Thursday, January 14, 2016

A new year! New challenges! New uncertainties! Keeping hope.

Its the new year! I'm trying to keep positive and driven but it's getting off on a rocky start with doubts and uncertainty.

For many years now, I have been 'obsessed' as so to speak about education as I believe that the only way to make this world a better place is to educate the young minds in the 'right way'. I hope to do my part amongst all these chaos... bitterness.. injustice...inequality... prejudice...

The 'right way' seem very far fetched.. and sometimes I feel like I am not moving any closer to my dream...

I met Montessori, fell in love with the beautiful phillosophy of respecting the little beings, believing in the nobility of the spirit, and that the hope for a peaceful world begins at birth.

Dived into the world of nature with Wardolf. Forest Kindergarten. Green School in Bali. So much reverence and respect given to mother earth... connecting back to where we came from... immersing in the forest.. the sea... the moutain... preserving our earth for generations to come, growing new aspirations.

Inspired by Reggio Emilia, bringing out the creative being in us, freedom to create and build, propelling a forward looking, ever advancing civilisation.

I am a Bahai. Bahais believe in Oneness of God, Oneness of Religion,Oneness of Man,  The truth is but one, ignorance have multiplied it. Search and we will see that we all seek the same thing in life. Peace... Happiness... Unity... Love... Family... Laughter... Health... Shelter... Food...
Human is essentially a spiritual being and all knowledge comes from our Creator God. An education is only complete when we unite all these truths and with our heart and soul turning towards God.

I hope that in my lifetime I will be able to find a true path.. true education. One that is universal and one that is for everyone regardless of wealth or status, one that unites all, one that brings out the latent potentials and virtues in all of us, one that will strive for excellence in every field and most importantly one that will help bring about wonderful selfless beings to serve and make the world a better place.

Reflecting in my 'world' now...
I am currently home with my 3 boys. Despite all the above ideals I have in my head... sadly my boys ( 2 elder ones graduated from a Montessori preschool a few years back ) are not enrolled into any Montessori/Waldolf/Reggio/Bahai school. And I am beginning to feel very frustrated and pushing my kids to meet the ideals of our traditional school. I dont want to... but if I dont push them.. they will fall behind in the rat race. I am at war with my inner self... I feel that my world is in turmoil. It is said that turmoil and out of equilibrium is a good thing. It pushes oneself to discover new truths and find the new equilibrium.

I have contemplated homeschooling for a long time. But never had the confidence that I can do it. Schools are not perfect but it is what it is for now. It gives the children a sense of the 'real' world out there. I dont think we are meant to homeschool our kids, humans are social beings and we need to interact and socialise to survive. It is also a 'waste' of resource I feel, all the work that a parent does just to teach your own?  ( I am looking at it from a point of what type of education society needs.)

I did homeschool my kids. Basically learning begins at home and a child's first educator is the parent. I taught and guided Tristan with whatever I knew, I did it at a more 'formal' level for Trevor and Tyler with my Montessori training and took in students to create the social environment for sharing, caring and interactions to occur. However at this point of life, I am not able to commit and take in student as I am swarmed with housework and managing the kids.

Tristan is independent and is doing well academically and thriving in our traditional school system. Trevor I am getting worried as he prefers moving about and working with his hands, fixing things and building things. He is not sensitive to language, reading... I am finding a hard time teaching him. Pushing him to meet the standards set for him to meet. It is hard to decide which path to take...1- Push him to meet the standards but suffer all the way... 2-Let him be and let him do his best... but getting his self esteem crushed with standardise test...

I hope I find the balance soon... I really do...

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Getting use to life on the red dot!

Yes we have officially moved to Singapore! This is a first move to a new country, although it's just a stone throw away, living in Singapore is very much different from JB.

Some years ago, we wished to live and experience life in a different country. But years passed, and that opportunity didn't' arrive and so we settled down in JB - the southern most city in Peninsula Malaysia. Recently, the traffic on the causeway was too much for Chris and the boys to bear and so we decided to take a small leap and move over to Singapore.

Having had three kids and 10 years of collected junk.. moving isn't easy at all. We have become so rooted and comfortable in our little Taman where both Chris and my parents live, where the boys used to attend pre-school and where I teach. Life was good. We had a live in maid, and our meals are being prepared for by the my dear Aunty Cies when she is around, our maid or the maid at my mom's. We had family to call for help whenever we needed that support. I had a car, bicycles, fishes and a small but beautiful front yard and garden. Oh... I miss all that so much. For the first two weeks we were here in Singapore, I keep asking myself why oh.. why did we moved?

