Education Alive ad depicting a kid trapped under a truck

From ‘Tuition agency order to stop ‘objectionable ad”, 27 March 2014, article by Joy Fang, Today

The advertising authority ordered a tuition agency to stop placing an advertisement that shows a child trapped under a vehicle, after parents denounced its graphic content. The full-page advertisement by Education Alive to promote a workshop carries a picture of a child crushed under a vehicle beneath the words “Breaking news: Child trapped under 4 tonnes truck!”

It also asked “concerned parents” of children taking the GCE O- and A-Level examinations this year what they would do to “save” their child….Its intent was to convey to parents that “their child’s future is a matter of life and death” and that parents “can literally change their child’s destiny if they wanted to”, she (founder Sherina Koh) explained.

…Senior marketing executive Samantha Lee, 33, who has two sons aged two and five, said it was “very wrong to use such a picture as part of their marketing campaign”.

“What kind of message are they trying to put across? That if I do not attend this workshop, my child will die? It’s insulting to parents,” she said.

Photo credit from 'Faces of Death'

Photo credit from ‘Faces of Death’

Yes, this ad is definitely objectionable. First of all, it’s 4-TONNE truck, not 4 TONNES truck. Next, it’s ‘imagine if he WERE your child, not WAS’. The hyphen between the ‘MUST ATTEND’ is missing, and I seriously doubt the claim of ‘INSTANTLY’. It’s a child’s brain you’re talking about here, not a stained shirt treated with Dynamo. If I were a parent, I’d be more offended by the grammar and the schizo right and left text alignment than graphic violence, and this would be the last place on earth to send a child for English tuition (though it could also mean a great place for CHINESE tuition). Yes, I would risk my life to pull my baby out from under a truck in an instant, just like I’d rescue anyone else’s kids from the clutches of a company that sounds more like a geomancy consultancy than educators.

Sherina Koh explained in a subsequent FB post cum apology that the truck image was inspired by the story of a mother displaying superhuman strength by lifting a car off her trapped child, which suggests that failure to enrol your kid with Education Alive spells eternal doom and you’re a bad parent for neglecting to do so. In any case, lifting a CAR is one thing, 4 TONNES of TRUCK on the other hand, is ridiculous. She also describes a child’s ‘future’ as being ‘a matter of life or death’. Erm, isn’t EVERYONE’S future a matter of life or death? You either live or die tomorrow, or next week. Did she really mean EXAMS instead? That if you fail your O’s/A’s, it’s the end of the world as you know it? Gosh, it must terrible for those school dropouts then, especially those who went on to found multibillion internet start-ups. Their destiny must be total shit if Education Alive is to be taken seriously.

These EA folks brand themselves as ‘coaches’ not ‘tutors’. They’re also dream builders and dream ‘livers’. I have my dream liver too; I like it slightly on the raw side in a hearty bowl of peppery pork innards soup. For a bunch of ‘fun-loving’, ‘crazy’ practitioners of this destiny-changing ‘methodology’ who wear clown noses on their website, having a gruesome image in a full page ad seems out of place. But that’s not all. They used to have an ad with the actual words ‘DYING’ in Dracula font, which they pulled out of their FB page when I last accessed it. Maybe they don’t just help kids pass exams, they’re necromancers who resurrect the dead too. With their pixie dust dream magic.

And it’s ‘witness how your child COMES alive’.

SAVE THE CHILDREN OH GOD!

SAVE THE CHILDREN OH GOD!

 

About these ads

Schoolchildren spending too much time on CCAs

From ‘Review time spent on CCAs’, 24 March 2014, ST Forum

(Lee Hui Ling): …My daughter studies at an independent secondary school. She is required to stay back after school for her CCA three days a week, each time for up to four hours. If there are forthcoming performances or competitions, she may need to stay back on additional days for practice.

Many of her schoolmates who take public transport wake up as early as 5.30am to make it in time for school at 7.20am. Lessons end around 1.30pm and, following lunch, CCA starts at 2.30pm and ends at 6.30pm. Taking public transport home sets them back by another one to 11/2 hours and some manage to reach home only after 8pm. Following a quick dinner and wash-up, they start on their heavy homework load or revisions after 9pm. By the time they go to bed, it is way past midnight or 1am.

