089: How I Handled A Devastating Piece of News?

A Terrible News

If you receive a devastating piece of news from the school, what would you have done?

Several weeks ago, on the day that my sixteen-year-old son, Cairn, was supposed to attend his school graduation ceremony, he was abruptly removed from the list of graduates! Instead of receiving his certificate in robes like the other graduating students on the stage, Cairn was told to sit among the audience to applaud the achievement of others.

Out of concern for Cairn’s feelings, his class teacher kept a close watch on him and assured me that he was unaffected. I was told Cairn cheered enthusiastically for his friends who went up the stage.

“Class of 2020” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

When Cairn arrived home from school, all I got from him was a sealed envelope containing a letter that said his application for admission to a senior high school for students with special needs was unsuccessful.

The rejection letter carried big implications. Cairn would remain in his current high school, and make another attempt for admission to the senior high school the next year. But if he were to be rejected again, his special school education would end the next year in the current school as eighteen is the cut-off age. That is tantamount to an off-the-cliff ending to his adult education.

“Off the Cliff” (WordPress Photography)

The biggest headache at hand was we were clueless about the reasons for rejection. By all measures, Cairn had always been held as an exemplary student in his junior high school. We were under the impression from both schools that Cairn would certainly be accepted because he had met all the stipulated requirements. Without knowing the reason, we would not know what could be done to improve his chances in the next shot.

I felt indignant for my son as unpleasant memories surfaced. All the these years, Cairn had put in so much effort in everything he did. But not all his efforts paid off. For instance, last year, Cairn won his first swimming competition, but was bizarrely disqualified. The ridiculous reason was he swam a lot faster than the timing submitted before the race. In the spirit of participation, we cast aside our disappointment and did not pursue the matter further. But this time, the issue is more than dealing with disappointment, Cairn couldn’t graduate despite his good performance at school!

“Touching The Wall First!” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

I lamented to my wife, “Just when we thought that everything is moving smoothly for him at last, this has to happen!”

My wife was visibly upset as she spoke, “They gave us hope, then took it away! ”

I told her with resolve, “I’ll settle this.”

“An angry fist” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

Take Thoughtful Actions

I thought hard about the content of my appeal letter to the school principal of the new school. After I drafted the letter, I showed to my wife and fourteen-year-old son, Conan.

My wife seemed pleased that I had backed up my appeal with strong arguments and proof. Conan, however, remarked, “Dad, shouldn’t you preface with some niceties? After all, you want to work with the new principal.”

I took his advice and edited the letter accordingly.

Dear Principal,

Sorry to take up your precious time. I need to consult you regarding school admission criteria. I am also writing to appeal for my son, Cairn Tan on the following grounds:

Cairn has met the two key criteria for school admission: the WPLN ( Work Place Literacy and Numeracy) Assessment and the independent traveling requirement.

Moreover, Cairn was graded “excellent” in Housekeeping. In addition, Cairn has actual retail work experience. On a daily basis, he has been operating his snack vending machine for nearly a year since December 2019. The operation includes the checking and replenishment of stock; and changing the prices and items. Cairn can do all that independently.

“Tending To A Vending Machine” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

Cairn also knows how to key in data of inventories and keep account of daily sales in excel spreadsheets. In addition, he is also responsible for proper packing of goods ordered from our e-commerce website, for delivery to respective customers.

“Packaging his merchandise” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

Recently, we even discovered that Cairn can memorize the value of pi up to 20 places, and do square roots and indices of two and three-digit numbers mentally! That shows the boy has much more potential than we imagined!

“Solve square roots of 4 digit-figures mentally” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

To prepare Cairn for the transition, we have also trained Cairn to travel independently to and from your school. See attached pictures.

“Taking a bus ride myself” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

During the admission interview, we were told for certain that Cairn will be offered a place in your school because he meets the admission requirements. The only purpose of the interview was to find out which vocation is most suited for him.

Even his current school was under the impression that Cairn will be moving on. That was why they had him participate in the graduation ceremony rehearsal. But only today, we were told that he had been taken off the list of graduates and denied his spot at the graduation ceremony. Despite working hard to qualify for your vocational programme, Cairn will be retained for another year!

As a parent yourself, can you imagine the big disappointment to our family to receive the rejection letter? As the reason for rejection is not stated, I have no choice but to seek help directly from you.

“Help me!” (WordPress Photography)

I believe that as a respected school leader, you will help us in this matter. We have been looking forward to Cairn starting a new chapter at your school. And we are very supportive of school efforts and are most willing to work with you. Please call me to arrange a meeting ASAP.

William WK Tan

Shortly after, the principal replied with warm and encouraging words, expressing delight to receive updated information about Cairn’s ability to travel independently. A week later, the good news came. Cairn’s appeal was successful!

Immediately, I wrote another heartfelt letter to Cairn’s current school’s principal. A few days later, Cairn’s class teacher called me up cheerily to inform me of the school principal’s decision to arrange a make-up graduation ceremony for Cairn! I felt so thankful to the school leaders and teachers in both schools.

All things ended well at last.

“I have graduated!” (William WK Tan’s Photography)

Parents, what’s your takeaway from this story? If anything, I hope you pick up the following steps about how to be an effective advocate for your child:

Be An Effective Advocate For Your Child

Step 1: Do not get emotional. Think about the real issue you want to solve.

Step 2: Know your child’s rights and strengths.

Step 3: Organise your thoughts with supporting evidence.

Step 4: Seek support from stakeholders.

Step 5: Show appreciation and a strong intention to work together.

Children with special needs are often incapable of speaking up for themselves. They need their parents to be their voice. Therefore, we need to learn how to speak up on their behalf, rationally and passionately. Don’t you agree?

“Be An Effective Voice!” (WordPress Photography)

William WK Tan

28 December 2020

086: Should I Bring A Baby With Disabilities To This World?

To Keep The Child Or Not?

If someone is struggling with the painful decision of keeping a baby who is likely to be born with disabilities, what would you say to her?