Life was tough at first, I had to get use to no maid, no car, needed to learn everything from scratch with three kids tagging along with me and a lot of walking. I was physically drained... Thank God Aunty Cies came and stayed with us until I was on my feet.

Lot of things to get use to.

Though me and Chris both went to school in Singapore, the Singapore now and 15 years ago is very much different. The population has increased! crowd is crazy! For everything you need to queue and you need to pay...

The $$:
 Exchange rate from SG $ to RM is so high now that everything that I buy I feel a big heartache and kept thinking to myself.. "in JB it's only.... RM... and I can get three of what I pay here"... I felt so guilty paying so much for everything!

But that was 3 months back... I still do that sometimes but I am getting use to it. And surprisingly, somethings are actually cheaper even after the conversion.

Couple more stuff to get use to... :
The laundry:
Hanging clothes on the poles!!! One my biggest fear. I even had nightmare dropping the poles from the 12th floor! I still don't do it often, as I'm not tall and I have to tip toe to put the pole out. I only do it if I have towels to hang and it needed some sun. If not I just hang them in my study.

The school bus: 
Trevor travels by the school bus. The bus aunty was my biggest nightmare! In Singapore everything is very punctual (almost), and I am not! (Not proud of it but time has always been my greatest weakness, I just cant keep track of my time... :( )

Anyway, the boys used to take school bus from JB to SG, and our beloved superman bus uncles and aunties are so friendly and patience. Boys sit in the porch and wait for the buses. If you are a bit late, they honk and wait for you.  But here in Singapore school bus comes on the dot and leaves if you are not there! So everyday I run downstairs carrying Tyler in my arms and Trevor's super heavy bag and race to reach the place where the bus will pick him up. I have to do the same when picking him up from the bus stop. The first time I forgot the time and was late picking him up. The Aunty called and screamed at me!!! She warned me that if I forget again, they wont want to pick him up anymore! I am at her mercy because that's the only bus company that their school have. The second day I was late again.. by 1 min... And they left without Trevor.. :(  Me and Trevor were devastated... who knew taking school bus was so difficult... and missing the bus is so depressing. Chris talked to his colleagues and its true.. they wont wait! Not because they dont want to  but Singapore roads are mostly " NO PARKING, NO WAITING, NO STOPPING!!" so they cant stop & wait for you if you are not there... Even road systems and laws shapes the way people behave... Friendliness is a foreign word here...

Oh well...after that experience... I set alarm on my phone with 3 snoozes to make sure I get Trevor there on time for the bus to pick him up... The bus Aunty and I got off on the wrong foot. One day few weeks later, we were walking towards the bus stop and the bus came... didn't see us walking there, it didn't stop and just left.. when we called up, the bus driver screamed over the phone and refuse to turn back to fetch Trevor. I was pissed... called up the manager and complained that the bus didnt even stop. The manager called back to talk to me and the bus aunty also called to talk to me saying she would have turn back if it was up to her. The bus driver is a bit deaf.. so he keeps screaming at people and at her. She also has her limitations.  I feel sorry for her too... after that, she and I were ok, and she finally smiles when picking or fetching Trevor.

Dont have a car, but I got a bicycle with a baby seat that I can ride and park anyway (almost) I like! A little bit of freedom and mobility for me. I'm happy. Public transport is convenient, just need to plan ahead - a challenge for me.

After 3 months... things are finally settling down. There're still ups and downs. Some days are great, other days are just so hard. But I'm getting there, we're getting there! I guess one thing I learnt is to accept my situation and my role now and try to have a bit of joy daily.

And another big thing I am doing now is COOKING! I never had to cook... I love it, but I take forever to prepare and clean up. & I am fortunate to have super great cooks like Aunty Cies and my mother in law around me. But now I have no choice. So I cook, and I'm learning to love it! Cleaning up is still a pain... but luckily Chris helps me out with that.

Oh ya! the boys are a great great help too. We use to have help.. lots of help however I always ask the kids to feed themselves, clean up, help around the house. So now the kids help me clean, mop, wash toilets, cook, wash dishes, hang up the laundry, keep the clothes, water the plants...etc..All the years of training them.. and letting the help out even though they made a mess had paid off.  I am blessed.

Sushi, I cooked, they assemble.
Trevor is great with Tyler, he showers him, wear his clothes, makes his milk, reads to him, plays with him.

They love scrubbing the toilet.
Hanging out the clothes.

Cooking-Pepper Rice


Thursday, August 07, 2014

What to think about when choosing a school? Here's my list...

