Preschool kid made to wear hair clip in front of class

From ‘Pre-school teacher suspended after parent complains about ‘humiliating’ punishment’, 10 July 2016, article by Sanjay Nair and Chew Hui Min, ST

A teacher has been suspended by a pre-school after a parent lodged a public complaint about her behaviour towards his son. A Facebook post by Mr Eric Cheong on Saturday (July 9) accused the teacher at Zoo-phonics School’s Serangoon Central branch, identified as “Ms Theresa”, of making his son stand in front of the class for sporting long hair, and then putting a “girl hair clip” on the boy, “much to the amusement of all the other kids”.

Mr Cheong added that the teacher threatened to repeat the action the next school day if the boy did not cut his hair by then.

…In his post, which has been shared over 1,500 times, Mr Cheong said that a school should be a place where learning is “fun, encouraging and engaging”, and was worried about the psychological impact of the incident on his son.

He wrote: “A simple verbal warning or even standing for a period of time is acceptable. But to humiliate a kid, made to wear a classmate’s hair clip in front of the class, is totally unnecessary and intolerable in a school environment.”

I’m surprised the father of the traumatised kid didn’t lodge a police report. Making a boy wear a girly accessory is terrible for the self-esteem. It’s like forcing him to play with dolls in front of other girls. He may turn out to be a cross-dresser when he grows up, all because a teacher meted out shaming as a punishment for long hair. Quick, send him to a child psychiatrist before he plays with mommy’s lipstick.

With a name like ‘Zoo-phonics’, you wouldn’t imagine that it’s a preschool teaching kids how to pronounce human words. I initially thought it’s a place where you could train your kid to mimic animal sounds so that they can communicate with our bestial brethren like Tarzan. Maybe the kid was just trying to blend in by sporting a mane. But wait a minute, what’s a toddler doing in enrichment in the first place? Isn’t he still a bit too young to get permanent mental trauma, or know what Pink Dot is?

Well, thanks to Mr Cheong’s complaint, someone risks losing her job, and further aggravates the burden on aspiring educators who have to face the wrath of overprotective parents if they believe that the best way to instill discipline in a brat is to make an example of him in front of the rest. ‘Ms Theresa’ didn’t drag the boy around like a rag doll like another abusive teacher did in a high profile case some years back. Dad should count himself lucky that the teacher didn’t cut the boy’s hair herself. Now that you probably need to send in the SWAT team and SCDF too.

Kids used to be taunted for being sissies all the time by other kids, and our parents didn’t come rushing to our rescue back then. Old school parents adopted a ‘serves you right attitude’. Today, they witch-hunt teachers for abusing their darlings. We eventually grew out of the harassment, and if our teachers punished us by shaming, whether it’s throwing chalk at our faces or mocking our masculinity, we learnt to forget and eventually thank them for their tough love. Today, parents are so afraid of kids being emotionally scarred they don’t realise their constant meddling will only do more good than harm in the long run. Ms Theresa was simply preparing the kid, albeit a bit prematurely, for the shit he’ll get in the army, which will be far worse than simply putting on a Hello Kitty hair clip for laughs. Don’t worry kid, if your drill sergeant calls you a ‘gu-niang’ for your long hair, Daddy is there to make sure he gets sent to detention barracks.

By the way, why are fierce teachers always named ‘Theresa’?

 

PM Lee doing a jump shot in Moscow

From ‘Don’t be afraid to make a mistakes: PM Lee in Youth Day Message’, 3 July 2016, article in CNA

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because that’s the beauty of being young,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (Jul 3), in a message to youths on Youth Day.

In a Facebook post, Mr Lee wished the “young and young at heart” a happy Youth Day.

…“Your dreams today can become your passions tomorrow,” he said. “You can experiment, try things out and discover what you can be. The future often looks daunting, but go forth and create your own!”

Mr Lee also posted a photo of him attempting a “jump shot” together with wife Ho Ching, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Transport Josephine Teo and Minister of State for National Development and Trade and Industry Dr Koh Poh Koon.

