Time is 5.30pm and it is Joel’s third day in primary school, a new phase of his life which marks his growing independence. While waiting for the teachers to dismiss their precious flock, I am mingling among the other equally anxious parents anticipating the return of their first born child for most.
What struck me most about this three day initiation, other than the unexpected fortitude put up by Joel, is the number of parents of foreign descent among our midst. Based on their accent and from conversations with some of them, I found out that we have Australians, Americans, Africans, Hong Kongers, Japanese, Chinese, Indians and Indonesians to name a few.
When I was in primary school more than two decades ago, it was rare to even have a Eurasian in our school and yet now we’re embracing these students of foreign descent. I wonder what has changed so much over the years in our tiny island country that our elementary schools themselves are becoming a melting pot of nationalities.
I take it with a pinch of salt that it is because our education standard is good enough that parents decide to place their children in public schools rather than pay the hefty fees for an international school. I asked the Australian mother of my son’s classmate, what mother tongue will he learn and her reply was, it doesn’t make a difference, he doesn’t speak any of it at home.
I was lucky that Joel managed to get a place in the school but we had to ballot for it. About 6 parents would be disappointed that their child did not get a place in this school which is partly due to our new neighbours. I don’t mean to be xenophobic here.
While I am used to meeting foreigners in CBD and Orchard Road and can even accept them competing with us for our jobs, it is just totally weird to have them so close at home, competing with our children for grades.
The only consolation I can get out of this is that Joel probably won’t be the worst in Mandarin in his class.