Children need time to play and learn best when they are ready. It’s not about immediate results. This may well be contrarian thinking in a society as competitive as Singapore. However, allowing children to enjoy learning is actually the inner fuel that fires their desire to keep learning. Thus, it is best not to extinguish that flame early in life by pushing children to produce immediate results.
However, many parents still worry that their children need targets to shoot for, and also need to learn that the world they live in measures people by their performances and results. While these are valid questions, an equally valid view is that of educationists who believe children need time and space to learn at their own pace, and to play.
Finland’s well-regarded school system is founded on such a belief, and allows children to spend far more time playing outside with minimal homework. Still, Singapore should not throw out its own school system and follow the Finnish way. Rather, it is a call to re-examine expectations that we as a society may harbour, and a nudge to re-calibrate the balance in favour of the “joy of learning”.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung addressed this issue directly when he spoke about striking a balance between academic rigour and the joy of learning. Ultimately, Mr Ong said that “there must be moderation in everything. Too much rigour causes burnout, affects mental health, kills the joy of learning and snuffs out any spirit of lifelong learning”. He also called for the need to have “age appropriateness in teaching, and time for children to have fun and grow up”. He explained that Singapore has been evolving its school curriculum and approach over the last 20 years to “make education more experiential and enjoyable, learn soft skills, broaden their horizons, allow more general electives, encourage double majors in universities and help students discover their strengths and passions”.
Just like Mr Ong said, I think moderation is the key. We need to prepare our children for the realities of today’s working world that is a constant flux of deadlines and expectations. However, we should still give them a good childhood by managing our own expectations. More often than not, it is us parents who are over zealous and exert too much external pressures on our children.
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