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It's not just about PSLE. It's about our society's attitude on Grades

As I trawl through the comments, people were sharing their PSLE scores along with how and what they're doing now. Some are doing well, and some are still finding their way out in life.

Now here's my story.

I grew up in a vicious environment. A vicious environment perpetuated by bitchy relatives who compare my results EVERY SINGLE TIME. I hated them for their endless comparison and in turn berated myself for not being academically smart. They always had something to say or to belittle me. I had a big ego but a meek personality. Whenever I hear them snickering about my results or "consoling" my parents that my results are "okay", I cry.

I was an average student in school. In my primary school, I was streamed into EM2 but was doing okay for most of my subjects, except Maths. I usually top my Chinese, but Chinese was not important. During PSLE, I was hoping for a score of at least 235, so that I could get into a neighbouring girl's school. When my results came out at 208, I cried. Not just because I couldn't get into my dream school, but I knew that I had let my parents down and would get belittled at my relatives again. I cried in school, so much that my classmates had to find my mom and told her that I was crying. I remembered hearing my Chinese teacher telling my mom that results are not everything. He was probably shocked at how sad I was with my results. My mom came and told me "It's okay, you've tried your best". I cried even harder.

Now that I think back, I pity myself for letting the bitchy relatives put me down.

I was just a 12 years old. But at this age, I was already so affected by how others think of me. It wasn't about proving myself to my parents anymore. It was to prove my relatives that I am smart. It was to prove to them so that they could shut their mouth and label me as stupid. I remembered my aunts calling my mom immediately after the results released. One of them even "consoled" me as I was crying over the phone. Honestly, I was more angry that I was talking to her since she was one of the people causing my distress.

As I went on to a neighbourhood secondary school (that was my 6th choice btw), I was labelled by my relatives as "the one who couldn't study". I knew that they'd talk about me behind my back, sometimes openly in dialect, as if I couldn't understand - or maybe they thought that I couldn't understand their adult talks. I also knew that my cousin kept feeding untrue information to her mom to put me down. Even though I did very well in Secondary 1 and 2, topping my class and entering the Triple Science stream, it wasn't enough to shut them up. It was luck, my cousin said.

Unfortunately, I didn't do well in Secondary 3 and 4. I was struggling with my studies as I dislike Sciences. I wanted to get into Triple Science just to prove that I'm smart. I didn't like what I was studying. I preferred humanities and language subjects instead. The relatives knew I didn't do well in Secondary 3 and 4. Again, they started their attacks saying that I should drop my subjects if I can't handle. I hated them, really. I also hated my parents for sharing my results openly with them. I withdraw myself from my family for some time. I didn't want to talk to them. They told my parents that I should enter Poly, because I wouldn't survive JC. People retain in JCs if they can't cope. I knew I had to study hard to get into JC. I had to prove them wrong.

In the end, I've gotten a L1R5 of 8. I cried during the results announcement. This time, it was tears of joy. I did it! Although I didn't get into my dream JC, I got into a middle-tier one (it now takes L1R6 of 6-7 to enter). My cousin was sour. So sour that she didn't talk to me after she knew of my results. She told her mom that I was lucky. When people asked about my L1R5 and hers, she'd lied about hers just so she was more superior. I hated this extended family (even today). 

But I didn't have it good during JC. Perhaps it was because I had no friends who entered the same JC, perhaps it was because I had no help and guidance on JC subjects. I chose subjects which I didn't understand. I was just trying to scrape through 2 years to enter uni. In the end, I did poorly for my A levels. My H2 results were BCC. I cried yet again. The thoughts of being "suan" by my relatives, the thoughts of them saying "see, told you she should enter poly", the thoughts of my cousin laughing at me floated through my mind. When my dad called me as I was in my school hall, my voice was shaking. "Daddy, I did badly." I started crying uncontrollably. My parents would always say "it's ok, as long as you've tried your best". But to me, it was never ok. I worried whether I'd be able to enter the local Us.