Two days ago, a pregnant woman sought advice in a parenting group in the social media. She wrote about her dilemma,

“I am at the 13th week of my second pregnancy. A recent Down Syndrome test revealed an absence of nasal bone in the foetus, which caused alarm. I just did a further blood screening test, which will reveal the result in two week’s time. I am worried sick. What if the baby is inflicted with Down Syndrome? If the risk is high, should I keep the baby? Should I bring the poor child to suffer in this world.”

I was mulling over her words till the wee hours of morning. I felt compelled to share with her my thoughts, hoping that it would help the poor mother in her decision-making. Here’s my heartfelt sharing with her, which, to my surprise, garnered a lot of positive reaction from other parents.

Cherish The Opportunity To Make A Deliberate Decision

“I have a child with special needs. And I have not met any parent who deliberately CHOSE to be parenting a child with special needs. So, you have a precious opportunity to make a deliberate decision now.

I can tell you unequivocally that raising a child with special needs is a rewarding gift of love, humility and empathy. Raising my son has taught me what unconditional love and absolute patience mean. The journey so far might have been fraught with difficult moments, but I believe I have emerged a better person.

Weekend runs with my children (Photography by William WK Tan)

You can do even better. But that is only if you and your husband are willing to accept, love and support not only the child, but also each other unconditionally.

The Onus Is Solely On Parents

My son brings me much joy with his innocent smiles and every small step of progress he made. Life itself is a gift, disabilities not withstanding. It is not a suffering to any child if they are adequately loved and cared for. I am of the opinion that the argument children with disabilities will surely lead a life of hardship is flawed.

The real question is whether you and your husband are willing to accept that the child is not the problem. The real issue is whether parents are prepared to:

(1) accept the child fully;

(2) take up their responsibilities;

(3) learn about their child; and

(4) allocate time and resources wisely

Consider your family’s circumstances and the things you need to do to receive the child. If the more you know, the less scared you become, then you are ready to go on the journey.

A Journey (Photography by William WK Tan)

Let’s pray for the best and be prepared for the worst. Hopefully, it is a mistake. Meanwhile, please do serious research by watching video documentaries on raising children with Down Syndrome and read up everything you can find. If possible, visit some happy kids at the Down Syndrome Association. Better still, speak to parents of these kids.

In the end, after u have done all your research and had heart-to-heart discussion with your spouse, whatever decision you arrive is not for others to judge. You would know in your heart if you have made the right decision.”

From the heart (Photography by William WK Tan)

I hope my words have helped someone out there.

William W K Tan

24 October 2020, Saturday

081 How To Discover Joy From Tending To A Vending Machine?

How does an autistic child discover joy from work?

About two weeks ago, I received a picture sent from an unknown phone number. The picture depicted a hand holding two packets of snacks high up, next to a note I wrote and pasted on the vending machine — “Party Snacks at $2 only. We just wanted to bring you more smiles!” These party snacks were specially packed by Cairn to sell snacks in bundle at a discounted price to the residents.

Beneath that picture, the sender wrote me an encouraging message, “Keep up the good work!! The packs really brought more smiles to my family.”

Screenshot with consent from customer.

I was moved. A customer reciprocated the efforts that we have put in and wrote us a feedback.

Excitedly, I shared the customer’s feedback with my family – “People appreciate what we are doing.”

I praised my sixteen-year old son, Cairn, who has been running the snacks machine since three months ago, “You are doing a great job! Your work brings smiles to others.”

Cairn grinned at my compliments, but it was unclear to me how much an autistic boy can comprehend the significance. Cairn understands well that his job is to refill snacks and collect money. But does he know the higher purpose, that is, to bring convenience and joy to others?

I hope my son discovers the joy of working. But it seemed like a tall order to explain that to an autistic person with limited verbal ability.

An Opportunity To See A Happy Customer 

Shortly, another learning opportunity arose when Cairn and I chanced upon a little boy in orange pyjamas one evening. Pointing at a snicker bar in the vending machine, the boy pleaded repeatedly to his care-giver and domestic helper, “Aunty, I want that chocolate!”

Picture taken of the boy and his domestic helper.

I pulled Cairn aside and said, “Don’t go too near. Let your customer buy first.”

Cairn watched on quietly as the domestic helper pocketed out some coins and inserted into the machine. The boy picked up a bar of chocolate in jubilation. I asked Cairn, “What did the boy buy?”

“Snicker!” A quick and confident reply ensued.

“And how does the boy feel?” I asked.

Cairn smiled and replied, “The boy feels happy!”

“Why?” I probed further.

“The boy feels happy because he eats chocolate!” Cairn explained. The boy had un-wrapped his snicker and was munching away happily!

I nodded approvingly, “Yes, you are right.” I continued, “You see? You make people happy by refilling the snacks for them. Good job!”

Cairn’s grin grew wider.

A Close Encounter With A Customer

Two days ago, a man in his thirties approached us most unexpectedly as when we were about to refill the machine. He said, “I wanted to tell you…”

I was half-expecting him to say something like “the snacks did not drop the previous time I bought”. I hear that kind of complaint occasionally.

That kind of problems were largely solved after I provided my mobile number as the customer service hotline on the machine. I remembered how pleasantly surprised a sweet-looking lady was to find her problem solved shortly after she texted me at night.

Screenshot with consent from customer.

Instead, the man said,“… You are doing a great job!”

Surprised, I could only reply with a “Thank you” and became tongue-tied. Receiving compliments from customers in text messages is nothing new, but it felt different hearing such encouraging words in person.

The man said with a chuckle, “You kept improving the selection of snacks. I really liked that Hainanese Chicken Rice Mamee Noodle you recommended in the machine! The taste is so authentic that I took a picture and shared with my friends.”

Source: https://mothership.sg/2019/08/hainanese-chicken-rice-mamee-where-to-buy/

I said “Thank you” profusely. The man probably thought that I was not good with words, as he had no idea the emotion stirring in me. Cairn probably felt it. He was standing next to me, grinning even wider than ever. He couldn’t say in words but he understood.

Gradually, Cairn is getting the idea that he is doing a happy business. It brings great joy to my family to see the excitement on his face as Carin collects and count his daily earnings, though meagre at this stage. Cairn would meticulously stacks the coins and adds up the sum.