Lee-p of Faith

Lee-p of Faith

If the beauty of being young is getting to make mistakes, then the beauty of being old is getting to act cute. Our PM is always game for youthful antics, whether it’s jump shots, taking selfies with his Malaysian BFF or inserting emoticons or lols in his Facebook messages, which is like watching your Dad struggling with Whatsapp messages so you could post screenshots on social media as ‘Funny Shit My Dad Says’. Except that clueless Dad doesn’t sue you for defamation. Dr Koh’s leap is the most characteristic of the PAP. It’s how he would pose in a victory rally after being elected MP. PM’s sporty jump, on the other hand, is one good enough to clear a log obstacle in the Spartan Race. He’s been practising, apparently.

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Same jump last year.

And here is more youthful cuteness overload.

Acting Minister of Education Ng Chee Meng shares the same view, that we should encourage our students to have ‘productive failures’. NMP Kuik Shiao-Yin urges us to kill the ‘kiasu/kiasi’ mentality. In Singapore, it’s not business gurus who overstate the usefulness of failure as a skill set and character-building tool, but our politicians, without accompanying them with anecdotes of their own personal failures. Often when politicians or institutions admit mistakes, it would have been already too late. Especially ‘honest mistakes’.

Mistakes can be made by anyone regardless of age, and the younger you are the more you can make out it, and that’s the take-home message that PM Lee wants to spread on Youth Day. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Don’t cry over spilt milk. Stay foolish. A stitch in time saves nine, etc. Yet, there’s also the boy ‘who cried wolf’, a tale of a rascal making the mistake of raising false alarms, and villagers making the fatal mistake of not continuing to listen to him when shit gets real. When the political elite make horrible mistakes for the first time they usually get away with it. The worst that can happen is that they voluntarily resign after being caught with their pants down.  For the rest of us, a fatal mistake can set us back for life, no matter how ‘beautiful’ the act of making it seemed to be.

So, PM Lee, if making mistakes should be encouraged whilst we’re young and foolish, we also expect our old and experienced to be more forgiving when screw-ups happen. If our system of harsh punishment and stigmatisation continues to rear its ugly head at youth who have erred, it’s unlikely that those of us with a tragic burden to bear – a criminal record, a shitty PSLE grade, unemployment because you have a reputation for casually inciting violence on social media or accusing leaders of corruption – would live to do jump shots in our mid 60s like you have. The only jump we want to make but can’t, is the one back in time.

 

Parents setting up social media accounts for babies

From ‘Never too young for social media’, 1 May 2016, article by Venessa Lee, Sunday Times

One-year-old Kallista Choo has several social media accounts, including Instagram, Facebook and Tumblr. When she is old enough to access those accounts herself, she will see herself growing up via the photographs her parents have uploaded over the years.

They set up an Instagram account for her when she was two months old, and then a Facebook page and Tumblr blog.

…On Instagram, Kallista has more than 1,300 followers. Mr Choo says: “We wanted to give her a voice before she could even talk.”

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Kallista Choo, Instagram talking baby, social media darling, is an influencer extraordinaire in the making. While other parents set up bank accounts, enrol their toddlers into modelling classes, or sign them up for cutest baby competitions, our ‘millennial’ parents have created the modern equivalent of the ‘Truman Show’ around their oblivious children.

We know how that movie ended. The protagonist, sick of having his life documented to micro-detail and shown off to the world by a father figure-dictator named Christof, walks out of his manufactured stage, saying ‘Kthxbye’ to surrogate Daddy and his tens of thousands of followers. Today, Harry Truman lives on among our children thanks to their over-enthusiastic, controlling Christofs.

In the neglected recesses of my old house my parents keep an endearing nude pic of me as a baby, among an embarrassment of forgotten memories like me dolled up for a kindergarten play. It’s the kind of stuff you would dig up only once in a while and laugh at the sheer stupidity of it. And that’s all it’s meant to be, as a private family joke, away from prying eyes of kaypoh relatives and pedophiles. Mentioned once or twice and then we move on. If it’s bad enough you will remember it FOREVER. You don’t need Facebook to send you random throwbacks. If they had put me on Instagram, or worse, Tumblr (renown for its porn blogs), with the caption ‘I’M TOO SEXY FOR MY DIAPERS’, for over 1000 buggers to scoff at, my teenage years would have gone beyond pustulant acne, exam stress and thoughts of cutting. I could be picked on at school because the first friends I have on Facebook are my damn parents.

