Finishing ‘A’ Levels was like running across a final checkpoint after a 15-year long run with a few important checkpoints but none as important as this. There were Y-junctions and I made choices, some out of convenience and the others somewhat forced but they all culminate some way or another into this final checkpoint. Essentially I always treated education as a blackbox I have to run through, with its contents unknown if not too difficult to understand for parties uninvolved in it at any point of time.
I took the free time I have to visit my young cousins still at early stages of the Singapore education system. One, at the age of 11, with PSLE due next year, just swept clean all the awards for her cohort in the school except ‘Best in Chinese’. The other, entering Primary school next year is happily anticipating the stuff she’s going to pick up although somewhat dissatisfied with a mere recital of the English alphabets during her Primary One Orientation. This younger cousin picked up ice-skating, keyboarding and computer gaming without any outside help. I recalled the time of my Primary One Orientation, nothing but cries and screaming for my mother. I spent my first 3 weeks in Primary school learning nothing but the concept of waiting for the dimissal time to come and returning home so that I can play with my toys. I had no kindergarten friends around with me so it wasn’t that easy to adapt – but when it became easy for me to make friends, the trouble of the manifestation of my talkative nature arose and I was soon a target for ‘stand at the wall’ punishment that I became introduced to.
Early stages of education for me was so much simpler. There was no CCA requirements and attendance marking wasn’t even strict. Parents brought you to school so there’s no such thing as ‘ponning’ school and everything was so structured. ‘No going back to classrooms during recess – if you need to retrieve something, ask for permission from the prefects’. I broke this rule by attempting to explore how the classrooms are like without a single soul in them and that was how I got to know Chun Kang (who was already a prefect then and carrying out his duty by eventually giving me the permission to pretend to retrieve my stuff and leave the classroom block at once), before entering the same class as him in Primary 5. I enjoyed the days of playing hide-and-seek with the prefects and making sarcastic remarks right in front of them about their inability to adhere to school rules anyway. Funny thing is that I became a prefect in Primary 5 and ended up not quite a renegade but instead, one who upholds rules a bit too stubbornly. Maybe that was some sort of lesson for me in life. Nevertheless, the experiences contribute to my principles in life subsequently.
Primary school today is another affair. One moment you have people doing videos for news events in the school, another moment you have to actually ‘study’ for exams (I didn’t remember about that in my Primary school days), then there’s the part about scoring 294 in the PSLE exams. That’s all too much for people like me. Oh yes, the system changed so much that overt discrimination through the EMX (X being some number) system now transformed into one with subtle discrimination. And recently the attempts to mix former GEP students in Primary 5 and 6 with the mainstream students have been hailed as a ‘success’, as if they had been living on different planets until now. Oh, just to prevent any misconceptions, the ‘success’ was basically a comment to explain that the students didn’t experience any falling grades because of the mix, as if abilities of people followed the laws of diffusion (ie. moving from regions of higher concentration to lower concentration), or that being average was an infectious disease so the elites have to be kept away from the victims.
In any case, treading out of education, at least the formal, blackbox sort of system is a great achievement and looking at the kids today, I wonder if I should pity or praise them. But I’ll cheer them on in either case, the fruits (at least right now) may not be worth the time and effort but as an Asian, to be put through the system trains you for the asian society at large as long as you have adopted the right mindset to approach it.