It was always during the exam release dates that I hated the sound of the telephone ring. Again, the bitchy relatives called. I shouted at my parents not to share my results with them. They didn't respect that. I remembered the scene where the bitches congregated around my mum, listening to her talking about my grades. I remembered standing from afar, seeing how the bitches looked at me while my mom spoke. I recalled hearing them said, "it's okay. With these grades, she should be able to enter FASS". I wanted to scream. I wanted to tell them to shut their mouths if not I'd slap them. But I clenched my fist and just walked away, tearing. Which part of not sharing my results, does my mom not understand?

Thankfully, I could enter the local Us. My cousin wasn't happy because she couldn't get into the local Us. But she still had to put me down by saying that my course of study has no future. Of course, when I had difficulties finding a job, she sneered that she was right about my course of study.

It was just never ending comparisons with this family. The importance of scoring good grades was perpetuated in my family. The competition, the gossips, and the showing-off. To them, if you don't get good grades, you have no future. I have enough and will not subject my kids to this.

Aside from familial expectations, societal expectations stresses me. There were times where I worried if I'd fail in life. I've never attended top schools. I didn't graduate with a First Class Honours. Thoughts like "oh no, I didn't graduate with FCH. I can't enter top tier companies like Firefly agencies, GIC, Temasek...", "I won't get an interview since I dont have the grades, nor come from RI or HCI", were on my mind when I applied for jobs. My thoughts were fuelled by articles I read, or what people said, that if you don't have good results, you will never be able to join the big companies. There are truths to it though, I've never been called for interviews by these big firms because of my average grades. After all, without any working experiences, grades were what they could base my "capabilities" on. Yes?

And I think this is sad. People judge. The society judges. The emphasis on grades is real. And this extends to adult life.

Our society perpetuates the emphasis on grades with Scholarships. Young students at the age of 17 with excellent A level results could secure government scholarships and be bonded for 4-6 years. These smart chaps usually rise up the ranks quickly. But, how can we assume that these smart chaps could lead the organisation just because they had good grades? How could we give these chaps better opportunities than others just because they are Scholars? I've met these Scholars who are just like you and I. Are they that brilliant? Perhaps, a few, but not all. I've met these Scholars, some of them, with EQs that I gagged at, praying they'll never make it to Management-levels. I've met some who are so difficult to handle, because they pride themselves as cream of the crop and would throw tasks at others so they don't get their hands dirty. I've heard those who are so petty with money and benefits that they question the workings of their salaries and kick up a big fuss about claims processing. If they are so stingy, petty and unkind to the corporate officers, why should these people be promoted to become future leaders?

Who is to say that people who has excellent grades are good workers? Who is to say that people with excellent grades are future leaders who can lead a team and an organisation?

And, who is to say people who fail their PSLE, O Levels, A Levels and didn't make it to University, wouldn't make it in life? In fact, these people, because of the failures they faced, take on more risks than us and could possibly enjoy greater success.

PSLE doesn't determine anything. Neither does your O levels, N levels, poly results, A levels and your class of honours in University.

We create our own paths. 

Now, go tell the world your story.


  1. Thank you for sharing your story. You are successful in your own ways, sometimes these successes are not determined by grades.

  2. I have similar experience as you. I hated the "Aunty" that always bring out her children results and boast how smart they were. I did badly in my primary, secondary and PU (yes, i am a senior citizen). After NS, I took up a profession course and ware awarded twice as top students in Commonwealth. That shut the nasty "Aunty" and other relatives out. I'd say that the problem is with parent does not know how to shut out relatives and friends that brought the topic up. My son was in the same situtation as me (probable is in the gene) and did not do well in school and shine when he left after NS.

    We should not let grades define our children. Some children are late developers. I am glad that I have protected my children from this comparison nightmare.