Social media is a rose-tinted filter. You don’t see the likes of Kallista throwing a fit, bawling and giving them hell in the middle of the night. Her parents have presented her to the world as a cute-as-a-button bundle of joy. When the time comes for Mom and Dad to hand over the accounts to their teenage kid, she would have been drilled into believing that ‘I post, therefore I am’. She risks being overdependent on Likes, Facebook Reactions, the opinion of others, affected by ‘Unfollows’, and growing up constantly seeking mass approval, an ingratiating mess. On the flipside, if your kid screws up his life and ends up in the papers some day for felony, people would go ‘OMG that’s @hamsumboiboi! He used to be SOOOO adorable!’ But breeding a narcissistic complex, attention-seeking behaviour, a rebellious streak or generally annoying the heck out of singles or couples trying for kids are probably the least of your worries.

Over-sharing your children’s pics puts their safety on the line. For anyone with ill intentions, your baby photo could end up as a link to a paedo porn site. If some psychopath wants to steal your baby, stalking has never been easier with social media tagging. In the past, if I wanted to kidnap your baby I would have to physically get out of my house and follow you around, peep around corners and even buy a pair of binoculars. Today, all I need to do is log into Instagram from the comfort of my home in my dirty underwear. Grudging baby-haters may cyberbully her before she could even walk. And if you think you own the right to your pictures and they should never be reproduced without permission, think again.

But the absolute shittiest thing you could do to a baby online is Faceswap away whatever dignity’s left in your child. What kind of sick, creepy-ass parent are you, really. I formally disown you, Faceswap Father!

I’m sure parents would have thought all this through and adjusted their privacy settings accordingly. Except that most of us get so excited when our babies express their first sentences or emit farts louder than Grandpa’s that we lose our minds and let our fingers and thumbs take over. I don’t know how many of Kallista’s 1300-odd followers are friends, random admirers, spambots or lurking sickos. I don’t know how many of those would remain loyal followers when the kid grows up to be a boring as hell teen. It’s a good time, nonetheless, to be a child psychologist. My Dad abused me as a baby – by putting his ugly mug over mine for laughs and I haven’t been sleeping well since.

Maybe all this isn’t about the baby at all, but a vanity showcase of ourselves as awesome parents. Some folks have been known to even set up accounts for their unborn foetus. If I insist on documenting the birth of my child from scratch I may post a photo of Mummy’s positive pregnancy test, right down to the graphic details of how I pumped our shared DNA into Mommy’s cervix.  I long for the old days when parents remain as parents and do normal parenting stuff like teaching their kid how to ride a bike so that kids can, well, be kids, and grow up in a world where their development isn’t being constantly hampered by the pressures of being an unwilling Internet celebrity, where a memory doesn’t need to be hashtagged and commented on for it to exist.

 

 

 

Anti-football railings erected in HDB void deck

From ‘Void deck railings to stop ball games’, 25 Feb 2016, article in ST

A set of barriers that caused confusion among residents of a Queenstown Housing Board block when they were installed at its void deck were set up to stop football being played, Tanjong Pagar Town Council clarified yesterday.

Three railings, each around 3.5m long, were erected across the void deck at Block 143 Mei Ling Street last Saturday, leaving residents scratching their heads and wondering what they had been put there for.

One Facebook user posted a photograph of them and wrote: “(This) space, originally filled with so much potential for use and creativity, is now effectively transformed into a dead space.”

The miscreants were told to stop playing football, as it was not allowed in the area, but to no avail. “Upon discussion with (MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Chia Shi-Lu) and the Residents’ Committee (RC), we installed the barricades… to discourage football activities.

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It’s a dark day for humanity when kids playing soccer in a void deck are called MISCREANTS by journos. The guy on the train playing his handphone game at full blast is a miscreant. The couple having a sex tryst in the stairwell are miscreants.  Amos Yee is miscreant extraordinaire. A town council that wastes our money building obstacles to stop fun things from happening, hence destroying a child’s dream of becoming the next Fandi Ahmad, is the worst offender of them all.

