Let's talk about the recent JC mergers. I was from Tampines Junior College, Class of 2010. And although I never fully enjoyed my time ...

Does it matter which school you came from?

Let's talk about the recent JC mergers.

I was from Tampines Junior College, Class of 2010. And although I never fully enjoyed my time there, I did feel a tinge of sadness for the fact that a part of my educational track would be erased.

Good ol' times eh.

When I first read the news, it felt like a second blow to me.

Because the first blow was dealt during an earlier batch of school mergers last year. I had lost my secondary school then. And for that, the pain was more acute.

Coming from a school in the heartlands can make you feel quite tiny, especially when you're up against giants who come from the elites. Introductions to new friends at JC and University were intimidating (in fact, it didn't just end there. sometimes that inferiority complex creeps on me at my workplace, too) And to have that school taken away from you, you feel not just tiny.... you feel...... almost non-existent and well just, forgotten.

It's like you're not that important. You're always told you're important (every *cough* school is a good school *cough cough*), but you're not quite that important (relative to other schools). It's like your grandma telling you, hey I cooked your favourite bak chor mee because I love you and you mean the world to me. But hey your brother's better at school and therefore more capable (assumptions *cough*), so yeah I'm adding extra mee pok into his bowl. Well, I may seem bias but I'm not really bias. You'll understand. (yeah i understand ah ma *coughs blood* gees someone please call the ambulance)

While I see the government's point of view - falling birth rates, reallocation of resources, supply and demand - and truly, I always understand why they choose to make certain decisions... I wish they'd communicate their actions a little better. Sometimes, these actions can come off as insensitive, judging by the uproar (which will eventually tide down as they all so often do) and not only that, perpetuate certain negative thinking and labels in our society. It almost reinforces the belief that certain schools aren't as worthy of keeping, in a top-down approach. And it can be quite unhealthy because it seeps from the branches all the way down to the roots.

Logically, I understand that schools with low entry points should be the first to go because high entry points normally reflect good institutions that'd produce students with stellar results. They've more resources and are therefore better equipped and I've heard about some of the courses and seminars my friends from these schools used to organise/attend when they were students. ASEAN conferences, Cultural exchange programmes to China/Europe, Competitive sport meets like swim and athletics meets (like really competitive, not Kindness VS. Respect House kinda sports day event with milo vans ya? i still love you milo van nevertheless). If all these aren't strange sounding to you then you're probably one of the fortunate ones to have had all these while you were at school. Because taking part in these activities helps mould character, talents and skills. It then sets you up for bigger things in life. What's more, the connections you make could take you even further. It's a privilege and not the type that you should be ashamed of. You're lucky and I'm happy that you got that kind of education. I wish I had that kind of education too while growing up.

The stark reality is - that's not what every school offers, and not a typical school experience every kid can claim to have. That's the difference between going to a "good" school and "not-so-good" school.

So if you ask me, I'm not up-in-arms as to why they're taking away my secondary school + jc.

We all know. Nobody needs to say anything... we all know.

Although the argument could go - "why are there more resources channelled to these schools then?" I'm not gonna go down that slippery slope. Because I think that's not really the point. I think we can go bigger than that, and beyond this whole privilege argument.

Instead, I implore people, society, and heck even the government, to not devalue or forget what an education is supposed to mean in the first place. For each and every child, individually. Whether dua pai or not-so-dua pai school, an institution is a lever to a child's education but not the entire means to an end. That a child is not valued solely for the institutions they attend. That they're not any less or better because of the institutions they attend. That even though some institutions don't and can't provide as much resources and accessibility to knowledge than other institutions can, I hope we remember that every school at the end of the day, has the same, fundamental goal -

which is to provide the young a strong foundation.

One that will equip them with skills and knowledge - life lessons as well - throughout the rest of adulthood.

And they shouldn't be judged for the rest of their lives solely on the grades they achieved in those institutions.

Moreover, we often forget that sometimes it's the intangible knowledge that's just as important as theoretical knowledge. Lessons that teach children values like grit, hard work and resilience. Experiences in the form of laughter, joy, and a bit of pain. Sometimes these are knowledge even the most well-equipped school cannot impart and the best teacher cannot teach.... Because they come in the form of play, friendship, and the unlikeliest of ways - mischief. Scoldings, warnings and repeated failures.

It's easy for me to say things like that. And sometimes I find it hard to convince others and even myself to believe in the intangibles too, because there is simply no way of measuring the intangibles. No PSLE, no O/A Levels to tell how much a child has grown from experiences. No one's gonna be given an A grade for learning from past mistakes. How do you measure that? And so we'd rather focus on what's easy to measure and control - and we use them as yardsticks to measure a child's worth.

