Monday, April 21, 2014

Making the most of JC life

Before Lesley-Anne entered Junior College, she'd heard loads of horror stories about how hectic JC life is, how some kids can barely keep up and find it so stressful compared to secondary school.

Now that she's been in JC for slightly more than 2 months, she can verify that the rumours on workload are all true. She has lessons until 4pm on most days. On CCA days, she reaches home after 9pm, exhausted. There are lecture tests and class tests almost every week, so many that she has lost count. She often has so much homework that she can't finish it at home and has to complete it during free periods in between classes.

But here's the thing: Lesley-Anne LOVES JC life.

I think it's a combination of three factors: subject combination, class and CCA. Lesley-Anne's subject combination came about not without sleepless nights and having to jump through multiple hoops. Already choosing to go to the humanities stream was considered second rate in a crazy system that still values the sciences (unless you're in the special Humanities Programme which Lesley-Anne chose not to try out for because of its over-competitiveness). She wanted to take Literature, English Language and Linguistics (ELL), Geography, and Maths at H1 level. This met with some concern by the school because they felt that taking Lit and ELL would "limit" her options. As the Epigram Books' editor commented, "aren't they the ones limiting her options? She's a writer!"

The school would have preferred her to take the more conventional subject Econs, in place of ELL. Just to give some background, almost everyone in the humanities stream (and many in the science stream) takes Econs as it's considered a "useful" subject and also one that's relatively easier to score in. Econs has a high percentage of A grades at the 'A' levels, while ELL is considered a straight B subject (negligible number of A grades). But Lesley-Anne went for the introductory Econs lectures and she was bored out of her mind (besides being perplexed by many of the concepts).

Even choosing to take Maths at H1 level (in my time, the 'AO' level equivalent) was a controversial choice. Maths at H2 level is one of those subjects that almost everyone takes because it has one of the highest level of A grades. In a cohort where more than 1,000 kids in Lesley-Anne's JC take Maths, only a paltry 26 take Maths at H1 level. And these are mostly the students who didn't meet the qualifying grade (based on sec4 Maths results) to take it at H2. So Lesley-Anne was an exceptional case because she qualified for Maths at H2 but didn't take it. Her reasoning was that to do well in Maths at H2, she would have to put in five times more effort in a subject that she doesn't care about. She would rather dedicate her time and energy to her other subjects.

I agreed with her assessment. I've always found that looking at the percentage of A grades as an indication of whether you would get an A is so flawed. Plus choosing subjects based on what you think you can score in, not based on interest, has always been one of my bugbears about the education system. So at the time when she was going through multiple subject combinations in her head and trying to think about the ramifications of each choice, I told her: forget about trying to chiong with everyone else. JC is 2 years of your life you'll want to remember - choose the subjects you are passionate about and enjoy the experience.

So Lesley-Anne appealed to take ELL, sat for a qualifying test and was selected. Thankfully, the school granted her request to take ELL and Lit together. It's been only about two months and she is enjoying her subjects tremendously. She loves the classes and I think at JC level, the humanities teachers really welcome divergent views, as long as your arguments are cogent. Lesley-Anne loves that the lessons call for critical thinking instead of merely parroting someone else's opinions, as was often the case in secondary school. It's a lot of work but it's interesting work.

The second factor is her classmates. In the beginning of the year, Lesley-Anne was quite apprehensive as to who her classmates would be. In secondary school, she encountered many, for a lack of a better description, what we call "mugger" kids. There's a difference between being hardworking and being a mugger. Hardworking kids understand the importance of diligence and study hard. Mugger kids take this to a whole new level - they consider grades THE most important thing in life, judge others purely by academic results and are myopically competitive. If they get a B grade, they moan and whine that their life is over (whether they really mean it or do it to get attention, it's annoying). So they're always poring over their books and great at regurgitating content but when you have a conversation with them, you often find that there's no depth to their thoughts or views.

I think God really answered Lesley-Anne's prayers for a good class. Her class is a mix of quirky and bright kids, the majority of whom are hardworking but not muggers. They strive to do well but they don't obsess over their grades. Lesley-Anne loves that they challenge her intellectually and constantly broaden her mindset. They have all kinds of interests, from sports to dance to debating, and add so much fun and personality to the class.

Finally, CCA. Over the past couple of years, Lesley-Anne's passion in dance has blossomed. Even though she has completed her Grade 8 in ballet, she wants to continue lessons, just because she loves it. In JC, she really wanted to get into the modern dance CCA but it's extremely competitive as there are limited spaces (mostly taken by kids who had been in the dance CCA in secondary school). So she prayed very hard for this and at the audition, danced her heart out... and was selected. She's one of only four girls who weren't previously in dance CCAs.

In Lesley-Anne's own words, "this completes my JC life." We're very, very grateful that God has been so gracious in answering all her prayers.

I know it's early days yet and we can't tell what will happen. She may end up not doing that well for 'A' levels, for whatever reason. But I've always maintained that the education journey is never solely about grades - it's about the experience and the learning, regardless of the end result. And I know that I've not seen Lesley-Anne this happy and engaged in a long time, so it's all good.


mylilbookworm said...

