Guest Post: There’s a “catch” to catching up! One dad’s warning

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Hey, welcome back to my occasional guest post series! (If you are keen to be a guest writer on my blog, please check out my guidelines by scrolling to the bottom of my About page)

This year has been a bumper year for me as I was blessed with opportunities to connect with more stay-at-home dads, one of whom is my new friend Tim Wong. Today, I’m honored to have Tim share his heart about the dangers his child with dyslexia faces, playing catch up in Singapore’s relentless academic race.

Over to you, Tim! (For more about Tim, check out his details at the end of this post)


He needs to catch up with his studies.

Please ensure he catches up with his homework.

Sounds familiar? Here are a couple more:
Can he catch up and follow the class?
His pace is too slow. He will not catch up to the school’s standards.

Imagine how much catch-up I have to do!
Please recommend a
(insert name of academic subject) tutor to help my child catch up.

As a father of a boy in a primary school in Singapore, all the above are common refrains I hear from teachers and also parents like myself. In fact, one doesn’t need to be a parent to recognize these comments. So long as you have spent some years in the local education system, these phrases would be all too familiar. In fact, it has likely become so common a refrain most of us in Singapore don’t even detect the undertones of “academic-achievement-at-all-costs” in daily vernacular.

At least that’s how it was for me.

Until my son entered primary school two years ago in 2021.

How It All Began

young game match kids
Photo by Breakingpic on

During my son’s pre-school years before 2021, there were casual observations parents usually dismiss as a phase every child will go through before progressing to the next. Like kids moving from playing with large Duplo toy bricks to small Lego ones as their fine motor skills sharpened. Or reading fairy tales by Enid Blyton meant for kids below 10, to fantasy lore by Rick Riordan for older kids.

For my son, the most telling of these observations was when we stepped out of elevators. He invariably turned left when I said go right, or vice versa.

Certain family members and friends chimed in too, sharing with me “quirky behaviors” they observed in my son.

In the end, when this apparent “phase” continued longer than expected, we stopped brushing it off. Instead, we arranged for assessments at the local children’s hospital and thereafter the dyslexia association. The initial assessments showed learning delays in language. Opportunities for intervention classes then followed.

We were also put on a waitlist for an official dyslexia assessment. Coming out of the Covid pandemic, there was a backlog, and it would be well into his Primary One (P1) year before the assessment happened.

In 2021, three months into P1, his form teacher and subject teachers sought a meeting with us about my son’s lack of progress in class. They were very concerned that despite his inclusion in the school’s learning support programs for slower learners, he was still falling behind and not meeting curriculum milestones. Understandably, this heightened uncertainties and fears within us his parents.

Meanwhile, we were, in all honesty, not looking forward to any affirmative diagnosis to confirm his dyslexia. It was easier just to live in denial. At the same time, however, the diagnostic results couldn’t have come soon enough. It allowed my son to be enrolled in the Main Literary Programme at the dyslexia association, a weekly intervention program for children with dyslexia. Along with official in-school interventions such as the Learning Support Program, these allayed our concerns and addressed our worries to some degree.

Dyslexia, ADHD, And A Relentless Education System

man in white shirt using macbook pro
Photo by Tim Gouw on

It’s been more than two years now since the diagnosis. In this intervening time, we discovered unfortunately that our son also has traits of ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).

I had also become the founder and facilitator of a parent support group (PSG), for those with children diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD. Through this and other groups, I have become connected to different special needs communities and their wider eco-system as well.

Also, in these last two years, we discovered to our chagrin that the primary school education system is not the one we had gone through ourselves when we were young.

The academic load is greater and the pace, faster. For example, the English taught at P1 was what was taught at P3 in a past generation.

If it has become tougher for neurotypical students today in our current education system, what more neurodivergent students like my son, who must struggle with learning on top of life-long conditions like dyslexia, ADHD, or autism?!

