I have fond memories of high school in America. I’m worried my daughter won’t feel the same in Singapore.

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Growing up, school was always very important in my family. Now, many of us — myself included — are even educators. My sister teaches drama in the US, and my mother retired from her position as a tenured university professor of journalism several years ago. I live in Singapore and lecture in the creative writing and publishing graduate program at Nanyang Technological University, but have also taught at the high school, undergraduate, and community college levels.

In 2007, my now-ex-wife (a Singaporean citizen) and I decided to move to Singapore from the US. I got a full-time position at one of the country’s highest-rated independent all-boys secondary schools. It was there that I was introduced to Singapore’s competitive and high-pressure education system.

I was surprised by how much extra work my students had to do on top of their regular coursework. They had to work on group presentations, research papers, and community projects on top of homework and hours of mandatory co-curricular activities like Taekwondo, modern dance, or robotics club.

I tried to be as compassionate as I could in the face of this workload, but I also had my own KPIs to meet, which were dictated by the school administration. I lasted four years before deciding to move on.

It made me recall my education experience growing up in Oklahoma and North Carolina, which I largely look back on with fondness.

For the most part, I enjoyed my classes, as well as my extra-curriculars, which in high school consisted of marching band, French club, and physics club. It’s possible that, in the 30 years since graduating from high school, my memories have become rose-colored, but I do remember feeling like I had a good balance between my school life and my personal life.

I worry about the stress that gets put on my 14-year-old daughter

My daughter is now in Secondary Three — the equivalent of ninth grade in the US — and it has been eye-opening following her through six years of primary school and two and a half years of secondary school. She gets good grades, but she is far more stressed out than I remember being at the same age.

As part of the co-parenting arrangement with my ex-wife, I have custody of our daughter on weekends, yet I can only remember a handful of those weekends over the past eight and a half years —including public and school holidays, during which she should be resting — when she wasn’t overloaded with homework.

From the time she arrives at my apartment on a Friday evening until I take her to her mother’s place on Sunday night, her attention is primarily on the assignments she has to complete before Monday morning.


Daughter and father wearing face masks

The author gets concerned about the amount of pressure put on his daughter by teachers.

Jason Erik Lundberg



For example, when she was 11 and in Primary Six, Singapore was still under heavy COVID-19 restrictions, which was taxing enough for a young student. However, she also had to take the standardized Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), which would determine the secondary schools she’d be eligible for the following year.

From where I sat, she spent the majority of that school year studying for that test, and felt intense pressure — along with the rest of her cohort — from the teachers to do well. This led to prolonged neurosis that year, and as a result, she lost over 10 pounds, when she was a slender kid to begin with.

A lot of the pressure is self-inflicted by students

All of this has been compounded by my daughter’s high academic standards for herself, much of which has come from her school environment. When she doesn’t have enough time in the day to be her best in each subject, she feels like she’s letting her parents, teachers, and herself down, which leads to further anxiety.

On a positive note, it does look like things are getting better. Over the past few years, Singapore’s government has announced a shift in the focus of education away from purely academic grades and test results.

In 2023, mid-year exams were no longer required, per The Straits Times. In addition, many schools have now instituted subject-based banding, where students are placed in the appropriate subject difficulty based on their aptitudes. Parents also get regular newsletters from the Ministry of Education that show an increased understanding of the difficulties that students face. However, as with any type of government bureaucracy, things are still moving slowly.

I am exceedingly proud of my daughter. She’s intelligent and creative, but even more importantly, she is kind. She is a far better person than I was at her age. I can see her doing very interesting things as she gets older, and I only hope that the pressures she’s under don’t do lasting damage to her ability to get there.

Got a personal essay about culture shock or relocating a family that you want to share? Get in touch with the editor: akarplus@businessinsider.com.

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