They wake up a few hours later at 5.30am, with barely five hours of sleep, to start another long, tiring day.

…In their quest to excel in not only academics but also CCAs, some schools may have imposed gruelling hours on students. In the process, students, and the teachers who stay back for equally long hours, get caught up in a system that drains them mentally and physically. The primary purpose of CCA is to develop the interests and talents of students; winning accolades is secondary and this should not be done at the expense of students’ health.

I urge the Ministry of Education and the Health Promotion Board to look into this issue.

In 2008, 15 year old ACS student Tan Wen Yi wanted to get out of track and field and switch to drama as his CCA. He was made to stay back 4 times a week as punishment for skipping training to play football. When his parents refused to have any of it, he headed for his bedroom, climbed onto the ledge of the window and jumped to his death. Right in front of his hapless mother. No one saw it coming.

Of course most kids don’t resort to such drastic tactics to get out of CCAs, but added pressure and long hours during competition season is part and parcel of school life. What parents are really worried about, other than sleep deprivation or sudden suicide, is whether this preoccupation with ‘winning accolades’ would have any impact on their child’s studies. If you’re a Type A go-getter and extrovert who thrives on CCAs and little sleep and want to be the Prime Minister when you grow up, then good for you. If CCA is a dreary chore and you would rather spend the time writing Chinese composition, then there should be flexibility to cut back, like ‘days off’ after intense training or medal success, or the choice to take a less hectic CCA.  The problem is some schools may deprive you of a CCA which may be the best fit for you for purely ‘business’ reasons, like an under-performing team which can’t deliver results. Not to mention kiasu parents who think some bonus points would do you good and forbid you from joining any ‘unprofitable’ CCA that seems, well, FUN.

Add homework, tuition and piano lessons to the mix and you’ll produce ‘well-rounded’ kids who hardly have time for themselves or family, victims of the national philosophy that children can only grow up to be productive cogs in the machine if they excelled in at least 1 CCA. Kids who’re ‘team players’ but lack the spark of creativity, fail to develop spiritually, or don’t get to experience the world outside school or even the country. Kids who don’t know what it’s like to help out at their parents’ hawker stall, how to climb a tree, or do something nice for a needy stranger.  In 2007, a survey revealed that only 2.6% of teens had at least 9 hours of sleep every night, a deficit that they can’t even make up for during week long holidays which are often stuffed with even more CCA activities, homework, enrichment classes or group projects. We’re producing kids who can’t, both literally and figuratively, DREAM.

During my time, competitive sport taught me the sour taste of humiliation and defeat and I have no regrets, but I never felt like I was cheated of my personal time, nor put in a pressure cooker environment like what kids these days seem to be immersed in.  So now we know where this epidemic of ‘busyness’ in the working world comes from. We were groomed from young to be madly rushing, always behind time, and everyone believes that this constant stress as a driver for excellence can only be a good thing. Until someone breaks and does the unthinkable that is, which by then would be only too little, too late.

 

Spectra boy demanding apology from teacher

From ‘Student apologises after Youtube clip shows him shouting at teacher’, 22 Jan 2014, article by Pearl Lee, ST

A secondary school student has apologised to his teacher after being filmed shouting at him in class. Spectra Secondary principal Krishnan Aravinthan said on Wednesday that the student “has reflected on his actions and is very remorseful”, adding: “He has apologised to the teacher concerned.”

Mr Aravinthan added that the school “takes a serious view with regard to student discipline and has high expectations of our students’ behaviour”. He has counselled the student involved.

The school is also using the incident – which was uploaded to YouTube on Tuesday – “as a teachable moment for students”.

The clip showed the student walking around the classroom talking to his classmates. When the teacher asked the boy to return to his seat, the student then shouted at his teacher and demanded an apology. Spectra Secondary is Singapore’s second specialised school for students eligible for the Normal (Technical) stream. It took in its first batch of students this month, with each getting a tablet computer to assist their learning.

From the video it appears that it was the teacher who first lost his cool and yelled at ‘Justin’ to stop his nonsense, but what followed was a masterclass of defiant posturing and juvenile obscenity, the kind of behaviour that would have me suspended on the spot. I don’t know what’s sadder, a teacher having to apologise to an arrogant bully or Justin’s upbringing. An attitude like this would be ideal for a career as a bouncer, a warrant officer in the army, or judging by the kid’s weird gyrations,  a pimp gangster boss.

