Our experience in Chinese School so far…

I think some of you may remember how I agonised over which school to send my kids to ie whether to send them to a Chinese school or National School. Eventually I decided on Chinese school but I was ever ready to take my kid out of the school at any prolonged sign of unhappiness. I even had an alternate school ready in mind. I was even more worried because when when we were entering the school I met an old college mate who was thinking of pulling his going to be Std 2 kid out of the same Chinese School because he was not getting along well in Chinese school after one whole year in Std 1.

However, so far we are quite ok with the school. We are coming to the end of the middle of the second term now. The homework is quite a lot but still manageable to us. The teachers are hardworking and quite dedicated (accept for the English teacher). On discipline; some of the teachers do carry rotans with them but they don’t really use it. They only use it to threaten. Most of the time, they use rewards as a motivator instead. My girl is always telling me about how she wants to get a prize for being good, doing well etc.

Sometimes she gets asked to stand up for talking too much with her partner who sits next to her or she may get her hand hit by a ruler for forgetting to bring a book but that is all. However sometimes, the teacher merely asks them to share the book with another classmate instead. No extreme punishment like standing up on the chair for the whole period or lesson. She tries to complete her homework but if she forgets or if she misses school and misses out on some homework, she is usually given a chance or time to complete it, instead of receiving punishment. My main worry was excessive homework and excessive discipline but so far so good. Not excessive.

She is doing well academically. Last term she was 5th out of 40 in her class and 12th out of 267 in Standard One, (it is not a very big Chinese school. I hear that most Chinese schools have 400 plus students) with an average mark of 97.43 for all the 12 papers she had to sit for. (yah 12 in all!) Not bad for a banana girl. She has no problems with her written Chinese papers. However, she still struggles with spoken Chinese a little bit. At first she could not understand the spoken instructions given in Chinese but she is getting better now.

Academics aside, in other areas, she has been labelled as dependant and not confident by her teacher. She is not a very bold girl but she was doing ok in kindy. She had a good rapport with her teachers then. However, I noticed that she no longer has a rapport with teachers at her current school. She has become more timid compared to before. A contributory factor could be her lack in confidence in speaking in Chinese. However, the teacher does speak to her in English most of the time at the beginning of the year and some of the time now. In kindy, she was very talkative and friendly with her teachers and was labelled as one of the “top students” in class by her teachers, and was picked to be emcee at her kindy concert.

In kindy she used to ask a lot of questions in class and was very talkative but now she is more withdrawn. I think language is the main barrier and not so much the size of the class. There were 20 students in her class in kindy and now there are 40 in her Std One class.

I noticed that in her current school, she has gone into an inner shell, not participating very much. She often comes home and talks about her group leaders, her monitors, the little “busy bees” (kids given the task to look after the cleanliness of the class), the children who got medals for sports, and those who got prizes for participating in story telling and singing on stage but she does not participate in any of them. She says she is scared. I can see that she would like to participate too but she is afraid. I do not know how to help her. I would like her to grow at her own pace and not push her to do anything she is not comfortable in doing. This is one area where I struggle with most of the time. How to help build her self confidence and self reliance. Even at home, she requires a lot of attention and is very needy.

Her classmates are mostly like her, banana kids with parents who do not understand Chinese. They speak English at home and in school with each other. Some of them are bilingual (speaks well in English and Chinese) but most of them speak English with each other. Another worry I had was that the kids in  Chinese School would turn out to be “square”, introverts who are not able to think out of the box. (Sorry, no offence here but this is what I am constantly told about Chinese School students.) However, so far from my observation, none of her classmates look that way. Quite a number of them look like intelligent extroverts accept my girl who is more timid. She is very intelligent but she is a bit timid.

Some of her classmates get private tuition from their class teacher. I think there is a bit of conflict of interest there. I prefer not to have tuition at this point. However, we do have her kindy teacher come in twice a week to chit chat with her in Mandarin just to give her some practise in speaking since we can’t speak to her in Mandarin at home. That is her “tuition”. It is more conversational but she can ask teacher about some term or words that she is unsure off. I may rope in the teacher to help go through some test papers with her before tests but most of the time, I am her tuition teacher for Chinese (I learn together with her) as well as the rest of the subjects accept Maths. Her father teaches her Maths. Then I help her to learn the Maths terms in Chinese.

As for lessons or subjects in the school, the level of English is really pathetic. So I have to teach English myself or watch it deteriorate. Most of her classmates complain about struggling in Malay as well. I find the level of Malay quite difficult so I try to teach her a bit of that too. When it comes to the 3 languages, I find that her English comes first, followed by Chinese and Malay is last. She still manages to do quite well in Malay but I think her understanding of it is poorer than English and Chinese.

