Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Winning winners, not losing winners

I was reading the latest entry in My Singapore News (Redbean's blog). I usually pen my thoughts down in a notepad that comes with Windows. I had such a lengthy reply that I decided to blog about it.

It is every parent's dream to see their kids grow up successfully. This is especially more prominent in Singapore when the paper chase has gone to unprecedented levels. We know it when the tuition and enrichment classes have become money-making million-dollar industries.

Apart from that we have parents who will fork out sums of money and savings to buy and live in overpriced housing locations near good school zones. It has also become increasingly stressful for parents to get a chance to parent volunteer because it is the first step for a secured place in the school.

And then we have the infamous Primary One balloting exercise. The common denominator here are the tears. What differs is either the shedding are tears of joyful thanksgiving or tears of unjust beleaguerment and missed opportunities.

That is how much good grades and academic focus mean to us. There is no failure and seldom other alternatives. Uniquely Singapore?

Interestingly the big names often mentioned as shakers and movers, eg. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Bono and the latest Mark Zukerberg are all philantropists. There is also a whole bunch of other people who have made it big in life but give back what they have received to help humankind. This is another quality that sets winning winners and losing winners apart. I dig shows like 'Undercover Boss' and 'Secret Millionaire' because they give glimpses of bosses coming down to a worker's level.

I often wonder - does that come with academic qualifications that Singapore brags about? The Singapore education is a very resulted-oriented system that demands tangible results with factual numbers. And we are often lacking with a mature mindset about life and critical thinking beyond ourselves. Much of it is about getting the best grades, getting ahead in career and obtaining a scholarship if possible. Let others care about human lifeforms, social balance and enriching humanity.

I have come across incredible and dedicated teachers who are passionate about their work and their students' welfare and growth beyond just academics. How often were they bogged down with other 'value-added' programs that stole away their aspirations to mold lives? I have known how these people were graded low in ranking and often thumbed-down by their superiors and principals because they do not produce the necessary, tangible results expected of them from the school and the education system. Many of them have retired early or left teaching because they no longer saw their purpose anymore.

Just recently I came to know of a mother who met the form teacher to collect her son's report book. Her son's result was of average standing among his cohort. She had expected him to be promoted to a class of mid-level grade, perhaps Class D among classes A to G.

When she received news that her son was going to Class F, she gave such a cataclysmic gasped that the teacher had to reassure her and explain away the fears. Apparently the first two classes were dedicated to the top of the cohort while the rest were randomly assigned to their new classes.

We can laugh at the silly fear. But it goes deeper. Its roots have buttressed into many areas of our lives more than we care to admit.

In the end we may be winners as in the recent international Maths and Science competition. But whom did we kid? I hardly see many top Singaporean CEOs or Singaporean movers-and-shakers who had made the international scene. In my youth Sim Wong Hoo was our local hero and 'Bill Gates'. Mind you, he had just a Diploma to his academic qualification. But he sure rocked the gaming world with the Creative Sound Blaster.

It takes more than just academics to call ourselves successful winners. I hope we can be lasting winners who can not only impact lives but also leave a lasting legacy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Kaffein

Your example about the meeting of the mother and teacher, and the reaction of the mother on hearing of her son's average grades, may be brushed aside as silly fears by us, but to her it may be hardly so. I do not know how successful the teacher had been in reassuring the mother and putting away her fears.

Failure or being average is never the norm in red dot and that has been drummed into our life in many ways, from nursery school, to mainstream schools, to colleges and universities, to workplace and overall career path. We are besotted with rankings and being at the top, of everything. That is because the rewards always accrue to the winners.

The Primary One balloting exercise is one good example of how much parents relate good grades with good schools, and can never be compromised. It never will, no matter how much they try to allay parents' fears by insisting that neighbourhood schools are just as good. As you said, even uprooting their homes, is not a heavy price to pay to get into a top school.

I am heartened to learn that there are still dedicated teachers around, who are passionate about their work and choose to remain as teachers, despite being overlooked for promotion or rewards. In the end, the winners are still the top overseas scholars, promoted Principals in their mid-30s, bypassing the dedicated and passionate oldies with average grades.

Interestingly, I am also heartened to know of what we termed 'losers' doing much in giving back to help humankind. They are not as rich as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs by any stroke of the imagination, but their contributions are no less meaningful and meritorious.