What's up with Blogger???? This post was up on Thursday 12 May and suddenly, I find it's back in my draft box, unposted. GAAAHHH. To all those who left comments, sorry, I think they've inexplicable disappeared.
Over the past two weeks, I've been trawling the internet for GE news, like thousands of other Singaporeans. One of the blogs I like to visit is Mr Wang Says So. Apart from the fact that he writes insightful political pieces, he's also a terrific writer. By terrific, I mean his writing style is simple but engaging. If I'm not wrong, he's a lawyer working in the financial industry but what captured my attention is that he's also an award-winning poet and a published author.
About a year ago, I was startled to discover that he's the brother of my friend and ex-business partner. My friend is a supremely talented artist so it looks like the creative streak runs in the family. Singapore is a tiny place.
Ok, commercial over. The reason I brought this up was that in the midst of reading Mr Wang's blog, I stumbled across this post on the value of paper qualifications. I love it because it proves what many people like me have suspected for many years - paper qualifications are really not worth that much. The humour is that Mr Wang had to literally lose them to confirm the point.
As he says, when you're young, "the most important purpose of a certificate is to help you get another certificate (for example, the PSLE cert helps you to get the O-level cert which helps you to get the A-level)." After that, certificates are most often needed for employment.
At some point, even this ceases to matter because what's important is how we perform on a job, not a piece of paper. Curiously, that's where I find that people sometimes err - by equating their own value with their certification. When I was still under employment, I sometimes came across individuals who would spout things like, "I have an MBA from ChicagoU." Which would be ok if it wasn't said in a tone that implied I should be impressed by that fact alone.
A paper qualification is a paper qualification. The important thing is what you have learned in the process of acquiring it and how you are applying the knowledge. The fact that you possess it is often irrelevant. Worse, some people actually believe that having that extra certificate means they automatically make better decisions. Trust me, you can have a Harvard degree and still make mistakes that cause organisations to bleed money. (I'm pretty sure the bankers and financial experts involved in the US sub-prime mortgage crisis didn't buy their qualifications from the black market).
I wrote this post because I feel many Singaporeans have become obsessed with grades and paper qualifications. From the time our kids are 12, we push them to conquer every paper hurdle, starting with the PSLE. While these certificates may be important, they shouldn't be life-centric, meaning your kids spend every waking hour performing tasks that help them achieve the next piece of paper. I hear of so many sec 1 kids who, meeting new classmates for the first time, don't ask "what's your name?" but "what's your t-score?"
It is a mindset that continues into adulthood and is easy to spot - the adults who still bring up their 'O' level performance, academic awards or how they scored an 'A' in a subject, in their conversations with you. These are the folks stuck in the paper mode. Their self-worth is embodied in these achievements so they have to constantly remind others of them, even if these events happened some 30 years ago. It's a little sad to see.
Paper qualifications are merely the tools to help us achieve our goals. Realising that these qualifications don't define us also helps us to be less judgmental towards those without. Let's have some perspective.