Friday, November 1, 2013

Curtains down - the secondary school journey

This evening, I will be attending Lesley-Anne's graduation ceremony for sec 4. This closes the secondary school chapter of her education journey and it's a milestone that I can scarcely believe we've reached. Four years sounds like a long time, yet they seem to have zoomed by.

As most of you would have guessed, Lesley-Anne is in an IP school, meaning that she wouldn't have to take 'O' levels (except for Higher Chinese next week). However, there seems to be some misconception among parents that because IP kids don't have to study for 'O' levels, they have an easier time. I once met a parent who told me he was worried about his daughter in an IP school because he heard that "IP kids spend all their time playing".

I've no idea how that urban legend came about but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I would have welcomed more free time because looking at Lesley-Anne's experience over the past four years, being in IP school is EXHAUSTING.

Let's talk academics first: the school still has three exams a year and numerous class tests, pop quizzes and assignments, most of which are included in the exam scores. Every subject is counted towards your average (unlike for 'O' levels) which essentially means you're expected to be an all-rounder. Promotion to the next level and to the JC section is not automatic. You have to meet a minimum grade average and many students live in fear that they are unable to do so. This leads to mega swotting and mugging almost all year round and especially during the year-end exams. And is typical with all top schools, the standard of exam papers tend to be higher, to the point of ridiculous. Killer papers are not uncommon.

I don't agree with this - I've always thought that the whole point of IP is to remove the focus on exams so that the students can have time to explore other areas. Alas, this is not so. The culture of exams, it seems, is too ingrained in the Singapore psyche to be abolished overnight. Clearly I can't speak for all IP schools but I'm sure Lesley-Anne's is not an exception.

Apart from academics, you have your other activities like CCAs which can demand an equal level of commitment. As I described before, the crazy intensity of band practices (and obsession over SYF medals) actually turned the CCA from love to hate for Lesley-Anne. It's unnecessarily energy-sapping.

But enough of whining. In spite of all these kinks, I do believe that Lesley-Anne's secondary school had more pluses than minuses. I can see that Lesley-Anne has matured significantly in her ability to express her views critically and coherently, and I credit her English and Literature teachers. Independent learning is a huge part of her school's methodology (although at times, it appears to have happened by accident due to poor teaching, lol!) and the skills she has picked up are invaluable. They will serve her well in JC and in life. Taking HCL has also improved her Chinese tremendously, something nobody can deny is an asset.   

Being in the humanities class in sec 3 & 4 was also a real blessing for Lesley-Anne. These are kids who have their own minds and will speak it. They're also not narrow-mindedly competitive over grades and have a whole lot of fun together. In fact, it was this team spirit that got the class voted "Model Class" for 2013. A nice way to end the year.

Even though Lesley-Anne has always struggled with Chinese and Maths, she did very well in the finals in the end. Except for HCL and A Maths where she scored B's, she garnered A's in everything else. In a school where it's common to see a straight A report book, it may not be spectacular results but you know what? We don't care. We're unabashedly proud of this young lady who has such a fantastic work ethic, is incredibly grounded and knows what's important in life.

As a parent, there's nothing else I can ask for.


Anonymous said...

Hi Monica,

I was a student from L-A's secondary school. I went back to school today to meet my ex-teachers and I happened to see you around (:

Secondary school life may have been hectic and exhausting - but it was so enriching. The school culture is fantastic. It's incredibly exciting to be in a school where teachers are (mostly) nurturing and caring and most of all, willing to listen to their students. Throughout my 4 years there, numerous changes were being made to improve the welfare of the students. Not all of them worked well, I reckon, but I appreciate the willingness to change and student-centric approach.

It also helped that learning was truly enjoyable. My English teachers were excellent. They were capable of opening us up to new perspectives and ideas. Lessons were very interactive and thus extremely engaging. I also appreciate the opportunities we've been given to explore beyond the classroom. I loved the overseas trips arranged by the school. It was the right balance of fun and learning!

I must say that the focus on exams, though not removed, is definitely greatly reduced (compared to the other O level schools around). L-A will probably understand better when she gets to JC!

I could go on and on about the positives of this school... Choosing to come to this school is truly one of the best decisions I've made for myself. So I really agreed with your previous post - the one about choosing the right school. This school couldn't be more perfect for me.

However, I find myself really unhappy in JC. I wasn't struggling, but I wasn't thriving either. I found lessons to be a bore. Many teachers were very results-oriented. I studied a lot, but learnt so little! JC just wasn't a good fit for me. So I think it's important to consider the JC affliated to the secondary school when you sign yourself up for IP track.

Then again, maybe the situation is the same in every JC. With only two years before the high-stakes exam, I can't blame the school for wholly focusing on exam content and neglecting holistic education.

Happy Graduation, L-A!!!
Soon you'll find yourself graduating from JC too. I hope you (and Andre!) will continue to enjoy your schooling years (:

- N

monlim said...

N: You saw me and you didn't say hi??

Glad to hear that you enjoyed your sec school days so much! As for JC, perhaps the subjects you took weren't a good fit? Whatever it is, 2 years is a really short time and before you know it, it's time to leave again. What I told L-A is to make the most of the experience. I think she's looking forward to being able to take more humanities subjects.

Thanks for your good wishes and all the best to you too!

Anonymous said...

Hi Monica,

Who wouldn't be proud of a bright, beautiful young lady like LA? She's very pretty in this picture, quite different from the other sweet & demure girl-next-door look when she wears glasses.



monlim said...

Nutella: Thanks a lot! This was taken at her ballet concert so she was all glammed up :)

Anonymous said...

Haha sorry, didn't say hi because I was still talking to my teacher then. Besides, you walked away pretty quickly!

I admit I might be a little biased now that I've graduated. I've more or less forgotten how hard it was to keep up with the demands of homework, projects and CCA... Going back to my alma mater really stirred up a lot of feelings I have for the school. (:

And nope, I took subjects I loved in JC. It was a multitude of little things that made me dislike the school. I felt that there was too strong an emphasis on academic rigour and learning "higher-level" material, which sadly, did not equate to higher educational quality. Granted, this isn't really my JC's problem - it's a problem of our education system. Maybe I'm desiring too much...

Nevertheless, I'm appreciative of all the opportunities I've received in JC. I may not have been inspired academically, but I believe I've grown emotionally.

The JC journey is over for me - I've graduated and A levels are coming in a week or so! I really hope L-A will enjoy her time there - get into a good CCA, sign up for some of the many school trips and events, and forge meaningful relationships with teachers. (: For now, good luck for O level chinese!

- N

monlim said...

N: Alas, I think the over-emphasis on academic rigour is symptomatic of the entire education system. As you said, probably cos the JC knew it only had 2 years (less, actually), it tried to cram as much into the kids as possible.

I think L-A definitely has fond feelings for her alma mater too. There are a few fantastic teachers that she'll remember for a long time to come. Hopefully she'll meet some equally great ones in JC.

All the best for your A levels! Go in with a clear mind, I'm sure you'll do just fine :)

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