A letter to my children on education and life

28 January, 2020

The following letter is written by Ms Yvonne Kong-Ho, one of the parents of our Learners. It is reproduced here with her permission.

My dear children,

Ever since you were born, hand over heart, your Papa and I have tried our best to give you a headstart in your learning. I remembered reciting nursery rhymes to you when you were just days old. I would read aloud passages from the newspapers to both of you even though you were more interested in chewing on Lego Duplo blocks.

We decided to speak both English and Mandarin at home to help you understand languages and accelerate the training of your brains.

We could not afford to send you to the Hegurus or the Etonhouses when you were infants.

But I thought a child would not go wrong being brought up with loads of books and Lego. This explains why you have a “Legoland” and a mini-library at home now.

Having worked in education for close to 20 years, I have to confess my anxiety and worries for the both of you grew as I saw how “demanding” the education system in Singapore can be.

I am thankful for how it has evolved through the years — there are indeed multiple pathways for different talents to blossom at different paces and phases of a child’s life. 

But as a mum, I will always have to manage my “mummy’s guilt”. When I see you struggling with your Math questions in school, I wonder if I have done enough to help you?

Then again, would I want things to be so smooth-sailing for you that you may miss out on opportunities to develop resilience, perseverance and humility?

The journey ahead is very long for you. It’s something I tell myself every day as the both of you leave for school.

As you walk towards school with your bags on your growing frame, myriad emotions will hit me. I marvel at how fast you have both grown. I feel wistful at how one day you will be heading to university and how you used to tear and have mucus and saliva all over my dress because you did not want to enter the childcare centre.

What is my dream education system for you?

This is not easy for me, both as a mum and as an educator, to answer. Let me try here.

The education which I envisage for you, my dear children, would be one based on trans-disciplinarity, enhanced by experiential learning.

I am a firm believer that you will need to become a polymath, a Renaissance man and woman, in order to carve out a niche for yourself among the intelligentsia of the world. You will need to learn by doing, by getting your hands dirty and by getting out of silos thinking.

Therefore, you must have the curiosity and courage to discover and delve into new realms of knowledge; without having to think if you will do well or score a distinction should you attempt to learn something new.

This will entail some unfamiliarity and discomfort — learn to get used to it!

I hope you will learn for the sake of learning, because it is so enjoyable to discover new things. I hope you will have the agility to pick up new things to learn, be it Mexican cooking, baking a macaron, trying to sew a button, doing salsa or aerial yoga.

If you are trying out something new, borrowing children’s books in the library is a good way to start. I learnt calligraphy at the age of 18 by referring to a children’s book which taught calligraphy in the clearest, simplest way.

I hope you can fail. Fail early, fail fast and fail forward.

It sounds wrong for a mum to wish for failure for her kids. But listen to me. Forgive yourself when you fail and try again after you have failed.

I often tell your dad — the best gift I can leave you is not a condominium or a huge legacy (I have none, just to declare). But it is the gift of resilience and a heart of contentment and gratitude.

Resilience so that you can fail, fall and come back up again. A heart of contentment and gratitude because without which, you can have everything in life and yet be miserable.

I hope you will have the wisdom and discernment to identify wise mentors and not friends who will only offer you sugar-coated “advice” or pleasantries for fear of ruining the friendship with you.

I hope you will have the humility to seek guidance and help when needed and the courage to make restitutions when you really go wrong.

I hope you will seek to give back and have a heart for people.

Papa and I had very little in our childhoods and when we were starting out to build our family. People were kind to us and we are grateful to them.

We try our best to help the both of you see that you live in a larger world.

Thus the giving out of food and groceries at Jalan Bukit Merah, the volunteering trip to Phnom Penh, respecting and helping children who need a little bit more time to walk, talk or understand what we say, the buying of food for uncles and aunties who approach us to sell us tissue paper at the hawker centres.

We hope you will see that you can do your bit to make someone’s world better. We hope that you will not be calculative when you give, and we hope for you to have a strong heart to continue to give even when people hurt or disappoint.

What is the catch here?

All that we hope for you to have, may or may not come from the education system. It must come from the home. It must come from what you observe from your community.

Hopefully, you learn the good and distill the not-so-good from us.

We love you so much. When the world gets a bit too treacherous, know that you can always come back and sit beside me for a back rub.

Regardless of how you fare in the education system, we believe you both will blossom in your own ways and use your gifts and talents to add value to the world.

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