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Commentary: Surviving home-based learning in the long haul may require parents to dial back on kiasuism

With everyone back at home and parents supervising their children, there’s a greater tendency that keeping a hawk’s eye on what they are up to can lead to more tension, says June Yong.

Commentary: Surviving home-based learning in the long haul may require parents to dial back on kiasuism

Photo illustration of a child using a laptop computer (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: The irony that the recent spate of COVID-19 infections surrounding school children began from one tuition centre is not lost on parents.

The spread of the virus from centre to school testifies to the interconnectedness of the enrichment centre scene and our children. Several schools were affected, including the two schools my children attend.

Singapore’s tuition culture – a hefty S$1.4 billion industry – is deeply rooted in the education system that we’ve established. It is not only the go-to for struggling students, but is often deemed a necessary and legitimate out-of-school activity for well-performing ones.

Just a few nights ago, a friend was bemoaning the fact that her child, having missed his goal for his Math exam paper by one mark, had bugged her to sign him up for Math tuition.

This goes to show how deeply entrenched tuition culture is – and the buck doesn’t just stop at parents.


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But as the situation calls for us to pay greater attention to our children’s health and emotional well-being, will we take a collective step back and focus less on achievement?

Or would it be more of the same (tuition) game, just over a different medium?


Let’s face it: Pandemic parenting is hard. Especially now that we’re in the middle of a full-blown battle with the new COVID-19 variant.

Coupled with an increase in work-related or relationship stresses, HBL and extreme forms of kiasuism might prove an explosive mix. 

I’m referring to certain parenting traits that might undermine a child’s sense of self-esteem, such as being overly critical of their weaknesses, and being over-controlling.

When we glance over at our child’s work and spot a glaring mistake, is our first instinct to yell or to scold?

When the child comes to us with a question, do we respond in irritation: “So simple, how come you don’t know?”

In zeroing in on the missed mark, critical parenting has been consistently associated with depression and even anxiety in children. It can also undermine a child’s emotion regulation and curb the growth of their self-esteem.

Even as a relatively relaxed parent, I’m not immune to a sudden uptick in my blood pressure and heart rate when a teacher notifies me that my child has overlooked a piece of homework or was inattentive in class.

If I go on a full-scale rant at him, I’m caring too much. If I ignore the feedback, I’m not caring at all.

It takes a conscious effort to step back and see the full picture before I can muster up an empathetic response and problem solve with my child.

(Photo: Unsplash/Arwan Sutanto)

This being HBL round two, hopefully most of us have wisened up. Granted, we are still learning to walk the tightrope between caring so much that we take over the problem, and giving our kids room to make mistakes.

Scored 60 on a science test? Don’t sign him up for tuition just yet, find out exactly where the gaps are and what can be done to help your child.

We’ve also learnt to not take the grade at face value. Instead, we look a bit deeper to decipher what could be standing in the way of our child’s learning.

For example, my youngest didn’t know that he had to refer to the textbook for a particular Chinese assignment and so could not make head or tail of the questions. The minute he looked at the textbook, a light bulb went on in his head.


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Mistakes are also an opportunity for us to know what might be missing. And we gain the precious chance to teach our children that it’s okay not to know everything at first glance.

An article in The Washington Post sums up well: Parents should ease up on academic micromanagement as what children need most right now is support, not pressure. We must resist the urge to “catch up” after remote learning losses and instead focus on giving our children “tools for success”.

These include: The ability to organise homework, have a system for completing them and practising the skill of asking a teacher for help.

A kid spends time on a computer (Photo: Reuters) File photo of a child using a laptop. (Photo: Reuters)


It is not hard to find that a thread of kiasuism running through parenting in Singapore. To the uninitiated, it is a Singlish term that translates to the “fear of losing”.

Nowhere is this more pronounced in the education system where parents are fearful their children will not get into good schools or worse, fail subjects in school thereby setting them up for a lifetime of struggle.

But does kiasuism simply equate to endless tuition classes? If we dig deeper, kiasu parenting encompasses a wide spectrum of beliefs and actions.

On one extreme, it is the need to have your children be number one in school (and in other forms of enrichment such as sports, drama or music). There is a perpetual chase for the elusive extra mark or to get into that branded school.

Here, it wouldn’t be hard to conjure an image of an angry mum waving a cane threateningly at her child or tearing his composition up because it just isn’t good enough.


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Thankfully, the majority of Singaporeans probably fall somewhere within the large middle ground, where it’s not so much about being the best, but giving your best.

For such parents, we may not hesitate to seek extra tuition help if we see our child is truly struggling with the concepts.

Nor would we try to hold our children back if they exhibit interests in learning a particular sport or musical instrument.

But we certainly wouldn’t be holding a cane behind us, ready to pounce whenever our children make mistakes.

Kiasu parenting, at its best, simply desires to see our children reach their full potential. It doesn’t necessarily equate to harsh parenting styles or punitive punishment methods.

My fear is that being in close quarters and having to monitor our children’s learning on top of our work responsibilities may bring out the worst in us.

(Photo: Unsplash/Annie Spratt)

Being aware of this is a good starting point to dial back on our worst instincts to micromanage and to really walk the talk that while grades are important, our children’s attitude toward learning, their resilience in times of change and their character traits, like helping others in greater need can take center stage.


The road ahead is long and uncertain. The jury is still out on whether we’ll be back to in-person learning, distance learning or blended learning come end-June.

It is precisely due to the murkiness of the times we are in that we need to be aware of our fears – whether it’s about our children not catching up or if we should get them vaccinated.

We often teach our kids that no matter what happens, they have a choice as to how to respond. The same applies to us in this round of pandemic parenting.

We can model resilience to our kids if we choose to acknowledge the positives of this unfortunate situation. And there are many positives.


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For one, since WFH has been reinstated and sports lessons have all but shut down, our schedules have become more streamlined, and along with that, less rushing about.

And as my 12-year-old remarked when I asked her whether she hated COVID-19: “It has made my life more interesting. I think people’s expectations of how we’ll do in the PSLE have also lowered.”

I’m not espousing that we sweep this crisis under the carpet with self-help and positive thinking.

But the way we see a situation, or a child, can either promote or inhibit our compassionate response.

And when it comes to pandemic parenting, every bit of compassion counts – not merely for our children, but also for ourselves.

June Yong is a mother of three, an educational therapist and owner of Mama Wear Papa Shirt, a blog that discusses parenting and education in Singapore.

Source: CNA/sl