Thursday, January 31, 2008

Furore, Choices, and Appeals

There was a spate of reports a few weeks back on the principal who advised her students to opt for ITE instead of attempting the 'O' Levels.

I have many questions and comments on so many levels that I find it hard to get my thoughts organized.

I often had this to say to students whenever they complain I'm demoralizing them with information about their results for a particular assessment. I just grin and say, "I would be delighted to be proven wrong, so please work hard." Most of the time, it doesn't happen. The principal was being honest, but the delivery could be a lot better. But note: crud dressed up and drenched in perfume is still crud. The delivery doesn't change the facts. The principal has to be very honest and say: this is what your seniors have gotten. Sure, there is a possibility that all of you will do well for the Os, but it's not a probable outcome. Some of you will get a pass, but a fair lot of you will fail, and many will fail badly.

It's just like saying that all of my body's molecules will move upwards at the same time. Strictly speaking, it's possible, but the chances of that happening are infinitesimally small, and hence not probable at all. Sure, there're lies, damn lies, and statistics, but used properly, statistics are just so devilishly useful...

Same thing for the 'N' level students going for the Os. There's a reason why they're in the N levels in the first place. And I would note that if the principal didn't tell them, the parents would complain when their oh-so-precious children get their (horrible) results and complain to the public: the principal didn't warn us! Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

In the very end, it's a free society: you make your choices, you follow them, and you don't complain when the results are not what you expect. You deal with it, and move on.

I should know, I've had my fair share of wrong(in hindsight) choices. The biggest one was probably not choosing Raffles Institution as my first choice secondary school after my PSLE when my score was just enough to get me in. I was scared of the financial burden on my family... only to realize I would have been subsidized. It turns out I qualified for the Gifted Programme, and would have gone to RI paying normal school fees if it had been my choice. Up till today, I'm still kicking myself over that decision. How would my life have turned out?

That said, even students who'd done well (qualified for JC) for their 'O' Levels have their own problems to grapple with. I remember every year the throngs of students desperate to get into SAJC, clutching their CCA records and certificates as though precious treasures that'll bring them to the promised land, walking into the General Office and sending the whole package into our files, where no teacher bothers to look at it when they have no discernible skill to offer the school. Leadership? Uniformed group? Clubs and societies? Pfffftttt... NOBODY looks at those files!

I'm quite pissed at teachers in the Secondary Schools, where they simply did not give students the full picture of the implications of CCA and their futures. The stark and brutal truth is that appealing into a JC works only if

a) your L1R5 is more than good enough to get in except that you chose the wrong JC as first choice. This happens to those who choose a top 5 JC, go there, then realize something is very, very wrong... everybody is quite kiasu, and you have to take 4 H2 subjects when you DON'T want to.

b) you have a skill or talent that the JC you're appealing into needs. Trust me, leadership ain't it. Not when you'll already be spending a lot of time catching up on your work to make up for your lack of processor speed, let alone have any time left over for the arduous council matters. Neither is rope tying, marching, nor the ability to polish boots till they shine. I have got nothing against uniformed groups (good preparation for NS for guys, and helpful to get to OCS, BTW), but as appeal vehicles... well, let's say they carry zero weight. That leaves sports and performing arts. For sports, it's pretty obvious. Either you have it, or you don't. For performing arts, if you don't play an instrument, that practically eliminates band and chinese orchestra, or any instrumental ensemble. Dance requires the requisite background, and heck, even the choir requires a good voice and the minimal ability to pitch correctly.

There have been quite a few times in the past three years where students come in for appeals through the choir, obviously desperate because I don't see any hint of musical ability in their appeal applications, come for auditions and recreate scenes from American Idol. Last Saturday wasn't too bad, only had one real assault on our ears.

The choice of CCAs also has consequences for those seeking a scholarship. Very drastic consequences, when grades are so inflated nowadays and everybody has straight As, leaving CCAs to separate the wheat from the chaff.

So here's my advice, for what it's worth.

In secondary school, join whatever you want. For boys, uniformed group is fine... but take the time for a second CCA in either the sports or performing arts if possible. For sports, you might not have the athletic aptitude. If so, pull out, play sports for recreation/fun, but go for a performing arts as a serious CCA.

When you get to JC, continue whatever CCA you had. If you somehow joined only an uniformed group in secondary school, quickly join any performing arts in JC that is willing to accept newbies(often the choir). Doing the above will ensure a very rich and varied CCA record that would look very good.
This is supposed to be gaming blog, so I should update more often. A big thing happening later this year: Paradigm Infinitum is organizing the very first gaming convention in Singapore! And obviously, as the local Btech rep, I'm involved. Planning has already started, and we're already allocated the 1st round of tasks for the local group. Hooray!

Meanwhile, managed to start teaching 3 of my colleagues. 1 is a returning player, and 2 are rookies. Had plenty of fun after school today, especially the Commando and Assassin that both blew up at the same time with ammunition explosions, and the poor Awesome that was pristine everywhere except its right leg...


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