Cairn counts his daily earnings.

Thoughts on moving forward

I have received several queries about setting up the vending business.

Let me be upfront, it costs me only SGD$5000 to get started, that’s all. You may spend more, up to SGD$10K if you chose newer and more sophisticated models of vending machine. The real challenge is not the money involved, but the real work behind — the business set-up, the types of machine, the sourcing of merchandise, the placement of machine, and the methods to improve sales and so forth. All that takes a lot of time and energy, and I can imagine people giving up easily. But looking at how Cairn has flourished, it is worth all the effort I have put in.

What I need to do next is to improve the earning yield of the vending machine and increase the number of machines for my son. One day, I hope Cairn can operate multiple machines in the neighbourhood and earn his own keep. It is important that my son, like any other person in the society, leads a productive and fulfilling life.

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/news/

I hope to help others too. That’s why I had shared the five principles of job-creation in the previous post. Helping more families will spur me to look out for more locations, more machines and create more job opportunities for the disadvantaged ones in the society is a meaningful thing to do. And I envision that it would be beneficial for Cairn and other children in disadvantaged situations to form a closely-knitted network where families help each other to improve their children’s livelihood. And this is where I can truly apply my coaching skills and know-how as an education consultant.

So, if you are asking me questions on behalf of a friend with a child with disabilities, get your friend to contact me directly. But if you are asking just out of personal interest, please be patient to read and learn more from my blogs.

WordPress Free Photo Library

With the COVID-19 pandemic raging across the world now, we are grateful to all the personnel working tirelessly at the front line to keep us safe. For me, I stay focus on simple things that brings joy to me and my family. I hope you are doing the same too. Take good care, everyone! For ourselves and others!

William W K Tan

28 March 2020

080 The Untold Story: How To Help My Son Earn His Own Keep?

I did not tell the full story behind my absence from blogging in the previous few months. Something else had kept me busy. A friend HP who knew the insider story, asked, “Why didn’t you write about your vending machine endeavour for your son?”

That is indeed the biggest story I have yet to tell. Simply told, it’s a story about a father who bought a snack vending machine for his adolescent autistic son in the hope that he will be able to earn his own keep one day. 

The big question is, did things work out just like the way the father had imagined?

Bringing the family together on a mission 

Originally, I had my eyes on buying two vending machines. After some negotiations, I went ahead with only one. And my proposal for machine placement was timely approved just a few days before Christmas day last year. It became a Christmas day gift.

Source: My son’s snack machine.

In the presence of my wife and children, I pointed to the machine and said to my elder son excitedly, “Cairn, this is your machine. You are now the owner! And you have a job to do!”

We changed Kyan’s name last year to “Cairn”, pronounced as “can”– another story that I might tell on a separate occasion. 

Then, turning to my younger son, Conan, I said, “The machine is your brother’s. He will have to learn how to run the daily operation like replenishing the snacks and so on. But he cannot run the business alone. Your brother needs you. So do I.”

A baffled expression surfaced on Conan’s face as he wondered what his old man had up his sleeves this time. 

I explained,

“You learn things a lot faster than anyone in the family.”

Conan nodded as I continued, 

“I need you to learn everything about the machine and the business quickly so that we can help your brother make a living.”

“This is also a great opportunity for you to pick up some business skills,” I added with a chuckle, “Let’s see if you have the making of a good Chief Executive Officer (CEO).”

“CEO”: Picture taken from WordPress Free

“CEO?” Conan and my wife laughed at my suggestion while Cairn watched on, half-comprehending what was going on, though he was grinning as he examined the machine.

Adding to their laughter, I went on, “That’s it! Cairn is the owner of our first machine. Conan will be the CEO. Mom will be the financial controller. As for me, I’ll be the…” I stumbled for words. In a split moment, however, I found my words and cracked a joke, “I’ll be the founder! That means it’s my job to find things for everyone to do!’ 

My wife rolled her eyes in dismay.

“Hey, take it easy,” I said reassuringly, “I’ll do everything and take care of all expenses incurred. That makes me the number one worker and also the investor.”

Then I explained my idea, “However, I think my most important role is to be Cairn’s job coach. There’ll be a lot of tasks that I need your help to organise so that Cairn can work independently. And we’ll have to coach him at every step of the way. Just imagine the day Cairn can check the stock, refill the snacks and collect his earning. Wouldn’t that be great? ”

True enough, Cairn rose to the occasion on the tasks he was given.

Cairn replenishes his snack machine daily.

He enjoys his work so much that he reminds me every evening after dinner, “Papa, let’s go to the vending machine now!”

One day, I feigned ignorance and asked him, “To do what?”

Cairn replied with a big grin, “To refill snacks!” 

I told him, “Tell your mom before you go down.”

Cairn literally bellowed, “Mama, I am going to the vending machine now!”

I urged Cairn to say more, “And to?”

“Refill snacks!” He said aloud, beaming in confidence.

Mom was busy with household chores and did not seem to hear him.

I whispered into Cairn’s ear and he repeated my words aloud, “Mama, I am going to make money! See you later!’

Cairn’s words made my wife reply with laughter and enthusiasm, “You are going to make money? Okay! See you later!”

Five Principles for Job Creation

I did not plan to start a business, but had to register a business entity to get things done. On hindsight, I have started the Caresons Social Enterprise for a simple mission — to enable disadvantaged people like Cairn lead a productive life.

The employment prospect for people with special needs is bleak. The Straits Times estimated that only 5% of people with special needs are employed in Singapore, the lowest among developed countries. 

The Straits Times, 11 Feb 2019

In contrast, nearly 20% of people with disabilities in the US and Japan have employment. And the percentage goes up to 40% in Australia, Britain and Germany. It’s an irony that the people of Singapore enjoy full-employment and the economy creates more than 1 million jobs that attract foreign workers and talents to work here. Yet, her most vulnerable people like those with special needs find it so hard to get a job.

The stark difference could not be that people with special needs in Singapore are less employable than their counterparts elsewhere. The answer is probably in a lack of societal acceptance and support.

