A recent conversation with a fellow parent triggered some thought provoking questions to my mind. We were sharing some tips on primary school admission – her child was 3 years old and mine was a few months short of 2 years. Both of us agreed that a good primary school would have a significant impact on the child’s future and not all schools are made equal – despite what the higher authorities would like us to think. How would you explain that there are primary schools with a lower aggregate cut-off for their affiliated secondary schools? And why are some children given priority to go to their parents’ school because of “alumni ties”? Not fair – right?
Most parents want the best for their children – especially so when we have an alarming low birth rate of average 1-2 children per household in Singapore. It may be true that good grades do not determine a child’s future and that having poor academic achievement does not equate to a life with no future. But without good grades, you are already closing many potential doors in your life. And for all you know, those who did not attain good grades have rich parents or relatives to give them their first pot of gold to start their business ventures – these are all confounders which are not well accounted for.
I did not start out from an elite primary school. It is not an easy route for me to work my way into better schools in the later part of my life. Some people would thrive in what you would call a “big fish in a small pond” kind of environment. But when big fish meets the bigger fishes from the bigger ponds, it is a real culture shock. There seems to be more bigger fishes in the bigger pond. Maybe the bigger pond where they came from have more food for them to eat – that may explain why they are able to thrive so well in a positive environment.
A good school is definitely more than just grades; I would think that it is more of a positive environment which stimulates one’s desire to learn.
If you have a child who is very motivated and disciplined to learn; then you are indeed very lucky. But children being children, they are easily influenced by their peers. A friend once remarked, “If a school with a good environment is not important, why did 孟母三迁? 孟母 is the mother of Mencius – she moved her house 3 times in order to find a good school for her son, Mencius, who did not disappoint her and went on to became a famous philosopher in Chinese history. If a good school is not important, she could have told Mencius; “Such company is bad, do not follow them!” A child spends the best part of their day in a school; if he is not able to discern bad behaviour or negative influence, then he would be in trouble. If the whole class is disruptive, there is very little chance that your child will be quietly reading his book in a corner. Likewise, if the class is highly scholastic, there is a high chance your child will follow to behave in the same way.
The friends and fellow teachers / parents you meet in school are equally important.
We have to admit that many of our best friends in life are found in schools. You are more likely to trust your childhood buddies whom you have known for ages, rather than a random business associate whom you have just gotten to know at a company function. Social networking starts young. In fact, some of the lucky ones will find their life partners in various stages of school. It is also important that fellow teachers and parents share similar values and beliefs as you, so that whatever that is learnt in the school can be reinforced at home.
The problem with affiliation is very real.
It is sad but true that opportunities are not always equal in life. Some kids are blessed to be born into families with alumni ties, or they happen to stay within 1 km radius to a popular school. Some parents have a long standing relationship with a church or clan whose fellow members can write recommendation letters to “endorse” their child’s admission to the school. And some parents have time to work as parent volunteers (in a desperate bid) to try their balloting luck during primary one school admission exercise. It is unlikely that such unequal opportunities were to be taken away because that would drive up property prices as distance to the school would be the one and the key factor that would determine which child goes to which school. If distance is the key, then only the wealthy can afford to buy a house within 1 km distance to a highly desirable school. That could create an even more unequal playing field for all.
Many parents have also forgotten that secondary school affiliation is equally, if not, more important. It is akin to buying insurance for your child in case they didn’t do exceptionally well during PSLE. With this secondary school affiliation advantage, they may still be able to qualify to get into the sister secondary schools at lower aggregate scores. It is almost impossible to predict how well your child may perform in PSLE. Even a gifted child may underperform due to carelessness, sickness or unusual family circumstances. Given all things equal, a child from an affiliated primary school still gets priority to advance to their secondary school.
A school with a positive learning culture is a good stepping stone for children and has the early roles in helping to shape his values, build his character and form his earliest social network. And it could possibly catapult him into a good secondary school because of the affiliation advantage. Don’t you agree?
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