By Jervina Lao
School's out. It's the start of a six-week-long holiday for students in Singapore schools, and most mothers would be planning fun-filled activities for their brood during this period.
But since I have joined the Singapore Kiasu Mothers Brigade, I am now tearing my hair out planning how to prepare my elder son for Primary 1 - one full year before he actually enters it.
I have been informed by Singaporean mums I've befriended that if I want my child to survive in a local primary school, then Kindergarten 2 is the end of fun and games for him.
At first, I was incredulous. K2? Isn't that a bit early, I asked tremulously. Not at all, I was told. It is in K2 that the kids are prepared for entering P1. Otherwise, the child will be left behind, and that would spell disaster for his life in school, said a Singaporean friend.
So, what exactly is the child supposed to learn in K2, and what is he expected to know by P1?
Children in many countries begin to learn reading and writing only when they enter P1.
In Singapore, it seems that most pupils enter P1 already reading Shakespeare, reciting a Tang dynasty poem in Chinese, calculating the value of Pi, writing a thesis, and I wouldn't be surprised if some can even play Rachmaninoff on the piano.
It appears that if my son is going to have a prayer of keeping up with his P1 peers, he would need to take enrichment classes for Chinese, English and maths, on top of his regular K2 classes.
'He'll be studying more than six hours a day. That's almost like going to work,' protested my husband.
I admit that I never went to kindergarten. I learnt how to read and write in primary school. My husband can't recall doing any studying in kindergarten. All he remembers is kicking a football around with a group of kids in his village in Greece.
But our son will not be going to P1 in the Philippines or in Greece. He will be going to a Singapore school, where the education standard is notoriously exacting.
Much as I feel for my son, I would be failing in my job as a parent if I didn't prepare him for the
real world. And that includes ensuring that he keeps up with a classroom of Singaporean kids born with studying as part of their genetic code.
No, I don't have any scientific proof that Singaporeans have the study gene. But from my observations, I believe that Singaporeans must have some sort of gene that propels them to study.
Take the signs I see posted in various Starbucks cafes and McDonald's restaurants, in coffee shops in Changi Airport and even at the National Library. Signs that tell students not to study. No Studying. Please refrain from studying in our restaurant. Studying not allowed.
I have yet to see any such sign in any other country in the world. Most signs that I see in other countries are warnings against doing in public what is supposed to be done only in the privacy of a lavatory.
Also, in other countries, parents would beg, bribe and/or beat their children to study. And it doesn't matter where the kids study, as long as they study.
I understand that Singaporean parents would do the same thing. But it's not to get the kids to just study. It's to get them to study harder.
In fact, members of the Singapore Kiasu Mothers Brigade are often seen with their young children in public areas with an open assessment book.
A few years ago, a friend visiting from Canada and I walked past a Singaporean mother going through an assessment book with her young child at a food court in a mall.
'Is she actually teaching her kid here? That's so weird,' my friend said.
'Yes. They start them young,' I remember telling her.
Of course, there is no guarantee that children who are taught to read, write and do sums in the cradle grow up to be successful adults.
And how much studying is too much studying? After all, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. But then again, all play and no work makes Jack an even duller boy, or worse.
'Give the boy a break. It's not like he's preparing for university,' said my husband.
Now, if I can just fit these P1 assessment books into my son's backpack.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.