The conversation was interesting, but there seemed to be one over-riding concern that parents had: how could they raise creative kids in a system that seemed designed to squash and kill creativity?
My advice -- which I write about in Beyond The Tiger Mom -- is to counterbalance school at home as much as possible.
How can parents do that? Here are three suggestions:
1. TIME IN NATURE
Get kids outside and then give them time to do what they want. Let nature and childhood work their magic. Let kids play!
Given that 90% of Singaporean teens are myopic and that stress levels, particularly during exam time, run dangerously high, we need to let kids recover and rejuvenate by giving them free time out in nature. It will help their eyes (myopia is linked to too little time outdoors), their physical health, their mental health, and it will free them up to be more creative.
Check out chapter 4 in Beyond the Tiger Mom, and Richard Louv's book "Last Child in the Woods" for more info.
2. ENCOURAGE KIDS TO ASK QUESTIONS
As I've written about in previous posts, exams are all about getting the right answer. But to be more creative, our kids don't need to check a box and give an examiner the right answer, they need to come up with good questions. In an exam-oriented educational system, kids become well-trained to anticipate what an examiner is looking for and then give the right answer. But we need to counterbalance that by encouraging our kids to ask the right questions.
Ask your kids, "What questions do you have about ________?"
Model questions yourself: "I often wonder why __________?"
Talk to your kids about the importance of asking questions.
When kids ask questions, engage them in a discussion. Don't shut them down, but instead, focus on getting them to speak up more and ask more questions. Encourage questioning in every way you can.
For young kids, create a wonder wall in your kids bedroom, and have them post questions and "wonderings" that they come up with.
3. ENCOURAGE THE ARTS
The Singapore Local System has four main tested subjects in elementary/junior school: Math, Science, Mother Tongue, and English Language.
What's missing? The Humanities, Literature and the Arts.
While schools may offer these subjects as fringe subjects in the curriculum, parents and educators routinely tell me that "what gets tested gets taught," so most time and energy at school is diverted towards tested (PSLE) subjects.
And when we don't encourage our kids to immerse themselves in literature, the humanities and the arts, we risk creating a very one-dimensional population. We need to give our kids exposure to history, literature, and art so that they can begin to develop empathy, perspective, and creativity. Through these subjects -- particularly the arts -- we offer our kids the ability to imagine and create, to think in different ways.
As parents, we can supplement a local education by offering kids time and space to read, paint, sing, act, and daydream. Encourage the arts. As this wonderful article illustrates, they may not help with exam scores in the short run, but they will pay off in the long run!