At the moment, Maths and Science is still being taught in both languages ie English and Chinese in school. The level is not that difficult. I find the Maths terms in Chinese is a bit harder than the Science terms in Chinese at this stage. Surprisingly, I find that the level of Chinese in their Moral class is the hardest of all. It has terms and Chinese words that are even harder than those she learns in Chinese class. She enjoys Art and enjoys it even more when her artwork is picked to be displayed in class. 🙂

BM and Chinese papers are usually divided into two separate papers ie “Understanding” (Kefahaman) and “Writing” (Penulisan), In Penulisan, they have to learn simple sentence making or construction leading towards essay writing in later years. This part is harder but important. In addition, she has Computer, Physical Education and Music classes which she enjoys. These days they even have a written paper in Physical Education. I don’t remember doing that in my time.

I think that most of the time, parents concentrate on the Chinese leaving little time for Malay. So most of the children find the Malay hard to follow. So its really important not to neglect Malay. Its not easy teaching the kids to be trilingual.

I had heard that Chinese school requires a lot of donations from parents to survive and will constantly request for donations. However, so far, we’ve only been asked twice so thats ok with us. However, what I don’t like is the fact that the students are quite often pressured by the teacher to donate their pocket money and is labelled stingy by the teacher if they don’t. I don’t give my girl any pocket money so she is often labelled stingy.

Have I left out anything? Well, thats all I can think of for now.  What has your experience been like? Chinese School or otherwise?

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  1. health freak says:

    That was a very detailed and informative post. The school seems strict, with teachers holding cane everywhere they go! Your girl seems to be doing really well and is a smart girl. I think her confidence will improve over time, once she has mastered Mandarin. May I know which school you send your girl to? If it’s too private to reveal it here, you can email me at shireenyong@gmail.com. Thanks.

    Oh, I thought that most Chinese school teachers carry rotan. Haha. Anyway, come to think of it, so far, only their English teacher does so no, its not correct to say that the teachers are holding canes everywhere they go. 🙂 So far the most fierce teacher according to my girl and her classmates, is a male Malay teacher who sat in as a replacement teacher for their BM once, not the Chinese teachers.

  2. Merryn says:

    Ok, now that is a relief to hear. I am also contemplating to send Ethan to Chinese or National School. I want him to learn Chinese as I dont speak a single word of it. But I heard lots of horror stories about Chinese School but through your detailed explanation, I think it will be okay! 🙂

    I had some misgivings earlier on due to my own misconceptions. 😛

  3. Bengbeng says:

    this is my kid’s fourth year in Chinese medium. he is gradually getting the hang of it. if given a chance to go back 4 yrs i would send him to a national type school where he is allowed to learn Chinese as another language…. too much for him to learn here n the pressure is tremendous.. the headmistress insists he memorizes endless Chinese essays which to us are of no benefit once he reaches secondary school. i would prefer an approach where they are taught how to study n love new knowledge explore rather than shine in the UPSR..

    If there is a national type school where our children are allowed to learn Chinese as another language, I think most of them would have sent them to national school instead. We all prefer an approach where they are taught how to study n love new knowledge but our systems does not allow that. Its very sad. I guess, that as parents, what we can do is just try to support them ourselves and provide them with a balanced environment. If the school is lax, then we have to push them harder in their studies. If the school is strict, then we try to make sure there is enough time for rest and relaxation and fun instead. But of course its easier said than done when there is the pressure to pass exams.

    Actually memorising essays are so ridiculous. Thats not the way you “write” essays!

  4. Cynthia says:

    very detailed post.. and I think those parents who contemplating on this issue will say a big thanks to you.. being in the Chinese medium of a banana family myself, for the first 2 years, I really hated it, but after that, I am all doing well.. 🙂 All the best for your girl.. and yes, lots of donation to do..

    Detailed? Actually I am very cheong hei. Once I start writing, I cannot stop. I think a blog post should be short and sweet. Most people won’t have time to read and will just skim through and get bored but then once I start, I just cannot stop writing. Hahaha.

    At least so far my girl does not show signs of hating it. She says she does not like school but she actually likes to learn Mandarin.

  5. mummy gwen says:

    Wah…not easy studying in a Chinese medium school…hehe. My girl is only 3 but it’s better for her to know Chinese coz both Hubby and me are bananas too.

    We are such bananas that when we went to confirm the place for our girl at the school, we did not know how to write her name in Chinese. So malu. Hehe.

