So… tomorrow's the big day: You'll be receiving your PSLE results. Are you doing okay? I can’t particularly remember if you were nervous or calm, but based on our track record over the years, I am sure you are currently telling yourself that everything will be okay, que sera sera, and so forth - until you actually see your grades. You're going to wallow in depression for the next 5 days, have a mini existential crisis, consume an unhealthy amount of ice cream, and question everything in your life. If you are hoping our coping mechanisms improve in the next 9 years, I'm sorry: we will eventually gain the ability to demolish a whole tub in one emotional sitting.
Here's the thing, Si Hui. You aren’t going to do very well.
You didn't do terribly. You did enough and you'll get into a decent school and class, and get a decent secondary education. Mom and dad won’t be too happy with your score, of course, and heads up - you're definitely going to feel a bit of a sting when our aunt sends us an annoying SMS asking much we got. The highest score in our year will be a whopping 294 (yeah, I still remember it because, well, c'mon! Was that student even human???). You'll look at all this and you'll wonder what you did wrong. But, hold up. It's not your fault. You did enough, I promise.
Here in the future, there is still a lot of fuss surrounding the PSLE. At 12, we rarely questioned the establishment. We just took it as it was. When we got to Primary Six, we only knew we had to study and do well for the PSLE, because it decided our path of education for the next 10-15 years. Everyone made it seem like the most important thing. That’s what our form teacher told us. That’s what mom and dad told us.
Remeber Mr Lim, our Math teacher? That thing he always did with the practice paper? How he would get everyone in class to stand as he returned our papers in a descending order of marks, only allowing you to sit down when you've been called? Several times, we were amongst the last five standing. We found it horribly embarrassing. We still do.
The PSLE system is currently under a lot of scrutiny now because people are confounded by the notion of assessing 12 year olds to determine the rest of their academic futures. Opinions are flying left and right that it is unreasonable and unfair to subject young developing minds to unbearable stress and high parental expectations, making it seem like a zero sum game that cannot be salvaged once the next four years are decided.
In 2012, MOE will stop announcing the top scorers in each PSLE cohort. In few years’ time, students will also stop getting their PSLE T-scores. In a relatively short span of time, the system will have gone through several overhauls seemingly appearing to be knee-jerk reactions to the rallies calling for educational reform. But sadly, the underlying tension between effort and achievement will STILL remain: kiasu parents continue to grapple with how many more tuition classes they can squeeze into their children's schedules, where to get past year papers to give their kids, and also swarm this online forum to put up T scores when results are released, till it crashes. We will come to realise that changing the route of the rat race solves nothing.
Of course, you won't be thinking about any of this. Your final choice of secondary school is going to be a decision that is 70% mom’s opinion and 30% eh, why not. But -- and I am already proud of you for this -- when you attend your university admissions interview in 7 years’ time and the professor asks you why SMU, you will have an answer. And mind you, it'll be an answer that isn’t solely defined by the personal disappointment you faced during your PSLE, but instead, one that has been built up upon every success and failure you will experience/have experienced in your 19 years.
Tomorrow you might feel like it is the end of the world because you didn’t do as well as you had hoped, or that you have failed to live up to your parents’ expectations. But failure isn’t what happens when you fall: it is what happens when you don’t get back up. So chin up, and go eat some ice cream. The PSLE is but a tiny hill in the larger picture that is your life; there are bigger mountains ahead and you know, and I know, that you are capable of moving them. Onwards and upwards!