Education is like buying equipment from a mall

From ‘Education just like a retail transaction now?’18 April 2015, ST Forum

(Grace Yong Fui Han): THURSDAY’S report fills me with disappointment (“Former RGS student claims she was bullied, sues school”). I was a Raffles Girls’ School student, from the class of 1979. Somewhere between then and now, we lost something, not just for the school, but also for Singapore. The report highlights the symptom of a serious malaise in our society, if left unchecked.

One might argue that in taking out a lawsuit against her alma mater, Ms Cheryl Tan is exercising her right to be compensated for the suffering she allegedly endured. However, gratitude for what the school and teachers have done, and respect and deference for the office of the educators seem to have gone out the window.

In their place is a sense of entitlement. Going to school is no different from going to the mall to buy a piece of equipment: “I paid a price (worked hard to get the right grades) to get into my school of choice, so it must meet my expectations. If it does not deliver, like the item I bought at the mall, I will sue the school in the same way I sue the manufacturer.”

Is there a mindset now that relationships are valued by what one can get out of them, rather than what one can contribute? If the alleged bullying is true, then, were compassion and empathy absent, in that the students were unable to put themselves in Ms Tan’s shoes to see how she might have felt as a result of their actions?

If education were a product, it would be a defective one from the start, judging by the existence of a billion-dollar tuition industry. Frivolous suits have been filed in the past, though not by students themselves. A teacher once tried to sue MOE for FALSE IMPRISONMENT after she got locked out of school and injured herself during escape. A divorcee sued both a principal and MOE when he found out that his son wasn’t using his surname during primary school registration. Come to think of it, when my Chinese teacher threw my pencil box out of the window because I was playing with it, destroying it in the process, I could have easily sued her for damage to personal property.

Cheryl Tan is demanding $220 K to continue her studies at Wells Cathedral School in England, in addition to the ‘pain and suffering’ including an outbreak of eczema when she was involved in some CCA Chinese Orchestra kerfuffle. My guess is Cheryl is also a rabid Harry Potter fan, because her current school looks like goddamn Hogwarts. If her suit turns out unsuccessful (most likely to be the case), perhaps she can come back from Wells in a sorcerer’s robe and cast a hex on RGS resulting in them dropping a few notches down the schools ranking. Being a cathedral doesn’t mean she won’t get into trouble there either. If bullied by twats again she could jolly well sue not just Wells, but the Archibishop and Queen of England if she wants to.

The first 2 words that come to mind is ‘spoilt brat’, and you don’t find them just in elite schools. Parents have filed police reports for alleged abuse of their precious ones, whether teachers are giving their kids horrible haircuts or verbal lashings. Cheryl’s case may well set an ugly precedent for overprotective parents with the money to take their case from the police post to the lawyer’s office. Bullying is no laughing matter of course, but being disliked, back-stabbed and ganged up in school also serves as a precursor for what you’ll get in the workplace. Unlike school, you can’t just run crying to your teacher, principal or mummy and daddy when a jealous colleague shreds your documents in the printer room before you get a chance to retrieve them. As stressed out as Cheryl may be, it didn’t torment her as much as actual studies did for others. Students have committed suicide by jumping from buildings in the past. Cheryl jumped ship, and landed herself on a luxury liner.

Well if that’s the kind of parenting that Cheryl’s parents subscribe to, encouraging the mentality that it’s everybody else’s fault that you are unpopular in school and you deserve to be compensated for every little insult to your ego, then so be it at their own ruin. You could send your daughter to a centuries old prestigious castle but she’ll come out a chronic damsel in distress rather than a jouster armed and ready to tackle life’s challenges. Even if the bullying were seriously damaging to your academic prospects and you are the religiously litigious type who doesn’t want to engage school counselors or professional help, there’s something called the Harassment Act, which you can file against the offender directly rather than try to embarrass a bedrock institution known for producing some of the greatest minds the country has ever known. One less rotten apple to mar its reputation then.

Parents sending kids for brain-training

From ‘Parents jump on brain-training wagon in bid to boost concentration and memory in children’, 9 Feb 2015, article by Amelia Teng, ST

Forget maths tuition, swimming lessons or piano classes. Parents are now sending their children for brain training, hoping to improve their concentration and memory skills.