I concluded that the best way forward is neither job-hunting nor job-matching, but in creating the right jobs.

But I am just a regular salaried-person who has worked for the same company for 22 years. Creating jobs is not my forte. For many months, I spoke to many people in different trades for ideas and thought hard. In the end, I figured out five principles for job-creation where Cairn is concerned:

–       Create a job that plays on his strengths.

–       Compensate his limitations with the help of technology and knowledge.

–       Level the playing field for him with small capital investment.

–       Find something that he can do for others in his neighbourhood.

–       Keep making improvements to make the business work

These principles have worked beautifully for my son so far. I will share more about our endeavour in this blog if you are keen to know more.

For now, I am sharing with you these principles in the hope that they will also help others. Help me spread the kindness to those families you care.

William W K Tan

15 March 2020

 

 

079 I Am Back!

Time to wake up

I have not blogged for months since last November. Out of nowhere, a friend TS texted me one week ago,

“Hi, William. Hope you’re well. I miss your blogs.”

I replied tongue in cheek, “I’m in hibernation. Thank you for waking me up!”

Sensing my humour, she retorted, “Wake up! Your friends and fans are waiting for you!”

“Text conversation with TS”- Consent given by TS

TS’s exhortation jolted me out of my inertia. Now that I know someone misses my blogs, it gives me an extra impetus to get back to writing quickly.

It’s so fortunate to have friends who encourage us in our endeavours, don’t you agree?

Was It Just A One-Hit Wonder Blogpost?

Over the last few months, so much has happened that I have scant idea where to begin.

Last year, the blog was gaining momentum with more viewers for every article I wrote. By November, there was a sharp spike in the readership. I had 15,000 more views in 2019 alone, four times more than the previous year!

“Wordpress Statistics”- screenshot from
personal account.

It was not just the figures that made me sit up. I was motivated by the responses from readers. In the last post, some parents told me how my personal anecdotes helped them to solve the impasse they had at home with their children over the choice of school. I felt good knowing that my article made an impact on some readers. I had helped some families out there.

I was flattered when a private tutor contacted me for collaboration. I told him my rates for writing advertorial and my principle of writing only things I had experienced, so I needed to observe his teaching and interview his students. And I imagined that I would be able to give him some useful consultation. After all, with two decades of experience working with excellent teachers in Singapore and abroad, I do know a thing or two about helping children to manage their studies and advising people on running a successful education business.

It did not bother me when the tutor asked for my viewer statistics. But he made a remark about whether my latest article was “just a one-hit wonder.”

Alas! I naively thought that he was my supporter. Too bad, we were not meant to work together.

“Disappointment”: WordPress Free Photo Library

Nonetheless, the attention garnered made me rethink if I should focus more on education topics. As a matter of fact, friends were surprised that I did not write more about education issues all this while. The reason was simple. I started this blog for very personal reasons – introspection and connection with others. I had been a little reluctant to talk about work in my personal time.

Can I Up My Game?

I have a change of mind, now knowing that my writing can touch lives. To up my game, I contemplated to start a YouTube channel to engage parents on educational issues.

Thinking that it may be a great idea to bond with my fourteen-year son, Conan through this collaborative project, I tried roping Conan in,

“I am thinking of YouTubing. I think it will reach out to more people than blogging.”

“YouTube”: WordPress Free Photo Library.

Conan nodded, but he was kind enough to stop short of telling me, “I told you that long ago, didn’t I?” As if he knew what I was going to suggest next, Conan said, “It’s a great idea, but I don’t know how I can help you.”

“Well. You will make a better Youtuber than me. I think people would prefer to hear directly from your study experiences. And your personality is likeable and you certainly speak English better than me.”

“Oh yes, Dad, you really need to fix your pronunciation.” Conan chuckled as he made a dig at me.

I said, “Well. That’s why I cannot do this without you. But I am good at creating content. Let’s collaborate.”

Conan grinned in agreement.

But it was an untimely decision. My workload at the workplace unexpectedly increased dramatically in November. There were occasions I had to bring work back home to work over the weekends, something that I have always refrained from doing since five years ago. I became too tired to hit the keyboard. I had had enough of screen. I had to shelve the idea. The idea of Youtubing with my son hit a roadblock.

Try something else

Instead I turned to doing something else with Conan- cultivate a common hobby of reading Chinese martial arts novels (武侠小说). I was so glad to see that Conan, who had stopped reading Chinese books entirely for the last three years, has taken to the books authored by Jing Yong(金庸), the titan of this genre.

Source: https://wapbaike.baidu.com/theme/
金庸小说“武器录”/47747882900?bk_fr=lemma

Week after week, we devoured books borrowed from the public library. To encourage Conan, I tried to read at least one book ahead of him. However, after a while, Conan asserted his independence by picking up books that I had yet to read. I ended up chasing after the titles that he had read. The shared hobby brought me and my son closer.

Conan gave his consent to use this picture I took.

The most obvious benefit was Conan became more conversant in the Chinese language. One morning during our regular weekend breakfast time, I intentionally prolonged the conversation to see how long he could hold the conversation in Chinese. Conan pulled it off very well! I saw in him a newfound confidence in the Chinese language.

It came as no surprise when his Chinese language teacher sang praises of his command of Chinese language at a recent teachers-parents meeting. The teacher said, “Conan is a rare gem who reads Chinese novels in his spare time. Hardly do I see any other students interested in reading Chinese books these days. I was therefore disappointed when he did not ace in his recent Chinese test like his other subjects.”

To this remark, Conan explained sheepishly, “Well, the reason is simple. I can read everything in Chinese these days. But writing the Chinese character is another matter. Those marks I lost were all because of writing.”

I laughed and said to his teacher, “It’s alright. Grades do not matter as much as his love for reading.”

The teacher nodded approvingly.

Stick To Purpose

Sometimes, we get derailed from the things we set out to do. But it’s not always a bad thing as long as our purpose remains the same, don’t you agree?

 

William W K Tan

8 March 2020, Sunday

 

 

078 How To Choose Schools Wisely?

A Grave Mistake That Parents Make

On the 21 November, the results of the this year’s Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) were released. Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to chose a suitable secondary school for the children.