Most kids wouldn’t have the audacity to engage in a shouting match with their teachers. Some would complain of verbal abuse to their parents, who would then go on to complain to the police. This kid decided to take his oppressor head on, and our next generation is doomed if this act of rebellion is hailed as martyrdom by his sniggering classmates. The teacher was shockingly gracious with the quick apology, but Justin began pushing his luck once he realised he got the upper hand like the tenacious brat that he is. The sex comment was just, well, bizarre, and you’d think such behaviour might have been the result of watching too much BDSM porn.

Teachers never needed to say sorry for raising their voices in the past; it was almost essential to get the work done if you’re dealing with a rowdy bunch of renegades. This one was willing to swallow his pride, perhaps in case the kid decides to call the police, but emotional blackmail should never get in the way of how a teacher does his job, even if it means having to lose his temper at the devil’s spawn.

Now if there’s ever another MOE recruitment ad to tell us how wonderful teaching is, and if Justin is game for it, he could play the role of the good-for-nothing angry kid who ends up being a motivational speaker, eternally grateful to the poor teacher he once shot down in class.

Teenage students dying during PE lessons

From ’13 year old student dies after PE lesson, second case this week’, 16 Jan 2014, article by Pearl Lee, ST

A 13-year-old student from Temasek Junior College died on Wednesday during a physical education (PE) lesson, after he reportedly had an asthma attack. A relative of the boy, who is an Integrated Programme student, told Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao that the student had informed the PE teacher that he felt unwell. He collapsed right after that.

Police have classified the case as an unnatural death and are investigating. This is the second such case this week. On Monday, a 16-year-old student from Tanglin Secondary died after jogging during a PE lesson.

According to the Chinese papers, the boy fainted while doing WARM UP EXERCISES, dying shortly after while in hospital. In 1988, 19 year old Ong Kok Kheng also died after doing warm up exercises. 3 years later, 15 year old Aw Wei Yong collapsed and died after walking 2 rounds around a basketball court as part of team ‘warm up’. Though both the latter victims had a ‘heart condition’, we usually think of ‘warming up’ as an activity to PREVENT injury rather than one that could actually kill you. If you think about the evolution of human running, the act of warming up comes across as totally unnatural preparation for any form of rapid locomotion. Most physically daunting activities that we perform on a daily basis are often bursts of adrenaline-fuelled spontaneity and don’t require any form of ‘warm-up’ whatsoever.  Dashing after a bus, dancing, quickie sex. The worst that could happen was getting a stitch. Not stitched up in a coffin.

If doing embarrassing hip rotation exercises could slay you, imagine what track equipment could do to your mortal flesh. In 1991, a JC student died a gruesome death after impaling himself on a JAVELIN. He was playing with HULA HOOPS when the freak tragedy happened. When I was in JC, we were made to handle ‘medicine balls’, dusty heavy weapons of mass destruction that could cause sink holes on the road if you dropped them from a sufficient height. Sometimes it’s the PE teacher herself attacking you for not showing enough enthusiasm, and all you have to defend yourself with is a beanbag or a plastic cone. PE lessons aren’t just hazardous to some kids, but to PE teachers as well. You may get knocked into a coma by a stray shot put ball, or beaten silly with a piece of wood by a kid unwilling to walk around the field as punishment.

We used to be a tough lot. As early as 1939 schoolchildren were forced to do rhythmic exercises for developing ‘suppleness’. Some of these gymnastic shenanigans were more military-grade than the wussy stuff they dish out in army now. Those days if I didn’t want to study I could at least have become a travelling acrobat, with a body drilled into supple perfection.

Hangin tough

Hangin tough

When one too many army boys die for nothing, SAF puts a stop to outdoor training. If you have kids collapsing during school hours when PE is supposed to be the most fun part of your entire education, perhaps the Ministry should look into putting classes on hold as well and devote the time to catching up on homework instead. Much to the delight of kiasu parents of course.

Mission school students forced to attend chapel sessions

From ‘Respect faiths of others in mission schools’, 6 Jan 2014, ST Forum

(Poh Choon Kiat): WHEN my family went to the Open House of a mission secondary school, we were told that non-Christians were welcome and that my daughter would not be forced to attend chapel (“Religious knowledge lessons important in mission schools” by Mr Benjamin Wee; last Friday). But after admission into the school, my daughter was forced to attend fortnightly one-hour chapel sessions.