…Some opt for these classes – which can cost more than $100 per session – as they think tuition may not be as effective. Aiming to train motor and processing skills, for instance, the centres use methods such as listening exercises and puzzles, as well as physical activities like catching balls.

…Ms Cheryl Chia, founder of BrainFit Studio, said getting distracted is a common problem. To combat this, children learn to focus and follow instructions. BrainFit has three branches here, two of which were set up in the last five years. Each branch takes in 200 pupils every year.

To cater to the growing interest, it started programmes in the last two years for pre-schoolers and toddlers as young as six months old. These programmes had about 50 and 20 children respectively last year.

At Happy Train, children go through “right-brain training” to speed up information processing skills. The centre has seen more than 400 children sign up, twice as many as seven years ago. Children younger than two years old make up half of its pupils today, compared with 30 to 40 per cent in 2008.

Another centre, People Impact, uses brain training techniques among its methods to boost intellect and social skills. It had over 100 children last year, a 45 per cent jump from the year before.

‘Brain training’ is preparatory class for what would eventually become tuition, and we already have enrichment classes for toddlers. Before you know it, with advancements in brain-fitness ‘neuroscience’, we’ll be training brains of foetuses while they’re still in their amniotic sacs. Maybe pregnant mummies will have to gyrate their bodies in a certain way to the nourishing sounds of Mozart so that their unborn child will exercise the necessary ‘mental muscles’ to prepare them when they’re discharged out of a womb into a chaotic world. You could call this Pre-brain training, priming your child’s rudimentary nervous system with tools based on the latest ‘neuroscientific principles’ when there’s nothing bigger than a budding hypothalamus in that gooey pre-head of his, so that he can develop an ‘intellect’ before he can even climb and descend a playground slide.

Anyone familiar with dystopic sci-fi should be able to see the creepiness of all this. An analogy would be an elite group of human beings with superior intellect and powers plugging newborns into a vat filled with neurochemicals and hormones, their eyes glued to a series of flashing cue cards and images from the history of mankind, subject to constant physical aquatic exercise, so that by the age of 3 years they emerge from their cell ready to devour Shakespeare, form theories of the universe, play tennis blindfolded and attend  a cocktail party without experiencing any social awkwardness at all.

Brainfit Studio is unabashed in giving its programmes titles like Baby Da Vinci, Baby Newton and Baby Einstein, with the notable absence of Baby Michael Jordan, Baby Britney Spears or Baby Lee Kuan Yew. It’s practically giving you a choice to pick the kind of genius and fine physical specimen you want your kid to grow into. Happy Train claims to imbue the powers of PERFECT PITCH and ALPHA-WAVE RELAXATION into their students, which are exactly the kind of properties you would want a docile singing robot to have. Heguru Education wants to take you out of the ‘Friendzone’ and into the INCREDIBLE GENIUS ZONE. And this is how People Impact describes one of their ‘creative sequencing’ courses:

The learning objective for this module is to enhance each student’s ability to recognise, encode, and generate sequences of significant symbols, objects and events, in ways which enhance memory whilst also reducing their cognitive workload. Students will learn to identify and make use of the differences between arbitrary and ‘naturally’ ordered sequences, whilst developing the means to construct time- and energy-efficient hierarchically organised sequence embedding when set-sizes become too large to handle ‘in-the-head’ when relying upon short-term memory alone.

Which sounds like something a theoretical physicist needs to decipher gravitational waves, not kids who’re barely old enough to tell the time. Playing with wooden blocks is not good enough, these guys want you to break codes that would stump Alan Turing. With all this emphasis on ‘right-brain training’, your kid may grow up with a skull that looks exactly like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Einstein never needed a gym instructor for the mind nor an intellect on steroids. Kids these days.

As a parent you could, of course, forget about the prenatal ratrace and only start preparing your kid by buying past years’ PSLE assessment books when they’re Primary 5. You could bring them to the beach instead of a ‘learning lab’, build sandcastles, play catch, hide and seek, climb a tree, challenge to tic-tac-toe in the sand, catch a crab or skip stones.  Or, if you want your kid to grow up into Megamind, you could splurge on a brain-training session so that someone else can play damn ball with him, and not waste time with all this dirt and adventure bullshit.

