I remember four years ago, when my older daughter turned one, I was anxious about securing a place for her in a childcare centre around my neighbourhood.

Every preschool I called informed me that they could only place her on the school’s waiting list. I am pretty sure living in Punggol – a non-mature estate popular with young couples – was the main reason for the high demand for childcare services in the area.

I was desperate. This was because since I returned to work from my 16-week maternity leave, I had been taking my daughter every weekday morning from the north-eastern part of Singapore to Woodlands where my parents lived. It was a mad rush after that to get to my office in the city centre.

Thankfully, when my girl turned 18 months, we managed to secure a spot at a popular preschool franchise two streets down the road from my flat.

I’m sure there are many parents who have gone through a similar situation. In fact, preschool is just the start of our school worrying woes. Many parents who go through the P1 registration exercise are willing to give up their time to volunteer in the primary school of their choice just so they have a better chance of enrolling their children in the school.

Earlier this week, a parent wrote to The Straits Times forum to share her thoughts on the parent-volunteer scheme in primary schools. She was of the opinion that volunteering at a school should guarantee a Primary 1 spot for her child at that school.

She felt that it was unfair to make parents go through balloting even after investing time and effort in volunteering. She described how it is a disappointment for parents who take time off from work and arrange for alternative childcare so that they can put in the required volunteer hours at the school, just to end up unsuccessful in the ballot.

Netizens were quick to criticise her entitled mindset. Some even called for the parent volunteer scheme to be abolished.

Teo SH wrote on Facebook: “Volunteer simply means you offer your resources on your own accord without expectation of any return. If the parent wants a guaranteed spot in the school, the parent has to find a legitimate way to strike a deal with the school – this is deal making, not volunteering.”

All parents want their children to succeed in this life, but how far should they go to ensure their children get a good head start?

In the Childcare in Singapore Facebook group, a parent asked the community whether it was worth investing in sending their children to premium childcare centres (at premium rate school fees) for the curriculum and academic development. She was keen to find out from more experienced parents if there were any significant differences in their children after they graduated from those preschools.

The post garnered over 100 comments from parents all around Singapore.

Teachers more important than branded schools

Asian woman teacher and her smart student in class room with backboard background
Image source: Shutterstock / anek.soowannaphoom

Many of the comments highlighted the importance of their child having good teachers regardless of which school they were enrolled in.

Facebook user, Adeline Tan, shares her experience: “Good teachers are hard to come by. And most times we only get to know how good the teachers are after our kids attend the school.”

She added that her son is not academically strong, but she appreciates how his teacher takes the initiative to update her on his progress. The teacher even asked Adeline to pick her son up later after school so that she could spend extra time coaching him after the other students leave for the day.

Another member, Chris Loi, also shared his reservations on branded preschools.

“I do know of kids who went to premium schools who do not do well in primary school. The results that a child gives depends on many factors, primarily on his/her inborn intelligence and parents’ involvement too. These schools probably will offer more exposure in other areas of development, but is definitely not a guarantee of good results in primary school.”

One parent, Edwin David Goh, adds: “Aiya, family support is most important. More money spent doesn’t equate better results. (To a large extent!) Many parents fall into the trap of thinking ‘If I spend $2,000 a month, I’ll get 100% results; I spend $1,000 a month, I’ll get 85% results; I spend $500 a month, I’ll get 65% results…If only it was so simple!”

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Parents must work hand-in-hand with teachers

Asian muslim mother drawing with her daughter, single mom teaching baby girl, happy family concept
Image source: Shutterstock / airdone

While teachers do play a big part in shaping a child, parents must also work hand-in-hand with them, as a parent of two, Audrey Wong, shares:

“Parents play a huge role in coaching and monitoring, getting additional help when needed.

“I sent (my kids) to a super affordable play-based kindy just 3 minutes walk away from my place. Then I selected enrichment classes according to my girl’s learning style and needs – academic and non-academic enrichment classes.

“This method proved effective for us. My P3 boy scored 95% and above for all his tests, all subjects. Learning swimming, piano and coding. Taking up extra high level math competition outside school.”

Another parent Joan Phan shares: “I send two kids to (a premium childcare centre). Elder boy hates (it) because he is not academically strong and likely feels the stress. The younger is gifted and loves (it) to bits. You know your child best best. Don’t expect (the school) to do a miracle.

A third, Jason Kwek, says: “My boy attends PCF. What is more important is to develop a child to be intrinsically motivated to learn, explore and develop themselves. Teachers who are responsible are also important as part of the learning process. Besides attending preschool, parents play a huge part in the learning and development process too.”

Where the child feels happy and safe

Happy Asian child kid girl kindergarten drawing teacher education to paper with parent beautiful mom at interior room home. Mother day concept
Image source: Shutterstock / Sorapop Udomsri

Is it really parents’ top priority for their child to be academically inclined in his or her younger years? Facebook user Aileen Tan thinks otherwise.

“(There is a limit) to whatever kids can absorb. (We should) not stress them if they cannot catch up with the rest of the kids. (Premium childcare centres) are also not a guaranteed entry to the top primary schools in Singapore. I still feel kids should enjoy their childhood,” she shares.

Many parents in the group also echoed Tan’s sentiments that it is more important that children are allowed to grow in a happy and loving environment. Parents were appreciative of the hugs, care and concern that the staff displayed towards their children.

Be careful not to seed kiasu-ism and elitism in our young

Unhappy Asian child working on hard homework at home alone
Image source: Shutterstock / ANURAK PONGPATIMET

Yes, as parents, we always want the best for our children. However, not everything has to be about grades. An overemphasis on the traditional way of learning and using assessment scores as indicators of success may stifle other aspects of a child’s development such as soft skills, creativity, and may even affect their mental health.

Parents must be mindful that we do not seed kiasu-ism and elitism in our young by comparing them to other children or using test scores as a way for them to feel accepted.

As Singapore moves into interdisciplinary learning, parents can sleep better at night in hopes that society will start to redefine what it means to be successful. I know I will.

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