What's the tradeoff?

(This post by Monica Lim first appeared on her blog on 4 July 2016. It is reproduced with permission. Lesley-Anne is her daughter.)

Lesley-Anne will be starting university come end July, so naturally, the conversations over these past few months tended to include university selection and who's-going-where among her friends. Since Lesley-Anne attended one of the branded JCs, there might be some perception that most of her school mates would be studying overseas.

This turned out to be untrue. By far, most of the students I know are enrolling in local universities. In fact, some of Lesley-Anne's super bright friends, previously from GEP, top schools, etc, will be studying in exactly the same university and course as their peers who came from neighbourhood schools/JCs and didn't score as well as they did in the 'A' levels.

Why I bring this up is because I wanted to highlight how pointless this grade-chasing game is. Some parents are so hung up about their kids getting straight As that they have spent the last 12 or more years packing their kids to enrichment classes day and night, piling them with assessment books, etc, believing that the pie is so small that you have to do everything in your power to edge everyone else out. The truth is, many of these straight A students will end up in EXACTLY the same place (university-wise and at the workplace) as the less academically inclined students because, guess what - university applications and the workplace don't draw the line as myopically as these parents do in their heads.

Speaking to my friend who teaches at a JC confirmed my hypothesis. She says the kids in her mid-tier JC practically kill themselves volunteering for every possible community project and leadership opportunity, mugging till midnight, basically living their two years like a zombie, thinking all these extras will somehow matter in their university or scholarship application.

At the end of the day, for 95% of these kids, they won't. That's the kicker. The kids who get enrolled in the most sought after programmes are truly a minority and often, these are the kids who already have what it takes (I like to call it that extra spark). All the padding on your CCA is unlikely to make a difference. Even more so for those want a scholarship to study overseas - the success rates are miniscule and even straight A students with a fantastic portfolio often get rejected.

I'm not saying our kids shouldn't try and should just give up. It’s not a bad thing to try and do well in school and take on extra curricular stuff. The trouble is the lack of balance. It seems like the motto among some Singaporean parents (and students themselves) is: "If there's something worth doing, it's worth overdoing." Let's be honest - there's always an opportunity cost. What I see being sacrificed includes sleep, play, a social life, and important intangibles like curiosity, a love of learning, values, and time and the ability to think beyond what is given in a textbook. Do we even realise the enormity of the tradeoffs?

Some parents have the warped sense that the school years are a sacrifice and pre-payment for the reward they hope to eventually get. In the end, these formative years have become so detestable for our kids that they're exhausted and can't wait to be done with school. I find that very sad. The school years form an important part of the journey of life to be experienced (and ideally enjoyed). Our kids should be able to look back at them with fondness, not relief that they're over.

From my own experience and talking to others, I hope to reassure you that a lot of the chiong-ing is unnecessary and probably not have that much of an impact on the eventual result as you think. Work hard, but don't over-burden yourself to the point where you sacrifice physical, mental and emotional health. It's not worth it.

Today especially, on Youth Day, I hope we can remember that youth is a time when we should be celebrating vitality and discovery. Don't rob yourself (or your kids) of this very pivotal part of life. It's a time to experience and to be cherished. Happy Youth Day!



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.


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