There’s already a tried and tested, but more importantly, FREE, method available to any parent who wants to see their offspring develop into a human being full of potential with his own personality, not a polished automaton with a bootcamp brain with chill alpha-waves. It’s called PLAY.

Couple having sex in RWS jacuzzi in front of children

From ‘Couple causes stir in Resorts World Sentosa jacuzzi’, 14 Dec 2014, article by Lim Yi Han, Sunday Times

A couple allegedly stripped and had sex in a jacuzzi at Resorts World Sentosa’s Beach Villas last Friday afternoon, in full view of horrified guests. While the jacuzzi was meant only for the couple’s villa, it sat within a larger pool being enjoyed by other guests.

One guest, who wanted to be known only as Madam Lee, told The Sunday Times that she was alerted to the incident when her two children and their two cousins – aged between five and 11 years – noticed that the woman was not wearing anything from waist down. The children were swimming in the pool at the time.

The 41-year-old housewife, who was there with other family members after one of them paid about $1,000 a night for their villa, said she alerted the concierge immediately, and told the children not to look.

“But the couple started having sex in the jacuzzi. It was very obvious, and my mother shouted at them. I quickly ran in to get my phone and snap pictures, and they stopped only when they saw me doing that,” said Madam Lee.

“I would have closed one eye if the kids were not there, but I’m surprised the couple did it even though they were aware there were children around.”

…Those guilty of public nudity can be charged under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, and face up to three months in jail, and a fine of up to $2,000. For committing an obscene act in public, the maximum punishment is three months in jail and a fine.

Embarrassed, curious, shocked, amused, angry perhaps, but the ST chose to describe onlookers as ‘HORRIFIED’. Madam Lee herself admitted that she would have let the horny couple go at it if there were no kids around, though I doubt that would stop voyeurs like her from taking photos either. If there’s anything useful about this complaint it’s that people, not just young innocent children, should avoid private jacuzzis altogether. You never know what remnants of bodily fluids lurk in that bubbling cauldron of sex.

Telling your kids ‘not to look’ is just about the worst parenting advice ever. Children will stumble onto sex inevitably, whether it’s from the Internet, a HDB staircase, void deck, on public transport, even erotic bus ads. A mother determined to shelter her children’s eyes from any activity hinting at public fornication would have to equip them with smart visors 24/7, a gadget that turns your field of vision into a mosaic fog once activated by Mommy’s stern voice, or if the device detects two human bodies connected in a pattern consistent with ‘fondling’.

Better still, hook your 11 year old up with chastity underwear with erection sensors, because once you stop him from staring at people having live sex, his adolescent mind will automatically conjure up fantasy scenarios beyond a wet romp in a hot jacuzzi. Once an arousal is detected, a signal will be transmitted to an app in Mommy’s phone with the notification: ‘Level 5 erection detected’, after which the program will share tips on how to control your kid’s bodily urges, like throwing him into a tub of ice or making him kneel before an altar and confess to some angry deity.

Children should be protected from domestic violence, misogynistic rap songs, bad grammar on public signs and people not clearing trays in hawker centres. An encounter with public sex is an opportunity for realistic, fact-based parenting, not puritanical liturgy; To teach children that people engage in exhibitionist sex because they’ve run out of ideas in the bedroom, that excessive time spent in a jacuzzi is bad for your sperm (after which you can educate him about what sperm is), and that if you ever think of hanky-pankying with your classmate in the void deck, the penalty will be some uptight housewife whipping out her phone (which they only ever use to play Candy Crush), uploading your pic on Stomp, and exposing the precocious, disgraceful pervert that you have become, your life ruined forever.

Tuition in Singapore is a billion-dollar industry

From ‘$1 billion spent on tuition in 1 year’, 9 Nov 2014, article by Theresa Tan, Sunday Times

Singapore’s tuition industry is now worth more than a billion dollars. The latest Household Expenditure Survey found that families spent $1.1 billion a year on tuition – almost double the $650 million spent a decade ago and a third more than the $820 million spent just five years ago.

The Department of Statistics, which polled more than 11,000 households between October 2012 and September last year, released the latest survey in September. The average household spending on tuition rose from $54.70 a month 10 years ago, to $79.90 in the latest survey.

