So we’re into week 4 and Miss Chu has settled remarkably well into the new school and the local system. It’s different, but we’ve had no major complaints and I think she actually enjoying it! Here’s a quick rundown of Singapore primary school life so far.
1. Early start
We’re up at around 6:30am now to get the kids ready for Miss Chu’s 7:30am start. My biggest stress in the morning is a half-awake me trying to french braid the fringe of a half-awake Miss Chu (whilst she’s eating her breakfast) – to prevent her hair from contravening school rules. But we’re lucky we live nearby; I’ve heard many kids wake up before 6am to get the school bus; some of which drop kids off over half an hour before school even starts, as they have other rounds to make. Miss Chu has already seen a classmate fall asleep at her desk!
2. Classroom Structure
Miss Chu explained that on the first day, her classmates were lined up by height and seated accordingly in the classroom – shortest in front! (Although there has been some reshuffling since then). The class is arranged in rows, with front-facing desks of 2-3 pupils per table. Children have to stand up to greet the teacher every morning.
3. D is for Discipline (or Demerit points!)
The student handbook has a couple of pages detailing 27 reportable offences and the number of “demerit” points that will be accrued should one commit any of them. Consequences are either detention, counselling, or both, depending on the circumstances. Latecoming without valid reason, and improper attire / grooming both earn you one demerit point (hence the hasty morning hair braiding sessions). Interestingly, cheating and arson are at level pegging – 5 points!
Am relieved to report that homework has been very light so far, just a couple of simple Maths and English worksheets per day at most. Miss Chu has a weekly English spelling test, but so far no homework or tests for Mother Tongue (Mandarin) – at least, not that she’s mentioned! Apparently she tried convincing her teacher that her Mother Tongue is actually English…to no avail.
I’ve heard that homework levels vary significantly from school to school; many other schools are already dishing out significant homework and have weekly Mother Tongue tests already. The girls have to copy down homework in a homework diary everyday and parents have to sign off.
Singapore has been warned that the mosquito population is particularly high this year, in part due to El Nino and higher temperatures. Local school classrooms have ceiling fans but no air-conditioning, so windows are open and mosquitoes can be an issue. Spray-on repellent doesn’t seem to help much, so the girls wear repellent patches to school every day. Even so, barely a day goes by without one of them getting a bite. These are slightly itchy but almost always harmless, although mosquito-transmitted Dengue Fever is on the rise. Unfortuntately there’s no vaccination for this, and in severe cases, it can be fatal.
6. National Anthem
Every morning starts with flag raising, singing the National Anthem and reciting the National Pledge (foreigners don’t have to say the pledge). If its raining, pupils stay in the classroom for this routine and the Principal addresses them over the PA system. The Anthem is in Malay, and the girls have been singing it constantly around the house over the past few weeks! Maybe that’s why all Singaporeans have to go through the local system. Schools here are definitely more explicit about pushing the nation-building agenda as part of the official curriculum.
7. Recess really is only 30 minutes. ?
8. School on a bigger scale
At 6 classes of 35 pupils each in Primary One, this school is much bigger than Miss Chu’s old one in Edinburgh, although quite average for Singapore. Some schools have nearly double that intake every year. All students have to wear nametags. Apparently the teacher sometimes uses a microphone in class! We’re into the fourth week of school and Miss Chu is still a little unsure navigating around this relatively large campus.
9. Virtual School Gate chat
With the school being so much larger, and most of the kids on the school bus, there’s definitely less of a “mums at the school gate” culture. There’s none of the “lining-up in their classes” before the school bell – which used to be my main opportunity for a bit playground parent chit-chat! A WhatsApp group for class parents was initiated on Day 1; about half the mothers in the class are in the group so far. This generates daily chat (over twenty messages a day!) mainly about homework, lost property and queries about what and when various items are required for the school day. It’s good to be in touch with the other parents, if only “virtually”, as there isn’t much time to mingle at drop off and pick up. I’ve heard these can descend into Tiger-Mums-Comparing-Grades chatgroups, but no sign of that as yet! I guess it’s early days.
10. White shoes really do need cleaning.
But thankfully Miss Chu is still enjoying the novelty of cleaning them herself.
Today I asked her 1) what she likes the most about her new school and 2) what she misses the most from her Edinburgh one. Her answers: 1) my new friends 2) my old friends. I guess that’s the best part of school, no matter where you are!