Source: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/psle-results-2019-primary-6-students-secondary-school-express-12113634

As the school-posting system is entirely based on the merit of academic results, many parents tend to make their decision around their children’s PSLE score.

But I know one of the gravest mistakes parents make is to allow their decision to be dictated by their children’s PSLE score.

Four years ago, the good news of a friend, AP’s son’s admission to a premier school turned into a story of hectic struggles for the family. They even moved house to be closer to the school to make life easier for their son. My friend reflected, “The first year was rough. My son did not expect tests to cover stuff that the teacher didn’t teach in class. Over the years, he is coping better, but his self-esteem was somewhat dented. I started to question if it was a good decision.”

WordPress Free Photo Library

Another friend, BQ lamented that her relationship strained terribly after she influenced her daughter to change her choice of school to a premier one where she had few friends. She was heartbroken one day when her daughter made an outburst in tears while struggling with her school work, “You made me choose this school!”

WordPress Free Photo Library

And there was this friend, CR who revealed, “I resorted to emotional blackmail and tried all ways to make my son choose the school I thought was in his best interest. My boy stubbornly refused. Now, looking at how he has blossomed in the school he chose, I am embarrassed to admit that my son’s judgement was better.”

WordPress Free Photo Library

Over the years, I have become convinced that it’s prudent to look beyond the cut-off-points of schools, and ask ourselves one question: what kind of school suits my child best?

Know Your Child’s Personality

Last year, I had to confront the same question as my younger son, Conan took PSLE.

Conan’s score of 270 could get him into any school of his choice. It seemed like a no-brainer to choose the most sought-after premier school, the Raffles Institution (RI), that accepts only students scoring around 260 and above. His school teacher also suggested Conan choose RI like the other top boys.

Source: http://www.ri.edu.sg

But my wife and I reckoned RI would attract the top students from most primary schools. A fiercely competitive environment like that might not be a good fit for Conan’s personality.

We saw what he was like in the last three years when he was placed in the GIfted Education Program (GEP). The boy loved to be in the company of his smart and boisterous GEP friends, but dreaded being repeatedly told by his teachers to work harder in some subjects like Maths which he paled in comparison to others. Subsequently, he even dipped in Science at Primary five, a subject that he used to excel in.

Conan knew what worked for him. He said, “I thrive better when I am not compelled by others to do their bidding. I do best when I pursue things at a pace that I enjoy. What’s the point of getting good grades if I don’t enjoy the subject and would give up eventually anyway?”

So, we eliminated the obvious choice that everyone thought we would chose.

How To Reach A Consensual Decision?

More important than the decision itself is the decision-making process. My wife and I agreed that Conan must be involved in the decision-making. But we were hesitant to let him have the final say.

So, I set the rules, “You can have a bigger say in the choice of school. But you cannot make a unilateral decision on a matter that may affect the whole family. So, it has to be a consensual decision that everybody agrees as one family.”

Conan agreed. But he had his mind set on only one school — River Valley High School (RV), a reputable school in the furthest western part of Singapore. His rationale was that RV is co-Ed, offers the Integrated Program (IP) that allowed him to study up to senior high school level in six years, and the school was clearly not the choice of fiercely competitive top students.

Source: https://m.facebook.com/River-Valley-High-School-Singapore-Official-352563478111277/

But we had a practical concern— it would take nearly one and a half hour to commute between home and school.

We explained, “The school hours in secondary school are longer. And the workload is also heavier. It will be dreadful to spend so much time on the road, depriving you of your rest time, personal and family time.”

WordPress Free Photo Library

But the boy was not easily persuaded. He argued, “Travelling time is not a problem to me. I can always find something to do on the move.”

Then he changed tack and made a pitch,

“Dad, didn’t you always want me to be better in Chinese? As RV is very strong in Chinese language and culture, it will be good for my Chinese studies.”

I replied in laughter, “That’s a good sales pitch! But I am not falling for that. Long commute time is a real concern, especially during the rainy season and the exam period. And it affects the quality of your school life more than you believe it matters.”

So I decided, “Let’s keep an open mind to consider at least one more school. Meanwhile, we will travel with you to RV by public transport for the next few days to experience how it is like.”

Who Played Into The Hands of The Other?

On a Saturday morning, our family travelled together to RV. Along the journey, I told Conan anecdotes of students who are studying in RV that I gathered from friends and the chat room of RV students. And we discussed the other schools that meet his requirements of co-ed and IP.

Conan agreed that National Junior College (NJC), which takes 30 to 40 minutes lesser time to commute, is a viable alternative. And the school offered unique and interesting programs like the compulsory 4-6 weeks annual boarding school program.

Source: https://nationaljc.moe.edu.sg

But Conan still insisted that RV was his first choice.

On the second day, during our commute to RV, I shared my thoughts with Conan,

“Both RV and NJC are good schools. But I think the ethos in NJC may be a better fit for you because the principal of NJC spoke more about their values and the uniqueness of their programmes , while the principal of RV emphasised on their scholastic achievements and results.”

Conan listened thoughtfully but he did not say a word.

On the way back, I remarked, “The journey is tolerable without the weekday crowds. But you may not find seats during peak hours and have to stand all the way for ninety minutes.”

Source: https://medium.com/mozzer-expressions/the-art-of-standing-up-on-a-bus-dcbf85a20e37

Having stated the disadvantage, I threw in a carrot,

“You know that I don’t like to give monetary reward. But since you did so exceptionally well this time, and I have not figured what to reward you.. I will give you a monetary reward of $500 if you choose NJC.” Then I feigned regret instantly, “No, it’s not right. Forget that I suggested it.”

His mum intercepted and said to me, “No way! How can you retract your words to your son so quickly?”

Then turning to Conan, she suggested, “Since it’s the first time that your Dad is so generous, get him to give you more!”

Conan took cue from his mother and said, “Dad, I can take up NJC, depending on what’s your best offer?”

I laughed, “You are opportunistic. $200 more, that’s as far as I am willing to go!”

“$700. It’s a deal!” Conan laughed heartily. And his mother joined in with laughter of triumph.