  6. Ann says:

    I am glad that chinese school is working out well for your girl. Hmmm…the self confidence thing should nt be a long term problem considering she could be emcee in kindy!!! Once she master the language a bit, I guess it will be easier.

    I am still doubting if I can send my son to chinese school though. Sigh….

    By the way….for the lemon cake, I already started using my conventional oven. Previously when I only used my toaster oven, have to really jaga temperature. I will not preheat but pop the whole thing in and at regular times decide to just heat up botton or top or entire oven. It doens’t come out as well and takes alot of effort. Maybe get a small oven. It brings greater joy if you intend to bake more often!

  7. Lian's Parenting Tips says:

    My daughter is very happy in the kebangsaan school. She speaks BM with a Melayu slang. Everyday no homework. Very relaxed. Of course with all that free time, I get her to help out in the kitchen and do other house chores. She is also free to read her library books and do her own things. So she don’t slack, I got her workbooks to do on her own.
    I don’t regret sending her to a kebangsaan school. I like the idea that her school is only 2 minutes away. Of course I do wish it was more Muhibbah.
    By the way, don’t know if you realize I’m having a giveaway at my site. It’s a free account with ClickN Read Phonics or ClickN Spell. If you think your children will enjoy the software, join in the lucky draw.

    Wuah. Sounds good. I don’t regret (so far) sending my girl to Chinese school though. It is a good school with good facilities. My girl gets to learn Chinese and I get to learn together with her. The teachers are hardworking and dedicated. She loves to go to the library once a week to borrow books and still has time to read them. However, our schedule is a little tighter, so I try to make sure she works hard but also has time to play hard. Like I mentioned to Beng Beng, it depends on us, we push them harder if the school is lax and we make sure they have time for relaxation if there is too much school work.

  8. oliveoylz says:

    It is good to hear that your daughter is coping very well indeed in a chinese medium school. After much contemplation, we will also send our boy to a chinese medium school. Hope he doesn’t get a language shock! Keeping my fingers crossed it will work out. Yup, I have a “back-up” school…he he.

    If you have already decided, then you better prepare him now so he doesn’t get a language shock. 🙂 I didn’t decide right till the very last minute. Even on the first day of school, I was still thinking of cancelling. Hahaha.

  9. mommy to chumsy says:

    Dear MG, thanks for sharing. I am still agonizing over this matter. My hubby would like Ashley to attend a Chinese school. Part of me want her to go but the other part of me is afraid that she’ll be bogged down with homework everyday. School life is suppose to be fun. *sigh*. So hard to make a decision. I don’t want her to be like me..hating Chinese school when my parents put me in one when I started Std. 1. I hated it so much that they had to take me out 😀

    Yes, its really hard to make a decision isn’t it. I’m sorry to hear you had a tough time yourself. I think that makes it even harder for you to decide! So far our homework is not that bad but then they say std 1 is the honeymoon year.

  10. Martini says:

    Thanks for sharing. My boy will go to Chinese school next year and now I have started to worry about him!

    Glad to know that your daughter is doing very well in school, 97.43 average mark is definitely not easy to get, she must have studied hard under your guidance.

    Next year. Thats reaaaaal soon. I find that the boys adapt more easily than the girls. From my observation, even during the first week, they all look so comfortable running around.

  11. Suraya says:


    Thanks for the info..however i dunno whether i should be glad or scared of the details. My daughter gonna be 5 next year, and of course we are planning for her education way ahead..and yes , we would like to send her to Chinese school..but yet we are non Chinese, cant speak cant write, cant understand Mandarin at all!
    we are planning to send her to Mandarin classes staring next year, hope she can cope with it..
    and it’s very true that we should also have a fall back plan in case she cant really be in the Chinese school..
    thanks anyways, all the best for u and your daughter

    Hi Suraya,
    At my girl’s school, there are quite a number of non-chinese. They put them altogether in the same class at year one so that its easier for them to catch up, go for Agama classes together etc. I think they are all doing quite well. In fact, one of the boys in my girls class who is a non-chinese was much more prepared than her because the parents had it very clear in their heads that they wanted to send him to chinese school. They prepared him early and he was comfortable and fitted right in. We had a harder time fitting in because we were so indecisive, leaving the decision about the school right up to the very last minute! All the best to you too. 🙂

  12. Ling says:

    Hi hi,

    Wow.. i had to re-read the part that u said 12 papers!!

    In SG, the kids in primary 1 and 2 only does 3 subjects while P3-6 does 4. Many a times, they are still struggling with those 3-4 subjects.