The department told The Sunday Times that along with spending more, there were also more households in the latest study – 1.2 million compared with 993,000 a decade ago.

Some parents are known to pump in almost $6K a month on tuition for their kids. That’s more than what the average household spends on food ($1188/mth), transport($811), clothes/shoes ( $156) and recreation, including holidays, ($292) COMBINED in 2012-2013 (12 interesting trends about Singapore household income and spending, Sep 18, 2014, ST). Now a billion dollar industry that has naturally spawned copycats and scammers,  this amount speaks volumes about how tuition has taken precedence even over some of the bare necessities of life for some Singaporeans. We are no longer just a Tuition Nation. We are tuition JUNKIES.

All this despite PM Lee’s assertion that the PSLE is not the be-all and end-all in 2012, and after the Ministry ceased announcing top scorers in the exam. This year, PM Lee again reiterated that there’s ‘too much tuition’ going on in Singapore, quite the understatement really. In 1981, tuition was already a million-dollar ($52 million) goldmine, with parents spending up to $125 a month. A 2009 survey revealed that 85% of students between 13-19 spend FOUR HOURS per week on tuition, that’s excluding hours spent on CCAs.  The number of tuition/enrichment centres also jumped from 750 in 2012 to 850 this year. And that’s counting only those registered with MOE (Tuition seen as ‘necessity’ for students to do well, 2 Sep 2014, ST), and excluding private tutors.  How many are out there under the Ministry’s radar operating out of a house in Lentor? How many are earning big bucks like millionaire super Physics tutor Phang Yu Hon? ( The other lucrative subjects taught by super-tutors are JC economics, Math and General Paper). If you’re an aspiring tutor aiming to bank on this national addiction, you’ll never get anywhere teaching Geography or, god forbid, Literature.

In fact, there are so many centres business owners have to resort to bad spelling to differentiate themselves, like Beautyful Minds . Some are not even just ‘classrooms’ anymore. We have ‘STUDIOS, HUBS, LABS and MUSEUMS’, and there are centres that even decide the career path of your kids before they complete primary school, like Little Professors. Or those that promise to groom you into a business powerhouse through ‘leadership skills’. Some parents even go out of their way to attend courses themselves on how to get their KIDS to ace the PSLE. You’d be a total disappointment to your tuition-happy parents if you grew up to be a ‘hawker-preneur’, boy.

But it’s not just the traditional subjects (Mandarin, Maths, Physics) that require tuition. We have tuition for pre-school,  tuition for sports, and tuition for ABACUS. I mean, who needs a calculator or a smartphone if you have magic BEADS to perform your daily practical arithmetic, like finding out how much Mommy spends a month sending you to enrichment classes, or counting the number of precious hours of your miserable life slipping away when you could be out there in the sun learning how to ride a bike or knowing what flowers really smell like. Or if you’re the kind who actually begged your parents for tuition, the hours wasted in that useless institution known as SCHOOL.

Fann Wong’s National Day baby named Zed

From ‘It’s baby Zed for Fann Wong and Christopher Lee’, 9 Aug 2014, article in CNA

Baby Zed’s National Day (Aug 9) arrival was announced to the world via social media. A post on Fann Wong’s Instagram account @fannaiaiwong showed off the new addition to her and husband Christopher Lee’s family, with a bib saying “Worth the wait!”

The sex of the child had not been known, until now. Fann’s accompanying message on Instagram said, “Daddy and mummy felt indescribable happiness when we saw you. Our family is now even more complete. 9 August is the best day of our lives!”

Mediacorp celebrities have a tradition of giving their children bizarre names, in the spirit of international superstar choices like ‘North West’, ‘Blue Ivy’ or ‘Shiloh’.   ‘Zed’ is the British pronunciation of the letter ‘Z’, and sounds like the name of a techno DJ, if not an evil planet-raiding robot space lord. Superman’s nemesis is one General ZOD. It could also be short for the Hebrew ‘Zedekiah’, which makes me wonder if the 43 yr old Fann is going through a Madonna Kaballah phase. Maybe the happy couple will name their next kid ‘X’.