Void decks have been romanticised as ‘community spaces’ and people have won photography contests capturing them in all their concrete, uniquely Singaporean glory. These places are where foreign workers eat and sleep, Chinese traditionally mourn and weep, Malays rejoice in matrimony, Indians sell sundries, a home next to home resonant with chapteh memories, the rustle of old hanging magazines at the mama shop, the echoes of neighbours’ greetings, the squawky horns of the karang guni man and, soon to be a thing of the past, the thuds of balls bouncing off the walls. Void decks were designed to break down the walls between us, but now we’re building them up again.

An entry for the Singapore Stories exhibition, by Alphonsus Chern, 2012

Sometimes barriers do more harm than good. We all know of glass doors in shopping malls that shatter over little children. When the LTA built an anti-bicycle deterrent on overhead bridges to persuade cyclists to get off their bikes, somebody crashed into it and became paralysed. Other bicycle barriers built along void decks proved to be an obstacle not just to errant cyclists, but the disabled as well. If you’re wheelchair bound the only railings you want to see are those you can hang on to for dear life, not those placed in a manner that makes traversing a void deck as painful as solving a booby-trapped labyrinth designed by an evil dungeon master who just wants to fuck with your mind.

If your rose garden is invaded by a family of gophers, grow them on a minefield. This is what erecting barricades in a void deck says to you when you’re home after a hard day’s work. You’re not welcome. Keep out. We already deal with metaphoric cages and choke-chains on a daily basis, and now we’re punished with physical, spiritually toxic ones right below our homes. That’s right, with these new fittings the void deck underneath your flat now looks EXACTLY like a GE polling station save for the yellow lines that you’re not supposed to cross. 24/7. Whatever your opinion of void deck football, about how flying balls tend to hit pregnant women smack in the bellies or how the miscreants of the night keep you awake, you have to admit that this idea is balls-out bonkers.

There is already a dismal lack of play spaces to kick a ball around these days, what with people complaining that grass patches are becoming bald because of the sport. Unlike those up there who only know how to build fences when they can’t figure out how to shepherd a flock, kids these days have more creative ways of wriggling their way around the iron clasps of authority, at risk of putting themselves in even greater danger. Put up a fence and I will climb it. Build a wall and I will tag it with graffiti. Obviously the town council hasn’t heard of parkour, or  groin-crushing skateboarding tricks. Worse, they may give up football altogether and turn your void deck into a flying kendama death trap.

But maybe it’s not just kids who will make the most out of these ugly obstacles. We may lose our football, but we may yet become a nation of champion hurdlers, steeple chasers or calisthenic spider-warriors if those barriers could be put to actual use. Alternatively, if you’re not the active type, you could lean around it fantasising about waiting for the bus, while the foreign worker grumbles next to you about having one more damn thing to wipe down.

I Love Children campaign is ‘scaremongering’

From ‘Fertility ads give birth to controversy’, 5 Feb 2016, article by Tan Weizhen, ST

A voluntary welfare group advocating early parenthood has defended an advertising campaign featuring four controversial cartoons.

The ads – which show sperm and eggs in situations such as rowing together in a boat or playing darts – were placed in train stations by I Love Children (ILC) this week, with slogans like “Even the best marksman could miss the target” and “Women are born with a finite number of eggs”.

The group hopes they will encourage people to conceive earlier while they are more fertile, but they have been criticised by some members of the public for being distasteful and insensitive.

Women’s rights group the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) has called the campaign “scaremongering“, saying it might have an emotional impact on women who might be infertile or who have had miscarriages.

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It’s not just married folks without children who’ll be irked by the naggy tone of the ads. Even those with curious kids who’ve seen the ad will have trouble explaining to them what a sperm is and where it comes from, before they start asking you whether those two happy creatures are new Pokemons.

Like all evangelical fertility campaigns, I Love Children only presents a one-sided rosy picture of childbearing, and with it being launched in perfect timing with CNY, it’ll only add more fuel to the fire for those having to face the traditional interrogation by pesky relatives during visiting. This sudden urgency to bump up baby stats is a far cry from the ‘anti-natalist’ movement in the 70’s, where you’re advised to ‘take your time’ before settling down. If you ‘take your time’ these days, you’ll get parents giving you dirty looks assuming you’re a ‘children-hater’. You can ‘take your time’ to choose the right primary school, the right career, the right house, but when it comes to babies, it’s ‘WTF are you waiting for already!’

