SINGAPORE - As Singapore broadens its education system, parenting also needs to evolve, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Friday (Feb 15).
"Kids need a mix of high expectations set for them and encouragement to think independently, think originally and develop their own interests," he said at an education conference at Hwa Chong Institution.
Citing studies in the United States on the trend of "helicopter parenting", Mr Tharman said that such behaviour - where parents hover unnecessarily over their children - has long-term psychological side effects on children.
"There is greater sense of anxiety, a loss of a sense of individuality or independence, and greater stress," he said, adding that children whose parents who set high expectations but are supportive do far better in their studies than those with authoritarian parents.
In a 30-minute address to about 600 educators, Mr Tharman gave a broad outline of where Singapore education stands today and what can be improved.
He stressed that Singapore's meritocracy must keep adapting to sustain social mobility - an inherent challenge that all mature societies face.
"What you see in other advanced countries could easily happen here, which is that whilst you retain some mobility in the middle of society, the top and the bottom tend to become encrusted," he said. "The top tends to preserve its ability to succeed in meritocracy, and the bottom tends to get stuck at the bottom end of the ladder. It's happening in many societies, and we're beginning to see it happen here."
He noted that the Education Ministry has over the years made changes such as expanding subject-based banding - where students can take subjects at a higher level than their assigned stream - and broadening the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme, which recognises talents outside pupils' academic results.
He urged educators to make the best use of the DSA system, which he said was introduced as an "alternative set of doors" into schools.
"For schools like Hwa Chong and some others at the top, think hard about how you use the (DSA) system and the spread of students you're attracting from around the island," he said.
Pathways in education must also not be fixed, because a person's potential is fluid, he said.
"We've also got to continue to ensure that our system of differentiating the pace and content of education, depending on a student's abilities at any one point in time, does not make him or his parents or his teachers assume that his abilities are fixed for all time.''
Mr Tharman also said schools must provide space for students to think on their own and education outside the classroom must be taken more seriously by all schools, to develop in students traits such as tenacity and empathy that are needed for the future.
He said the changes in the education system must give parents confidence that they are for the better of their children.
"I have never blamed parents for the way they behave for they are responding quite rationally to the incentives. The exams, the selection systems, the entry requirements," he said. "Parents are quite rational; in Singapore, a little risk-averse, so they err on the side of overdoing things."
"Parents want their kids to succeed not just at age 16, but in their late 20s and late 30s and beyond. So we have to evolve now."