I recently read a journal entry of a 13 year-old boy studying in a highly reputable school. He takes 11 subjects, including 3 languages, music electives and an intensive extra curricula activity which demands his time from 7am until 7pm for 2 to 3 times per week. Here in Singapore, studying is pretty much like a full time, or maybe overtime, job. In schools, the primary focus is on how many distinctions you can achieve. There is little room for and attention given to an average student. Everyone, regardless of their backgrounds or make-up, is expected to be an “A” student. And besides, the school principal, who is very much like a corporate CEO, is assessed based on how many academic geniuses he can produce in his school. Conversely, if he fails to do so, it will reflect badly on his performance grading, which will translate to a slower promotion or even none.
The Rat Race
Years ago, the rat race began when a person started working. Today, it begins the moment a child starts to walk. At an age where a child is still an infant, to ensure that he will have an ample head start in life, he will be barraged by multiple enrichment classes from music to sports to phonics, right from the moment when he starts to make sense of the world. Sometimes I wonder if these classes are for the interest of the child or for the parents’ swagger. Such is a fine line separating both intentions.
While being in a rat race in adulthood is almost inevitable, putting a child through one right from the start is unnecessary. A child is a child after all. He plays, has fun with his friends, and runs around outdoors. My childhood days were filled with catching grasshoppers, see-saws, swings, playing by the railway track, which almost all of those were extinct today. I learned life lessons from all these unplanned childhood activites. That is the childhood that I will remember deep in my heart. No one can fathom the consequences if a child is robbed of a normal childhood, although we can guess at the results from the varied news reports these days
An Unorthodox School
Years ago, I had a conversation with the principal of a modern, contemporary school that gives school dropouts a second chance. The school allowed students to dress however they wanted, as long as it was decent. They could color their hair in any color they liked. It is a school different from the rest. It is a school with character. When I first asked him why would he allow his students to do that, his reply was, “We are only young once”.
Yes. We are all only young once. When we have a family and kids, we realise we can never turn back the clock. All our youthful mischief, joy, and play will only be a memory. So what do you want to remember about your childhood? I certainly don’t remember the exams, the late night studies, nor the distinctions or fails I had in school. I remember the fun times I had with friends. I remember playing truant and how I avoided getting caught. I remember the laughter and the tears.
And as we grow old and look back, who cares about the distinctions only? Good grades should be a byproduct of the love you have for learning, which should be something fun, and not forced upon you like a trip to a bootcamp. As if learning isn’t stressful enough in our local education system, consider the additional amount of stress induced for grading in the extra curricula activities.
Learning isn’t fun, and play is just as questionable.
One of the pivotal events of Michael Jackson’s life was his childhood. Or rather a lack of it. He was reportedly forced to train extremely hard to perfect his signature dance moves at a very young age. I do wonder if he actually loved dancing under those harsh conditions imposed by his own father.
But what we do know was his childhood wasn’t like anyone else. He was a man who grew up without knowing what it was like for a child to live. His longing for a lost childhood was reflected in his songs and lifestyle with kids.
Eleven subjects, three languages and intensive extra curricula activity that takes up most of your free time is not much different from a deprived childhood.
Achievements can wait.
You will never have another chance to be young again.
Have you seen our childhood?
It is buried under a need to prove we are the best, or at least better than our neighbors.