Is It Wrong to Expect My Child to Score 100?

With this year’s PSLE in full force around Singapore, here comes a hot topic!

When you have some free time and feel abit hungry, go try this out.  Take two eggs out of your fridge.  Put one in a pot of water and hard-boil it to perfection.  Crack the other into a bowl, beat it up with pepper and salt, and fry it.

OmeletteNow, sit down (don’t eat yet!), and look at them for awhile.  Both were eggs.  Both were cooked on the same stove.  Both are edible now.  But why didn’t the fried egg achieve the perfect roundness and whiteness of the hard-boiled egg?  Why did it get all flattened out and its yolk all mixed up with its white?  Why did it get burn marks on some parts and not on others?

You see, children are the same way.  They are all children (all of them “sugar and spice and everything nice”—especially when they are asleep!).  They all go through the same school system.  But when they are tested for academics, they will all perform at different levels.  They will have different strengths and weaknesses.

Back to the eggs.  (You must be hungry after all this deep thought.) Now, pick up your fork and taste a bite of each.  Which is tastier?  Unless you are a hardboiled eggs person (no offence, but I’m not!), you would agree with me that the omelette, with all it’s imperfections and irregularities, is tastier.

In the same way, you take a child who cannot come out of an exam with 100%, who brings home colourful report cards (just an optimistic way of looking at the red marks, okay), who seems to care not at all for his studies… and you give that child a chance to shine HIS OWN WAY.  He will shine—and brighter than anything your imagination would have dreamed of.  In his own way, despite his seeming lack of intelligence and academic prowess, he will build a life bursting with flavour and colour.  He might not fulfill your dreams, but he will perfectly fulfill what he was made for.  Look for it!

Now, I’ve brought you on a long roundabout journey, but I have presented my case, only in a rather intangible way.  Let me be straightforward and plain now.  So, is it wrong to expect your child to score 100?

Unapologetically, yes.  To expect your child to score 100—or even to score well—is to peg him at an unfair standard.  No one should ever be pitted against a number and told, “Whatever you do, get that number, or else …” (the “…” representing a denial of privileges, punishment, your disapproval, or whatever your child has come to fear as the consequence of not doing well).  Why do we have this mad obsession with numbers?

Teacher Sue, are you saying that children should be allowed to be lazy and careless about their studies?  Of course not.  I never ask for perfection from my students, but every one of them (even the four year olds) know that Teacher Sue expects them to do their best.  And all them come to class each week excited to learn and participate in all the activities we do together in class.  The focus is, “Let me see if I know this stuff… yes I do!”  You can just see the shine of achievement in their eyes when I give them affirmation, “Whew!  You really know these vowels like the back of your hand!  They are useful, aren’t they?”  Do you call this laziness and carelessness?  And yet not once do I talk about the number they get right or wrong; it is immaterial to them.

Now, maybe someone reading this is saying, “Well, you’re talking about a tiger mum approach.  That’s not me; I don’t demand and expect 100%.  I understand my child’s limitations.”  Fair.  I know I was a little bit extreme in my presentation above.  But let me ask you this:  do you get upset if your child brings home a test paper and you find he scored 40%?  Be honest now, do you?

It is a queer thing, but we are so immersed in this score-obsessed culture that we don’t even think about these things, sometimes.  I know what I have said is controversial, and I know it will bring up more questions.  I promise I won’t leave this topic yet, but come back and try to explain where I’m coming from with all these radical ideas… and I believe at the end you’ll understand.

You might not ever do the egg examination I recommended earlier, but I hope the next time you eat an egg, you’ll remember this:  uniformity kills individuality.  Children are not all made from the same stamp.

Thank you for reading!  I know this was a long post!  See you soon!

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