System influences students' expectations of themselves

The results of the study conducted by the Singapore Children's Society offer food for thought ("Students in IP schools set sights higher"; Wednesday).

I am intrigued by the suggestion that parental expectations play an outsized role in students' academic aspirations and achievements.

However, it may be the other way around: That children's achievements influence parental expectations.

My husband and I did not send our daughter to any enrichment classes during her early school years, as we wanted her to have a carefree childhood.

We certainly did not entertain any lofty aspirations for her at the outset. She was put in the Learning Support Programme in Primary 1. After she caught up, we took a hands-off approach to her education, and left her to study on her own.

It was only in upper primary that we realised she may be more academically inclined than we expected. It was only then that our expectations rose in tandem with her academic performance. She later qualified for the Integrated Programme (IP).

My point is that our daughter's achievements drove our expectations, and not vice versa.

Students in IP schools have higher aspirations, as they believe they have proven themselves to be academic achievers.

Besides parents, the whole education system also conspires to inform students - whether implicitly or explicitly - what the expectations of them are.

Students in the IP are naturally highly optimistic of achieving a degree, as the Education Ministry has already categorised them as "clearly bound for university".

At the other end of the spectrum, students relegated to the Normal stream feel stigmatised and demoralised.

Having taught Normal stream students, I have found that many of them have low self-esteem and expectations of themselves, which may be reinforced by the education system.

Counterintuitively, genetic influence on measured intelligence appears to increase over time, from about 20 per cent in infancy to 40 per cent in childhood and 60 per cent in adulthood.

One possible explanation may be that children seek experiences that correlate with, and so fully develop, their genetic propensities.

As about half of all differences in intelligence is attributed to genes, this means the other half is likely caused by environmental factors.

We can do little to change children's genetic heritage, but we can do much to improve children's lives, by providing a rich and nurturing environment, especially in the pre-school years.

Therefore, the important part schools play in determining children's trajectories, especially those from underprivileged families, cannot be overemphasised.

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2016, with the headline 'System influences students' expectations of themselves'. Print Edition | Subscribe