Saturday, January 19, 2008

Our industry is still getting criticism for someone's poor choice of words in advising some kids about their academic options. Now it's about the tone adopted in conveying the message as being demoralizing, discouraging and disparaging, instead of being encouraging and uplifting. The kids should have been inspired to work harder to achieve their 'O's, they say, not crushed underfoot at the beginning of the year, fresh after their success at the 'N's.

It's a dilemma, really. In our profession, we know that the next level is a tremendous leap from the previous. To paint a rose-tinted picture of what lies ahead for our kids can be misleading, especially if the kids, in their post-challenge euphoric state, choose to hear only the good stuff. To point out frankly the risks, dangers and pitfalls of the road ahead can, as seems to be the case, make the way forward insurmountable. And to try to balance between the two sort of waters down the message, and an unskilled orator will just appear to be babbling contradictory nonsense of the kind I spout all the time.

But, honestly, when taking up a new challenge, we don't usually expect to breeze through it easily. Taking up a new challenge is an informed decision on our part, not simply a matter of process. It takes a struggle and a fight to overcome our latest challenge, and though it would be nice, our previous success seldom adequately prepares us for the task at hand. It's best to know what we're in for rather than just jumping in blindly thinking it'll be no problem. After all, being forewarned is being forearmed.

We learn on the job while we're doing it, not while we're resting on our laurels. And on the job, whatever the job, the reality is that people won't always say what we want to hear. So if we're going to become so easily "shattered" at the first obstacle, say a vocal Supervisor who may be more draconian than inspirational, that's not a very strong indication of our commitment to the cause, is it?

As for the kids affected, I'd say they showed some gumption -- enough to cause a ruckus amidst kopitiam talk about how the education system is going to the pits -- but I'd respect them more if they'd just had enough gumption to determine to prove their advice wrong. Instead of hitting the books, they hit the streets, making a Roman spectacle of their situation. I'm sure that'll help their 'O' level ambitions no end.

The key questions everyone's missing are these:
Are they still enrolled to take the 'O's? If they still are, then their wishes are being respected.
Have they been advised of their options and the consequences of their choice? Evidently. Pretty much the whole newspaper-reading population of S'pore also knows now.
Are they prepared to bear the consequences of their decision? Ah, that's up to them, isn't it?

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