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From ‘Fertility and the Family:An overview of Pro-natalist Population Policies in Singapore’ Theresa Wong, Branda S.A Yeoh

To be fair, it’s hard to come up with a fertility campaign with the right nuance. Some mild threatening is needed for it to be effective. Like ‘Children – Life would be empty without them’. This would make sense in the 90’s. Today, if you don’t have children of your own, there’s always Netflix and line dancing to fill the gaping void in your otherwise lonely, miserable existence.

In 2013, some NTU students came up with a ‘Singaporean Fairytale’, which featured ‘negative stereotypes’ in the form of a Golden Goose laying eggs, with the terrifying warning that your ‘egg making device may become rusty and old’. Again, the usual scare tactics of that timebomb ticking away in your oven. Time to put a bun in it!

In 2012, Mentos created ‘National Night’, urging you to ‘perform your civic duty’, and tapping your partner’s body like an ‘EZ-link card’. Cringeworthy, but for different reasons.

ILC, you don’t need to tell me what I already know. Jubilee Babies, SG50 baby bonuses, enhanced parental benefits. We already have agents out there, intentionally or unintentionally, promoting procreation for free ALL THE TIME. Not just the Government, parents and kaypoh aunties, but every father mother son who’s ever posted a montage of their bundle of flippin’ joy on Facebook. I’m reminded of putting my sperm to good use everytime I send a Whatsapp message to a friend with his baby as his icon.  If I see a baby dressed like Obi Wan Kenobi, I get the urge to impregnate the nearest womb I see. When I see a mini-series about families with 8 kids it gives me a newfound passion for harem-making.

So there’s no need for pro-lifers to hire graphic designers to draw cartoon sperm and ova rowing a boat, doing pole vaults or doing the Lambada to give us the warm, tingly  ‘AWWWWW..SO CUTE..LET’S HAVE SEX NOW’ moment. In fact, these ads do the exact opposite. Like a badgering aunty telling you so-and-so just had a fourth kid and still got that promotion at work. It saps the romance right out of any form of sexual intercourse, oral, vaginal or otherwise. Unless you people are telling me ‘Screw romance and do it like they do on the Discovery Channel!’

In short, money wasted, which could have been put to better use helping people struggling with kids so badly they resort to giving them up for adoption, accidental teenage mums thinking of throwing their neonates down the rubbish chute, or going into some fund for assisted reproduction for desperate couples. If you Love Children so much, help children that are living NOW, not play bedroom Peeping Tom, matchmaker, and midwife.

This is all we need.

More teenage boys cutting themselves

From ‘Rising trend of self-harm among the young’, 28 Dec 15, article by Amelia Teng, ST

More teenagers are cutting themselves on their arms or legs in an attempt to cope with emotional stress or frustration. The trend of self-harming is also becoming apparent in younger children and in an increasing number of boys, according to new data from the Singapore Children’s Society. Fifty teens reported self-harming last year, up from 44 in 2013 and 36 a decade ago.

The proportion aged 14 and below was 66 per cent in 2013 and 60 per cent last year, compared to 56 per cent in 2005. Last year, 36 per cent of those who injured themselves were boys, up from 28 per cent in 2005.

…Dr Carol Balhetchet, senior director for youth services at the Singapore Children’s Society, said: “The generation today is under a lot more stress to achieve and do well – not just academically but in their social status, peer groups and family units.

“Boys are also subject to the emotional stress and they don’t just channel their energy into physical behaviour like in the past.”

She cited an example of a 12-year-old who cut himself because he did not fare as well as he had hoped for in his Primary School Leaving Examination last year.

The emotional release from the act formerly known as ‘self-mutilation‘ has been compared to a ‘runner’s high’ according to psychiatrist Daniel Fung in 2008. Other experts explain that boys traditionally vent their emotions through ‘sports, drinking or smoking’. So what does Dr Carol imply when our boys don’t ‘channel their energy’ into physical behaviour anymore? Do they live out their killing fantasies stuck at home playing Grand Theft Auto instead of going out into the great outdoors chopping wood, hunting rabbits or climbing trees?

