- Education & Catastrophe
- How I Inadvertently Helped My Son Game The System
How I Inadvertently Helped My Son Game The System
Education & Catastrophe 61
Cameron's Doyobi Portfolio
Hey y’all! This is John.
This newsletter is about human flourishing. Ostensibly it’s about better parenting and fixing education, but ultimately what I really care about is helping young people flourish.
In this issue, I’ll be sharing why my wife and I picked an international school for our eldest child’s secondary school education and how he got one of the 95 coveted spots for next year. Covered in this issue:
The problem with secondary school education in Singapore
What to look for in a school
How my son did very little schooling and still got an unconditional offer
Let’s dive in!
Last Friday my wife and I finally received news from SJI International that our eldest son has an unconditional offer to join Grade 7 next year. It’s welcome news that comes as huge relief to us because SJII is our preferred choice for Cameron’s secondary school education. Plan B would have been for him to apply to Hakuba International School. It’s a fantastic new school I had the opportunity to visit earlier in the year, founded by Tomoko Kusamoto and led by Chris Balme, the author of Finding The Magic In Middle School.
Why the obsession with international schools?
Having gone through the education system in Singapore, I just wasn’t keen for him to be put in a pressure cooker environment with a heavy emphasis on rote learning. The Ministry of Education is trying to change things, and I’ve heard from young adults who said they had enriching experiences during the first four years of the Integrated Programme (IP). Unfortunately, most IP students still have to sit for the GCE A-Level examination in year 6, which means things revert to form in the last two years of IP, with a heavy emphasis on practice papers and exam prep.
A friend who used to teach at a brand-name secondary school in Singapore and continues to work with public schools as an enrichment provider told me he will not send his kids to public secondary schools in Singapore if he had a choice. He just doesn’t feel the learning is meaningful, and also the stress young people go through is unnecessary. I feel the same.
Why SJI International?
For Singaporeans who don’t want to attend public school, there are very few options.
To be more specific, there are three privately-funded schools we can choose from. Hwa Chong is my alma mater, but I’ve heard too many horror stories of the stress Hwa Chong students are under to put my son through it. It wasn’t like this during my time, but having spoken to current Hwa Chong students, it’s heartbreaking what these young people are going through.
SJII, on the other hand…
99% of SJII students enjoy attending school, and 99% of SJII parents say their child enjoys school. That, for me, is the most important thing. It doesn’t matter how highly ranked a school is in terms of academic results. If the students are miserable, what’s the point? As a bonus, 99% of SJII students say that service learning is a core part of their studies.
A form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection as students seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves.
What we’re talking about here is a form of engagement. It’s about leveraging the need to do something good in the world as a means to help kids hit their learning objectives. It’s about teaching empathy as well as literacy. It’s about teaching compassion as well as composition. It’s about teaching advocacy as well as algebra.
I want my son to learn about himself, develop empathy, compassion and self-awareness, and make a difference to somebody through the work he does. Service learning is a great way for him to get there.
SJII only has 95 spots for Grade 7 next year. Word on the street is that close to a thousand families registered for the open house this year.
So how did my son get one of the coveted 95 spots?
To answer this question, we need to go back to May 2020, at the start of Covid. When Singapore went into lockdown and school was out for a month, I signed my son up for Galileo (since renamed Kubrio), an online school for worldschoolers and unschoolers I had invested in. Galileo offered daily group check-ins with a learning coach, as well as various clubs like anthropology, Spanish, VR, coding etc. After a few months of attending public school and doing Galileo after school, my son asked if he can just do Galileo full-time, like most of his Galileo friends. I didn’t see why not, so we applied for him to be homeschooled and took him out of school.
For two years, Cameron was a full-time Galileo student doing 2-3 hours of online clubs a day. The great thing about the club format is that he got to decide which clubs he wants to do depending on his interests. Over the two years of doing Galileo full-time, he explored languages (Spanish and Japanese), technology (coding, 3D modelling and VR), humanities (anthropology), while teaching himself grade level math and science since he still needed to take the dreaded national exam at age 12. The club format at Galileo requires learners to be active participants in class. Cameron learnt to have an opinion, speak up, defend his views, and listen to others.
He further honed these skills at Doyobi, attending weekly sessions where he collaborates with other kids to solve quests together. Each quest runs over four weeks and is based on a real world topic like environmental literacy, media literacy, future literacy etc. In addition to developing life skills like critical thinking and collaboration, he learnt about the real world. To help him with his SJII application, Doyobi put together a personal portfolio showcasing the different forms of literacies he learnt and the skills he developed.
I believe the skills and confidence he developed at Galileo and Doyobi also helped during his interview with SJII’s admissions officers. Other factors like his results for the written tests also played a part.
When I reflect on Cameron’s journey, it struck me that he really has done very little formal schooling in the last few years, and yet he has a spot in a middle school that, in the eyes of many, is one of the best in Singapore. I did not set out to help him game the system, but through a combination of luck and risk-taking, he does not need to worry about how he does for his Primary School Leaving Examination in October.
If there’s one take-away from Cameron’s journey, it is that confidence, critical thinking, and the ability to articulate one’s thoughts and beliefs is more important than grades. I believe these are the skills a young person needs to make their way in the world, and increasingly these are also the skills college admissions officers and employers look for.
If you enjoyed this week’s issue, you may want to check out issue 56 of Education & Catastrophe ‘Achievement versus Accomplishment’.
Till the next issue!