I’ll never forget the day I went to collect my PSLE* results.
I walked up to my form teacher nervously. She looked at me with disappointment, shook her head and said,”You could have done so much better.”
Those words burned into my head.
(This is the same teacher who did nothing but tell my whole class that we girls were “so complacent and so conceited” throughout the year. Maybe we were, maybe we weren’t, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the right way to motivate a bunch of 12 year old girls. But I digress…)
Of course, there was the mass comparisons of PSLE results happening around the school hall, but not on a scale as large as now, what with the availability of social media.
I remembered feeling upset, thinking I was stupid.
And I felt worth less.
I carried these feelings with me for a long time. Always an invisible barrier to the success that I wanted.
Ok, let me first take responsibility for my results first. Did I study hard? No, I’ll be the first to admit. But I was busy enjoying my childhood. I was busy playing, learning, asking questions and laughing.
I had a happy childhood.
But my point is – it didn’t matter that I was doing so well in other areas. I was netball captain. I was a school prefect. I did all sorts of creative stuff like putting up the P6 concert and participating in our 150th anniversary concert.
All it came down to was 3 numbers at the end of my primary school endeavours.
I was placed in Express stream in St. Margaret’s Secondary School. Went to Nanyang Polytechnic to get my business diploma. Went to Curtin University and obtained my business degree with distinction. Then completed my education with a law degree from NUS. And finally, got called to the Singapore Bar.
I managed to achieve my dream of becoming a lawyer with sheer determination and my family’s support.
I am married to a wonderful man, and we have 3 beautiful children.
Standing where I am now, I really feel for the kids who are considered “low PSLE scorers” and labeled as such. I feel their own disappointment at their results, and even worse, their parents’ disappointment at their results.
As a kid, the worst thing to me was to disappoint my parents. (I actually don’t remember my parents saying anything, they probably felt sad with me. But I remember my grandmother’s disappointment.)
Why do we need to place kids in boxes and categorise them as “high achievers” and “low achievers” at such a young age?
Isn’t it more important to ignite curiosity in a child and to let him/her discover who they are and what they are good at? Isn’t it more important to equip children with the right tools to survive and thrive, which includes a strong sense of self-worth and self-confidence? Isn’t it more important to let the child know that he/she is loved completely whether they do well or badly in school?
Instead of crushing their confidence and dreams so early on and allowing them to think they are not as smart or as good as someone who did better than them when that is complete and utter bullshit.
My children are all under 5 years old at the moment. And I am dreading putting them through the local primary school system because it might not develop all my children to their fullest potentials. They are all different. Some might thrive under this system, some might not.
Don’t get me wrong, as a type A personality, I am all for the spirit of competition and doing well and I encourage it.
But not at the expense of my kid’s self belief in his/her own abilities because I have learnt without self-belief and confidence, there is nothing.
*For my non-Singaporean friends, PSLE stands for “Primary School Leaving Examination”. It’s a huge exam which streams kids into different categories for Secondary School/High School at 12 years old. And their academic talents are nurtured accordingly from then on.