I remember it all too clearly : the early start of the day, sitting in class from 8 o’clock in the morning and staying until 5. Cram, cram, cram. Go home, cram again, same thing the following day. Saturdays and Sundays were no rest. Everywhere, everyone you met would keep reminding you that you are at the biggest crossroad of your life, which let’s face it, hasn’t started yet. Looking back, it seemed like along with my peers, we were getting ready for the slaughterhouse. The main aim : get into the handful of coveted schools. Now, nearly two decades after that ‘life-altering’ event that the CPE allegedly is, I think about it all : about the biggest fears of the time, the dread, the pressure.
On Tuesday, I conveyed best wishes of success to my nephew for his CPE exams. I couldn’t help asking myself this : today, after completing the academic education circuit (if it’s ever completed !), and gone through some of life’s experiences, what would I say to my 11-year-old self about to sit for CPE exams ?
My 11-year old self asks me : does the school make the child ? I answer yes, the school has a big role to play in forming the individual. With teachers who have their vocation and hearts in the right place, with an environment conducive to personal development, the school can shape the individual. But the shaping of the individual is not solely dependent on the school. Parents, activities, friends all have a hand in that. Is there any guarantee that the star schools hold all the ingredients that would make a child a well-rounded individual ? Maybe yes, maybe not, but there is no guarantee.
I would also tell my 11-year old self that one has to make the most of what one is dealt with. You might be disappointed that you did not get into the school of your choice, so what ? You are entering an exciting phase of your life, where new discoveries lie ahead in wait. Forget about the school, make good friends, and pursue your interests. This is the time to forge your individuality, make the most of what you have around you : teachers, friends, and friends’ friends. Life is not limited to academia. Someday you might find yourself side by side in university or at work with your peer who attended a star school. Life is what you make of it ; a star school does not guarantee that you are set for life, certainly not at 11 years of age.
Today, I am a parent. My child is in primary. Yes, I would like him to attend a good school, but I am determined not to let that be the main pursuit of his life. I want him to expand his mind, to find whatever talents he might have. I do not want to pressurize him and have his mind crammed with school stuff. I want him to have his downtime so that when he has to tackle his studies seriously, he can do so without having burnt out. I’d rather have him in a good school, not necessarily a star school, happy, well-rounded than constantly pressured into performing academically. Education in its proper sense is not limited to academics, it encompasses behaviour, tolerance, and many other character traits which cannot be learnt in the books or in the classrooms.
To all students sitting for CPE these days, I wish you all the best. And remember : if you did not get into that star school, don’t worry ; it’s not the end of the world. In fact, brace yourself, a whole new exciting world in opening up. Go and embrace it with open arms.