Every morning, I see several parents marshaling traffic outside the gate of a prestigious primary school. Rain or shine, they're there, in their striking luminuous vest. What makes these parents partake in this noble task of directing traffic in the early hours of the morning, you may ask? Especially in a school their kids are not even studying in.
Well, these parents are sacrificing their sleep for a better chance of enrolling their kids into the school in future. Mind you, not next year or the year after, but likely 3 to 5 years later. And they're not even guaranteed a place, just a slightly higher chance. All these effort may come to nought but still they try.
Welcome to the competitive education system in Singapore, one which many feel is too specialised, rigid and elitist. There's no doubt that Singaporean students have regularly ranked top when competing in international science and mathematics competitions and assessments, but at what price? This pressure cooker of our system has even spawned movies highlighting the competitiveness amongst students (and parents) and social stigma that students struggling with studies have to face.
To get their kids into the school of choice, I know many parents who relocate their homes or participate as a school volunteer at least 3 years or so before their kid is ready for school. The people behind school funfairs and carnivals are usually the diligent parents.
Every year, without fail, we read in the newspapers about the tears, the fears and cheers during the primary school registration season. Parents spending the night outside the school gate to be the first in line when registration starts is a common sight.
I have been through all that (not the lining-up part). Though I have always maintained a rather cavalier attitude towards our education system, I couldn't help but feel the heat sometimes. Would my kids be able to get into a decent school? What if they can't cope up with the school work? Will they be bullied?
What about life after primary school? It's an endless cycle. Some parents simply pack their bags and move to another country to avoid this craziness. To a place where education is more well rounded, where there is a greater focus on creative and critical thinking, and on learning for life-long skills. Sadly, this only applies to the ones with the deeper pockets.
Oh man, I am just glad I'm not the one standing outside the school gate in the mornings...