He may be one of the region’s most respected economists, but not many know Professor Ng Yew-Kwang took eight years to complete his primary school education in Malaysia.
The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) professor was one of 37 NTU alumni recently recognised for their contributions to society.
Prof Ng was presented with the Nanyang Distinguished Alumni Award at the Nanyang Alumni Awards.
The 75-year-old told The New Paper that parents today should not force their children to meet their expectations.
They should give their children the time and space to blossom, just as his parents did.
As a child, Prof Ng refused to do his homework and did so badly that he was retained for two years, taking eight years to complete his primary education.
Speaking to TNP at his office, Prof Ng said: “I could not pass English and so I stayed back.”
An alumnus of Chung Hwa Primary School in Penang, he had a talent for mathematics but often ignored tests and homework, getting punished by teachers.
Things changed when he topped the class in his second year of Primary 3.
He said: “My parents were so surprised because I had already been retained twice. When I saw how happy they were, I knew my good grades could bring them pride and happiness.”
Prof Ng topped his class every year from then on until his second year of high school.
He studied in Singapore at the now-defunct Nanyang University and later got his PhD at the University of Sydney on a full scholarship.
Now an Australian citizen, he is an Albert Winsemius Chair Professor in economics at NTU with more than 250 published papers. In 2007, he received the Distinguished Fellow Award from the Economic Society of Australia.
He urged parents here concerned with their child’s academic performance to not worry too much.
Said Prof Ng: “If you force children to study, even if you manage to push them into a good school, it will be counter-productive.
“They might find it difficult to fit in at a very good school and feel discouraged. Let children develop at their own pace.”
His advice is especially timely given a recent international study that found that Singaporean students suffer from higher levels of anxiety with regards to grades than the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development average.
Chartered child psychologist Dr Penny Tok said children should be given at least some unstructured free time to do whatever they want.
She warned against packing children’s schedules with unnecessary tuition classes.
Dr Tok said: “When children start tying their self-worth to their academic performance, they might start to suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety or even depression.”
A version of this article first appeared in The New Paper
(Photo: Facebook/ Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)