No space for dreamers in Singapore?

Just a few days ago, at the music school Little Foot goes to for piano classes, I was handed a notice from the administrators informing that, among other things, the school will now adjust the classes to suit the ABRSM and Trinity Framework that is required for Direct School Admission (DSA). I asked if this meant that they would no longer teach using the Suzuki method, which was why I signed her up at the school in the first place. The answers I got? Were along the lines of, “Oh this is for DSA, but it doesn’t guarantee your daughter will get into the DSA programme, just that it allows you to qualify. She will still need to audition for the school”.

Seeing as this was not quite answering my question, I had to rephrase my question and asked again “What happens to the Suzuki method? She’s only 5, isn’t DSA too far away to think about at this moment? It’s not on my radar”. I eventually walked away with an unconvincing reply – “if you want, we can still stick to the Suzuki method for you if you don’t want ABRSM”.

At this point, it dawned on me that

  • The school was heading in this direction because more parents want it (or they assume this would make their selling point more attractive to kiasu parents
  • I might be an extinct specimen on earth for wanting my child to learn music for the pure joy that it brings, and not because it will provide a side door to a good school or an advantage over other children to qualify for the school of their choice
  • That perhaps the people running the administration do not understand that there is a possibility of different learning methods and still passing the piano exams?

In any case, I signed the form acknowledging that I have read the notice, knowing that any further probing would be a rather futile exercise.

And here, a week later, I am still reeling in shock that parents start strategizing ways to ensure that their kids get into the right school, even when they are still so young! As a Singaporean though, I am not surprised. It seems like it is in our DNA.

Since MOE introduced this DSA with the sports school and School of the Arts and later on, widened the scope across the other secondary schools, I have heard of parents paying for private and extra trainings with famous coaches, parents who splurge on holiday boot camps and drama camps. All to get their kid that extra edge to open that side door. No dreams come free in Singapore. And dreams are sometimes traded for something else as well.

Just writing this made me exhausted already.

Many of us would by now be familiar with this quote “To the young and to the not so old, I say, look at that horizon, follow that rainbow, go ride it”.
The quote became one of the most memorable to Singaporeans when Singapore’s founding father and first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew passed away.

And yet I cannot help but look at the way we have organised and wired ourselves as a society, as a community, that leaves perhaps not much room for the idealists, the real dreamers.

In saying “follow that rainbow, go ride it”, did he mean that we had to dash for the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow? Or he meant “focus on your dreams and go chase it”? Whether the pot of gold comes at the end is beside the point.

How tiring this society must be, if it has to tag a sort of price tag to whatever we do:

• When you go to Kidzania and watch how parents dash their children to the pilots and banks and discourage them from job like farming and delivery, because they are fixated on that narrow definition of success.

• When you send your child to learn something, whether a sport or music, with the idea in mind that this will be the ticket to walking through the doors of a prestigious school, or at least the kid won’t have to mug so hard and still get into an elite school.

• When you choose who your kids “hang out with” to make sure they are hanging out with “the right crowds” (networking starts young).

In a society like this, can a hopeless dreamer like me, hoping to raise a happy little dreamer and actually thrive and succeed by our own definitions?

It makes me wonder if at some point, I will buckle and end up being one of them.

It reminded me of the time long ago, when husband and I went for Engaged Encounter, a 2-day stay-in retreat that was sort of a fast-track marriage preparation for Catholics.
We in the company of Catholics who were born to the faith with some who have kind of fallen out along the way, or whose fiancé/fiancée were non-catholics. The reason for most of us being there? The certificate that would allow the wedding to take place in Church (some said their parents would be livid if they didn’t have a wedding presided by the priest!). Of course, there were others who chose this over the 8-week long marriage preparation by the church because of their busy schedules.

In any case, during the sharing sessions, the whole room turned quiet when I told the priest, “We haven’t actually decided if we will marry in church as I am the only Catholic on both sides of the families.”

“Then why are you here?” Another participant asked.

My reply? “Because we believe that marriage takes hard work, and preparation is necessary. And I preferred that the marriage preparation also touch on my faith, as a chance for him (Long) to get a better idea of my faith. However, I don’t want to force it if I’m the only one who wants a church wedding and make everyone else unhappy.”

I think I gave some of the participants a lot of food for thought that night, and a new way to look at something they considered a “chore”.

At the end of the 2-day retreat, we had a good chat with the priest and he strongly encouraged us to enter into marriage in the presence of God (no emotional blackmailing, no pressure, but think it through), even if it was the simplest ceremony, and to call him if we changed our minds. And in the end, we did make that call.

Like it or not, I do think that we as parents set the tone for our children. They mirror us, and some of quirks rub off on them.

Just like how I am usually quite a “random” person – I don’t like timetables and I forget important dates, but when I feel like it, for no particular reason, I’d like to go on “dates” and “treats”. I follow my feelings a lot, while Papa Long is more structured. We balance each other out. He keeps the schedule, I slot in things on whim and fancy. And both our traits have rubbed off on our little girl too, for better or for worse.

As a parent, I would like her to choose to do things that she enjoys, purely for the joy they bring her, even if there are no rewards or outcomes. At the same time, there are the things that fall into the category of “responsibility”, that she would have to ensure she fulfills (like homework, and brushing her teeth). The things in these 2 categories may intertwine, but I do not see the need to force them to be mashed together.

And in her musical journey, whether she wants to pursue it for fun or eventually take the piano exams and go to a school which can help her further the interest, it is for her to decide, and not for me to force it.
Will I change my mind later on? Who knows, but for now, I do wish that some things in life can be simpler, so the dreamers can thrive.