When she protested that she was not a Christian, she was taken to see the principal, who made cutting comments about her knowing full well she was joining a mission school.

My daughter’s suggestion that she do her own revision or homework during chapel sessions was flatly rejected. In Secondary 3 now, she is still being forced to attend these sessions. The Education Ministry should ensure that all government and government-aided schools do not force chapel sessions on students of other faiths, as respect and tolerance of other religions are the cornerstone of our country’s values.

In 1992, St Andrews JC made attending chapel sessions a condition for admission into the school for a group of ‘appeal’ students, prompting the Education Ministry to summon Article 16 (3) of the constitution that states that ‘no person shall be required to receive instruction in or take part in any ceremony or act of worship of a religion OTHER THAN HIS OWN. In other words, no one can compel you to attend chapel if you’re a non-believer, even if the school has been established to promote the Bible as moral nourishment like pushing milk for strong teeth and bones. One of those students forced to ‘sing hymns’ and hear the chaplain preaching was a SIKH, who also lamented about Muslims being excused from such tedious rites.

‘Proselytising’ was a charge laid against the Anglo Chinese school way back in 1896, where about 60 Chinese boys were coerced into attending ‘religious exercises’. More than a century later, the ministry continued to warn schools against making religious activities compulsory or as a criterion for admission. PM Lee, himself from Catholic High, stressed in his 2009 National Day Rally that religious activities should be optional, and he didn’t want to see ‘Christians, Buddhists, Hindus all attending different schools’. But the evangelising wasn’t just happening in the confines of the school, some school teachers make it their personal mission to convert errant delinquents outside school hours.

Yet, it was in 1984 when the Government made ‘Religious Knowledge’ a compulsory subject for all secondary students, for it was deemed the ‘best and most dependable basis for inculcating moral values’, especially for rebellious teens corrupted by ‘Western’ influences. Except that no prayers, meditation or carrying of ‘artifacts’ were allowed during such classes. Which is like telling you to study a cookbook and not getting to cook anything, not even crack an egg. Within 5 years there were calls to scrap RK for good, and replace it with something more ‘inclusive’, like Civics, much to the agony of RK supporters who tried to convince us, and then Minister Tony Tan, that the scrapping of religious subjects was responsible for our young and impressionable becoming ‘materialistic and individualistic’.  Look what good decades of religious study has done to the likes of Kong Hee and gang then.

There are those who still believe that the touch of God is a necessary rite of passage for a ‘complete’ education and upbringing of a person. Some even propose to offer Religion 101 to students (Offer Religion 101 to students, 8 Jan 2013, ST Forum), which is like revisiting the 80s all over again. Except there is no evidence from history that being exposed to religion in school makes you a more moral, wholesome being than one who hasn’t. You don’t even need to be in a school, mission or non-mission, to get harassed by proselytisers outside, like how I’ve been targetted during my secondary school days by people trying to educate me about Jesus Christ. What I came to appreciate, and despise, about religion didn’t come from school, but from social encounters, family gatherings and IRC chatrooms.

In fact, it may be easier if you’re a non-Christian in a mission school to just pretend and attend chapel anyway, so that your staunch teachers or friends won’t single you out and try to shepherd you onto the path of eternal life. Or just report diarrhoea and bring your homework into the toilet with you.

Little girl activating Downtown Line detrainment switch

From ‘More info given for Downtown Line fault’, 29 Dec 2013, article by Christopher Tan, Sunday Times

Downtown Line operator SBS Transit yesterday gave more details of how a child passenger could have activated a detrainment switch that triggered a power cut which disrupted the newly opened line on Friday. A spokesman said preliminary findings showed that “the internal laminate of the metal cover which holds the detrainment door switch had debonded”. This, she said, caused the cover to be loosened.

“When the cover was moved, the detrainment switch was triggered,” she said. As a safety precaution, power is cut off when the switch – which lowers a ramp for emergency evacuation – is activated.

SBS Transit said closed-circuit television footage showed a little girl may have caused this. It declined to share the footage.

…Netizens have questioned the cause of the breakdown. Commenting on Facebook, Charlton Gan asked: “Why is the device so easily accessed by the kid in the first place?” Another, Neo Eng Hin, asked how the system could be “so fragile and sensitive”.

