THE LAM FAMILY
Alfred and Pauline both born and bred in Hong Kong and relocated to Singapore in 2010. Their 2 sons were born in Singapore, the eldest is 10 years old and the youngest is 7.
Alfred is a commercial airline pilot and Pauline has switched from full time work to being a stay at home parent. Pauline left her career in May 2022 to focus on being more present with the children.
We converted to Singapore citizenship in 2020 to give our son’s an identity and a sense of belonging. Starting from kindergarten they have sung the Singapore national anthem each morning. Holding Hong Kong passports meant very little to the children, they couldn’t relate as they have never lived there. All they know is that they live and breathe Singapore, this is the culture that they have been brought up in.
How do you strengthen the ties that you have in Hong Kong?
Our sons acknowledge that the family roots are in Hong Kong and we are very fortunate to live close to Hong Kong which makes life much easier as we would make an average of 3 trips back annually. The great thing is that family members regularly fly out to visit us too. The children have had constant connection which strengthens family ties.
What ways do you help with your sons' Hong Kong identity?
Each time we travel back to Hong Kong, we introduce more and more of the food culture to them. Food integrates into our traditions and heritage and makes it very easy for the family to connect through this one love of ours. We also expose them to our core childhood memories in Hong Kong in hoping that our sons’ can find a piece of their Hong Kong through the stories we share.
Speaking Cantonese is also a strong identity marker, but unfortunately we neglected this language as we weren’t confident in the boys learning 3 languages at once. Since Singaporean education focuses on English and Mandarin, we wanted to concentrate on the 2 official languages instead. We do make an effort to speak Cantonese at home, but the boys usually converse with us in English. They have a basic grasp Cantonese and through experience, where the boys had 1 week exposure exclusively with the grandparents speaking Cantonese, they had improved tremendously.
We select children’s television programs in Cantonese for them to watch, but as they get older, it seems that it’s harder to find something fitting for their age and also we need to be that extra vigilant to what content is being shown too and would need to vet through episodes which seems like a hindrance to us.
School Life In Singapore
At school it is the traditional Asian way of teaching where it is teacher centered and book centered. Students see knowledge as being transmitted by the teacher rather than being discovered by the learner.
We are impressed with how the Ministry of Education has developed an internationally relevant curriculum, staying abreast with latest changes especially with cyber related issues. From cyber bullying to cyber security, these topics are very much relevant to this generation. There is a Character and Citizenship Education, where students learn to be responsible to family and community; and understand their roles in shaping the future of Singapore.
In our opinion there is strong leadership and good governance in Singapore, which was especially highlighted during the pandemic. We believe that this leadership and decision making trickles down and has a positive impact on the educational system.
Both of the boys have been learning English and Mandarin since kindergarten. In their everyday life, English is the dominant language. They are strong academically in Mandarin, but we have found that they are lacking in conversational skills. It seems to us that they are caught in the middle between these 2 languages and cannot fully express themselves in either. We believe that there is time to improve and from seeing how that 1 week constant exposure of Cantonese did them good, we would probably find them a Chinese foreign exchange programme to give them the right immersion.
We recognise that Singaporean English is different in terms of pronunciation and grammar. “Singlish” contains non-standard features of the English language, it incorporates elements of other languages and has its own unique grammatical structures. Even though we have been working and living in Singapore for over a decade, we have not really adopted this spoken style. For our sons’ this is now part of their culture and identity as Singaporeans.
Contrary to belief, their homework load isn’t too heavy and in the recent years, the Government have done away with exams in Primary 1 and 2, which makes it less stressful for the students and parents. They are both relatively happy at school and have time to join extra curricular activities they are interested in.
Which tutoring classes do they attend?
They only attend Chinese tuition because we cannot support them at home as we are not strong in Mandarin. Otherwise it’s mainly sports and piano lessons.
Do you feel any pressure from other parents that influences you on how to raise your children academically?
Before we would feel that we weren’t doing enough, but now we have established a good rapport with our sons’ in terms of what their strengths and weaknesses are and support them through it. Pauline mindfully leaving her job to be a stay at home parent has played a major role in this.
It is to concentrate on the youngest, as we feel he lacks academic discipline and drive. He is quite a character and very different from his older brother. The oldest is mostly autonomous with his homework and generally studious.
As Primary 3 onwards is a critical educational stage and with exams annually, this is where the youngest would need full support and encouragement. We feel that attending a good secondary school is central to meeting the right friends and to be honest, teenagers listen to their peers more than their parents. We hope that the right group of peers will bring many positive impacts; in life, attitudes to learning, academic performance and even personality.
Where do you think they would attend university?
We would like for them to go overseas. At the end of the day, Singapore is a small country and very sheltered. We appreciate that it is a safe country, yet we want our children to be street smart and conscious of the darker side of humanity. It is invaluable to learn practical knowledge and skills that are often developed through intuition.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Alfred and Pauline and found that they are both equally invested in the children’s education and their learning journey. It was refreshing to listen to the father’s side and his thoughts. For Pauline, it is brave and admirable of her to leave her career and that decision is never easy. Her role at home is very important and their sons enjoy having her present and engaged with them. I get an overall sense that Pauline and Alfred are trying to find the right balance of pushing forward academics but not in a suffocating way. The children attend a variety of sports classes not because of the competitive aspect, but because it provides an opportunity for them to participate, connect and socialise with their peers in gatherings. Through this strong and positive family relationship, it has a beneficial impact on the children because the environment provides the sons’ with confidence and security.