Life Beyond Grades
The initiative is led by Tjin Lee, Aarika Lee, Dolores Au, Derek Ong and Charmaine Seah.
They hope other parents can discover and nurture their children’s strengths and talents in a changing economy, where knowledge quickly becomes obsolete, soft skills are key and job disruption, commonplace.
We round up some of the more memorable posts, and what the celebrities and influencers said about their scores.
Andie Chen, actor, host and father of two
“I remember hiding in my room crying for days and having my first round of depression after I got my PSLE results.
“219. These numbers confirms it, I am a useless mediocre human being that will never amount to anything. These 3 numbers etched that conclusion into my mind for years.
“Looking back, those numbers meant nothing, so why the hell are we so focused on it?!
“I want my kids’ childhood to be free and happy. I want them to understand that success comes in many forms and it should not be determined by anyone but yourself.”
Ateeqah Mazlan, social media influencer and mum of one
“I wasn’t the best student or person to handle from the ages of 7-18. I had always known that I didn’t really fit into the system.
“I get laughed at for being good in performing or doing school events or participating in extra school activities but never with my studies. I got so tired of the school trying to fit me in that I started being rebellious in school.
“I’m not saying that you don’t study at all but I think we shouldn’t discredit the things that our children are good at. We are certainly not helping by forcing them to fit into the same mould as others.”
Bella Koh, social media influencer and mum of one
“My parents panicked. They went begging around to try to get me into so-called good schools. I was drilled for hours in my room that day by my mother for a question I couldn’t answer — Why did you fare so badly?
“Somehow I managed to move on in life after this traumatic experience, made it to being the top 3 students in secondary one just to prove to my parents that I am not a failure.
“Today, my parents have changed their mindset about grades seeing how each of us, siblings, had our own little success in our own ways. Well, I was sure them being grade-obsessed during that time could also be an influence from the society.”
Cindy Tan, image stylist and businesswoman, and mum of one
“I remember crying my eyeballs out when I received this PSLE score at a tender age of 12. And with this score, I was channelled to a different stream, deemed to need a longer period to catch up with the rest.
“My strong family values have always aught me this – EXCELLENCE IS NOT ABOUT BEING THE BEST, BUT DOING YOUR BEST. It is with this in mind that I gave my very best and found myself to be one of the top 3 in my first year and upgraded to the Express stream the next year.
“I went on to complete my education, subsequently held a promising career with our national carrier for close to 2 decades, before moving on to embark on a self-upgrade journey with Skills Future. I‘m now a fully-ACTA trained Image Stylist, concurrently holding a Marketing & PR portfolio.”
Claire Jedrek, race car driver
“This PSLE score meant everything to my family, something that hasn’t been spoken about since because of the tough emotional impact we all went through.
“I knew from a young age that my parents would be in limbo about my living situation and in turn theirs if I didn’t make it happen in the Singapore education system. Many don’t know that I was put one year down to catch up to the level of the S’pore education, where in UK I would have already graduated to Sec school.
“It took me 30 years to really know what I wanted to do and that number above played no real part in any of it. If anything it was GRIT towards the task at hand, the will to keep pushing through life that was more important.”
Daniel Ong, entrepreneur and father of one
“This was my PSLE score. Imagine if I let that number define who I was. The stigma of a bad grade, or if I just gave up and let life trample over me.
“Both me and Jaime have always known from the start that a number is but a number, and have always stressed to @thisisreneeong that as long as she’s tried her best, that’s all that matters.
“Instead I try to teach Renee about work ethic, resilience, curiosity, discovery, negotiation skills and problem solving. And that these skills that don’t have a grade attached to them will lead her to greater heights and a successful and fulfilling life.
“I’m thankful that she’s doing great in school, not coz of us pushing her in any way … but of her own character of wanting to achieve more and doing well coz learning is fun!”
Elaine Kim, doctor and entrepreneur
“I did well in my PSLE. And yet, while there’s much to appreciate about Singapore’s schools, our current education system and culture is not what I want for my own children, or think is right for the future of our society.
“Yes it is good to reward academic excellence but as a society we must recognize that there is MORE THAN ONE PATH TO SUCCESS.
“This is especially true in light of a changing world, where over 50% of the jobs available to the next generation do not even exist today. The skills our children need in the future are soft skills – curiosity, creativity, grit, communication skills, empathy. Our education system should reflect this.”
Elim Chew, entrepreneur
“When I received my first F in report book at Primary 4, maybe it set my vision for the future!
“I went into (F)ashion 77th Street, (F)ood – I’m kim korean BBQ and GoroGoro Steamboat and (F)astFast delivery service for your errands and (F)ilming – Elim Chew TV Changemakers series!
“Even with an F in my report card, I worked hard and gained as much experience as I could, so that when opportunities came knocking, I was ready for it.
“Nothing stops us from learning from school of hard knocks! I enjoy doing things and learning from the experience, which is why I spend so much time volunteering in as many activities and organisations as I can. This is how I gained the most experience.”
Jamie Yeo, host, DJ and actress, and mum of two
“Sure, I might have done well but many hours of play were sacrificed for it. The score and the sec school I went to didn’t really matter. I had to move to America at the end of the Sec 1 year and that’s where my real education began.
“Going to school there taught me the confidence to speak up and be heard. We were taught to question everything. Even the occasional racism taught me useful life lessons.
“When I came back to Singapore at age 17, no way was I gonna sit through A-levels. I couldn’t get into university here as my American high school diploma was not recognized, so I happily went to Poly and did Mass Comm.
“And now, I could not be more grateful for the education I received. I see now that everything I do for a living, from presenting in videos and on TV/Radio to emceeing events, has benefited from that very culture of speaking up. There is life beyond grades!”
Janice Koh, Crazy Rich Asian actress and mum
“Today, Lucas starts his PSLE exams with Listening Comprehension. I told him to keep calm and carry on. We love him and all that he is, no matter the outcome of this one exam.
“Last week, we encouraged him to look back with pride at his Primary school experience. He has served on the Prefectorial Board, and been a character and citizenship ambassador. He’s represented his school at floor ball tournaments. He discovered his love for art and drawing. But, most importantly, he has been a kind and loving schoolmate, and has made really great friends.
“These years have been joyful, rewarding and productive, and soon, he will embark on a new stage of life and friendships at a new secondary school. This PSLE exam is no measure of all that he has, and will, achieve.
“We said all this because, sometimes, your kid just needs to hear it. From you.”
Jenny Tay, funeral director and mum of one
“I still vividly remember how upset my school teacher was about me scoring the lowest, when I’m in the top class in school.
“I’m thankful that my parents never placed any pressure on me for grades. They focused more on building character as a child. Kindness for all was always emphasized. It is that love I have for people and my resilient nature that helped me transform this taboo business.
“In my trade, I’m more sensitive to the impermanence of life so being able to experience a balanced well-lived life is more important to me.
“The best gift I can give to my daughter Skyla is to give her a childhood filled with happiness, love and beautiful experiences to build her into an individual who will not be afraid to chase her dreams and not give in to society expectations.”
Malaque Mahdaly, entrepreneur
“I was crying buckets because I was obsessed with grades. When I looked back, even if I had gotten my dream score of 260, I would still end up doing what I am doing now.
“As I grew older, I discover that my strength and passion are in other areas and that was partly why I took a diploma in culinary after my A levels. It was the best decision ever made.
I believe we should not be putting in additional pressure of what the competitive education system has already started. Yes I want my kids to do well in school but I will never force it on them based on the A’s or F’s.”
(A version of this article first appeared in Young Parents)