Zed, sounding similar to the more earthly Zac or Zack, is far from being the wackiest local celebrity kid name ever. Somehow only males have become victims of this nomenclature madness. If there’s one way to make your teenage kid hate your guts forever, this is it. It also makes your children instantly searchable on Facebook or Google to the benefit of kidnappers or pesky reporters (or, erm, bloggers). So long privacy.

Here’s my rundown of the most unusual celebrity offspring names ever.

8. DASH (Ivy Lee)

The ex-Mediacorp actress named her boy after the lightning-fast superhero kid in the Incredibles. Imagine if you became fat, got enrolled in the army and can’t complete 2 rounds during your IPPT 2.4km run. It’s like calling your kid ‘EINSTEIN’. Never give your baby a name that creates expectations of superhuman abilities. If you insist on something snappy, consider ‘CURT’ or ‘SPIKE’ instead.

7. WAY (Evelyn Tan+Darren Lim)

This doubles up as the Chinese equivalent of ‘HEY’ or ‘OI’ (wei) and an actual name, but gives rise to awkward sentences like ‘Way is on the way’, or ‘No way Way is doing that’. I’d imagine the parents crooning ‘My Way’ while he was an infant. I wouldn’t want to subject my kid to pun overkill. Luckily his surname isn’t ‘Ang’.

6. MAKSONN (Mark Lee)

I’m guessing that this is a cooler version of ‘Mark Junior’ as in ‘Mark’s Son’, and rhymes with ‘Jackson’. It falls under the list of names with ‘unnecessary double consonants’ (like Sherilynn, Vivvian or Alexiss), and sounds like the name of a Japanese otaku store.

5. CALVERT (Hong Huifang+Zheng Geping)

This is what I could call a portmanteau of ‘Calvin’ and ‘Robert’. It sounds like a scientific unit of measurement for how popular a name is, as in this name is 0.5 Calverts. It’s also the kind of name I would imagine an eccentric professor with a polka-dot bowtie would have. Change one vowel, however, and it becomes ‘a drain that diverts water’ (culvert).

4. RITZ and REGENT (Jack Neo)

Named after posh hotels, there was a running joke/rumour that Jack may just name his next kid ‘Raffles’. While there’s something lordly about ‘Regent Neo’, ‘Ritz’ also reminds me of the biscuit namesake. ‘Regis’ may have worked better, though it’s THIS close to just calling the kid ‘PRINCE’, or if your skin is thick enough, ‘EXCELLENCY’.

3. BRAYDEN (Zoe Tay)

Zoe was a pioneer of the ‘Something that rhymes with AY-DEN’ name craze that hit Singapore mums (Jayden, Cayden etc). According to a wiki, Brayden originates from ‘Braden’, Gaelic for ‘Salmon’. I wonder if he’s good at swimming. If I ask a primary school kid today what he thinks a ‘Brayden’ is, he may just guess a collective term for donkeys, as in ‘A brayden of donkeys were grazing on the hill’.

2. KYNASTON (Pan Ling Ling)

A name of surprisingly ancient English origins according to the ‘surname database’ website. The problematic ‘KY’ makes the pronunciation of this ambiguous. ‘KAI-NASTON’ or ‘KEE-NASTON’? Either way, it sounds like something nuclear physicists would name an exotic subatomic particle, or ‘Canesten’, an antifungal cream for the treatment of vaginal candidiasis.

1. BECKHAM (Pan Ling Ling)

The original bizarre celebrity baby name, and another Pan Ling Ling creation, one that made headlines at least 15 years ago. No prizes for guessing who inspired this name. I wonder how many times people ask the kid if he plays football. The only thing worse than calling a kid Beckham is if you use a megastar footballer’s name ENTIRELY as first and middle names. Like David BECKHAM TAN, or LIONEL MESSI CHEW. Today if you name your kid ‘Suarez’, the teachers at childcare may just decide to muzzle him before letting him anywhere near a ball.

Parents doing grassroots work for Primary 1 priority

From ‘Stricter Primary 1 priority rules for grassroots workers’, 12 June 2014, article by Pearl Lee, ST

PARENTS who become grassroots volunteers in the hope of getting priority for their children in the Primary 1 registration exercise will have to serve twice as long as before. They will have to do at least two years of grassroots work, not one, to qualify for the benefit. They will also be restricted to schools in the constituency where they live. Up to now, grassroots leaders could get priority for their children in schools near their homes as well as in the constituencies where they volunteered.