SBS Transit said it has since “enhanced the cover for a tighter fit” on all its Downtown Line trains. It has also stationed staff at both ends of trains to prevent a repeat of the incident.

Kids

Kids

In a previous statement, SBS Transit reported that some children were playing around the detrainment door area and a small girl appeared to have triggered the power disruption by accident. Train manufacturer Bombardier argues that detrainment was unlikely when the train was still moving. If you look at SMRT’s emergency protocol for passenger-activated detrainment, you’d have to perform a series of actions as a safeguard against accidental triggering in order to access the train captain’s cabin, before finally operating the ramp. For this ill-fated ride, you just needed a tiny human to rattle the cover in order to turn on a detrainment switch, which from the description of events seems more like a touchscreen button than a lever that you need to push or lift with considerable force.

If you look at how the detrainment device is positioned on a DTL train above, right before a tunnel view of the ride, you can imagine how tempting it is for kids to clamber all over the counter.  SBS’s remedial actions of ‘enhancing the cover for a tighter fit’ and employing staff just to guard the thing seems more like a cosmetic, stopgap attempt than a real effort to childproof an emergency button, like painting the lever for a hot water dispenser red than making it slightly more tedious for a child to maneuver. I shudder to think if the same manufacturers were behind the panic button that presidents push to unleash nuclear warheads.

Without divulging any evidence of the exact nature of the playtime causing the downtime, I suppose the only way to determine what really happened around the detrainment device and what kind of rampage the kids were on would be for our ministers to launch a Committee of Inquiry (COI) into this incident to expose all this ridiculous secrecy over CCTV footage once and for all. Until then, a campaign to keep our hands to ourselves unless in case of emergency would suffice.

Parents hiring private eyes to spy on children overseas

From ‘More parents hiring private eyes to check on their kids’, 14 Oct 2013, article by Jalelah Abu Baker, ST

A GROWING number of parents are sending private investigators to check whether their children have gone astray, sometimes even overseas. Eight out of 10 private eye agencies contacted by The Straits Times said they have seen a rise in such cases.

Mr David Ng, 37, director of private investigation firm DP Quest, said his company has seen a 20 per cent year-on-year increase in such requests. “Parents get worried when they see changes in their children’s behaviour – for example, if they get a tattoo, or start staying out late,” he said, explaining the reasons his clients usually cite. The children are usually in their teens, in secondary school or polytechnic.

…For some parents, there is even more reason to track their children when they are studying overseas. Said Mr S.M. Jegan, 61, from private investigation firm Kokusai: “Parents send us overseas as they want to see how their children are spending their money, and whether they are in relationships.” Sometimes, parents get worried when their children become uncontactable or do not return to Singapore as planned.

Sending private investigators to countries like the United States and Britain is far more expensive – it can cost about $20,000 for five days of tracking.

Our boy just said YOLO to that girl on the phone. Is that code for SEX?

Why send a child overseas to study in the first place if you need to spend tens of thousands just to make sure he’s not having orgies and smoking pot in his hostel? Getting private detectives to spy on kids is at least a decade-old practice. In 2004, an agency called Covert Acquisition was hired to plant bugs on kids’ computers to track their activity in chatrooms. 5 years later, parents are hiring PIs to spy on their kids’ sex lives. Today, you can secretly download covert apps like Handphone Spy to read your children’s Whatsapp or Line messages, which seems like a last resort when your kid refuses to be your Facebook friend.  Even our government is keenly tracking Facebook users as we speak. The catch with apps like Handphone Spy is that physical access is required for installation, which means a parent needs to snoop and deceive in order to get their hands on their kid’s phone. The solution to busybodies tampering with your phone, of course, is to bring it EVERYWHERE you go. But then again, that’s already happening. Not just kids, but adults are all Candy Crushing while pooping.