Today, ‘cutting’ has been ‘acronymalised’ as NSSI, or non-suicidal self-injury, and includes other forms of violence such as scratching or burning. Defined as the direct, repetitive, intentional injury of one’s body tissue, without suicidal intent, that is not ‘socially accepted’, NSSI has earned itself an inclusion in the DSM-5, or the official diagnostic handbook on mental disorders. So not only do we have suicidal teens, but we have non-suicidal, self-slashing ones with mental illness as well.

What complicates matters is when some kids do it for fun and to copy their peers because it’s ‘cool’. In the mid noughties, we feared an epidemic of ’emo-influenced’ cutting. A group of 12 year old girls forged a blood pact by cutting themselves in the school toilet. Emo bands like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy and their black eyeliner continue to inspire fashionable melancholy in our teenagers. Today, the one making us cry in anguish is Adele. So perhaps not everything can be blamed on the PSLE. Sometimes it’s the fault of some goth fad that you hope teens eventually grow out of, when the scars on their wrists serve more as a reminder of the foolishness, rather than trophies, of their youth.

With a term as vague as ‘self-harm’, you’d need to list some exclusions. Tattoos and body-piercing, for example, cause extensive tissue damage, but isn’t a sign of madness (according to most people). Nail-biting and scab picking also do not fall under NSSI. If I’m a member of a satanic cult and I have to bite my finger and bleed into a bowl to make a sacrifice, it does not count either. I have this habit of biting or cracking my knuckles when I’m stressed, and poking fat zits and watching the pus ooze out gives me immense pleasure, but nobody’s going to admit me into IMH for self-harming. So technically, if I’m in need of some ‘release’ and get high jabbing the tip of my pinkie with the injector that diabetics use before testing their blood sugar, I would still be deemed as engaging in ‘self-harming’ behaviour because the NSSI doesn’t take into account how much actual pain I experience.

I’m not sure how the term evolved from self-mutilation to self-harm/injury. In early 20th century, ‘self-mutilation’ by cutting your own fingers off was a means of escaping conscription into the army. Or it could refer to you making an offering to a bloodthirsty deity. According to Google’s Ngram, the use of the term started picking up from the early 70’s, peaking just before the turn of the millennium, before dipping, presumably because it was making way for the less violent sounding ‘self-harm’.

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Worse, you could be ‘self-harming’ without actually realising it. Experts call this ‘indirect NSSI’, which entails being involved in abusive relationships, eating disorders, binge drinking and ‘risky or reckless behaviour’. For kids, it could be engaging in parkour and risk jumping to their deaths, deliberately provoking a violent parent and asking for a beating, or fooling around with strangers on the Internet.  In other words, ‘self-destructive’ behaviour.

I believe we all, at some point in our lives, have indulged in some self-destruction to varying degrees, otherwise we would not have lived. Who has not banged on a keyboard, kicked a piece of furniture or tried to impress someone by dashing across the road with a bunch of flowers? If these psychiatric experts had their way, almost anything we do may be a medicalised as a subconscious attempt to self-harm, directly or indirectly. Maybe, as Freddie Mercury of Queen put it, we’re all ‘one card short of a full deck’.

Kiasu parents compiling top PSLE scores online

 

From ‘Parents compile online lists of PSLE top scores’, 30 Nov 2015, article by Calvin Yang, ST

A move to stop revealing the names and scores of top performers at the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) to reduce the emphasis on academic results has not stopped parents from compiling their own lists of top scores.

When primary schools withheld the scores of their high-fliers after the PSLE results were released last Wednesday, some parents went online to assemble unofficial lists of aggregate scores attained by the supposed top pupils in their children’s schools.

They told The Straits Times that these lists give them some indication of whether their children have a shot at getting into “brand name” secondary schools here.

Engineer Daniel Yeo, 44, whose son got his results last week, said: “It is about managing expectations. At the end of the day, we don’t want our child to be disappointed if he can’t get into a particular school.

‘At the end of the day’, when results are out, no parent for all practical purposes, cares if MOE claims that the reason why top and bottom PSLE scores are not disclosed is to ‘align practices with the emphasis on holistic development and all round excellence’. 

