Making the most of JC life

(This post by Monica Lim first appeared on her blog on 21 April 2014. It is reproduced with permission. Note: Lesley-Anne is her daughter.)

Before Lesley-Anne entered Junior College, she'd heard loads of horror stories about how hectic JC life is, how some kids can barely keep up and find it so stressful compared to secondary school.

Now that she's been in JC for slightly more than 2 months, she can verify that the rumours on workload are all true. She has lessons until 4pm on most days. On CCA days, she reaches home after 9pm, exhausted. There are lecture tests and class tests almost every week, so many that she has lost count. She often has so much homework that she can't finish it at home and has to complete it during free periods in between classes.

But here's the thing: Lesley-Anne LOVES JC life.

I think it's a combination of three factors: subject combination, class and CCA. Lesley-Anne's subject combination came about not without sleepless nights and having to jump through multiple hoops. Already choosing to go to the humanities stream was considered second rate in a crazy system that still values the sciences (unless you're in the special Humanities Programme which Lesley-Anne chose not to try out for because of its over-competitiveness). She wanted to take Literature, English Language and Linguistics (ELL), Geography, and Maths at H1 level. This met with some concern by the school because they felt that taking Lit and ELL would "limit" her options. As the Epigram Books' editor commented, "aren't they the ones limiting her options? She's a writer!"

The school would have preferred her to take the more conventional subject Econs, in place of ELL. Just to give some background, almost everyone in the humanities stream (and many in the science stream) takes Econs as it's considered a "useful" subject and also one that's relatively easier to score in. Econs has a high percentage of A grades at the 'A' levels, while ELL is considered a straight B subject (negligible number of A grades). But Lesley-Anne went for the introductory Econs lectures and she was bored out of her mind (besides being perplexed by many of the concepts).

Even choosing to take Maths at H1 level (in my time, the 'AO' level equivalent) was a controversial choice. Maths at H2 level is one of those subjects that almost everyone takes because it has one of the highest level of A grades. In a cohort where more than 1,000 kids in Lesley-Anne's JC take Maths, only a paltry 26 take Maths at H1 level. And these are mostly the students who didn't meet the qualifying grade (based on sec4 Maths results) to take it at H2. So Lesley-Anne was an exceptional case because she qualified for Maths at H2 but didn't take it. Her reasoning was that to do well in Maths at H2, she would have to put in five times more effort in a subject that she doesn't care about. She would rather dedicate her time and energy to her other subjects.

I agreed with her assessment. I've always found that looking at the percentage of A grades as an indication of whether you would get an A is so flawed. Plus choosing subjects based on what you think you can score in, not based on interest, has always been one of my bugbears about the education system. So at the time when she was going through multiple subject combinations in her head and trying to think about the ramifications of each choice, I told her: forget about trying to chiong with everyone else. JC is 2 years of your life you'll want to remember - choose the subjects you are passionate about and enjoy the experience.

So Lesley-Anne appealed to take ELL, sat for a qualifying test and was selected. Thankfully, the school granted her request to take ELL and Lit together. It's been only about two months and she is enjoying her subjects tremendously. She loves the classes and I think at JC level, the humanities teachers really welcome divergent views, as long as your arguments are cogent. Lesley-Anne loves that the lessons call for critical thinking instead of merely parroting someone else's opinions, as was often the case in secondary school. It's a lot of work but it's interesting work.

The second factor is her classmates. In the beginning of the year, Lesley-Anne was quite apprehensive as to who her classmates would be. In secondary school, she encountered many, for a lack of a better description, what we call "mugger" kids. There's a difference between being hardworking and being a mugger. Hardworking kids understand the importance of diligence and study hard. Mugger kids take this to a whole new level - they consider grades THE most important thing in life, judge others purely by academic results and are myopically competitive. If they get a B grade, they moan and whine that their life is over (whether they really mean it or do it to get attention, it's annoying). So they're always poring over their books and great at regurgitating content but when you have a conversation with them, you often find that there's no depth to their thoughts or views.

I think God really answered Lesley-Anne's prayers for a good class. Her class is a mix of quirky and bright kids, the majority of whom are hardworking but not muggers. They strive to do well but they don't obsess over their grades. Lesley-Anne loves that they challenge her intellectually and constantly broaden her mindset. They have all kinds of interests, from sports to dance to debating, and add so much fun and personality to the class.

Finally, CCA. Over the past couple of years, Lesley-Anne's passion in dance has blossomed. Even though she has completed her Grade 8 in ballet, she wants to continue lessons, just because she loves it. In JC, she really wanted to get into the modern dance CCA but it's extremely competitive as there are limited spaces (mostly taken by kids who had been in the dance CCA in secondary school). So she prayed very hard for this and at the audition, danced her heart out... and was selected. She's one of only four girls who weren't previously in dance CCAs.

In Lesley-Anne's own words, "this completes my JC life." We're very, very grateful that God has been so gracious in answering all her prayers.

I know it's early days yet and we can't tell what will happen. She may end up not doing that well for 'A' levels, for whatever reason. But I've always maintained that the education journey is never solely about grades - it's about the experience and the learning, regardless of the end result. And I know that I've not seen Lesley-Anne this happy and engaged in a long time, so it's all good.



Writing is my profession and my passion. I run a professional writing outfit, where I do all my corporate writing. Blogging takes care of the miscellaneous excess thoughts. I'm a mother of two completely polar opposite children. Maybe God figures the challenge would do me good. Or perhaps He just likes to have a good laugh. Whatever it is, I'm enjoying the roller coaster ride.