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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 August, 2003, 23:24 GMT 00:24 UK
Singapore's talented children
By Tony Cheng
BBC East Asia Today

Abigail Sin's piano playing has a magical quality about it. By any standard, hers is a skill of the highest calibre.

But when you consider that Abigail is only 11 years old, it seems quite remarkable.

In a country such as Singapore, where children are often pushed to strive for excellence at an early age, critics might say that Abigail's success precludes her from taking part in the things most young girls enjoy.

Abigail Sin on a tour of London ( courtesy of Abigail's website
Abigail Sin motivates herself, but are others pushed by their parents?
"Most of the time I like practising, but there are some times I get very frustrated because I can't get anything right," she said.

"There are also times when I get distracted and want to play with my brothers or with my dog, but I force myself to sit down and play a while, and I start to enjoy it again."

Although she seems very happy, you might suspect the hand of a pushy parent behind Abigail's success.

She has just returned from performing with the London Soloist Chamber Orchestra.

She has also been featured on the front page of Time magazine, and if you want to get her CD, Simply Abigail, she even has her own website.

She has a very special passion for music. She pushes herself
Abigail Sin's father
But according to her father, the passion for music is all Abigail's doing.

"It's one of those things. If you don't want to push yourself, and you depend on your parents, you would not get very far," said Abigail's father.

"She has a very special passion for music. She pushes herself," he said.

But although it might not be true in Abigail's case, critics of Singapore's education system say it puts too much pressure on the island's children, leaving them with little time for fun.

And it is not just the government at fault. The worst offenders are often parents.

Crammer schools

Andrew Wood, the editor of Teach magazine, a monthly journal about the Singapore educational system, says that traditionally, children in Singapore are put under a huge amount of pressure.

"Every parent seems to want their child to become a doctor, a professor or a government scholar, and that puts an enormous amount of pressure on children to learn things at a very early age," Mr Wood said.

"Even when the government restructured the curriculum to give children more time away from the classroom, that just resulted in more time being created for children to study instead of play."

The Julia Gabriel school, just off Singapore's exclusive Orchard Road, is what is known as a crammer school - a school that children attend after normal school, just to brush up on the subjects they have not had time to cover during their eight hours of standard education.

I would like parents to tell their children that no matter where they are, or what they are, they will always love them
Children's Society spokesman Koh Wah Kun
At the Julia Gabriel, the teachers are not just trying to cram information in, but also to get something out of the children.

"We're trying to encourage confident communications - to get them to express themselves and enjoy themselves," said one of the teachers.

But lots of children are not enjoying themselves in Singapore, and the Children's Society has warned that Singapore might be damaging one of its most important assets.

Children's Society spokesman Koh Wah Kun says the pressure is on parents, not the government, to relax their expectations.

"I would like parents to tell their children that no matter where they are, or what they are, they will always love them," said Koh Wah Kun.

And that seems to be a lesson that Abigail's parents have taken to heart.

Her father is keen that whichever path she should follow in the future, the ultimate decision will be hers.

"I guess at the end of the day, it is whatever makes Abigail most happy," he said.

BBC East Asia Today's Tony Cheng
"This is the rather magical piano playing of Abigail Sin"

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