It's time for Trevor to register for Primary 1. His Montessori pre-school days are coming to an end... I wish there is a Montessori School all the way up to High School. But no... not here in Malaysia. The last time I 'shopped' around for Primary school was 2 years back when Tristan was entering Primary (just in case we didn't get a place in Marsiling for him and if there are any better options)

I'm not going to review every school in detail. I'm just going to randomly comment on the school and jot down my personal experience of the school. Most of the points were taken during my visit/s to the school and through talking to parents who have enrolled their child in those school.

In brief, here are my criteria 
[Here are my criteria for schools in my options, but I have another set of criteria for the 'dream' school (will write about it in another post). This school does not exist here in JB... so here are my 'lowered-expectation criteria'.]

School learning philosophy & curriculum.
- Traditional class room base learning?  Are there exams? If yes, how much  emphasis are placed on exams? Homework?
- International school I would expect a different method of teaching and learning. No good way to put this, it going to sound like I'm a demanding parent but I'm going to say it. Since school fees are so much higher, what is my child learning that is different from the local schools?

School's priority? -Character building, how? Holistic development, how? theses terms are over used but not many school really take measures to do it properly.

The teachers are the most important part- what qualifications do the teachers have? Minimum requirements for a teacher. How do the teachers carry out the various different methods/philosophy/curriculum that the school offers. I'm not being bias against local teachers but most of us grow up with the traditional school method of learning and schooling. Its hard for us to break out and believe that children can learn without fear of exams and without material reward. To create and cultivate the love of learning and to believe and encourage children that their own work, the sense of fulfillment and accomplishment is the best and only reward they need. A mix of teachers from international setting may help. Continuous development and education of teachers is crucial for teachers to carry out the various method of teaching. (IB, IPC, Cambridge.. etc)

-Library  I love books, so library to me is or if not the most important part of the school. Looking at the library itself, you can tell a lot on the school's emphasis and philosophy. Self directed learning through books is not encouraged if the library is small, uninviting and has limited books. How do you create the thrist for knowledge if the resources(books) are limited? Although most would argue that internet will replace the need for books, but I still believe in the good old physical books, especially for the younger kids.

-Class Room  Should be clean, inviting, airy (preferably no air con / an option of no air con)- I am pro-natural environment than artificial environment, virus and germs spread more easily in an enclosed environment. Bright - preferably natural light and cheery & spacious.

-Music & Art facilities. Music and art is one of the more important thing that I look for in the school too, if holistic learning is to occur, this part of the education must be emphasized. I love music and art, and I strongly feel that if a school has great facilities and pay attention to this area of learning, this school has a stronger indication of moving towards holistic learning. 

-Reward and punishment Lets talk about punishment first- physical punishment - canning? Standing on chairs, doing push up/crossing arms, poo ull ear and squatting up and down for x no. Of times. I dont approve of physical punishment. It induces fear but child does not understand or learn from their mistake. Only making them more resentful and  rebellious. Disobedient children are discourage children. To me spending some time with them,  caring for them and counselling will help improve behaviour.

How are the kids assessed/graded? How will parents know the progress of their child? How are the children motivated to improve? I have seen reward sticker systems, demerit points system, shame system: name writen on board...etc. But as I said earlier, the reward should come from self fulfillment and satisfaction from hard work and achievement. No material reward is necessary. But in real life, this system hasn't come into effect, so we have to make do with some material reward system for now.

Distance from home, Travelling time ,Transport


Living in Johor Bahru, here are our options ( this list is not complete, only contain the schools that I know of) : (As of 6th August 2014, this is only a draft, will elaborate more later on.)

1) Singapore Government Schools
- Always moving forward
Both me and Chris are brought up in Singapore School System, there are pros and cons but we are generally pretty happy with the system. Not perfect but I admire the fact that they are ever changing and moving forward, keeping up with times, always changing for the better.

The most important asset a school has is it's teachers. I came across an article during one of the PTC meeting at school that Singapore has abolished the school ranking system and their goal is to make every school a good school. They have also increase the budget for training of teachers. We are assured of quality teaching from very qualified teachers. ( I know because I tried applying to be a teacher and it's not easy. If you don't have a degree in Education or Post Graduate Diploma in Education it's impossible to be a government school teacher in Singapore).  This of course doesn't guarantee every teacher is a good teacher, it is dependent on individual motivation which is something we can't control, but at least there are great measures taken to improve the quality of teaching. 

- Parent & School relationship
There's good communication between teachers and parents and so far all our enquries, concerns and feedback/suggestions were responded in a timely manner and the teachers treated our concerns seriously. Email and Watsapp are used to communicate between teachers and parents.

