A concerned mother (whose identity I won’t reveal as I don’t have her permission to quote this) wrote:
12-year-olds must sit for the PSLE which determines the track they are streamed to : N(A), N(T), Express, IP
16-year-olds on the IP track are deemed too clever to waste time sitting for the O level exams.
Dear MOE, as long as the PSLE remains such a high-stakes exam, all well-informed parents will do they darnedest to help their ignorant 12-year-olds get a leg up. These are not kiasu parents; these are the smart parents of our smart nation. We are teaching the kids to endure short-term pain for long-term gain in our stifling education system.
For kids who do well in the PSLE, there is an Edusave Scholarship that helps defray the higher school fees in those independent schools. Again, we are talking about smart parents, not just kiasu parents. Putting money into tuition that can pay off in a better education (all schools are good schools?) at a subsidised rate is not mere kiasuism. It requires some smart grey matter.
Now, as all kids in the O level track are mugging away, the kids on the IP track are already done with their secondary school education; many are away on holiday with their families. IP kids are assured of a place in the JCs so long as they meet the 60% passing mark in their own school exams. Note that 60%. Presumably the school exams are tougher than the O exams. But by how much? What is the equivalent of this 60% at O level standard? I have no idea. One thing though, IP kids who fail to meet this for any subject are given a chance to re-take just that subject in January. For O track kids, a failure might mean re-taking the entire O level exams again a year later! Where’s the equality? It’s always one standard for the “smarter” kids and another for the rest.
So, don’t blame it on kiasu parents. MOE, if they are truly honest, should reflect on the system they have created. And if MOE does not practise honesty and equality, do they then have the moral authority to preach values in action to our kids?
Are we victims of the system? Are we so helpless? As an adventurer who is often mad enough to go against the flow, I don’t think so. Having graduated a year later than my peers (because I served more NS before disrupting) I entered the workforce at the same time. I courageously accepted a challenge and managed to worm my way out of government service and entered the real working world before any my peers. I thought I was being smart/lucky, but did I have an edge over them? Hell, no. Looking back, I think I could have done it all wrong. If I could go back in time, I might even have delayed my entry into university.
Like my former classmate Raymond and Malcolm, I would have joined an airline as cabin crew. Yao mo gao chor ah? How can a thinker like me do a job that involves repetitive dictations and demonstrations? But I’m serious! A couple of years going coffee tea or me would have helped me avoid a lot of the stupid mistakes I first made in a service profession. I could have saved up enough money to buy the very expensive textbooks which only my wealthy classmates could afford. I could have managed the nasty lecturers, haughty nurses and mean technicians a lot better than I did. If only I had slowed down and stepped out of the box.
After looking at all the folks in the rat race, I came to realise that graduation is not the finishing line. It’s only a steeping stone to your career and stepping stones come in all shapes and sizes. Some are too small. Some are too unstable. Being first on that stepping stone does not make you a winner in life. I wasn’t. I should have taken my time to find the right stepping stone or to take that step only when I was ready. All the skill and knowledge you posses may not amount to anything when you’re dealing with people. In the coming age of robots and supercomputers, the only skill we can truly count on, is the ability to manage, organise and counsel people. Rushing off to finish our studies will not equip us with those skills.
While travelling in Bali, I met a German anthropologist who was writing his masters thesis. To do that, he spent a couple of years doing a course in Bahasa Indonesia in Holland and after that, he planned to live in a Balinese village for 3 years before he would finally write his thesis on Balinese culture and society. I was struck by the amount of passion and dedication this German put into his thesis. In contrast, I know more than a few Singaporeans who wrote their masters thesis after a few trips to the library and a couple of phone interviews. I won’t be surprised if Germans are going to end up producing far more literature that will make a difference. I won’t be surprised if they up end leading and innovating while we will be left hanging dry when the economy runs out of steam.
A life bent on efficiency is just a meaningless numbers game. I now know better than to spill my guts to reach the finishing line before everyone else. Nowadays, I just aim to reach there in better form than everyone else.
© Chan Joon Yee