In Defense of Elite Schools, or Schools in General
So this has popped up recently. At quite a time too, considering that this year’s result release for GCE ‘A’ Levels is coming up soon, ish.
Let me first begin with an introduction of myself, or rather, my education “accomplishments”.
I am currently an honours year student in NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, majoring in Japanese Studies. To make a long story short, I scored 255 for PSLE, so I went to RVHS, became part of the last batch of its ‘O’ level students, scored 11 for L1R5 (“average” for elite schools), went to SAJC, scored ABB/CE with a B for Project Work. I was the 98th percentile for GP during prelims, but yeah, the E is there. That 12 years of education, I was a science student. I even have a certificate of honorable mention for participating in the open category of the 2009 Singapore Math Olympiad. There’s that.
Current CAP? Good enough for people to want to kill me when I start to say “I think I’ll score a C”.
Now, on to my studying habits. I’m a “coaster”. No, I’m not the thing they put underneath glasses; I belong to a group that seem to reap maximum benefits with lesser amounts of effort put in compared to the average student. In other words, I work, but probably not as hard as most other people. And I score whatever results I have just recounted. Not stellar, but hey, good enough. At least for me.
The article that resurfaced has its merits; it pointed out the competitiveness I do so hate. At one point I just wanna find the author, hug her, and say “I feel you girl”. It is well-written; most of us empathize with her. We all know how it feels to be in the rat race, right? Right.
Of course, often, that over-competitiveness kills some of us. Academically, emotionally, and occasionally, literally.
It’s a sad thing, yes. But today, I’m writing this in defense of these “elite” schools, or just schools in Singapore in general.
You see, the one thing schools did not explicitly tell you is that what you do now makes a difference. Maybe not today, but it makes a difference in the future. All that homework your teacher piled on you? Hours have been poured in to prepare them, only because teachers want you to practice enough to be prepared for the big exams. Yes, I still hold the belief that teachers in the science stream constantly recycle material; yes our school system is still pretty much based on how well and how much one can memorize and regurgitate; yes I agree that teachers can be very impatient with classes not doing as well. BUT, and here’s the big but, NO ONE WANTS YOU TO DO BADLY.
Not even yourself.
If one chooses to skip lectures, not attend tutorials, knowing full well that one is lagging behind in learning, who can this person blame for his/her own results?
Not all of us are born with equal brains. Some coasters have a short lifespan of 6 years of primary school, some coasters have a long lifespan of the entire education life. NOT ALL COASTERS ARE MADE EQUAL.
And this is where the problem comes in. ONE DOES NOT ENTER AN ELITE SCHOOL EXPECTING SAID ELITE SCHOOL TO MAKE HIM/HER A STRAIGHT A’S STUDENT. (Ok I think I overdid the all caps rage, but you get my point.)
Yes, not all of us are made to be regurgitating machines. But simply being in an “elite” school doesn’t guarantee A’s. Hard work goes into it.
You may be in an elite school, but it is only elite because they had alumni who put in a lot of hard work to make it’s high distinction or A/B statistics. In other words, what your alumni scored has nothing, zilch, to do with your own results.
The competition is stifling, yes. It is something I feel that our education system needs to work on. Clearly the ministry is feeling it too, but constant change in leadership and direction made it somewhat of a lost sheep in being a good educator. Let’s not go there. Back to topic.
I had my own lows too. I’m not a perfect coaster; I scored S for my Math before in J1. I never scored better than a C for my H1 Geography. But I’m happy with my ‘A’ Level results for a few reasons: 1) That same year I was preparing for my ABRSM Grade 8 Piano exam 2) I had SYF (I played the clarinet) 3) I didn’t put in as much effort as I could have so I got what I deserved 4) SAJC was a good choice.
Ok, so SAJC isn’t really an “elite” school, but I was from RVHS. I know the feeling. Of wanting to just quit the competition because almost everything is a competition, of wanting to just not study because everyone else is so competitive, of wanting to just….I don’t know, because the stress is so stifling.
But none of the schools I chose failed my expectations. They did what they had to do, the teachers did what they had to do. It is *US* on the receiving end to decide if we want to fulfill our obligations as students and finish up the homework/attend lectures/not take the green slip etc.
Our results is our responsibility. The system may not be good, but it should not be the target simply because you might not have managed certain things well enough to do well, and by well, I mean by your own standards kind of well.
It’s too easy a way out. Easy target, shoot it, free yourself of your own responsibility for being partly irresponsible to yourself during your student career? How about taking a step back, look at what you did right and what you did wrong, and learn?
You see, once you’re in university, it is a different ballgame altogether. None of our institutions are entirely Americanized (as compared to our “British” school system, but in all honesty, I can only say uni is different, but not necessarily Americanized), but they are different enough that UNIVERSITY BECOMES THE BIG EQUALIZER.
Let me elaborate a bit more.
The only sort of tuitions you’ll ever know of after becoming an undergraduate is a) the one you give to students who are below 18 or b) the one that costs a bomb for each semester. Who has ever heard of an ad saying “Hi I’m looking for a tutor to help me with my Japanese studies, particularly on anime and manga, because I’m doing this module on pop culture”? It sounds…weird, doesn’t it?
And not all professors are as available as the teachers you get in your first 12 years or so of education. It is not that professors don’t care two hoots about their students, but if say one professor teaches 3 classes, each with 450 students, it is really tough to get advice or help from the professors themselves (which is why we have teaching assistants, but even TAs can have their hands full). On top of the immense hours poured into preparations, they have their own research to do, own seminars/conferences/whatever-academic-events to attend, so basically they simply cannot track if you are lagging behind and talk to you, or your parent (actually, no prof will talk to your parent since you’re an adult now), about your poor performance, unless you manage to build a relationship with the prof, but this is only possible if the class is small enough and you do enjoy chatting with profs to build such a relationship.
There is still a huge part of university education being built on the art of memorizing and regurgitating, but here’s the real game-changer: how well you do in school now is now more of a test of how responsible you are for yourself, for your own learning.
Your first 12 years of education tried to help you with that, but if you did not realize it then, realize it now.
Blaming the system is way too easy. Choose the difficult path and learn.
Learn to be responsible for yourself.