…The scheme qualifies active grassroots volunteers for Phase 2B of the Primary 1 registration exercise, which also includes parents who are school volunteers or have church or clan associations. Earlier phases of the registration are for siblings of current pupils or children of past pupils. About 400 children enrol in primary schools under the active community leaders scheme each year, less than 1 per cent of the Primary 1 cohort, according to a parliamentary reply by the Education Ministry last year.

But long-time grassroots leaders say it is not uncommon to see a surge in the number of people who apply to be community leaders a year before their child is due to register for Primary 1. Lawyer Kenneth Au-Yong, a member of the Ulu Pandan citizens’ consultative committee who is in his 50s, said: “When you have a popular school within the constituency, volunteers will come to you. You don’t have to look for them.” The Ulu Pandan division under the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC has four popular primary schools: Henry Park Primary, Nanyang Primary, Methodist Girls’ School and Raffles Girls’ Primary School.

Mr Au-Yong said he has seen parents dropping out of activities and grassroots meetings once their children start school.

“We should not allow the system to be abused like this’.

When grassroots leader and RC chairman Lawrence Chong was caught fighting for free textbooks and shouting at teenage volunteers in 1995 like an Ugly Singaporean, he defended his right to freebies by saying that ‘grassroots leaders should be given priority’ to the books. In an interview, he said that his breed was ‘hard to come by’ and it would be a slight incentive to people willing to step up to do grassroots duty. He eventually resigned under pressure, but probably still lives in a 4 room flat plus private property till this day.

The benefits of RC affiliations extend down to kindergarten registration as well. Already in 1992, you’d stand a higher chance of scoring a place in your neighbourhood PCF if you’re a PAP grassroots leader living in the ward. Housing is another perk of the job. From 1990-1994, a total of 745 grassroots leaders were given priority allocation for HDB flats. And once you’ve earned the flat, you also get free parking between 7 am and 11pm at HDB carparks within your constituency. Not forgetting the occasional National Day Award. You also stand a higher chance of taking a selfie with PM Lee than the man on the street.

The nature of school and housing incentives for grassroots leaders tends to draw gut-level ire from ordinary folk because of the relative scarcity of these ‘privileges’. If grassroots leaders were given tax breaks, NTUC discounts or free daily entry into the Istana, few would complain. It’s the queue-jumping that gets people crying foul. Aren’t these people supposed to have a flaming ‘passion for servant leadership’? ‘Servants’ don’t go around asking for free kopi, or demand to be first in line for preschool registration, do they? Shouldn’t they be painting banners or holding car doors open for MPs or something? If parents quit their jobs to commit to volunteering full-time in schools for priority placing, we call them kiasu. If a grassroots leader does it, we feel cheated and accuse the PA of breeding a class of selfish bourgeois lackeys who’re in it only to get their kids into branded schools.

Most grassroots workers, PAP or otherwise, serve out of pure goodwill and generally like being around neighbours, have a fetish for organising events, or love meeting new people without personal ambitions of getting ahead in life like the typical kiasu Singaporean. They’re usually not PAP ‘runners’, bodyguards or elite cronies throwing their weight around. But extension of grassroots service alone isn’t going to filter out those with ulterior motives. What’s needed is a more robust screening process and a penalty for those seeking to abuse the system for personal gain, like the public shaming of freeloading black sheep like book-grabbing Lawrence Chong. After all, you may get thrown into jail for lying about where you live when applying for priority placing. Putting on an elaborate act for the sake of tangible benefits for a year or two is just prolonged, inconspicuous lying.

Perhaps the grass is greener as a RC volunteer, only because of all the shit that’s fed into it.

Parents sending kids for ‘sports tuition’

From ‘Sports tuition a growth field’, 13 May 2014, article by Adelene Wong, Today

…Introduced in 2004, the DSA (Direct Schools Admission) scheme provides an alternative avenue for P6 students to gain admission into secondary schools. Under this scheme, participating schools have flexibility to admit students on the basis of their sporting abilities. As a result, an increasing number of primary school students are taking up private coaching in the bid to be better in their sport.