Everything a PI does to intrude into your personal life seems to be within legal boundaries. According to the Kokusai FAQs, however, it is ‘illegal’ to ‘use software to spy SMSes or track the movement of a person’, but yet you can purchase mobile phone tracking apps or buy spy gizmos to tap into computer activity freely from Sim Lim Square. Apparently there are technically no ‘privacy laws’ in Singapore to speak of, and though companies like Handphone Spy advise against stalking suspicious spouses or ex-girlfriends because it’s deemed ‘an intrusion of privacy’, it seems perfectly OK to track your kid from the moment you pack his school lunch bag till he starts logging into the Internet after he comes home, because you’re ‘exercising your rights’ as a concerned parent. Even if it means drilling a tiny pinhole in your kid’s room to peep if he’s masturbating to porn instead of studying for the PSLE. Handphone Spy even endorses bosses rigging their employees’ phones because it ‘empowers YOU to get the answers you want and deserve to have’. The perfect tool for the paranoid, the insecure, and the general dirty bastard.

Despite the technology available, there’s still a surging demand for professional stealth work by parents afraid of infringing privacy laws or who lack the time or IT savvy to DIY their own investigations. If I were a kid again I would rather my parents take the day off to track me instead of paying a hired gun to do the dirty job. Even if they fail miserably in their attempt to catch me in the act of having a life after school, I would appreciate their efforts for it, though I’d probably hate them for the rest of puberty. They’re just parents being parents, and before the Internet or cellphones they did stuff like search under your bed for secret diaries and girly mags. But when they need to pay a third party to nab me for trivial things, I’m likely to hate them for much longer for making me feel like a cheating mistress or an undercover loan shark runner. Especially when I’m doing NOTHING wrong.

Instead of sending PIs on an overseas espionage mission codenamed ‘Hostel Gangbang’, how about springing surprise ‘visits’ as a cover for spying? Or better still save the spy fees and instead send gifts, handwritten letters or up your cash allowance to make them feel guilty for drinking beer or smoking for the first time. And kids aren’t stupid either; the moment they suspect they’re being spied on, they’ll start installing anti-spyware-spyware, reading up websites on ‘signs that you’re being followed’ or better still, hire their own PIs to snitch out their parents’ PIs ala Spy vs Spy. Since most PIs are also ex-cops, you may also try dropping some Kripsy Kreme doughnuts here and there to throw your follower off the scent. I wonder if security companies offer counter-spy services at a discount rate under the table as well. Seems like a lucrative, perfectly legit business opportunity to me.

Children burning schoolwork after PSLE

From ‘Burning question on post-PSLE ‘celebration’, 10 Oct 2013, ST

(Desiree Tan): IT SADDENED me to read about a group of children and parents burning school material right after the Primary School Leaving Examination (“Post-PSLE book-burning photo inflames netizens”; Tuesday). While I agree with netizens that these items should be recycled or given to needy pupils, the more disturbing issue is the celebratory connotation of the act of burning to signify the end of a major examination.

I can understand people blaming the system for placing too great an emphasis on exam grades. I can also understand that in their quest to excel, children experience a great deal of stress sitting the PSLE.

But to use these reasons to justify the act of burning school material is inexcusable. Are we teaching 12-year-olds that once they complete the PSLE, they can burn away what they have learnt?

What is the point of achieving stellar results if our children grow up with such thinking? The damage that has been done is far more serious than just killing trees.

We did start the fire

We did start the fire

Bonfire organiser Arnold Gay said the symbolic act of destroying schoolwork was ‘cathartic and fun’. One critic of the celebration said ‘books and writings’ should be revered and are a ‘sacred part of civilisation’ as if they were magical scrolls or scripture (We were not burning textbooks, says Kiss92 DJ Arnold Gay, 9 Oct 2013).  While my sympathies go to the authors of such assessment books or worksheets, tossing educational material into the fire isn’t a culmination of resentment against the system or deliberately erasing from memory everything primary school taught us so much as a stark, dramatic exaggeration of what people actually do with their old worksheets after the PSLE.  Not many of us would laminate them and stack them nicely in a chest as an heirloom to our descendents, hoping that they would look upon our maths notes like they just stumbled upon ancient manuscripts that foretell the ultimate fate of the Universe.