Without official announcements from MOE, we now have instead rumour, speculation and questionable ‘crowdsourcing’ on education forums like Kiasu Parents. Now people don’t just make assumptions of what the ‘best’ schools are, but which among these unofficial lists are the ‘worst’. When it comes to the PSLE, there’s no limit to how creative our parents can get, even though ‘creativity’ is not something you’d associate most Singaporean kids with.

As a consolation to those who did not fare so well, the media gets famous people to confess their ‘terrible’ PSLE results to public. Like ex-gangster turned lawyer Josephus Tan’s middling 183 for example. Sometimes happy successful people are where they are now not despite their atrocious PSLE score, but BECAUSE of it. Maybe to get a more ‘holistic’ explanation of why the rest of your life is not determined by a 3-digit number, they should interview not just winners at life but disgraced failures too, people who are obviously very smart and can ace the PSLE with one eye closed, but end up as storybook villains, like folks from a megachurch going to prison for corruption. So you can tell your kid that spending your education in a ‘middle-class’ school doesn’t mean you won’t descend into a life of sin and debauchery.   In any case, you’re still giving undue attention to The Score, which is exactly what MOE does not want.

This isn’t the first time people obsessed with PSLE ranking bypassed the MOE’s gag order. You can also gauge how good a secondary school is by ranking their cut-off scores. Despite not divulging top scorers, schools continue to honour kids who score ‘above 250’, which already tells you that anything less than 250 is mediocre. And then there are braggy-ass parents who insist on telling the world on Facebook how well their children did, which eventually will draw other FB parents into a heated T-score comparison war. My kid went up on stage but yours didn’t. HAHAHA.

Not many parents are willing to groom their children into artists like the Holycrap family. The urge to keep up with the Jones’s is part and parcel of not just the Singaporean but human psyche, so for the rest of us, with perfectly average children with no special talent to exploit, the PSLE is the proverbial trial by fire that allows parents and their kids to express and exaggerate that survival instinct, more so in a potboiler society where high office candidacy is still restricted to degree holders, and children have nothing much to live for other than homework and CCAs.

It’s dog eat dog, winner takes all, and the T-score is the golden snitch, the battle scar, the trophy on the shelf. I don’t care if that guy on stage in the top 1% is a douchebag, his score is an aspiration. And that’s what the PSLE, and the MOE’s futile diversions from it, is doing to us all. We celebrate a top score as if the kid has just won in life, while other kids with non-academic accomplishments like musical or sporting talent are given a brief nod, not a standing ovation. We’re engrossed in the numbers game to the point that we even make PSLE jokes of the PSI when it hits the 290s.

One Jurong West Secondary School principal exposed the hypocrisy behind the dictum ‘every school is a good school‘ by asking how many of our elite actually put their children in neighbourhood schools. Every school will want to distinguish themselves from the rest. Every school has its own tradition of excellence, however you want to define it, in academia or otherwise. That’s all part of the ‘branding’. Even if I say to hell with the PSLE and decide to push my child towards Wushu mastery, I would have to choose carefully. I’d go for one with a track record of winning competitions, just like how a kiasu parent who wants his child to become a rocket scientist would track PSLE scores in addition to how their science team fares in Robot Olympiads.

If the MOE wants every school to be as ‘good’ as the other, then it’ll have to do much more than playing hide and seek with PSLE scores, which desperate parents have the means to sniff out anyway.  It has to come down hard on schools known for their ‘exclusivity’ to a certain class of Singaporeans. It has to do away with this mindset that top dollar gives you top education. It has to review the entire GEP scheme. The top brass should have no shame telling people that their kid is working part time at McDonalds’ to pay for an education in arts or drama. We’d have to find a cure for this tuition epidemic. We’ll need to stop rich people from moving house just to get a better chance at securing the school ‘of their choice’. If we continue to jail parents for lying about their addresses, then the ministry has failed in its mission.

Yet at the same time, we shouldn’t succumb to the ‘Zuckerberg’ myth that results are not important, that you could drop out of school and become a internet multibillionaire. And we shouldn’t bring everyone down to the common denominator like some socialist utopian state. Ultimately, we don’t want to hear if this school is as ‘good’ as that school. What we want is this – It doesn’t matter which school you go to or how well you did. It’s what you made of your education, and who you are that’s most important.

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