“Are you two in cahoots?” I looked at them with suspicion. The mother and son laughed even more.

WordPress Free Photo Library

Conan said, “Actually, I am fine with both schools. Just wanted to see how generous you can be. You must keep your words now!”

“Okay. A deal is a deal.” I nodded, “But your old man is a poor man. I can only give you in instalments of $100 per month over seven months.”

To me, it was just an extra amount I would probably have to fork out as his allowance anyway. To Conan, however, he told me later that he was actually fine to make NJC his first choice by the second day, so the $700 incentive was actually an extra windfall.

Somehow till today, however, I cannot help feeling that both of us had played into the hands of someone else.

WordPress Free Photo Library

Important Considerations

Nonetheless, the decision turned out good. Fast forward one year, Conan has made new friends, continues to do well in his studies and has enjoyed the boarding experience at NJC tremendously!

To parents of PSLE students who are finalising on the school choices before 27 November this year, hopefully you find my personal anecdotes entertaining and meaningful.

Find a school that suits your child best. Making a wishful decision can turn a good news today into a nightmare, whereas a good decision can turn even a disappointing news today into a blessing in disguise tomorrow.

Think again:

(1) The kind of school environment – Will you be comfortable with the type of students and their family backgrounds?

(2) The rigour of their curriculum – Will your child’s self-esteem be adversely hit when they are compared to their peers?

(3) The travel time between school and home – Will the child become too tired?

(4) The school culture and ethos – Find out reviews from friends with kids studying in the schools you are choosing.

A good decision is made when your child feels good in his or her new school, not when everyone else, ironically except your kid, thinks that the school is good.

WordPress Free Photo Library

Bear in mind, children are the ones going to study in the school you choose for the next 4-6 years. Parents, please set the rules, listen to them and find consensus!

All the best!

William W K Tan

25 Nov 2019

076 How To Prepare Children For Unexpected PSLE Results?

If parents are already stressed out, what about the children?

On a Saturday morning, I greeted a neighbour, “Have a happy weekend!”

“It’s a sad weekend,” he replied unexpectedly before going on to explain,

“The children are having a grilling time preparing for examinations.”

My neighbour’s daughter was one of nearly forty thousand twelve-year-old children taking the national examination, Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) in Singapore this year. His words reminded me that PSLE was around the corner at the third week of September.

Source: https://sg.news.yahoo.com

PSLE is widely perceived as a one-time life-changing event that greatly affects children’s future. Parents with children taking PSLE do get jittery. Many parents will take leave from work and some even resign from work to support their children in preparing for the examination.  

I overheard a mother complaining to a friend how stressed out she felt. Her complaint drew a blunt remark from her friend,

“Your child is the one taking the exam, not you. If parents are already stressed out, how are children going to take it?”

Is the stress real or imagined?

People who are unfamiliar with the Singapore education system probably cannot fully grasp what makes the PSLE so stressful. At one glance of the statistics, nearly every student passes and advances to secondary schools. With only a meagre 2% of the cohort failing, onlookers may be forgiven to think the fear for PSLE is more imagined than real.

The devil is in the details. Children are pigeon-holed into different academic streams according to their PSLE results, which directly affects their chances of gaining admission to the preferred national universities in the long run. And a difference of one point in the PSLE aggregate score may cost children to miss the cut-off point for admission to the premier schools they covet. A less-than-expected performance at PSLE inevitably brings big disappointment to parents who have done whatever they could to support their children. Most detrimentally, it is not a blow that every twelve year old student is ready to deal with.

Source: https://www.asiaone.com/singapore/parents-compile-list-top-psle-scores?amp

A friend X told me, “My daughter was utterly shocked to receive her PSLE score four years ago. She cannot go to the same secondary schools with her better-performing friends. Overnight, the world she knew collapsed. My daughter felt she was not good enough compared to peers. Her self-esteem never quite recovered since. And it got worse over the years. At sixteen now, she starts questioning why she has to go to school since she is not cut for studies.”

By many measures, Singapore is highly regarded for having one of the best public education systems in the world for producing a large pool of academically excellent children. But the deafening voice of promoting meritocracy has drowned the voices of those whose self esteem has been scarred . It is only of late that it dawns upon the ministry of education to abolish, in five years’ time, the streaming of students.

What matters most is always the child!

Knowing that my friend X has another daughter taking PSLE this year, I wondered what I could do to assuage her anxiety. Immediately, I shared with her a thoughtful message written by a well-meaning teacher to her primary-six student,

“You are about to sit for your first major examination. I know you are getting the jitters so in the midst of all this, I want to tell you that this test does not assess all that makes you special and dear to heart.

The people who scored these tests do not know how creative you are. They have not seen how well you design or draw. They have not seen how great you are at coming up with games, improvising them to entertain and amuse your friends. They do not know how confident you are when speaking in a large group. They have no idea how you have always been a teacher’s trusted helper, handling every task assigned well.

The scores that you get in this examination will tell you of how you did that day but not everything about you. They will not tell you how you have improved on something that you felt was once difficult. Neither will they tell you of how you had shown resilience in this examination and pulled through.

Whatever it is, it will not make you any less than who you really are… ”

**Special thanks to KQ for sharing her cherished message from her teacher Michele.

I was moved. The thing that matters most is never the results, but the child. And my friend X was also nearly brought to tears after reading this heartfelt message. She said, “This teacher is so thoughtful and wise. She makes me want to write a similar personal message to my daughter!”

I hope more parents and teachers would do the same!

Be prepared for the unexpected results

Last year, a few weeks after the PSLE examination, I thought there was a need to have a conversation with my then twelve year old son, Conan, about the impending release of the results. 

“We all hope for the best. But we must also be prepared for the worst.” I prefaced the topic before asking Conan, “So, what’s your prediction?”

“Well, I hope to get a score of 260. I guess it will be alright if I get 250s.” Conan spoke carefully as he made his prediction. Then he mischievously changed his tone, “But if I get 240s, that is definitely a no-no! I don’t wish to get a lower PSLE score than you did.”

