What I learned about education

By Hee Yu Quan

GRAPHIC: TEO HSIN WEI

GRAPHIC: TEO HSIN WEI

“Do what you love and love what you do”. It is a maxim I attempt to live by.

It is a concept my 15-year-old self internalised as I grew in the Singapore education system.

My 15-year-old adolescent self would not have agreed on the decision I made as a prepubescent secondary one student to join Wushu as a co-curricular activity. Despite my willingness to explore a new sport, I had little interest in Wushu.

With zero passion, I found myself stuck in a mundane routine of attending trainings that added no value to my life.

Always intrigued by the accurate role creation and talented emotion display of actors, I contemplated a switch of co-curricular activity to explore this area of interest.

A decision to “opt out” of Wushu and join the English Drama Club put me through cycles of negotiation and discussion with the teachers-in-charge.

I succeeded. I tried acting, got the Gold Award for the Singapore Youth Festival, held a sold-out concert and took up the role of the vice-president.

During a parliamentary session, Acting Education Minister Ng Chee Meng commented on the need for students to explore alternative paths of education.

He quipped: “Let’s help our children make good use of their time to branch out to explore other interests and passions and to pursue what they want to do in life.”

Ironically, the education system I went through, which taught me to question the value of things and the importance of intrinsic motivation, caused me to question this very same system. Why do I sit through many hours of classroom learning just for the main purpose of scoring well for examinations?

Growing up, I topped the cohort for Higher Mother Tongue and English Literature at different points of my life, and as a student of the triple science class — studying biology, chemistry and physics — I was academically inclined.

I did well for the GCE “O” Level examination and went on to a reputable junior college.

However, as my maturity grew with life experiences and having learned the importance of doing what you love and loving what you do, I started to question the value of education.

We were made to absorb information so as to regurgitate it in the examination hall. Little emphasis was on personal growth.

As I embarked on my post-secondary education in Victoria Junior College, the rigorous system in place to help me achieve the same end — mere good grades — had me jaded as a student.

Amid the education rat race, personal development has sadly taken a backseat.

I enjoyed the two years in junior college but I chose to “opt out” of the system in place.

I focused on self-development by engaging in school activities and learning opportunities out of school instead of studying religiously. This, however, did not come without repercussion.
Eventually, I graduated as one of the worst-performing students. My grades were not up to par with even the 10th percentile of applicants to most courses.

Fortunately, born a Singaporean son, I had two more years after graduation from Junior College to figure out how to keep up in this education system that is not for me to change.

National Service gave me ample time to reflect. This break from the education system allowed me to ruminate about the purpose of education and figure out how best to reconcile my own views with the education system.

Due to my poor A-level grades and the limited options I had, I was forced to think for my own and on my own.

Throughout this self-reflexive process, I had an epiphany. I decided to accept education as a means to an end but make decisions to help realise that education is an end in itself.

I stuck to the popular choice of studying in the science stream even though I did not like it.

I decided to pursue social science — something that I have vast interest in but have always neglected due to the strong emphasis on science in our education system.

After repeated tries and through discretionary admission to demonstrate my interest in social science, I made it into the School of Humanities and Social Sciences to pursue sociology.

I now enjoy the process of learning a discipline that I am passionate about.

In the process of “opting out” and thinking on my own, I learned the importance of intrinsic motivation for a meaningful life.