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PSLE matters

Why PSLE matters

I was watching this Korean drama recently, and it moved me not just because of the story or the acting, but because of its insights on motherhood. There were many memorable lines about motherhood, and one of them was this:

“That’s why mothers are so obsessed about their kids’ grades. It’s like their report card (on how they are doing as a mom).”

We’re used to clear, substantive markers all our life that give us feedback on how we’re doing. Growing up, its grades, or winning medals in sports or prizes in competition. When we start work, it’s our pay grade, promotion, or the size of our business.

But when it comes to motherhood? What’s the feedback mechanism that tells you that you’re a good mom? There isn’t a pay scale, salary or bonus that rewards you for all the time and effort you put in. The rewards of motherhood are intangible. And I don’t fault mommies for feeling lost, because they’re so used to being assessed and marked and graded all their lives. All of a sudden, there’s nothing that tells them whether they’re doing a good job, or if they’re even doing the right thing. Rightly or wrongly, they revert to the safe and trusted: a number, a percentage, or a letter that tells them their kid’s doing fine. Our own burden gets passed on to our kids’ shoulders.

It gets even scarier when you get to the top. You’d think that as a result of all that cross-breeding between elite schools, all these elite parents would sit back and be a bit more assured about their kids’ future, right? Wrong. The more successful a parent, the more kiasu they seem to be about their kid’s school grades, like some sort of deep seated worry that they will lose the privileges that their academic success brought them if their child slips. They find new ways to buy themselves advantages. The competition at the top is frightening.

Not too long ago, I registered my kids at a well known kindergarten with a waiting list. I knew the parents of at least half the kids in the list before me–former classmates or schoolmates. (And the one ahead of me, a former schoolmate who jumped the queue quite deceitfully). It made me wonder: what am I sending my kids into? Am I who I am because of the system I came out from? Because of my parents? Because of my own innate ability?

I try to remind myself all the time of the things that really matter, the things that matter so much more than grades: resilience, respect, compassion. But there isn’t a report card for that.

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