I laughed at his remark before correcting his view,

“Do you know that the PSLE score is computed by a formula that compares your marks against all other students in Singapore?” That means even if you have done well enough, but everyone else is doing better, you may still end up with a lower score than you expected.”

Source: https://mothership.sg/2018/10/how-to-calculate-psle-t-score-aggregate

Conan frowned. I took a jibe at him,

“Well, it’s a possibility. You didn’t push yourself as hard as some of your classmates did. Did you not say so yourself?”

Conan disagreed with a cheeky smile, “Pushing hard is a bad idea. A balance of work and play is always important to do well in exams. ”

“Let’s hope you are right. My point is to be prepared for unexpected results.” I said before adding,

“At best, you will get to be happy for a few days. Or at worst, you go to a secondary school that you least expect. It’s not a big deal…”

Before my sentence could finish, my wife abruptly stopped me, “Oh please, stop saying things that may jinx my son’s good fortune!”

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

After the results were out, my wife gleefully called to tell me the good news. Clearly, my words did not bring my son any bad luck.

Examination stress may leave a lasting impact on a person

Even in adulthood, I have had occasional nightmares about making a frantic search for the correct examination hall. Those nightmares started from the time I took the Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (GCE A -level in abbreviation) at eighteen years old. I am not sure how many children can handle exam stress well at a vulnerable age of twelve.

Examination stress may leave a lasting impact on a person. I think it’s still better to prepare our children for the unexpected results, don’t you agree?

Finally, I wish to say a big Thank You for spreading my messages. We hit more than 2300 views for the previous article! That was a big encouragement to me.

William W K Tan

4 October 2019, Friday

Like, share, comment, follow or subscribe if u like to encourage me to keep writing ✍️.

075 Insights Into Making School Choices

Can you imagine how thankful I felt when the school teachers of my two children coincidentally made a similar remark at the teacher-and-parent meetings recently, “We have no worry about his academic performance. Your son is among the top students in his class.”

I mulled over the remark repeatedly and arrived at some insights that are hopefully useful to others:

    Never let others have the final say about you
    Do not end up like a dead fish
    The big fish in a small pond
    Do not seek success dictated by others

A family of two tales

Things weren’t always so rosy.

My elder son, Kyan, aged fifteen, now studies in a high school for special needs students. Prior to this, Kyan barely coped with the academic demands in a mainstream school for nearly five years despite making good progress. His academic ability turned out to be relatively better than his classmates in the new school. His special needs teacher said, ” Kyan is an exemplary student in Maths and reading for the other students in class.”

Picture: Kyan loves solving fractions.

His younger brother, Conan, aged thirteen, now studies in a junior high school for academically excellent students. He was consistently ranked among the top five students in his cohort up to primary three. But Conan went through a rough patch in Primary five, a year after he was transferred to another school that offered the Gifted Education Programme (GEP), a rigorous education programme designed for the most intellectually-gifted students in the country. Conan revealed, perhaps with a little exaggeration, “I felt driven to the brink of depression at one point of time.”

Never let others have the final say about you

After the recent teacher-and-parents meetings, I excitedly told Conan about the positive comments I received,

“Your teachers in the new high school spoke very well of you. But I was most surprised by what your Maths teacher said.”

Conan looked at me with anticipation.

“She was telling me how good and quick you are at Maths.” I said.

Conan replied with a triumphant smile, “Talking about that, I only took a small fraction of the allotted time to complete all the problems correctly in a recent test.”

Picture: WordPress Photo Library

“No wonder.” I said, “I was told that you would always finish all the homework on the spot even before she finished teaching the class. She revealed that you are one of the two students in this cohort, whom she observed, to be of high calibre.”

Conan was grinning from ear to ear. I continued,

“Do you know what my response was?” I paused, then teased him, “I was tempted to ask your teacher, ‘Excuse me, are you talking to the right parent?’”  

We both laughed. Conan understood why I made the remark.  His confidence in Maths plummeted badly after his performance repeatedly paled in comparison to his brighter classmates in Primary five. Since then, he saw Maths as his Achilles heel. 

Picture: WordPress Photo Library

Having worked in the education field for twenty years, it has always disturbed me how children’s confidence in studies is adversely affected by test scores, comparison with peers and teacher’s comments. I cautioned Conan,

“That’s what I have been telling you. Never let test results, or for that matter, anyone else to have the final say about you. Keep trying and learning to know yourself better.”

Do not end up like a dead fish

I think one of the most precious lessons for children is to have them learn to know themselves better. I was inspired by a wise statement that Einstein purportedly made,

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Source: https://www.tellwut.com/uploads/

As there is no substantial evidence to suggest that Einstein said these words, I made up a fable to tell Conan when he was younger.

“A tadpole and a fish were friends who grew up in the same pond.  One day, the fish saw the tadpole, which had turned into a frog, leaping to the land and hopping back into the water. The fish was envious and thought, “If my friend can do it, surely I can do so too.” So the fish leapt up high and far with all its might.  It successfully landed far away from the bank. What do you think happened to the fish in the end?”

Conan, amused by the story, replied, “It became a dead fish, of course. The fish couldn’t possibly leap back into the water.”

“Precisely, don’t be a dead fish, my son!” I added a cautionary note in laughter before saying, “Keep learning to know who you really are.”

Source: http://www.cndajin.com/

The big fish in a small pond

Conan apparently took the lesson of “know thy self” to heart.

Last year, Conan achieved a remarkable score of 270 at the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), a national examination for all primary six students in Singapore. Everyone expected he would opt for the prized school of Raffles Institution (RI) that top students were gunning for.  But he was adamant that the school would not be a good fit for him. He explained,

“Dad, I know myself. I am good at learning things quickly. But I am also laid back. That school’s competitive culture won’t suit me.”

I laughed, “I am glad that you know yourself well.” 

But I wanted him to know what he was giving up. I told him, “To many people, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to enter RI. The school has produced two out of the three prime ministers since our country’s independence. And they also produce many successful people in all fields. It’s almost like a guarantee for success in life to gain admission to the school.”

Conan replied, “No thanks. I will probably struggle and lose motivation eventually.”