Glad to hear that she is enjoying her JC life. On life you described about JC, i wonder why I often see many JC students (in their uniform, of course) hanging out in fast food chains or cafes when ammm..... life in JC is supposed to be hectic?

monlim said...

LB: Possibly just chillin' or meeting up for projects? I know the kids like to discuss assignments and then there's also subjects like Project Work which requires the kids to meet up and discuss in groups.

Anonymous said...

JC life sounds scary...


stay-at-home mum said...

I'm such a hands off mother that I didnt realise that doing ELL and lit was not a common combination and you had to jump thru hoops to do it. My girl is doing ELL, Lit, (which she didnt do at secondary level), History and Math all at H2. Being a typical Humanitiess student, you can guess that Math is not quite her forte. I hope she didnt jump thru too many hoops on her own to get where she is now - prepping for her A levels!! We left it pretty much to her to decide her own course of study as we believe the passion for the subjects would spur her on to work for it! Must say she is enjoying it!! (except for math of course!)

monlim said...

SAHM: I think it depends also which JC your dd is in. I know of a JC where taking ELL and Lit is actually a standard combi whereas at L-A's JC, it's considered an odd combi! Only 20+ students in her JC take ELL.

Glad to hear your dd is enjoying her subjects. All the best for her A levels!

Rachel Tan said...

It's great to hear that L-A is enjoying school!

On subject combinations, I think it depends on where and what L-A wishes to study in future. The subject combination is perfectly okay for local universities or for US universities. However, I would be a little more careful if my child would like to study in the UK, where better institutions there still tend to favour three traditional H2 subjects.

Please don't get me wrong, and I am an advocate of pursuing one's interests, but I think kids would also need to understand the implications of some of their decisions, when considering choices. It is impossible for JC teachers to keep up with the college requirements and so they tend to use terms like 'limit options', 'best to take H2 Maths and keep options open' - it's well meaning though it doesn't mean it will always be the best advice to every individual.

monlim said...

Rachel: Absolutely, I know where you're coming from. I think they do need to advise the kids of the implications of each choice (and they did, actually. Eg. we know that to be considered for scholarships, you need the academic units of 4 H2 subjects. So if L-A wants to be in the running, she'll need to take a H3 subject next year to make up for the one H1).

But beyond laying down the info, I do think the schools should let the kids make their own informed choices cos who's to say what's best for each kid. It's something the student needs to decide for himself/herself. I'm glad her JC let her take the ELL + Lit combi in the end cos I think it works for her.

Anonymous said...

Hi Monica,

I just want to say that I am very encouraged by how supportive a mother you are. I am very surprised that you really walk the talk of what you always advocate. We have all seen so many people who advocate something on the surface and do otherwise when it comes to themselves or their children.

Indeed, LA's subject combi is very different from the 'traditional' combi that most JC students take.

LA herself is a very brave young lady who doesn't follow the crowd - much of that must have come from her supportive upbringing.

Thank you for posting this. I have always struggled with giving my daughter free rein in studies and even her interests. This post really makes me sit up and think about how autocratic I have been.

Thanks, Monica!

I was the one who spoke to LA at the arts house :) Was too shy to admit previously.


monlim said...

Patricia: So nice to finally "meet" you! I was curious as to who was the mum who went to the Arts House :)

I do understand how tough it is for parents to let their kids choose their own paths, honest I do. Often, we think it's safer to guide them on the more tried and tested paths, but if you think about it, it's really based on our own insecurities.

I guess for me, it's partly because of my own experience. When I took the route others told me was better, it turned out to be a disaster and it was only when I followed my passions that I did well and found fulfillment. I've also spoken to many parents and young adults and come to the realisation that there are just too many miserable people who made safe choices and regretted it.

It's like those people who slog all their lives cos they think they can enjoy life only when they retire, and missing out all the precious moments with family etc. We should be making the most of every part of our lives, even in school - it's not just a means to an end. Life's really too short to be doing stuff that you dislike. Of course I'm not suggesting we let our kids party all day long! What I'm saying is at every stage, we should seek to find meaning in what we do.

As for L-A, she's very quiet so people think she's this very sweet and obedient girl but actually she's an inward rebel and extremely stubborn, haha. I couldn't make her follow the crowd even if I tried!

I'm glad you find encouragement in this post. All the best to you and your daughter!

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for some years and have always enjoyed your posts especially on education.

Just want to say that I love the photo of you and L-A. You two look so alike. It's a beautiful picture.


stay-at-home mum said...

I discussed LA's subject comb with my daughter and she said that a Lit - ELL combi is quite common for all those taking ELL in her JC. But very few want to take ELL, The reason being many foreign Unis do not accept the ELL grade for admission to Uni because it is still a relatively "new" subject. So with a H1 Math, LA basically only has 2As, which may rule her out for a place in these foreign unis. Just thought I should share this info with you. Of course, if she is considering the local Uni then it is no problem

monlim said...

Maureen: Thanks for reading! And yeah, friends have commented that L-A and I look like. We can't see the resemblance ourselves though :D

SAHM: Yes, it's true that some foreign unis don't recognise ELL but it's becoming more accepted now, similar to subjects like KI. We also have no problem with L-A going to a local uni. But thanks for sharing the info!

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