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Life is a marathon not a sprint, parents best learn this

When the umpire fired his starter pistol, world record holder Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt was not the first athlete to spring forward in the men's 100-meter dash in the 2012 London Olympiad last summer. About 10 meters later, he caught up with, and eventually overtook, arguably the world's fastest runners, including his fellow compatriot Yohan Blake, to win the gold medal. In other track events covering longer distances, many of those who eventually won were not those who led in the first few hundred meters or first few laps.

In sharp contrast, in the men's 110-meter hurdles event, we sadly saw the-then reigning world record holder, who was faster than all his competitors in the first few meters, hit and trip over the first hurdle. And then, bowing out of the race, he painfully limped toward the changing rooms.

It appears that he who has stamina and knows how to manage his pace sensibly wins. Of course, success stories are much more complicated than that.

While the above comparison may be just an oversimplification, it could be a wake-up call for gullible parents, especially those in the so-called “Greater Chinese community” who succumb to the cram school sales pitch: “Don't let you children be beaten at the starting line.” Sadly, the slogan is fast becoming a widely accepted “truism,” if not conventional wisdom, especially among those who, in their new-found affluence, are anxious to catch up with the Joneses.

Of course, they each pay a price, one that they have no idea how steep it can be, to give their children, most of whom are less than 10 years old, a 12-hours-a-day, 5-days-a-week, in- and after-school education, just to make sure they lead in the first few meters. They don't seem to know life is much longer than just a few meters nor how unhappy is he who is beaten to the finish line. Still less do they seem to know the value of quality time with their own children.

So, in the Greater Chinese community, parents, if they can afford it, are all early birds in shopping for quality education for their children, blissfully unaware that they might eventually get nothing more than “worms.” In Hong Kong, formerly a British colony but now a special administrative region (SAR) of China, young mothers in their early pregnancy are given tours of the land's most “sought after” day care institutions, preschools and kindergartens. The purpose of the tours is to persuade the parents to pay a tuition fee to the tune of US$10,000 each, a figure that not even this SAR's most expensive private colleges have the audacity to charge.

In Taiwan, the number of third- and fourth-grade students heading to cram schools, child care centers or institutes offering after-school programs instead of going home is on the rise, according to a Central News Agency report.

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