Looking beyond the pain over PSLE

Covid-19 has been tough on this year’s cohort, pointing to further action needed as the children go on to secondary school. Parents too need to consider the broader shifts in education and the lessons they impart their children in their responses to exam setbacks.

This year’s PSLE exposed a chasm between what the majority of this cohort of Primary 6 pupils were prepared for, and what they were ultimately able to do. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Laremy Lee
For The Straits Times

So palpable was the pain from this year’s mathematics primary school leaving examination (PSLE) that it even affected those of us who did not sit the exam.

It prompted my 29-year-old cousin to recount, over WhatsApp, her traumatic experience in 2004, when she sat for her PSLE: “For my cohort, our science PSLE was the toughest. Science was my best subject. But I could neither do the paper nor finish it in time. I was quite shaken and on the verge of breaking down. Our teachers confirmed it was the toughest science paper they had seen in years. So how (this cohort of) pupils must be feeling totally resonates with me.”

(Continue reading the full article here.)

(Published as “Looking beyond the pain over PSLE” on 7 Oct 2015 in The Straits Times.)

The last Teachers’​ Day you’ll ever observe – and how to avoid it

Today is Teachers’ Day in Singapore, a day set aside to appreciate the hard work of caring for young lives and minds.

As educators – both leaders and teachers alike – take the day to rest, recharge and reflect on the good that they do, this thought-provoking question should be contemplated too:

What if this were the last Teachers’ Day you’ll ever observe?

For some, I’m sure it’d be even more reason to celebrate. Yay! they’d cheer. No more pesky parents, needy teachers or annoying students to deal with!

Jokes aside, the feeling for most, especially for those in the prime of their career, would be midway between existential dread and impending doom.

Professional obsolescence is a very real threat in all industries, given accelerating technological developments and an increasingly changing social environment.

Naysayers often add to the anxiety by prophesying how the job of teachers will soon disappear, given advancements in technologies that do the work of imparting knowledge better than teachers can.

To avoid being replaced by robots, educators must not only lead and teach well; they must discharge a duty of care at a level that machines will never be able to match.

First, inspire staff and students to learn and challenge them to grow by connecting with them on a human level.

Let staff and students know and feel they are important, and that each is accountable to their own selves for their achievements.

Next, use imagination and creativity to build environments and craft experiences that foster thoughts, values and actions required for well-rounded learning and growth.

This engages staff and students in a holistic manner, and promotes a sense of belonging to their communities for deeper engagement.

Finally, care for your staff and students in the ways they want to be cared for, in order to forge a culture of excellence.

When staff and students know and feel they are heard, supported and trusted, it creates a virtuous circle of care in the educational ecosystem.

Ultimately, this empowers staff and students to strive to succeed and become the best versions of themselves.

A Happy Teachers’ Day to all educators out there, and here’s to many more to come!

Advice for a younger person

Recently, a young person reached out to me to schedule a video chat about life paths and careers.

I was pretty impressed by a few things:

  1. First, her courage and confidence in networking, especially since neither of us knew the other before this.

    It takes gumption and moxie to do a cold approach in any situation, so kudos to her for breaking the ice.

  2. Second, her creativity and maturity – while she’s on a gap year, she’s been talking to people around the world to learn from them.

    This is precisely what the internet was built for – knowledge and exchange of ideas across boundaries.

  3. Last but not least, her well-crafted questions.

    What she asked gave me much food for thought, in terms of what I’ve learnt thus far, and how someone else might also be able to use that learning to do or be better.

I’m penning down my responses here, partly as a comparison with my responses when I was posed a similar question seven years ago.

And, perhaps, if another opportunity presents itself again, it might be a comparison to what I would say in the future. It’d be interesting to see how my thinking would’ve evolved – or not – at each age or life stage.

  • What advice would you give your younger self?

    When it comes to learning and life, strike a balance between going at it on your own versus getting trusted advice from someone who’s been there and done that.

    On one hand, reinventing the wheel can often be an exercise in futility.

    Having someone reliable with the wisdom of experience to guide you makes the process of learning and development quicker and less painful; you get to avoid any pitfalls while reaping the rewards of success.

    On the other hand, tried-and-tested methods, while safe, may not always lend themselves to creativity and innovation.

    She asked a follow-up question: How do you find that balance? While i had provided an initial response, I’m reworking what I said initially and would like to offer this instead:

    Always gather information first, regardless of whether what you want to do is something others have done before, or something no one has done before.

    You may uncover inputs that are useful, relevant and applicable, in a direct or indirect way.

    Conversely, you may discover information that indicates a need to forge your own path, instead of following a well-trodden one.

    Once you gather sufficient insights, distil them to make decisions on how best to do what it is you want to do.

  • What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt from your career?

    Take care of yourself.

    I don’t mean this in a selfish or self-centred way, such as by placing your own needs before those of others.

    Rather, really carry out self-care in all the different dimensions i.e. physical, mental, emotional, etc.

    When you’re in a good place, you can accomplish almost anything, be it leading yourself or others to greater heights.

    To use the oft-quoted Oxygen Mask Analogy: during turbulent times, putting on our own masks first allows us to help others put on their masks.