'Kiasi' parents may do more harm than good

SINGAPORE - It is only natural that some parents are getting edgy after two students died during their physical education (PE) lessons last week.

A 13-year-old boy from Temasek Junior College died on Wednesday, after he reportedly had an asthma attack. Two days earlier, a Secondary 4 student from Tanglin Secondary School fainted after jogging and died in hospital.

Some parents and grandparents in the heartland are wondering if they should get their children and grandchildren exempted from PE. Madam Theresa Leong, 40, admitted that she was a "kiasi and kiasu mother", referring to the Hokkien terms for being afraid to die and afraid to lose, respectively. She is also determined to ensure that her children - Elaine, 15, and Eugene, 14 - are "safe from all harm" during their PE lessons.

Madam Leong said she is prepared to "lie all the way" to protect them.

"What if something happens to them suddenly?" she asked.

She is not the only fretful parent that this columnist came across on Friday afternoon. Of the 30 people I approached randomly, 20 expressed concerns about their children.

In a report published in The New Paper earlier this month, a Ministry of Education (MOE) spokesman said that schools conduct overall risk assessments for the PE programme regularly to ensure that risks are adequately mitigated. And students are asked before the lessons if they feel well.

Those who are unwell, with medical certificates, and those who are recovering from illnesses, like flu and cold, are excused.

Eight parents and one grandmother told me they have no qualms about lying about their children's health to get them exempted from PE.

I am also a mother and, to a large extent, I can empathise with these parents. It is easy to become paranoid after hearing such unpleasant news - and the maternal instinct is to go all mama bear and become very protective.

Even my sister - my children's godmother - reminded my son that he should ask to be excused from PE if he feels the slightest bit unwell.

My son suffers from occasional heart murmurs and palpitations, but it is not a medical condition serious enough to get him exempted. And while I'm tempted to be kiasi, I recognise that PE is the only time my children get any regular exercise. That and their co-curricular activities, which means they get to exercise only thrice a week. It is not healthy, I must admit, and I am sheepish about this.

Housewife Zhang Qinwei, 44, shared my sentiment. She said: "Besides PE, my daughter is so consumed by her homework and tuition that she has no time for anything, much less regular exercise."

In this case, it is probably easy for parents to think that they should protect their children as it's "just PE". But before we do that, look at the situation and measures that are in place.

MOE has said that warming-up and cooling-down exercises are conducted before and after physical activities. All PE teachers are trained in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation to respond to emergencies.

And if it sets your mind at ease, three PE teachers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they have become more cautious and alert after the two incidents.

Said one teacher from a secondary school in the east: "We don't want to risk our students' health just for the sake of making them do PE."

But another teacher pointed out that it is sometimes hard for them when "the more playful or lazy ones" try to get out of PE.

He said: "I have students who resort to all kinds of tricks just because they don't like PE or find it too tiring. Some of them hand in medical certificates or letters from their parents to get out of it, even though they are well."

And that should give us pause. Have we been somehow telling our kids that PE is something "not so important" because it's not academic? Why else would they think it is okay to skip this subject at the drop of a hat?

Yes, it does not count towards getting those all-important grades. But that does not mean it is unimportant.

Maybe as part of the national Singapore Conversation re-assessment about what it means to be successful, we need to start thinking about the subliminal messages we are putting out.

And here's where I think we should do our part as parents. Let's not over-react and let's be more proactive in communicating with our children's teachers.

If our children are really unwell, a message, a phone call or a note will be good to help communicate the child's state of health. But let's make sure that it's not helping the young ones to lie.

And, remember, PE is good for them and should be viewed as equally important as other subjects. If we want our children to stay well - physically and mentally - we should help them and encourage them to keep fit.


This article by The New Paper was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.

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