    Am relocating to Malaysia by end of the year and i will be leaving my eldest son (who is 9yo this year) in the care of my parents because i don’t think he can cope with doing his subjects in chinese or even BM since we never thought of introducing him to that previously.

    We will be bringing our 4yo and 2yo along to malaysia, but i hope we return when they are due for primary school because i can’t help them in both chinese or BM.

    In a way, i think the malaysia education system is more stressful than the Singapore one.. 12 subjects at 7yo is really no joke!

    Ling, you should rephrase that to 12 subjects for a 7 yo IS A JOKE!

  13. MS says:

    Hi, liked your detailed experience on Chinese primary school. I myself also went through this experience with my son, who is Std 4 now this year (2010). It is true that the Moral subject has very difficult Chinese words, like ‘responsibility’, ‘sacrifice’, ‘filial piety’, ‘respect’, etc.. These are words describing human character / behaviour.

    But just to warn you that I heard from other parents that Std 1 – 3 Mandarin standard is easy-peasy. From Std 4 onwards, there is a big jump. Hopefully my son is able to cope..

  14. soo says:

    Coping in a Chinese school depends on a few factors. 1st) the character of your child. My older son is more sensitive, he takes it really hard when discplined. My younger son is stronger mentally, “rebounce” quickly after being cane.
    2nd) the class teacher. If you are lucky, you get one who discplines, but with love. In this case, you child will like her, like her subject,therefore do well in that subject. My son did well in the 1st 2 years because his class teacher was kind and dedicated. But comes to 3rd year, streamed into “smart” class, his homework tripled, teachers are stricter, punishing students for the simplest mistake..trying to mould them into perfectionist. For e.g in an exercise of 50 questions, for every mistake you make..you get one hit. To me, that’s ridiculous! 98% is excellent to me..why cane and demoralise a child. See, that depends on the teacher..who you get.
    3rd) Initially, I’m not for tuition, not at primary school, I told myself. But looking back, I should have.Especially for children from banana background, get tuition. Because the level of difficulty in Chinese Language increases very fast..if the foundation is not good, it’s even harder to catch up later.No time to do catching up. A big jump in std 3 onwards. If the command of Chinese language is weak, it will affect other subjects thought in Chinese, like Science, Moral…etc.

    Generally, I think most teachers in chinese school are too “serious” and overloaded with work…forgetting students are still children who needs their childhood. Relax a bit la. I’m in a dilemma too. While I don’t agree with the excessive punishing, I’d like my son to learn Chinese language. It’s one language you have to learn it when you are young, & intensively. I came from a Convent School, had those once a week POL class, Chinese student attend Chinese class. No use…”given it all back to my teachers”.

    My questions are many, how do we as parents help our children to cope? When they are demoralised, lost confidence, withdrawn..how do we undo or counter those “damage” done on our children? Or let them face it, because the world is not going to be nicer when they come out to work in the future, nasty boss, clients etc. Life is not a bed of roses..they better learn about failure, the younger the better? Bearing in mind, our children spend a great deal of their waking time in school..how much could we do? Should we pull them out of Chinese School? Can we afford International school?

    Soo, you echo the words of many parents here including me.

  15. eye says:

    I’ve signed up my girl at a chinese school for std 1 next year. Actually, I had already registered her at a national school earlier but decided to cancel because my daughter herself wanted to attend a chinese school (she is attending a chinese kindy at the moment). And I support her decision. After some time only did it occur to me, “How the heck am i going to guide her on her homeworks/ assignments? I don’t even have basic chinese?!!” So, please enlighten me on this.Thanks.

    Hello eye. My husband and I do not speak or write Mandarin. In fact we were so embarrassed when signing up our girl because we did not know how to write her Chinese name. 😛 I found that learning along with my girl helps me to guide her. What helps is a good electronic dictionary. Get the best that you can afford because hopefully you can use if for all the primary years and secondary as well. Its a long term investment. Another thing is workbooks with pre-printed answers. That way, I can get my girl to do work and I can mark it for her. Those are the main two things that helped. Best of luck to you.

  16. lin says:

    In my child’s school, if you get the aveage 98%, out of 400 students, the child’s position will be in the range of 200-250th position. Just so you know.

  17. lin says:

    Btw, forgot to mention, we are talking about 98% for all 12-14 papers. In fact, in this school, if your child average 98% it’s like no hope to be top 150 position.
    Maybe it’s the area, the kids are just too smart cos the teachers are “normal” not the typical Chinese matron type, and the kids actually are happy children. I’m just glad I found this school. I mean , the Hm is like waiting at the gate to greet the kids/parents 6.30am , what more can we ask.

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