Aaron’s school is one of the top schools in Singapore. Students get in either through DSC (Direct School Admission) which is conducted mid-year, through tests and interviews for some, arts and sports for others, or through PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examinations) results at the end of the year based on T-score.
This year, there have been many calls for a change in admission to top secondary school, to prevent breeding of elitism. How is meritocracy related to breeding of elitism? It was reported that rich families have the resource to improve grades through tuition, or coaches for sports through DSA and hence gain admission through top schools.
Recently, Aaron’s principal gave a talk to the parents for its secondary two symposium. The students would be ‘streamed’ next year. When I was in school, we were streamed to either the Arts or Science Streams, with the Science stream requiring a minimum score of 65% average. Some other schools offered commerce or technical streams, which were not offered at my school. Despite being in the science stream where we took Bio, physical science(Physic and Chemistry taught separately but tested as one) and double maths, Chinese literature was compulsory, and I took the additional subject of English Lit.
Nowadays, I understand that this is no longer the case. Students are offered subject modules which they can mix and matched, with a compulsory humanity subject comprising of social science combined either with Lit, History or Geography.
The streaming is more complicated in Aaron’s school. There is the Centre of Excellence comprising of classes focusing on research for maths and science, another for humanities, and one more for Chinese bicultural studies. Admission to the Centre is strictly for the A-students. Then there is the normal integrated program route to A’levels, and finally, unknown to many, classes set aside for O’levels.
At the beginning of secondary two, most students like Aaron(and their parents alike), would aim for one of the courses offered by the Centre of Excellence. By the time the Principal gave us the talk in August, Aaron had already downgraded himself. Some parents though can be in denial, and the principal took pains to persuade parents to be realistic. He did this by categorizing his student body into three types:
1) Highly motivated student – with very high expectation and strive to go into Ivy leagues and aim for scholarships. To them, ‘Work=Life’.
2) Motivated student – High expectation and can be expected to enter good local or UK universities. These students have ‘Work-Life Balance’.
3) Uncertain of Future Plan student – These students ‘Enjoy Life 1st’. Their future after O’levels includes A’levels, IB, Poly etc.
When I saw the slides, which unfortunately I can’t produce here due to copyright, I started to envy parents with category one kids, and finally understood how the top students who were featured annually on local newspapers got there. There were highly motivated kids. Most times, their parents commented during the interviews that they never have to push them. It’s also not surprising that some families produce many scholars, as these parents know how to inculcate motivations in their parenting skill. (Yes, it’s a skill that is taught in many parenting seminar on how to motivate your kids.)
In my last MOOC coursera class with Duke University, we had a module on Labour and Motivation. Motivation can be either intrinsic or extrinsic. A person can be motivated by one, or sum of the following: money+meaning+creation+challenge+ownership+identity+pride. I guess that are some things in the formula that can’t be taught and thus is intrinsic. (I wonder if genes play a part in self-motivation?)
To be able to motivate someone is a skill that is difficult to acquire. Despite attending many classes, I find threatening them easier and achieve faster results. I had also sent the two older boys to the various motivation camps when they were young teens. Despite the huge expenditure, whatever motivation techniques that were taught to them degenerated over time, like, within two weeks.
With the two older boys at the brink of adulthood, it is now up to them to motivate themselves to succeed. I observe that my eldest son is changing. It was after all through him that I am now a Coursera addict. What Chinese termed as 開竅 is what I see as a change in self-motivation factor. Perhaps he has finally taken ownership of his future, and sees it as a meaningful challenge for himself. Now I await, somewhat impatiently, for the other two to follow suit.