Standards in Pri 1 can dent child's self-esteem

I think that the high level of academic skills and languages expected at the start of Primary 1 is a major contributor to our educational inequalities as it has a snowball effect.

Even though my husband and I are university graduates, we were clueless about the standards required for our daughter's entry into Primary 1. We were lulled into a false sense of security about the adequacy of her kindergarten programme.

After being deemed unprepared for Primary 1 after a test, our daughter was put into the Learning Support Programme. Fortunately, together with our help, she was able to catch up with her peers and "graduated'' from the programme after one term.

However, the stigma of being labelled "slow" rankled for a long time afterwards. She still remembers feeling inadequate among "smarter'' classmates who seemed to know the answer to every question, especially when the teachers lavished praise on them.

Notwithstanding her "slow'' start, she has gone from strength to strength and has now received offers from several top universities in the United States to do her PhD.

My daughter's experience echoes Associate Professor Teo You Yenn's findings that many pupils may not be inherently deficient, but rather are just not exposed to the level of mastery required by schools at the outset (When kids say 'I lazy what'; Feb 4). The damage wrought on their self-esteem from labelling them as such may outweigh the benefits of any intervention programme, no matter how well-intentioned.

Having interacted with children from low-income families, I am impressed by their intelligence and curiosity, but I did wonder whether their spirits would be subdued if they were to be branded academically "slow'' in school later on, through no fault of theirs.

If schools had continued to teach basic and foundational skills in Primary 1, as had been the practice in the past, then we would probably have significantly fewer pupils deemed backward at the start of primary school.

This begs the question of whether schools have raised standards because children have been hothoused by parents to ever-higher levels, or whether parents have to provide additional help because of schools' increasing standards.

The need to adapt to increasing requirements has come at the expense of everyone except the tuition and enrichment centres.

Maria Loh Mun Foong(Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2018, with the headline 'Standards in Pri 1 can dent child's self-esteem'. Subscribe