Sunday, 7 July 2013

Thoughts on going on your own way

When you see this photo, it's a signal
that I'm about to start sharing my
thoughts on a particular subject. 
Today, I'm leaving the virtual cyberspace of Japan and going back to Singapore. So if you're here only for news on Japan, feel free to skip this blog post.

If you're still here, thanks! And well, this is really my thoughts (perhaps I could call this a rant) on a letter/commentary that appeared in a Singapore newspaper, so please click on the link to read Let's Break up the PSLE Core 4 (I'll wait for you to finish reading).

Back? Yay, I can start ranting soon. Before I do, I'm just going to explain PSLE (For those who have no idea). PSLE stands for Primary School Leaving Examination and it's the first of the three nation-wide tests that determine the next educational institute you go to. Yup, in Singapore, we start competing academically from the age of 12 (well, the parents start competing for places when their kid reaches 6, then the kid takes over for PSLE).

Having taken PSLE ages ago in, I think, 2005, here's my experience. My memory of PSLE was that we were playing on the balance-beam at the back of the exam hall between papers. I probably started taking exams seriously around 15, after I went to Japan and decided that I wanted to study there.

You see, after I went to Japan, I came back and happened to see (and attend) a Study in Japan seminar. That was really the turning point. Before I even got my O'level results, I was telling people that "I'm going to go to ACS(I) and take the IB, then I'm going to Japan on the MEXT scholarship." My parents actually asked me to tone it down at one point because if I didn't get the scholarship, I would have a lot of explaining to do.

Well, the rest is history and I'm here in Japan. And that's really my rebuttal to the whole piece - let the kids decide what they want to do.

Right now, the PSLE is working for the majority. Sure, there are a few kids who are better in non-tested subjects like music, sports, history. But that doesn't mean we should change the system so they win - there's no point in that. Instead, parents, friends of parents, everyone, can we just change our minds?

Yes, I'm taking the more-or-less orthodox study system, but that's what I want. There are probably kids out there who would prefer to skip university and go straight into music or baking or whatever it is they want. And that should be perfectly fine.

From my experience, all kids will work hard for what they want. If, for example, they want to study Perfume/Baking/Entrepreneurship at Ngee Ann Polytechnic/ACS(I)/whatever school, then they will probably study hard enough to get there. But if you push them to do something they don't want to do, then they won't want to study.

What everyone should be doing is to encourage each other. For example, (I'm gonna be taking on the role of the parents) if your child likes music, then why are you stressing about PSLE? You could do things like get season tickets for the orchestra so your kid gets exposure, try to get meetings with local musicians, support your kid when he/she goes for the ABRSM diploma, etc. If your kid decides there's a particular school that they want to play music at, then he/she will find the time to balance everything and study. If they happen to just be a little short (for example, just a point off), then you can try writing an appeal letter, helping your child with the appeal letter, and so forth.

Perhaps it's because my parents were very hands-off (well, they do have four kids, if my mom and dad micromanaged all of us, they wouldn't have enough time!) so I was given the freedom to set my own goals and it worked. I appealed into the school I wanted, I was the one applying for the scholarships and going to the interviews, and yes, my mom says with pride "She did everything by herself - the only part we were involved in was when she told us she made it past the next round/got the scholarship" (I'm paraphrasing). I do choose to let my parents know what's going on/ask their advice (especially when it comes to things like buying tickets home), but most of the decisions made were mine.

So basically, I think the current system is fine as it is - the problem is with our attitudes. Once we change the way we look at exams, the problem is solved for good. Even if we change the PSLE, there's gonna be some upset people and it's just going to end up in a cycle of change and change and change and eventually, the exam will lose or meaning.

What do you think? If you disagree, I'd love to hear why! If you do, let me know too! (And feel free to share your own story!)