Monday, February 16, 2009

Grades are not everything - but don't just say it, mean it

American Idol is back and I don't know about you but I love watching all these ordinary people sing their way to stardom (yeah, David Cook!) In the early stage of each season, you have the mass auditions and I'm always fascinated by these deluded weirdos who seem to have crawled out of the woodwork by the thousands to have their shot at fame. What amazes me is that many of these people are not doing this as a joke, they actually believe they are the next Carrie Underwood. I mean, this is Season 8 and I assume they have watched past seasons, yet when Simon sends their dreams crashing down, they are truly shattered like they didn't even consider the possibility that they wouldn't make it to Hollywood.

And then comes the part the producers love: the now-raging, bitter contestant will scream obscenities at the judges, the camera, the show and say something like "The show is a joke! The judges are only interested in looks!" Didn't matter that the reject sounded like a frog with a sore throat.

This reminds me of the many parents I sometimes meet, who say things like "The Singapore system shouldn't just focus on paper qualifications" and "Grades are not everything". Which few will disagree with. And if the parent was someone whose child didn't do so well academically but was encouraged to be a budding artist or to shoot hoops or to build robots, then I'll whole-heartedly endorse that viewpoint.

But I find it difficult to empathise with parents who declare such statements not so much out of personal conviction but vested self-interest. While they slam the over-emphasis on academic pursuits, they ironically try to force the academic route down their kids' throats and every waking hour is spent on school, study and tuition. In the end, akin to the American Idol rejects, they're disgruntled only because their kids have not won the competition.

The danger is, at the end of the day, these parents can't really give an alternative as to what should be considered in place of grades because their kids have devoted so much their time to their studies that they have not developed any other skill or interest. So are these parents saying that schools or employers should take in their kids because... (well, no reason, they just should)? In place of some other child who may have had more success academically or in some other arena?

Here's my take: If you really believe that education should be all-rounded, then practise what you preach. Find ways to help your children identify their passions outside of their studies and help nurture these interests. It doesn't have to be a concrete skill like music or sports, it could even be something like leadership or community service (the desire to serve others is a GREAT gift). Obviously I'm not saying let your child fail exams, but create a healthy balance (our society is probably not as insular as you think, I believe there is room for everyone to make something of themselves). I'm very mindful of what Sir Ken Robinson said - the biggest tragedy that can happen is that in the process of education, our children's true talents are lost (I'm para-phrasing).

Grades are not everything. Of course they're not. But you should be prepared to offer something else in place of them.


Alcovelet said...

This is a highly controversial topic. Kudos to you for taking it on!

I actually empathize with parents who are in this quandary. Maybe they feel they are unable to escape the clutches of the school system, and because they work extra hard to keep up/ahead, they have no spare time to do anything except run on the treadmill?

It's a good reminder therefore, that there are things that can be done, like values to cultivate and (non academic) talents to nurture. I can only hope I remember this when my time comes. And yes, Sir Ken Robinson is always such an inspiration!

monlim said...

Ad: I know it's conversial that's why I can only say things like that in my blog, not in other forums! I understand some parents may feel trapped but sometimes I do think it's unconstructive to just complain and blame the system instead of taking action. I know, always easier said than done but I believe it can be done.

I face the same pressures as many parents in the academic race, esp with Andre's struggles. But I want to be sure that I can nurture his other talents. If I whine too much, just poke me and keep reminding me what I said ok? :D

tjmummy said...

I agree with you!
Both my hubby and I feel strongly about that now, and my hubby says he doesn't even care whether our kids go to University as long as they find something useful to do that they are interested in.

My elder son now says he wants to be a carpenter. :-)

I just hope my hubby will remember what he says couple yrs down the road. I hope we won't be sucked in by the system.

Alcovelet said...

Nolah, Mon, that's why you have all these people reading your blog! The controversial issues are the most interesting!

You have to remember that I say all this as an outsider. My kid is not even in school! Maybe I outwhined myself and took him out ;)!! But perhaps because I'm not part of the system, I feel sympathy for people in it. Not everyone can approach the challenges so positively and be willing to work with it, like you. I'm serious.

I'm really glad you brought the topic up because it can perhaps nudge some parents into thinking about the bigger picture and realizing that there are more opportunities out there than they can perceive.

I once met this Taiwanese executive whose company wanted to send him to Singapore to manage the plant here. He was here with his wife to have a looksee, and finally declined. When I asked him why, he said he was worried his son would not fit in the local school system because the boy was not academically inclined. Staying on in Taiwan, he said, would provide better opportunities because they had the showbiz industry where his son had a shot and was so inclined. That really took me aback! All I can say is, I'm glad Stephanie Sun's parents are as broad minded as they are, or the world would have lost a talent.

monlim said...

TJmummy: It's very easy to get stressed by the system when you're in it cos everyone around you seem to be so focused on the race that you can feel like you're not doing enough to help your kids. But it's great if you have a group of like-minded parents as friends to keep encouraging and reminding each other of the bigger picture. So cool, your son wants to be a carpenter. For the longest time, Andre wanted to be a fire-fighter!

Ad: I know what you mean, if all parents conformed to the system, we wouldn't have Stephanie Sun, designer Ashley Isham, Fandi Ahmad, etc. All these people made it in spite of the system and the system was probably even more rigid back then. I hope more parents see that it is possible to raise talented, happy kids here!

Jo said...

Actually the non-acad part can be pretty stressful too. Just recently when meeting up with a relative, he remarked "better start prepping for DSA"...hubby and I *rolling eyes* - give the child a break, she just started primary school !

Being good academically and also talented in music or a sport is not a rarity nowadays. I have heard the "how important it is to have a head start" advice too many times already.

My husband's the moderating force here - thank goodness ! He constantly reminds me that he didn't learn how to swim till he was 7 but yet turned out to be a school swimmer..."so what's the hurry he says" :)

monlim said...

Jo: It's true, I don't know why everything has to be competitive - whatever happened to learning something for its own sake? Often, I think we parents are the ones that aggravate the problem by fostering this sort of kiasu-ism. We should all just chill a little, I'm sure our kids will be thankful for that!

breve1970 said...

Hi Monica & Adeline

Hannah says she wants to go to Art School not knowing that there's a SOTA now. KC and I will give her our support provided that she is still keen to embark on that route later cos she is only in P2 now. Haha.

But heard SOTA is a rigorous learning environment too:(.

monlim said...

Ann: All the schools here have rigorous learning environments, Sports School too. But I do believe that if they enjoy the main part of it, they're happier to focus on other aspects. Good luck and keep supporting Hannah!

breve1970 said...

Thanks Monica, see you soon!

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