Last light by Dad Bear
Last light, a photo by Dad Bear on Flickr.

I am not sure if parents elsewhere around the world feel the same stress that we Singaporeans go through when our children take their exams. Perhaps, in certain other Asian countries, but parents in Singapore will surely identify with the rapid heart rate, bated breath and sour after taste in the mouth that we all feel while we wait for our kids to contact us after their paper is done. The symptoms worsen for every minute that the child delays calling back home for whatever reason. We always assume the worse, and hope for the best.

M is the second of my brood taking the PSLE examination. It is a rite of passage, and it marks the end of primary school. It is perhaps, also the end of innocence. After this comes teenager-hood, secondary school, pimples, more distractions, like GIRLS! And even more stress from school, exams and what have you.

Recently, a friend wrote on his facebook that he misses the days when we use to have catch fish in the monsoon drains around school. There were also different ‘seasons’ in school, like marbles season, chatek (a feathered shuttlecock mounted on a circular rubber base with a nail inserted between the bound-feathers) season and bottlecap fighting season etc. School was always interesting and unless you were really anti-social, you can always get a game with the millions of kids playing in and around the school, both before school started and during recess time.

The question here is, do we really need to learn all that much in primary school nowaday? We all know how much we have made use of the knowledge that we painstakingly accumulated during our primary school days. Surely, we didn’t do too badly in life?! So the point here is how much is enough? It is a fine line to balance, as in balance the amount of information to impart and also to teach life skills and values, like compassion, honesty, perseverance etc. Schools today simply cram all the information into the kids, and expect to regurgitate them all in an exam. An exam where many teachers take sadistic pleasure in a competition to see who can set the hardest exam paper. We hear online, of some teachers bragging  that they managed to set questions that not many of their charges could answer. When the teacher’s pride and ego comes into the picture, it really smells of an education system gone wrong.

I am not saying that all teachers are bad. Far from it! There are teachers I know, who display the passion and zest to teach. They not only teach facts, but also teach our kids to grow up to become fine young people. They are there to comfort the kids when they are down, like when they have just lost a rugby match, and they are there to encourage when encouragement is needed. They are like our proxies, the parental substitutes when in school. Sadly, good teachers are few and far between, and many are just happy to finish their syllabus and complete their marking.

Coming from a family where 3 of my aunts were teachers, I see the stresses they went through. They were loved by their students, and as they approach retirement, many of their students still remain in contact with them till today. As a medical doctor, I see many teachers as patients. Apart from the usual flu and minor ailments, I see a higher number of teachers coming to consult for stress related symptoms. They face the stresses from home, from family and more so from work related issues. Some even required specialist psychiatric intervention for anxiety related insomnia and other problems.

Whenever schools and principals are judged or ranked by their academic achievements, the onus then comes on the people on the front lines to deliver, namely the teachers. Put simply, if your year end bonus is dependent on the number of kids who get an A for whatever subject you are teaching, it is not surprising teachers, who are human too, will focus their attention on the ones who will more likely get the A’s. God help those who are deemed hopeless or seen to have fallen too far behind. Maybe the creed for Singaporean teachers should be changed to “No one gets left behind”. The line is taken from the creed of the US Army Rangers. Perhaps one day, someone will relook at the education system which currently judges someone by looking at how many kids get a straight A report card, and maybe look at it from another angle, namely, the number of people who failed. With a different set of KPI’s, schools will be forced to rethink their strategies and react accordingly.

However, all said and done, by the time anything gets changed, my kids will probably have already completed their time in primary school and maybe even secondary school. Such is the inertia of the Singapore bureaucracy. All I can hope for is that my kids will learn something from their time in school, and with God’s grace, they might emerged emotionally un-scarred in the process.

Back to the picture, I needed to get some quiet time away from the exam pressure at home. The picture was taken in the failing light as the sun went down at Upper Seletar Reservoir. The long exposure required enabled me to show the misty calm waters of the reservoir.

At the time of writing, M has just called back to say that his final Science paper was fine. He claims that he is now a free bird. So now comes the waiting, the one month or so till the results are released.

In the meantime, J is also having his Secondary 3 finals, while I and V will have their exams at the end of the month. A parent’s worry continues. No wonder the white hairs at the top of the head are appearing en masse. Oh well, a guru once said, white hair is better than no hair.