During my time there were no recycling bins to speak of, and most of what I threw away would have ended up disintegrating into ashes in the incinerator anyway. In fact, the most heinous acts of violence on school material were performed BEFORE the actual exam. Wooden rulers were snapped, pages were stabbed with pens and flunked test papers were ripped to shreds, sometimes by angry parents themselves. The holiest of tomes have been vandalised by the luminous scrawling of highlighter pens, battered into tatters, riddled with stains, disfigured by ugly dog ears and left to die like they were humiliated and gangraped a thousand times over. Though sometimes that is EXACTLY how some kids feel when they’re taking the PSLE. Better we take it out on homework than on ourselves, I say. A search on Youtube will reveal the many creative ways that liberated kids around the world destroy their schoolwork, by torching it with an acetylene flame, flushing it down a toilet, or literally letting their DOG EAT the damn thing.

I would imagine kids hurling schoolwork into the flames with the hedonistic zest of one destroying the autobiography of a ruthless dictator, the belongings of a spouse’s illicit lover, or the Pope condemning to Eternal Hell ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. There is nothing ‘sacred’ about mass-produced assessment sheets, and there’s no reason to treat the act as if someone blew up the National Archives and important knowledge has been lost forever, that these book-burning kids would grow up into rebellious troublemakers who would run their bosses’ family photo through the office shredder. Still, you shouldn’t need to make a party out of it like Arnold Gay did, and any torture that you’d wish to inflict on your notes just to fulfill your wildest, sickest fantasy should be performed in strictest privacy, like how I would gyrate to Ricky Martin songs when nobody’s watching.

Arnold Gay didn’t round up some Satanists to burn bibles or the Declaration of Independence, but such tribal abandon strikes me as rather premature. Let’s hope his kids actually PASS the exam, otherwise it’s not just assessment papers, but hopes and aspirations, that go up in flames.

Parents taking courses to help their kids score in PSLE

From ‘PSLE parents take classes to help children’, 24 Aug 2013, article by Benita Aw Yeong, TNP

The subject of PSLE came up in this year’s National Day Rally, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledging the high level of stress families go through because of this exam.

Parents are getting creative, especially when it comes to helping their kids cope – they are not only sending their children to tuition, but going for classes themselves.

They are also exploring hypnotherapy to help the children manage exam stress and build confidence.

According to the Chinese press, there are at least two enrichment centres offering adult programmes, Maths Heuristics and Neuromath Academy. For $320 a couple, you can attend a Maths Heuristics workshop for 3 hours on a Sunday afternoon. Norman Tien from Neuromaths has offered free workshops with titles like ‘How to Prepare Your Child for PSLE’, which gives you handy tips like telling your kid to start cramming for the paper when he’s PRIMARY 5. Another free workshop which focuses on Cognitive Skills is pitched as ‘highly recommended for parents preparing children to enter ELITE primary schools‘. If you’re someone who spends sleepless nights trying to solve Primary School problem sums even if you have no children yourself, and your dream is to become a Sudoku World Champion, then your prayers have been answered.

Although there are seminars for the students themselves (as if tuition alone isn’t enough) – it’s clearly the parents who are targetted in Neuromaths’ workshop ads because no kid in his right mind would fork out $198 to sit through a 1 day (9 to 5pm) Maths seminar on a SUNDAY. Nevermind what our ministers say about banding, elitism, keeping top scorers hush-hush or how ‘good’ every school is.  It doesn’t matter if the exam is about applying what you learnt in school over 6 years, or a test to see how long it takes for you to conquer a maze like a lab rat. A parent willing to do ridiculous, costly things to put their kids in the ‘right’ school in this national obsession with grades would pump their kids (and themselves) with mind/body-enhancing drugs if these were freely available (Parents are already seeing psychiatrists for anxiety disorders before PSLE, like how dads experience sympathetic pregnancy symptoms). Until then, we just have to settle for Brands Essence of Chicken, or hypnotherapy.

Last year, One Hypnosis organised a $100 (parent and child) event called ‘Power Up! Kids’, which aimed to enhance focus and concentration skills in children preparing for PSLE, though it sounds like a training camp for aspiring Power Rangers. At least it involved some exercise rather than sitting around an entire day listening to maths gurus unleash your genius within, but perhaps you could achieve the same tonic effect on your well-being for FREE, like a family day at the beach for instance.  I think it may be more helpful to apply the powers of suggestion to treat the parents’ anxiety and morbid fixation with PSLE rather than on the kids themselves, who are better off being ‘psycho-ed’ into quitting Facebook games and eating their vegetables because no workshop on ‘higher order thinking’ or brain-yoga is going to help if you eat junk food everyday.

