She's 57, but earns diploma to coach grandkids

SINGAPORE - She is a 57-year-old grandmother of three, but that did not stop Madam Yuspiah Basir from going back to school two years ago.

Her three young grandchildren were exactly the reasons she decided to become a student again, after a hiatus of about 40 years.

"My three daughters are grown up and have their own careers. And even though my eldest is a teacher, she is often busy teaching other kids.

"I thought I should jump in and be involved in my grandchildren's learning processes and growing-up years," says Madam Yuspiah, whose grandchildren are between three and eight years old.

After attending evening classes for a good eight months while juggling a day job, the employee with Singapore Airlines graduated with a diploma in educational studies.

During the hour-long interview, she shows me her certificates, her face shining with pride.

Over about eight months, she completed modules at GIG Education Centre at Eunos, in subjects like English grammar, phonetics and creative thinking and she earned a diploma issued by the University of Cambridge's College of Teachers.

It wasn't easy, Madam Yuspiah says.

"Most of my classmates were people in their 30s, aspiring to teach as a career.

"I felt quite shy at first. I dressed to the nines and didn't want to reveal my age," she says with a hearty laugh.

The cheerful and well-spoken woman assimilated after some time and grew to enjoy the lessons immensely.

They have had a large impact on the way she interacts with her grandchildren, she says, but not in the way you would think.

The most valuable experience of going back to school is not picking up techniques.

Instead, it is remembering what it is like to be a student again, she says.

"It's not easy to focus and to slog. "With that understanding, it's difficult to have overly-high expectations of your children," says Madam Yuspiah, who insists that all she asks of her grandchildren is that they do their best and eventually get degrees.

And when she felt discouraged, they became her support and motivation.

"I remember designing a poster where I wrote down my targets and hopes of achieving As, and I drew arrows between those As and little figures of my grandkids, to remind myself that I'm doing it for them," she says with a smile.

The school fees came up to about $3,000, an amount she considers "worthwhile".

These days, her grandchildren dub her their "homework and tuition buddy", because she is often with them as they complete their schoolwork.

"I do shift work, so I get to see them at home quite a bit," Madam Yuspiah says.

When her grandchildren get to major exams such as the PSLE, "there will surely be concern", she says.

"But I believe in preparing early. The key is to be with them and make them feel that they are not alone, even when they're tackling the difficult problems."

She adds: "I am generous with praise because I believe that if you help them be confident, they will be able to do anything."

'Do your best' worked for me

I have always imagined myself getting married and having kids.

I am starting to think twice now after I was assigned to speak to parents who were exploring unusual methods to help their kids get a leg up in the fearsome PSLE.

These days, shipping your child off to tuition class on the weekends is not just the norm, but the bare minimum. Indeed, the message I got was that if you're a good parent, you'll be going for enrichment workshops, so that you are well-equipped to deal with that math question your child can't do.

There's nothing quite like guilt to make you jump on the kiasu bandwagon. When push comes to shove, I worry about feeling like a bad parent if I don't do all I can to give my (future) kids everything they need to fulfil their potential. Even if it means putting the mathematics-phobe in me through a round of math heuristics seminars for parents. Oh, the horror.

For now, though, I think I'd like to bring my future kids up the way my parents did with theirs.

"Do your best" was their simple instruction. It worked pretty well, if you ask me.

The targets were always moving. For instance, I would wonder if I could have done better after scoring 18 out of 20 in a spelling test. As for my own PSLE experience, it wasn't all that traumatic.

But I'm certain the bitter memory of my younger brother beating me with his score of 259 - a good 15 points ahead of my own - will linger for a long time to come. And in case you're wondering, my parents did not compare us.

Nope, I won't do anything differently

"So unfair."

Right after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced changes in the PSLE at his National Day Rally on Sunday, both my children started to grumble. You see they have completed their PSLE. One is in Secondary 2, the other in Secondary 1.

I know it was tough - for them, and for us, as parents. And I'm certain, if you have experienced the rigours - like I had - of prepping your children for the great (or awful, depends on the results) PSLE, you may just share my children's sentiment.

I have friends who are preparing their children - as young as Primary 1 - for that exam now.

I tell them it's madness. They argue otherwise.

A usually sweet mother turned somewhat hostile when I suggested that making her Primary 2 son take three hours of extra tuition five times a week seemed excessive. "He's not your son, so you can say that," she said with an angry glare.

My bad.

Especially considering that my children did not get into a secondary school that was their first choice. So maybe I should have crammed some private tuition down their necks? (They didn't get any, by the way.)

Some people have tried to make me feel like I have been a bad mother for not making them excel academically, by hook or by crook.

But if I could turn time back, I don't think I would do things any differently.

Of course, it would be lovely if my children are academically excellent but I don't think it's the end of the world - for them or their parents - if they are just average students.

What's most important to me is that they are healthy and happy.

And by the way, they still don't have any private tuition now.

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