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Ban Homework In Primary Schools In Singapore

When his Primary 2 son told him he had forgotten to take a robotics coursebook to an enrichment class, Mr Alvyn Lim gave up part of his lunch break to deliver the book to the boy at his student care centre.

"He told me that he couldn't continue with the lesson if he didn't have the book, and my workplace in Alexandra was quite close by," said Mr Lim, 36, whose son studies at Radin Mas Primary School.

But if the same thing happened during school hours, Mr Lim, a senior manager, will no longer be allowed to drop the book off at school.

In recent years, at least nine other schools, like Radin Mas, have blown the whistle against this example of classic "helicopter parenting" - parents who hover unnecessarily over their children at the expense of nurturing their child's independence.

The New Paper reported in March that Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Primary School had put up signs urging parents to "turn around and leave" if they were delivering forgotten items to their children.

The Straits Times found that others, like Rosyth School, Bukit Timah Primary, Coral Primary and CHIJ Primary (Toa Payoh), have also done the same.

In a letter to parents in March last year, Bukit Timah Primary said that in a single term, it had more than 60 requests from parents to pass forgotten items like homework or money to pupils. It told parents that it will no longer interrupt classes to hand over items to children.

"We believe that children can be taught to be responsible for their belongings and their actions," said the school.

Likewise, CHIJ Primary (Toa Payoh) principal, Mrs Margaret Tan, told parents in February last year that the school has seen a spike in such incidents, and urged parents to teach their children to resolve the problem independently.

"If the (pupil) has forgotten to bring the item to school, we ask that the (pupil) has the courage to inform the teacher. She will be showing traits of integrity when she owns up to the oversight," said Mrs Tan in the letter.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) appears to be making a similar push to weed out such excessive parenting practices. Earlier this month, it put up a Facebook post highlighting examples of helicopter parenting, such as debating with a teacher to get one more mark, or taking homework to school for a child when he forgets to take it along with him.

"You want to help," wrote MOE in the post that has since amassed more than 2,000 shares. "But do you know that (helicopter parenting) may hinder your child from being independent, savvy and street-smart?"

There is no specific MOE directive on the issue of delivering items to children, but an MOE spokesman said schools are free to decide how to work with parents to support students' holistic development.

An example of what the MOE has done to encourage independence in students is the move to make daily cleaning compulsory in all schools here since the end of last year.

In most cases, schools which have imposed guidelines against delivery of forgotten items make exceptions for necessities. Coral and Radin Mas Primary, for instance, said they allow the delivery of essential items like medicine or spectacles.

Schools may also provide resources for pupils who need them.

Bukit Timah Primary, for example, said the school can lend pupils money for recess or lunch, while Rosyth School's general office has school uniforms for borrowing.

Psychologist and parenting coach Anita Shankar said the move by schools to discourage helicopter parenting was a "timely and important" change.

As for Mr Lim, he accepts the guidelines, saying he does not think that they are excessive. "I may be guilty of being a helicopter parent at times, but it has dawned on me that it's important to teach my son that he has to bear the consequences if he forgets to take an item to school."

“Ruien had decided to watch tv and read her books and play with her sisters last night…”

Procrastination is a common theme in adulthood.

And it is apparently the same in childhood, as a lower primary school student learnt from not doing her homework the night before.

But instead of pretending that she did not know how to do it (as she used to), Ruien refused to leave for school until she had completed the homework.

And according to her father, Tong Yee, Ruien hates being late for school.

She cried as she did her homework.

And when she finally reached school, she tried to dodge the prefect, but failed to do so.

Ruien cried again as the prefect marked her for her lack of punctuality.

At this, Tong praises his child for caring about being late, and about her homework in general.

On the whole, readers agree that Tong inserts many life lessons for his audience, not just about taking responsibility and time management, but also about parenting.

Here’s the full story:

In case you can’t see it, here’s the text:

We were late for school today.
Ruien had decided to watch tv and read her books and play with her sisters last night…
And this morning got up to rush her homework. But when it was time to leave the house for school, she refused coz her work wasn’t finished.
There was tension coz Ruixin really hates to be late. So does Ruien; but finishing the homework was equally important and she just sat there writing in word by word, tears streaming down her face as she experienced tension, regret, shame and ambition all at the same time.

I asked Cynthia to take Ruixin to school first and we let Ruien finish her work. At 725am Ruien came into my room and exclaimed in a panic “ok. I’m done. Can you please send me to school?”

I was already ready so we borrowed her grandma’s car and drove to school. She looked out the window all the way and was silent. I don’t know whether she was imagining the prefect that would be waiting to book her for being late and she would lose her responsibility badge (she’s really hoping to win that badge)

Then I said
“I am proud of you Ruien. You stayed and insisted on finishing your homework. And that means you care enough about it and have enough pride to want to complete it well. So well done.”

“But I didn’t do it last night.”

“It’s true. You didn’t. But you did read, and relax and play with your sisters, which is all equally important. I’m proud of you because this morning was a real leadership moment. You had so many things to do and you chose to finish your homework. You could have lied to your teacher, made excuses or simply pretended that you didn’t know how to do it like you used to… but you didn’t.

If you get a pink slip today for being late, take responsibility for it. Don’t be scared.

Next time, we’ll learn to manage our time better.”

She was silent the rest of the way.
I dropped her off. And watched her walk up to the gate. She tried to avoid the prefect. But she was spotted. And she cried again when her name was taken down.


Good job today Ruien.
You only cry coz you care. Your choices will start shaping your values.
Let’s see how you do tomorrow… we’ll always be walking with you.

Praise for dad

And as expected, many praised Tong as a father:

Teachable moments not taken

But one Facebook user provided an alternative view by questioning Tong’s account.

Here are the more pertinent things that he brought up:

1) He notes that Ruien tries to avoid the prefect but fails to do so. This implies that she’s taking responsibility not because she wants to, but because she has to.

2) There are other ways Ruien could have solved her problem of the undone homework — doing it in the car, doing it during assembly, and so on. This would not inconvenience the people around her (i.e. parents), who had to run late with her and make two trips to the school (another for her sibling, who was on time).

While the commenter had no issue with the way Ruien acted (she was, after all, still a child), he felt that Tong should not have praised her for it.

You can read his full comment here.

Top image from Tong Yee’s Facebook page

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About Mandy How

Mandy is a pantry rat. She eats everything in the pantry (except other people's food).

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