- Everyone is entitled a great education
Singapore school system aligns with my personal philosophy of every one is entitled to a great education regardless of whether you come from a wealthy background or not. Unlike schools here, not everyone is treated equally. In local schools, you may be discriminated because of your race. In private & international school, only the well to do families can afford to send their kids there, so you are looking at a social environment of very fortunate children, which may tend to be quite spoiled. (This is just a generalization, there may be exceptions but quite likely the circumstances made the social environment will be as such.)  In Singapore school, children are in a good mix of races, religion, children from families who are well to do and who are not so well to do, which in my opinion is quite a true representation of what our society is. I feel it's very vital that a person is able to communicate and connect to the humble man on the street and yet be able to speak with eloquence to the president. This is what true social education should compose of.

- Well funded and have a good wealth of resources to tap on
Singapore is a small country, from many years ago, it knows that to grow it needs to capitalize on human resources. You can trust that Singapore will not reduce it's budget to fund schools. Every classroom has high tech projectors, smart boards, computers, dance /music studios, library, hall..etc.. Even some of the international school do not have these facilities.
My son came back from school today and told me that the Singapore Chinese Orchestra/Symphony came to the school to perform and he saw the Er Hu (10-20 of them, a Giant Glokenspiel ( not sure what instrument he was referring to) and Pi Pa... and many more. How often does a school in JB get this kind of visit? They always have excursion to the science centre, botanic gardens.. etc. Outside classroom learning actually take place outside the school. :)

Well it's not all heaven, coming back to earth - 
The cons are 
- the traffic jams (bearable for now, school buses gets some priority at the Singapore customs), 
- the school bus environment (Not the best environment as kids bring technology to school and they are learning stuff without adult supervision- the only adult is the driver who is busy driving through the massive traffic. Your child need to know what is right or wrong, self discipline and daily communication with your child is very important here.)
-need to wake up super early for morning session (4:30am have to wake up, bus arrives about 5:10am) (Afternoon school hours are ok, leaves about 10:50am, school begins from 12pm-5:30pm/6:00pm, return home by 6:45pm unless exceptionally crowded long weekends. The latest Tristan returned home was 7:30pm.) Having said that we live 10mins from the Woodlands customs and the school hours are according to Marsiling Primary Schooling hours- if you live further away, and goes to different school the pick up timings are different.
-still exam based learning style, but good news is that they have abolish exams for Primary 1 &2, and are actively moving towards holistic assessment.

Dollars & Cents $
We are currently paying PR fees for Tristan (We are Singapore PRs but Boys are not, so we are given PR school fees for first 2 years, thereafter it will be S$350.00 per month)
School Fees: S$100+ a month ( RM250.00)
Transport: RM390.00 (a recent increase of RM70.00 due to the toll charges)
Allowance for food: S$2 a day, about S$40 a month (RM100.00)
Total per month : RM740.00 (PR fees) / RM1365.00 (Malaysian fees)

+Uniform~S$50, School books ~S$200 a year 

2) Malaysia Government Schools ( Malay Medium)
- Because of politics, the direction of the education system its curriculum are always changing.
- Quality of teachers are questionable: I heard rumors of teachers teaching bare minimum during school hours and encourage student to go for his/her tuition classes, can't blame the teachers totally, they don't get paid much. Many a time there' not enough teachers. 
- Discrimination may be experienced ( I shall not elaborate on this, sensitive issue)

3) Malaysia Chinese Government Schools ( Chinese Medium)
- I have seen schools with great facilities- mainly from donations and fundings from various sources.
- Schools are generally managed well
- School is conducted in Chinese
- The level of Chinese in Malaysian Chinese School is high, command of Chinese will be very good.
- Class size - Depending on schools, about 25-40.
- Traditional class room, route learning, memorization and copy writing. Creative thinking is not developed.
- Discipline - Canning is still widely used.
The one that I am considering is Foon Yew 4, as it's a less popular school compared to Foon Yew 2 and it has a smaller class size. It appears to be less stressful but I don't know.

4) Malaysia Private Schools (Private School offering local Malaysian syllabus)
a. Omega Private School 
b. Seri Ara Private School
c. Sri Utama Private School
d. *Matahari Private School - I went through the website, it sounds like it has a great phillosophy, fees are reasonable. Will pay a visit one of this days.

