11 year-old student shows what is wrong with students and parents

There is a letter to the Straits Times forum that is supposedly written by an 11 year-old student that argued that the Direct School Admissions (DSA) scheme has led to increased stress amongst students. The letter claimed that students are now sacrificing recreation and family time to “perfect” their portfolios, regardless of whether they liked what they were doing. As a result, the letter asserts, students “will become more depressed”.

Why do all these? Why make the student so miserable? Just so that they can get into their school of choice. Or, quite likely, the school of their parents’ choice. And this shows the three related things that is wrong with our students and parents.

First, the idea that students MUST get into a certain school at ALL cost. That if the student doesn’t get into a particular school, then that student’s life is ruined, that he won’t have any chance to be successful and lead a good, happy, meaningful life.

What’s wrong with NOT making it to Raffles, Hwachong or ACS(Independent) family of schools? Does that mean that you will be a failure in life? Does that mean that you can’t contribute meaningfully to society? Does that mean that you can’t be happy? I challenge anyone to provide a rigorous, well-researched study to prove that.

There is nothing with wanting to get into those schools. They are great environments for certain types of students. But not all students will benefit from being in those environments. It doesn’t mean that you will definitely do better simply by being in those schools. Just look at the O-Level results of the RI boys.

And did it never occur to people that it’s not the school that made the students in the schools successful? Perhaps it’s the students in the school that made the school appear to be successful. I mean… the students who attend those schools. They are mostly from better off families. Parents are better educated. Family income higher. These kids could go to any school and still turn out to be successful.

Just because you enter the school won’t suddenly make you more successful. Or happier. Not while you are schooling, not later on in life. In fact, it may make you more miserable. Both while you are in school and later on in life.

Second, students and parents want to have their cake and eat it. If you, for whatever reason, feel that you (or your kid) MUST go to that particular school. Then that’s your choice. No one forced you to make that choice. You made it out of your own free will. Then live with it. Slog your guts out within the system to get what you want. The system is as competitive as you (and your friends) make it out to be.

If you can’t take the stress, if it’s making you unhappy or depressed, you always have the choice of not playing the game. Again. No one is forcing you. Again. Not getting into the “brand-name” schools doesn’t mean the end of the world.

You can still be happy. You can still be successful. That is if you don’t strictly define success in terms of the size of your pay check, the size of your house, the size of your car engine. You can still lead a very meaningful life. That is if you define meaning by how much you contribute to the welfare and wellbeing of your fellow human beings and leave a positive impact on the world during your time here.

But to believe that you can make a choice without giving something up, without suffering (somewhat) for that choice? That’s naivety bordering on stupidity.

Third, students don’t love learning. Maybe the “system” killed the love for learning, the joy of exploring, the excitement of creating things. Maybe it’s parents. Whatever the cause, as the letter to the forum suggested, kids do things for the sake of getting to the next stage. They are like circus animals, trained to jump through hoops. One after another. To what end? So that they have bigger pay checks, bigger houses, bigger car engines? Sure. They may get those. But would they end up with empty souls, vacuous minds, and stone cold hearts as well?

If students and parents aren’t obsessed about the school that the students get into, would there be any issue with DSA? Unlikely. If students are intrinsically motivated to learn, to explore, to create things, to contribute to society, to ask questions and find answers, would DSA be an issue? No.

Therefore, the problem with DSA isn’t with DSA. The problem with DSA is the mindset that led parents and students to be obsessed with getting into the “brand-name”schools, want the system to “ensure” that the students can get into those schools, and, as a result, turning education into a series of hoops for students to jump through. If there’s anything that needs to be changed, it’s this mindset. Tweaking DSA alone won’t make any difference. In fact, DSA itself was an attempt to change that mindset. To shape motivations. Clearly, in that respect, DSA has failed.

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