After much deliberation, Conan chose National Junior College (NJC,) a reputably good high school that matched his needs and aligned with our expectation. I asked Conan how he thought of the decision after nearly nine months in NJC. He explained

“It’s just the big-fish-in-a-small-pond effect that I am doing well now.”

Source: https://nationaltrotguide.com.au/

He elaborated, “I have compared with my GEP friends who are attending different junior high schools. Most of us are doing about the same kind of stuff, except for RI. You would be in awe of the “out-of-the-world” kind of questions my RI friends have to tackle.”

“So do you think you have made a good decision?” I asked.

Conan replied, “Well, the good thing is I am having an easy time. I have lots of free time to read, play games and do the stuff I like. ”

Do not seek success dictated by others

There were moments that I wondered if I have short-changed Conan’s future by not pushing him a little harder like what some Asian tiger moms would do.

But I thought quietly to myself, “I know NJC. It was my alma mater at senior high school level. It’s just the first year in the six-year programme. It’s a matter of time that Conan has to rise to bigger challenges in the subsequent years. Let’s see how things go as he grows older.”

In the meantime, I am heartened that Conan has found time to pick new hobbies such as reading Chinese novels this year. He has also become more engaged with the family, and even takes the initiative to take care of his autistic brother. These were things that he was less inclined to do when the school stress heated up two years ago. 

Picture: Conan reads to Kyan in the library.

We’d rather our children grow up holistically to become wholesome people who keep learning for the betterment of themselves and others, than to become people who are obsessed with pursuing success dictated by others. Don’t you agree?

Like, share, comment, follow or subscribe if u like to encourage me to keep writing ✍️. Thank you!

William W K Tan

(aka Uncle William)

15 Sep 2019, Sunday

074 Fighting Phone Addiction II: Are You Also In Trouble?

Is Your Child The Only One Having Problem?

Last week’s article titled “073 Insights Gathered From Fighting Phone Addiction” garnered much interest. Many friends shared with me more stories.

A father A was concerned that his three-year-old son was becoming restless, irritable or even agitated when the phone was taken away. A mother B was dismayed that she had to resort to texting her teenage daughter who preferred to shut herself behind closed doors. Another mother C was upset that her phone-obsessed teenage boy hardly talked to her except when he needed extra money. A mother D pushed back her teenage son’s repeated pleas for hand phone amidst concerns over the peer pressure the boy had to face.

As a parent myself, I understood their worries for their children. But as I listened to them more, a big question emerged, “Is your child really the only person with a phone addiction problem at home?”

Source: WordPress Photo Library

Why Do Adults Frown At Children’s Phone Habits?

It was a tempting question that I fell short of asking.

From my observation, more often than not, children are not alone in having a phone problem. But I have yet to meet any adult who admits to being a phone addict. They would say, “I am a heavy phone user.”

Many adults easily rattle off a list of reasons to use phones frequently: for work, social network and to keep abreast of news. And who can blame them for wanting to spend a little time on online entertainment after a long day of work?

Source: WordPress Photo Library

Well, children use hand phones for exactly the same reasons: for school work, to be in contact with friends and to be in the know of what’s happening around them. And they, too, need breaks from the monotony of school routine.

So why do adults frown at children’s phone habits then?  The way I see it, we adults have a terrible habit of being too lenient to ourselves, and too hard on others.  

A Pot Calling The Kettle Black

I am speaking from personal reflection.

At the height of my complaints about the then twelve year old son, Conan’s excessive phone habits, the boy retorted, “Well, I am not complaining that you use phone a lot too.”

I defended quickly, “There is a difference…” before saying, “I know when to stop. But you do not.”

Seeing that Conan made no rebuttal, I went on, “Before you get started on anything, you must have an idea when to stop. Always begin with an end in mind. ”

It was a cliche that you might have heard a thousand times. The truth is people are easily carried away when they catch on to doing something.

Admittedly, there were sporadic periods of time that I became engrossed in all sorts of online entertainment such as latest dramas from a variety of sources. And there was also a prolonged period of time that I was messaging with friends so intensively that I was constantly on a lookout for new messages. Even for blogging, there were also times that I woke up in the middle of the night to do editing.

I was like a pot calling the kettle black. That probably explained why my early efforts to correct my son’s phone habits failed miserably.

Source: WordPress Photo Library

Where Had All My Time Gone To?

I should have noticed that my phone habits were spiralling out of control. The red flags were obvious when it began to disrupt the normal routine in my daily life. It was until I abruptly stopped all the time-consuming activities on the phone for several months that I finally resumed control.

We adults tend to underestimate the adverse effects of excessive phone usage on ourselves. If you have been feeling time-deprived, and think that you have so little time for work and personal life, I suggest you do a quick estimate of the hours you are spending on the phone.

In a recent survey by a global consultancy firm TNS, young Singapore adults aged 16-30, spends 3.4 hours a day on mobile devices. That amounts to spending a whopping 24 hours a week!  And those aged 46-65 are no better. They spend 2.3 hours a day on their phones, with an additional 1.5 hours of video watching online daily!

Do you now know where all our time has gone to?

Source: https://www.straitstimes.com/tech/

Do Not Let Technology Consume You

More cause for alarm is how bad phone habits are hurting relationships between people.

A wife X derided her spouse as a useless father who only knows how to use his hand phone to babysit their toddler. A newly-wedded Y in her early thirties is dissatisfied with a husband who would rather spend long hours playing online games, than to cherish the evenings they have together. And a middle-age man Z stopped having conversations with his wife who is obsessed with watching Korean dramas.

Source: WordPress Photo Library

It’s an irony to see how people are becoming more disconnected with the proliferation of smart phone and social media apps that promise to connect people even more.

Technology promises progress, but it also comes with its downsides. Do not let technology consume you. Take charge of your life. Perhaps it’s time to heed a word of caution from Albert Einstein, the titan of modern science.

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.

-Albert Einstein

William W K Tan

(aka Uncle William)

31 August 2019, Saturday

Remark:

Like, share, comment, follow or subscribe if u like to encourage me to keep writing ✍️. I am trying to achieve 100 subscribers in wordpress before I reach my 100th blogpost.