Abandoned by our private tutor and (psychologically) unable to bear doing Maths with my son any longer, I ring the tuition centre downstairs.
‘Our only available slots currently are 7.00 to 9.00 pm on Tuesday or 7.00 to 9.00 on Thursday,’ they say.
‘Oh, that’s way too late for us, my child’s in bed by 9.00. Never mind, thank you,’ I reply, and set off to investigate the tuition centres in our nearest shopping mall. But I’m quickly called back:
‘We’ve found a place for your son on Wednesday, 7.00 to 9.00 pm.’ They must think that such an early bedtime – by Singapore standards – cannot but be an excuse.
‘I’m sorry, that time is too late for us, but thank you.’
Thank goodness for Singaporeans’ can-do attitude and their reluctance to turning away a customer, because a few days later, they call me again and offer me a Saturday morning slot. Bingo.
Not without a fight, my son starts attending the tuition centre. Each Saturday morning I expect a phone call from them saying that he’s not suited to their class (read ‘he’s too lazy’) and that he would be better off somewhere else (read ‘we’re expelling him’). But the call never comes and his protestations become feebler. Doesn’t he mind any longer spending two hours in a two-square-metres windowless room doing Maths with four strangers on a Saturday morning? He’s even started doing his homework without being prompted. It’s only when I connect these anomalies with the vibes in the class parents’ WhatsApp group that I understand: the end-of-primary-school exam panic has started.
It’s common even for mothers who didn’t take any time off work during their children’s first years of life, to take a sabbatical during their children’s Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). This exam will decide which secondary schools their children will attend which, in turn, will affect their chances to get into university. As we didn’t know how long we might be staying in Singapore, the exam was important to us too.
The WhatsApp conversations are dripping with PSLE anxiety and so, I deduce, must be the kids in my son’s class and those in the tuition centre. Thankful for every Saturday that goes past without the phone call I dread, I hold my breath in case a mere puff breaks the spell which is making my son study without being forced by me. And, of course, I keep paying.
Continues in next blog post (uploaded on Thursday 20 April)…
Stefania is a wife, mother of three and a writer. She’s just returned from spending a few years in Singapore with her family. Stefania’s serious work is on her website: www.stefaniahartley.com but the fun stuff is in her blog: A Sicilian Mama’s Unsolicited Advice for Young Women. Follow her on Twitter @TheSicilianMama