Bad Grades = Failure? No Way!


I’ve missed this cheeky face. 

This week, I read something on BBC’s website that made me pause and ponder — both as an educator and most importantly, as a parent to my son Ayden. 

A Harmony Hill Primary School in Lisburn, Ireland, sent out a very sweet and empowering note to their students, together with the result slips of their post-primary entrance exams.

“The poignant note encouraged them not to feel disheartened if they did not get the news they were hoping for,” wrote BBC. What a lovely way to encourage youngsters. If only our local Primary schools will do something similar for our stressed out PSLE kids (and their parents)! ???

Read it here

This note was especially timely for my family because Ayden, who is now in Primary 2, is feeling very, VERY stressed out in school. He fell sick last week with some sort of viral fever and missed 3 days of school. When he returned, he had 25 pages of Math, on top of more English and Chinese homework, to complete. And of course, there were the weekly Spelling and Tingxie (Chinese spelling) lists to learn in his drug-fuelled, bemuddled state.

Already feeling low from his bout of flu, poor Ayden burst into tears several times as he doggedly tackled his pile of homework. Although his form teacher had kindly extended his deadline by a few days, the weight of all that work was heavy on his thin shoulders. And so, on Friday, his fever returned and he had to miss a day of school again. 

This time, I decided not to ask about the homework he’d missed on Friday. Whatever, it’s just homework. It can wait; my son’s physical (and mental and emotional) health —  that’s more important. 

After all, what is the worst that can happen? Fail his tests for this term if he can’t catch up? Yeah, I’m okay with that. Because really, it just means he failed THAT test, not his entire life.

As a lecturer, I strive to let my students know that what they’ve learned is not necessarily represented by the grades they receive. Some of my most successful students, who are now journalists in newspapers, radio and magazines, did not score straight A’s. 

I admit that I have not always been so ‘carefree’ about Ayden’s education. But the more I teach and the longer I parent my son, the more I have come to realize this — grades are really only just grades. 

Teachers and parents alike MUST help our kids to learn resilience and to know that a C does not mean anything other than the fact that the child did not do well for THAT test — could be due to nervousness, sickness, temporary amnesia etc. That C does not mean anything else; it does not mean you are a failure. 

As a parent, I have learned that the quickest way to break your child’s spirit is to measure his worth according to his grades. I know my son’s worth, his talents, his smartness. He cannot be measured according to Singapore’s education system because quite frankly, despite all the ‘smart kids’ we churn out, they are just smart at studying, not necessarily at learning. 

I want to nurture a son who loves to learn, who is constantly curious. Who is resilient and willing to persevere and look beyond the C’s, and keep trying. Who, while knowing that grades are important, is also able to acknowledge and celebrate his other talents.

It’s not easy NOT to focus on faults — Singaporean parents are especially bad at this hahaha. But, parents and teachers, we have to focus on our kids’ strengths and celebrate their uniqueness. At the end of the day, the straight A’s you scored in primary school mean nothing when you’re an adult who cannot bounce back from failures. 

So I say to all my students and to my son, Ayden:  Learn, enjoy your learning, be curious always. The good grades will come because you are so motivated to learn, not because you memorised stacks of books then promptly forget everything after your exam. Got C’s? That’s okay, as long as your attitude and eagerness to learn is A++++!

Meanwhile, enjoy more of this cheeky face. It sure is good to see that smile again. 


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