The Fulcrum I Call “The Need To Catch Up”

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Photo by Gustavo Fring on

Calls from teachers to “catch up”, like the ones that kicked off this post, have not abated. On the contrary, they echo louder as kids move up the academic rungs.

But it isn’t just the teachers.

From parents, family members, the workforce, and society, the call to “catch up” in this day and age reverberates. It has become a drum beat, a war cry, a cacophony of white noise that one cannot easily dismiss.

But what’s wrong with catching up you may ask? After all, everyone is doing it, right?

At first, that’s what I thought too.

But over time, as the words “catch up” began to seep into my consciousness more and more, a quiet discomfort arose in my spirit. The “dots”, so to speak, began to connect. Dots like the constant refrain. The anxiety that ensues. The pressure and rush to find tutors and extra intervention. The feeling of not being a good parent. The guilt that starts to taint one’s soul. And, worse of all, the bending of one’s posture towards an outcomes-based parenting stance.

All these pivoting on a fulcrum I call “the need to catch up”.

Have we as a society thought about what this fulcrum does to our children?

Education, Today’s Relentless Route March

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Photo by Pixabay on

I was reminded of a particular route march when I was serving in the military way back in 1994.

In Singapore, military (army, navy, air force) or civil defense duties are compulsory for about two years, when a young man turns 18. For me, it was the army, with the first three months dedicated to Basic Military Training (BMT).

During BMT, there is a progressive set of route marches we must undertake. The distances range from eight to 24 kilometers (km). The standard walking speed was four km per hour. In a route march, we had to carry 20 kilograms (kg) of military supplies as part of our full battle order, together with our weapons that weigh at least another three to five kg. As we marched, we were to keep in a tight formation at all times. Invariably, however, gaps would appear as soldiers tire, eliciting calls by our commanders to “close the gap” or “catch up”.

That particular route march in 1994 was meant to be a short one of eight km. It was a hot day from the get-go, but the officer in charge set a relentless pace with little rest in between stops. Unfortunately, that day ended with a few soldiers rushed to the hospital for heat stroke! More than twenty soldiers were also treated for heat exhaustion. This led to a Committee Of Inquiry being convened to ascertain if the officer in charge had failed in his duty of care.

There Is A “Catch” to “Catching Up”

grayscale photo of group of horse with carriage running on body of water
Photo by Martin Damboldt on

Comparing trainee soldiers in a horrendous route march 29 years ago to children in the current education system might seem far-fetched. But what if there are more similarities between that officer’s relentless call for soldiers to catch up, and our existing clarion call in schools for students like my son to catch up?!

If one route march pushed to such a frenetic pace resulted in acute medical cases, what would a similarly-paced education system result in? As it is, 2023 has seen many news reports, as well as health and academic findings coming forth that show the deteriorating state of mental health among our young people. And what do the majority of them stress over? Unsurprisingly, it is our much-lauded mainstream education system.

The one many likened to an education arms race.

At this point, it shouldn’t be hard to conclude that there is a “catch” in the constant call to “catch up”. But the question parents, schools, and society must ask is: are we too busy catching up to notice the price our kids are paying?

For the sake of my son and others like him, I sincerely hope not.


About My Guest

Tim Wong is a stay-at-home father, a community enabler, and a parent advocate for respectful parenting and special educational needs (SEN) education reform.

As someone who once shunned community because of his facial birthmark, Tim has since found purpose in connecting and facilitating communities in Singapore, across a spectrum of groups close to his heart. Some of these are the Dyslexia-ADHD Parents Strong Group (DAS PSG), the Birthmark Community Singapore (BCS), the Respectful Parents Supporting Children with Special Needs in Asian Cultures (RPSSNCAC) Facebook groups, as well as various men and fathers communities including The Ordinary Dad and Gentle Fathering SG.

As an advocate for education reform in the area of special educational needs, Tim works with other parent advocates to raise awareness with education officials, other parents, and the public.

You can find Tim on Facebook and Instagram via his handle @henshinshenjin

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