Acting Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam recently bemoaned the fact that Singaporean children are reluctant to participate in sports and outdoor activities. They are becoming 'soft' and individualistic, he said. Educators argue that sports and other 'rugged activities' would help them cope with the challenges of life, develop a healthy competitive mind and a sense of team-playing. But as the data shows, secondary school sports participation has dropped from 80 per cent in the 1990s to about 41 per cent now. In a system where academic excellence is prized above all, this is hardly surprising. Parents are more likely to want their children to become a doctor or an engineer, rather than an athlete who will probably make little money. Because the current education system is so geared towards academic excellence, Singaporean children face mountains of homework and 'enrichment' classes, leaving little time for other activities. (Indeed, parents have recently begun to send letters to local newspapers, complaining that their children are worked too hard and do not have enough time to play). So when it comes to 'co-curriculum activities', parents often encourage their children to choose one that will bring some benefits come exam time, and help their entry into university, like IT classes. Of course, in Singapore, whenever a senior official makes a criticism you can expect a new policy soon. Sure enough, within weeks of the statement, the Ministry of Education announced it was increasing the rewards for participation in more 'rugged' co-curriculum activities, and students would get extra points for taking part in a sport. While the move has been welcomed by many parents, some are still pointing to the shortcomings of the system. As only school-approved co-curriculum activities count towards those points, children involved in other sporting activities will be forced to cut these out if they do not want to lose out. Others say that more students would participate in sport if it was not done at such a competitive level. Many schools are said to offer the chance only to students who are likely to win medals and bring them glory. The current education system remains a thorny issue. But while the government is trying to steer it in a direction which could prove less stressful to the children (by easing requirements in the Mandarin mother tongue, for example), many parents are finding it hard to change their mindset. For all their complaining, they are so worried about their children missing out (the kiasu mentality) that they are likely to be the ones pushing them above and beyond their limits.