Well-educated or well-trained

Here in Singapore, it is that time of the year again. No. I am not talking about the haze. I am talking about the season of the national standardized examinations. Today was the start of the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE). The one hoop that every student in Singapore jumps through in his or her formal school education. Then, very soon, it will be the other national standardized examinations.

Make no mistakes about it. These examinations are important. They are important milestones in the educational path of students. They are, in some ways, important and useful measures of the knowledge and skills of the students.

The stakes for these examinations are also very high. Do well and you get a ticket into a good school. Being in a good school gives numerous immense tangible advantages for the child to get ahead in life. With such high stakes, it is no wonder that children and parents get extremely stressed by these national examinations.

It is alright to be stressed. It is natural. There is nothing wrong with wanting to do well or hoping that your child does well. It is indeed important to do well in national standardized examinations, move on to good schools, get good degrees that open doors to well-paying jobs.

But do also remind ourselves not to go overboard. Because education is much more than just jumping through hoops (national standardized examinations are essentially hoops that we have been conditioned to jump through).

Beyond rote-learning definitions, it is also important to truly increase our understanding of the subject. Beyond just doing thousands of set standardized questions, it is also important to be curious about the subject and excited to learn more so that we can use our knowledge and skills from the subject to solve real world problems and contribute to mankind. If we forget those, then we end up being merely well-trained, not well-educated. This part from one of my favourite movies, “The Three Idiots” demonstrates this idea very well:


Education, in fact, life, is not just a series of hoops to jump through. I believe that life needs to be meaningful. And for life to be meaningful, we need to have a purpose that is greater than just ourselves, a purpose that we can devote ourselves passionately to. Again, another part from the same movie describes this idea very well:

If you are a parent (especially if you are from Singapore) and have just read this, do support your child if he or she is going through the national examinations. PSLE can also stand for Please Support with Love and Encouragement. But not only that, please support your child in his or her learning. Because, believe it or not, your child WANTS to learn. I know it does not seem that way. Many children do not seem to want to sit down and study. That does not mean that they do not want to learn. Why? Because there is a difference between studying and learning.

I know of someone who did very badly for his A-Levels. He could not make it to any universities in Singapore. He became an insurance agent instead. And it was the best thing that happened to him. He is very street smart, thick skinned and very creative in ways to sell and engage people. Not surprising, he is doing extremely well.

He told me that when he was in school, he hated studying for examinations. He still does. If he has to study for examinations (and there are a lot of those that insurance agents continually have to take), he will invariably still do badly.

Yet, when his clients or his colleagues ask him some questions about the policies (e.g. whether certain things are covered, how to go about claiming for certain things), he will enthusiastically read the whole policy document, memorise it, digest it and explain it to his client or his colleague. He is clearly intelligent and loves to learn. He is continuously learning about new sales techniques, how to read body language, how to manage people (he is going to be a manager next year), how to give feedback, and so much more.

So, there is a difference in studying and learning. Remember that. Your child LOVES to learn. Children, are by nature, curious and full of wonder. Children, by nature, WANT to find out about things, to experiment, to explore. Do not kill that wonder and curiosity. Feed it, nurture it, guide it gently.

Some times it may be messy. Some times you may wonder if it will be alright for your child, whether your child will turn out fine if he does not spend as much time studying because he is spending more time learning.

It is ok. It will be alright.

Do not panic.

Breathe.

All is well.

[Featured image from SGAG]

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