…Schools administrators and sports coaches TODAY spoke to are already warning that this growing trend to take on an extra sports load is becoming a cause of concern and can work to the disadvantage of the student-athletes.

Said Nanyang Primary School athletics coach Lim Chee Min: “The primary schools’ sports scene is not just about kids enjoying their sports anymore … It has evolved into a pressure-cooker situation for some of them. Higher likelihood of injuries and the dulling of a child’s interest in the sport are just some examples I have noticed with students who can be overwhelmed by the amount of training they received.

The DSA may seem like an automatic ‘Wild Card’ selection for kids whose talents lie in sports rather than in their studies, with the intention of expanding the scope of student excellence beyond rote learning for the PSLE. From the Ministry’s perspective it’s a way of pushing for ‘holistic education’, but for years it has appeared to the rest of us that the odds are in favour of those who’re willing to pump in money to improve their child’s chances of success with tuition, for PSLE subjects or otherwise, so much so that they hardly get to see him at all.

As if staying back for CCAs isn’t enough, now there’s supplementary coaching for the very same CCAs that deprive your child from experiencing the rest of the world, a world where you don’t have to be the BEST at everything you do, a world where your worth is determined by your aptitude, compassion and integrity, and not whether you’ve won at least 4 medals over the past 2 years. The worst that could happen is if the kid starts to resent not just the sport that he’s grilled in, but loses his general interest in SCHOOL. Period.

But even with the most severe all-week long specialised coaching with companies like Fabian Williams Coaching Concepts, you still may not get into the school of your choice, because no one controls how schools select their candidates. The criteria for DSA set by some schools are ridiculously stringent, like how a Roman emperor selects a gladiator to be his champion in the arena for the fight to the death. Clearly, your achievements and past years’ report card matter far more than your character, something which the Ministry is gradually losing sight of. I mean, so what if you manage to snare the best high jumper in the nation and win some awards along the way. The kid’s just as likely to end up in a deadbeat office job with a mediocre CV, never doing any backward flipping for the rest of his life. His legacy with the school is a mere plaque on the shelf, a feather in the cap, and that prestige is all that matters.

Here’s a sample of DSA criteria:

Hwa Chong
TWO ROUNDS of DSA. For sports, you’ll have to go through interviews and sports trials, as well as submit your competition results. Good chances for those involved in Wushu, Judo and Squash among a list of others.

Dunman High
Represented school at Zonal or National Level for Softball (girls only), Volleyball, Air Rifle (for girls only). Good results for P5 and p6 Mid-year exams. Talent in Chinese orchestra (including GUZHENG).

SJI
Hockey, sailing, rugby among others. Advantage if you’re a quarter finalist in National Age-Group Individual Championship.

Such schools are not looking for ‘well-rounded’ individuals, they are drafting for their own championship teams. You could be the best baton twirler in your cohort but fail to get into a top school because they don’t have a marching band. There was a time when your fellow Wushu Club members were friends. With the DSA implementation, they’re your goddamn RIVALS.

This is why we’ve never had a reputation for producing creative geniuses. The PSLE, in spite of all the Government’s attempts at downplaying it recently, has either turned us into a tuition-obsessed nation, or physical specimens moulded and coached into performing well at only ONE SPORT. A one-trick pony machine who can sprint like hell but can’t catch a frisbee. Thanks to this overemphasis on CCAs, the line between school and ‘play’ has been blurred.  The DSA-chase also raises the spectre of some extreme scenarios, kids getting early permanent injuries from overdoing their training, kids treating the P5 and P6 Mid-year exams as if they were the PSLE itself hence getting stressed out earlier, or most outrageous of all, doping themselves with performance-enhancers before their DSA trials, like how some take Ritalin for their studies. Maybe Brands Essence of Chicken will capitalise on this and claim benefits in stamina-building in addition to being a brain tonic.

Unless your kid is exactly like the protagonist from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, you can’t go wrong nudging him into Track and Field, which has the widest range of events for him to excel in. Good luck if he insists on joining the Gardening Club, or God forbid, become a LIBRARIAN. How ironic and sad that someone who the most exposure to books in all his primary school years loses out in the DSA to another who happens to be the Eric Clapton of the Guzheng.

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