jeudi, mars 16, 2006

Fast to Criticise and Slow to Compliment

My form teacher in PLMGSS, the marvelous Mrs Elspeth Smith, once remarked that we, in Singapore, were ''fast to criticise and slow to compliment''.

She said that in the West, exams were often set to allow most students to succeed and in doing so, feel encouraged to do better. In Singapore, standards were usually higher than necessary, so that many would not do well and would be compelled to work (even) harder in order to do (even) better. In other words, one had better be thick-skinned and not be too easily discouraged in Singapore.

Come to think of it, now you know why we are forever criticising our Government. So as to keep them on their toes and keep them performing. Giving them a taste of their own medicine.

Back to my studies, I remember that I was consistently bad in Maths in PL. I knew before I even received my grades that I would get an E and I was never wrong. But without doing anything special, A was the grade I obtained at 'O' Levels (though it was too late, I was too discouraged by then to ever want to do Maths again in my life). In fact, the exams were a complete walkover, I had As everywhere, even my hopeless Chinese harvested a B.

In NJC, while my compatriots slogged away in the library, I spent many happy hours thickening my waistline in the kampung-breeze canteen and trying to avoid the attention of several teachers who were quite stressed out with my ''mediocre'' grades. Apparently they were under a lot of pressure to get their students to perform and tended to pass on the stress to us. Once again, I aced my 'A' Levels obtaining straight Distinctions like 2/3 of NJC's student population, which goes to show that a happy stomach feeds an empty brain just as effectively as hours of freezing in the air-con library.

What I didn't count on in NUS though was the Policy and the Politics. In my year, only 1 out of 6 'A' Level students got into NUS. So the quality of the student population was quite good to start with. And the University had to come up with some weird quota-based grading system that allowed only a certain (meaning very small) percentage of students to obtain an A, for instance. Added to that, you must not get into your HOD's disfavour or like me, because of my Big Mouth, you could get your papers re-marked 3 times until you missed the grade to qualify for Honours (even though my grades in the 2 years before were consistently good). I was informed of this by one of my lecturers who was very scandalised by what she and some of her colleagues had to do. Just when you start to believe that in Singapore we are so clean and upright.

Hey, but there is no one path to success in life. Instead of pushing papers all my life in the Civil Service (as was planned since I was a Scholar), I won a Scholarship from the French Government (merci beaucoup) a year after graduating from NUS, broke bond, packed my bags and left for Paris to study in the prestigious L'Institut d'Études Politiques (Sciences Po) de Paris. Now I can claim to have studied in the same school as Jacques and Bernadette Chirac, not bad, n'est-ce pas?

In spite of my lousy French, I even managed to do my Masters/Post-Masters in the Université de Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, something I have to credit the Singapore Education System with. After all that I've gone through studying in Singapore, everything else elsewhere was a breeze. Only pity was that there was no canteen with Nasi Padang and Char Kuay Teow to while away the time in in Paris. As a matter of fact, when you were a poor student in France, steak-frites in the disgusting Resto-Universitaire were the only thing you could eventually afford and that makes me shudder even now as I think of it.

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