to be a commercial pilot. You do not need to compromise on both education and emotional well-being. He told me he did not fret too much about regular class tests, but during his recent exam period he slept for just three hours a day and ended up with a high fever just before his exams.