It’s not just children alone taking the PSLE anymore. Parents have become so engrossed in it to the point of quitting their jobs for the sake of their kids, short of taking the paper themselves. All this, in addition to the humdrum stress of daily living. Kids have become mere flesh surrogates to the wills of their parents, like jacked up, expensive remote control cars in a death race to the finish. We can only hope they don’t crash and burn.

St Margaret’s girls shaving bald for charity

From ’3 girls who shaved head bald for charity told to wear wigs in school by principal’, 2 Aug 2013, article by Grace Chua, ST

When 15-year-old Leia Lai and two of her classmates went back to school on Monday, they sported a new look – bald. The three St Margaret’s Secondary School students had cut their hair to raise funds for a cancer charity.

But this drew the ire of their principal, as they had not donned wigs, as they had promised earlier.

The school’s rules do not allow “punk, unfeminine or sloppy hairstyles“. Said principal Marion Tan: “It’s very clear in our mission: it’s about their turnout as a young lady.”

And if the girls were allowed to go bald, others might take advantage.

“Can you imagine if I were to say yes, I’d have everybody coming to school with a bald head. Sometimes it’s a fad, so they would take advantage of the situation.”

…As for Leia and Cherry, they have been allowed to go to school bald. But only because of doctors’ notes certifying they had rashes on their heads from wearing wigs.

If there are convent schools that SUSPEND girls for a week for having hair that’s ‘too short’, what more to be said for those who choose to shave their heads bald, for whatever reason? In 1993, two schoolgirls were forced to wear swimming caps because their hair was too short (School punishes girls whose hair was too short, 9 April 1993, ST). As silly as that would look, it is less patronising to the cancer cause than making the girls cover their head with wigs. Incidentally, St Margaret’s was founded on the basis of a missionary’s charity, with the aim of helping homeless ‘slave’ girls and turning them into ‘good homemakers’. It is also active in raising funds for the Singapore Anglican Community Services. Plenty of such activities involve singing, dancing and hosting gala dinners, but clearly none involve turning ‘young ladies’ into GI Janes.

It’s ironic that the ‘shavees’ retracted their promise to principal Marion Tan to don wigs after going bald for charity because a woman shaving ‘botak’ is often portrayed in pop culture as an act of defiance. Local actress Cynthia Koh’s character in a Mediacorp drama went bald because she was forced to marry an abusive husband. Natalie Portman and Demi Moore had their locks shorn to play a freedom fighter and a Navy Seal respectively. A bald Robin Tunney exudes rock-star chic in Empire Records. Some, like Britney Spears, do it during a mental breakdown. 

So how DOES Marion Tan wear her hair then, as an example to her students? This is her in 2008, from the school newsletter. You can’t go wrong if you follow your principal’s hairdo. It’s also 100% protective against wolf whistles from naughty boys.

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 11.01.09 PM

Calling a bald head a potential ‘fad’ that may go viral among schoolgirls is like worrying about shaved armpits for the boys – It will never catch on. Going bald is the exact opposite of ‘sloppy’, nor is skinhead recognised as ‘punk fashion’ in today’s context. So according to St Marg’s hair rules and by the process of elimination, one can only conclude that a girl with excessively short hair is considered ‘unfeminine’ by St Marg’s standards, an image that goes against what founder Maria Dyer wanted to achieve for her slave girls in the first place way back in 1842. My Fair Lady, not My Bare Lady. But this is 2013. We don’t groom girls into obedient wives anymore.

Some have even accused such rules for being discriminating against lesbians. If the girls had gone botak to raise funds for a Pink Dot event instead of a children’s charity, would critics be as quick to pounce on Marion Tan for, well, splitting hairs when it comes to school rules? I have done Hair For Hope myself recently as a corporate publicity stunt and got a ‘head cold’ because I was so intent on looking like Vin Diesel or the Rock that I ignored the hazards of exposing my vulnerable scalp to extreme temperatures. Like the St Marg’s girls I too had to see a doctor after shaving my head. Alas, he didn’t waive consultation fees after I told him about my noble deed.

Postscript: Upon public pressure and intervention by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, Marion Tan relented and waived the rule for all 5 bald girls, otherwise she would have faced months of angry people calling for her head to be put on the chopping board, though I think subjecting her head to a clean shave should probably shut everyone up for good.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 275 other followers