5) Malaysia International Schools
a. *Fair View International School ( IB ) - great philosphy and an upcoming new campus, however I have heard feedback from parents who sent their kids to the school having bad experience with incompetent teachers.

b. *Austin Height International School ( IPC ) - great campus, bright, clean, classrooms are brightly lit, great facilities: library is inviting, spacious and has a great collection of books. We went for the open day 2 years back, there's an exhibition of their work and the students themselves were explaining to us what the project was about and they were confident and ready to answer our questions. I was very impressed by this. From my understanding: they have a 'thematic-intergrated-project based learning'. Interesting! Only thing is the distance from my home and the school fees + a lot of other miscellanous fees, and it's increasing yearly. If I have one kid maybe I will consider, but I have to multiply everything by 3, need to budget for their tertiary education.

Another downside for me is Chinese is only once a week, so if you are thinking about bilingual education... pretty tough to learn a language if it's only conducted once a week.

c. *Tenby International School - nice campus, cozy atmosphere, library is inviting and spacious and beautiful, teachers comes from international background, they seem qualified and happy, students are happy. A 14 year old girl gave us a tour of the campus, she spoke well and presented herself confidently. The cons are same as Austin, distance from my home, ( I don't want to have to drive up and down twice a day to ferry the kids, takes about half hour without traffic each way, bus services are not well established as yet- the same bus takes kids from all over JB, travelling time is increased.) Chinese is also conduct very little each week. 

d. Excelsior International School - yet to visit but fees are quite high~RM2000 a month
e. Raffles American International School -  yet to visit but fees are pretty high too, going into more than ~RM2000 a month

f. R.E.A.L. International School - Fees are ok, but facilities are fair- I am expecting more for international school, class room doesn't look inviting, carpeted, students look gloomy, taewando teacher is fierce and old school teaching style - caught him saying " school is not for playing" and he punished a girl who was laughing while running up and down doing warm ups. he made her cross her arms, pull her ear and squat down- stand up x...times. having said this he is an external teacher and Taewando is only a small part of the school or  maybe he is having a bad day. It just happended that I chance upon him saying saying such things. The lady at the admission was very kind and straight forward. No hidden charges. 

Campus quite small, still up grading, will be building a new 6 storey building next year. ( will be pretty noisy for the next couple of years.) Exam based-half yrly internal exams and external Cambridge exams are conducted at year 6, 9 & 11. Pretty much a class room learning style.

Library is uninviting, sad and small, no interesting books. If I were a child, I wont want to go to the library. 

Music and art. As I mentioned earlier, this is one of the more important thing that I look for in the school too, if holistic learning is to occur, this part of the education must be emphasized. I love music and art, so this is the part that I always look out for my children, but if the school doesn't provide it, it's still ok, we can easily find other supplementary classes outside. But sad to know that REAL has no proper music programs, no instrument playing kids just learn signing and basic solfege (do re me). Never managed to ask about art. 

I never manage to see the international syllabus kids in class or meet their teachers. This would be the most important factor.  This Sat there's a open day. 9 August.  9am -3pm. 

Not sure if I'm going since the distance and the facilities and the curriculum doesn't meet our criteria.

g. Omega International School
- went for the open day, the owner splurged on the best food in town, lots of durian, ice cream, briyani, mee rebus, naan, expensive coffee...etc.. I am thankful and I enjoyed the food, but inside I feel something is wrong. Why the emphasis on the food? Omega always come across as a very China man -business style way of operation. The admission office and the 'sales' ladies reminds me of the sales office of some of the new condominium projects here.  No nonsense discipline. Dont get me wrong, they have great teachers, just that I feel the philosophy might be a little old school and rigid. A downside is the curriculum, they have no text book and each teacher prepares their own lesson notes and test papers..etc. What each student learn will vary from class to class, teacher to teacher. I feel it's a little messy, a standardization of syllabus will be better. Of course, if we are talking about Montessori/Self-directed learning style- each child take on their own course of learning and they are highly independent, motivated and guided by trained teachers to do so. But we are talking about traditional school here... a set syllabus will come in better for these kids.

h. Marlbourough - Dont need to mentioned too much, great school but the fact that they charge so high shows that they believe great education is only for those who can afford it, and for those high in status.

i. Seri Ara International School
j. Sri Utama International School

There's going to be a Private & International School Fair in JB 4 Oct 2014, although my mind is almost made up, no harm to explore a little more and see if there's a hidden gem in JB that I didn't know of.
04 Oct 2014
Traders Hotel, Puteri Harbour, Johor Bahru

** Disclamer: - The above comments and opinion are my personal views and does not represent the school and is not a paid review. Please kindly use your own digression to way out the pros and cons before making the decision to enrol your child to any school.


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