  3. I have similar experience as you. I hated the "Aunty" that always bring out her children results and boast how smart they were. I did badly in my primary, secondary and PU (yes, i am a senior citizen). After NS, I took up a profession course and ware awarded twice as top students in Commonwealth. That shut the nasty "Aunty" and other relatives out. I'd say that the problem is with parent does not know how to shut out relatives and friends that brought the topic up. My son was in the same situtation as me (probable is in the gene) and did not do well in school and shine when he left after NS.

    We should not let grades define our children. Some children are late developers. I am glad that I have protected my children from this comparison nightmare.

    1. Thanks for your sharing. I wished my parents protected me. To them, such comparisons are okay and normal - people gossip. They dont understand why I get so affected and called me petty. I forgive my parents for these, but I'll never forget about what I've went through.

      Yes, I will protect my children from these.

  4. Hi Cherry,

    Oh shit...tough childhood eh? I think all of us have such comparisons in our life, either like your relatives or with siblings or even some phantom gifted kid of your parent's friends or colleagues. From my job (i'm a tutor), girls usually take it harder, while guys take it too easy. I think society's expectation of females are just higher also, but that's life.

    So, when you have a kid, what would you do differently so that he/she won't suffer what you've been through?

    1. Hi there

      yes, I agree that girls take it harder. My bro doesn't quite give a sh*t about what the relatives say but then again, he is the smart one with 26x PSLE score, IP programme, and on a scholarship now. Anyway, I've always been very sensitive since young, perhaps more so since I felt I was "bullied" or looked down on.

      If I have a kid, I would first stay away from the extended family. I wouldn't create or allow the vicious environment I had. Thankfully, my siblings and I won't compare results and my bf's family is not too concerned about grades. If my kid didn't do well in school, I wouldn't berate them but I'd expect them to at least try their best. If they've no interest in studies, I believe the future allows for vocational skills. I can't share much because I'm not yet a mother, but I hope to at least create a more kind environment for him!

  5. Thank you for sharing your story! As a father of two young kids, I am well aware of the growing concerns about grads, tuition and enrichment classes that would soon be the topic between me and my spouse. I think it is extremely important for parents and caregivers to take a look at education holistically. Other than getting academic qualifications, the school is also an environment to nuture the potential and discover the interests of the students aside from studies.

    While the intention of many parents are good (wanting their kids to have good grades to insure a career), I am afraid they may have to make adjustments to their beliefs. That thinking might serve its purpose 20 years ago but with the advancement of technology and the ever changing business landscape, I often tell my wife how we are falling 2-3 steps behind the economy.

    When I was lecturing in a local Uni, I am shocked that the same subject I took 15 years ago is very much the same as what I am going to teach the students (maybe with more graphics). With ecommerce becoming a big part of globalisation, how can it not be taught and incorporated as a project, I wonder?

    So, I tell my kids to relax in his studies and play hard, discover what he truly likes and not be excessively worried about grades (his friends compare in the centre). Having worked for more than a quarter century, I know that grades may open some doors for a job interview but there are many other avenues as well. It is important for kids to explore creativity, imagination and build healthy self-esteem in the growing up years.

    Depression has hit the world like an epidemic and it is sad that if we allow grades to define who we are - smart, not so smart, etc we are basically short-changing ourselves. Teens suicide rate is increasing because many have no ideas how to cope with it, who to talk to and are pressured from many angles - family, friends, society,etc.

    Life is more than grades and we must acknowledge that and understand that when one door closed, another will be open for us.

    All the best to you !

    1. Hi Mr Chua

      coincidentally, my Chinese teacher in my primary school is Mr Chua too :)

      Anyway, thank you for your sharing too. Regarding "When I was lecturing in a local Uni, I am shocked that the same subject I took 15 years ago is very much the same as what I am going to teach the students (maybe with more graphics).", I truly agree with you and thanks for being aware of what is happening. I honestly question what we learn in Uni, because I don't see much value-add. You know, I could learn so much more things online than in Uni! Sad to say, Uni is just a place for me to get my degree and make friends (which I also dont have many la).

      Your kids are fortunate to have an open-minded father.

      Wishing you good health!


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