And just like a cog in a machine, they learn to live up to what's expected of them through these yardsticks. A never-ending cycle trying to meet parental/societal expectations. These days, I reckon the young aren't even trying to meet those expectations. Because they've taken it upon themselves - it's become their own personal mission. It's no longer external - it's internal. And they've forgotten that they're still growing and learning about themselves. They've forgotten to grow in areas and ways nobody expect them to. Forming and forging their own ideas, values and paths.

That's really important.

While I value the intangibles, knowledge in the form of books and subjects like Science, Math, History and Literature should not be forgone or discounted. They are and have always been important. For what is a lawyer who knows not the rule of the land. For what is a doctor who knows not what drugs to prescribe to his patient. For what is a scientist who knows not what chemicals to create a reaction. What I'm trying to say is knowledge comes in various forms and can be attained in varied ways. Some different from others - a little faster, a little slower, maybe even a little quirkier.

We grow in our own ways, and at our own pace. Whoever we so choose to be, wherever it may be.

It's difficult to change the system - it'll remain this way for a long time. But I think mindsets are easier to change... and that's the first step. I hope people at least remember what's important at the end of the day.


Before I end this post, I'll share with you a touching session I had with the last batch of Coral Secondary School students last year. I never wrote about it, because I never found the right moment to.

I remember writing to the school that I was saddened to hear of its merger, and that if there was any way I could contribute to my alma mater, I would be more than glad to. I got a reply from my former Physics teacher, Mr Ong Wei Jin, who is now heading the student affairs department I believe. He said he'd be glad if I could give a sharing session in the form of a little motivational speech for the Secondary Four/Five students heading for their O/N Levels in October. I thought well yeah, sure.

Over the few months, I scratched my head trying to think of a theme. What should I say to them? I knew that by the time I delivered my speech, it'd be a little too late for last minute cramming. So I decided to be a bit more forward thinking.

And so the time came for me to deliver my speech. Right before I went up, Mr Ong said to me, "You have 5 minutes to capture their attention, otherwise, gone, they won't listen to you." Scared me man, but na, I stuck to my guns.

I began my speech and told the audience - a mix of Express, Normal and Normal tech students - "You've got 7 Years". That they may go wherever - the next step could be ITE, JC or Poly. Wherever it is, and however long it may take, if they keep working at it, they'll get to wherever they want to - University or that dream job they've always wanted. I gave them 7 years because it took me that long to get to my dream of becoming a journalist since the age of 15 y/o.

I showed them this picture
If this little munchkin could get to her dream workplace, hell, you can too. Just keep working at it, and it doesn't matter if you're in Coral now, just keep working hard. People may laugh at your school name, but heck lah. And you might not understand why you need to do well in E-maths and A-maths now, why you have to study algebra cos who's going to use algebra in real life? I told them I had those questions too, but you must keep working at it, and every step you take will take you where you need to be. That you may not understand now, but you will eventually. So. just. keep. hustling. And ace that examination.

Do it for yourself, not for anyone else.

I saw it in their eyes. The boys - the ones I thought wouldn't listen to me. The noisy ones who sat at the back of the auditorium, fell silent.

And all it took was just one girl to nod her head, with a look of quiet conviction on her face, to convince me that my job there was done.

The common misconception is that neighbourhood school kids are lazy and stupid. But don't you see? These kids, they have hopes, aspirations and dreams too. They have opinions and valuable ideas to contribute as well. The sad part is they're part of a ruthless education system that doesn't see their worth sometimes. And to prove that they are worthy, they've to join em' to beat em'.

Right now all they need is a chance, from you. And I sure as hell hope they'd take that chance on themselves too.

As for myself?

I will keep hustling.

Even I, succumb to that whole mentality every now and then that I may not be worthy enough because I didn't have such a bright head start. But often, I remind myself that despite the long journey to get here, it's still a long journey ahead.

And in the end, it really doesn't matter.

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Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say that I was very touched by your post as well as the shockingly similar paths we have in common? Were you from coral secondary as well? Because I was from coral secondary, then tampines JC and now in WKW as well. Thank you so much for sharing your story. A lot of times, I still carry that inferiority complex with me, especially being in a highly competitive school filled with peers from top schools. But like you said, we can only keep hustling on.
I hope you are doing well in CNA!
Kevyn Puah

Tan Si Hui said...

Hey Kevyn,

you're absolutely right! I was on the exact same path as you! That's pretty amazing. So rare to find someone from Coral sec too and in wkw. I hope you're having loads of fun too in wkw, cos I really enjoyed my time there :) Keep hustling alright, and never NEVER think you're lesser than the rest in the school ok. You are just as bright and precious as everyone else there.

Thanks for asking bout me in CNA, I'm doing good :)

Catch ya sometime!

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