Letter from a father to his son after the PSLE results
Kelvin Seah // November 28, 2021, 11:11 pm
"As your parents, we’re as over the moon as you are, but not for the usual reasons society might cite," Kelvin writes to his son who collected his PSLE results last week. Photo by Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu on Unsplash.
Congrats on completing your PSLE this year!
As your parents, we’re as over the moon as you are, but not for the usual reasons society might cite.
- “Well done, Son, you conquered the most important test of your life!” (Trust me, it’s not by a long shot.)
- “You topped the class!” (You didn’t.)
- “You can choose the ‘best’ schools in Singapore now.” (You can’t; only those with a single-digit score can, given this year’s new PSLE-scoring system.)
- “We, your parents, will now have boasting rights when meeting nosy relatives and high-society friends.” (We have neither; nor have we ever boasted of academic achievements, though your mum and I once hailed from “top” girl and boy schools)
- “You will be surrounded by the best teachers and schoolmates you will ever find.” (Clearly a claim chockfull of problems.)
- “All those private tutors we hired for you have paid off!” (To date, other than a few Math sessions arranged with your mum’s cousin and another family friend a few months before PSLE, you’ve never had any private tutors. Technically your mum was your Mother Tongue “tutor” for much of this year and last.)
- “We need never concern ourselves with your studies again.” (No involved parent will ever say that.)
- “You are now on track to becoming a successful _____” (Fill in the blank with all the usual careers that command respect in this world. Yet another claim that is chockfull of problems.)
Why we are celebrating
No, my Son, we are not celebrating for any of those reasons.
We are celebrating for one simple reason: How pleased you were when you revealed your results to us last week on Wednesday, November 24.
I still remember the night before the results were out.
We had asked if you needed either your mum or me to be with you when you went to collect your results from school. You said you did, because you didn’t want to be alone.
You kept your results under wraps all the way home.
Since I had to work the next morning, your mum accompanied you to school.
As it turned out, you kept your results under wraps all the way home; even your mum had no clue as, for the last time, you both walked back from your school, a stone’s throw away from our HDB flat.
Entering our home with an unflinching poker face, you made the two most important people in your life sit on the living room couch comfortably before your important announcement.
And I must say, you did it so beautifully, even a tad dramatically. You started by telling us with downcast looks that this wasn’t an easy exam. And so you had decided to aim for a conservative score, in the hope that you would not be too disappointed by the final results.
Then, like dark clouds suddenly parting to reveal a radiant sun, your face suddenly lit up, and you proceeded to announce a score that was a few shades better! In fact, it was a score you had secretly hoped you would get.
It was all your mum and I could do to stop ourselves from doing a victory dance and parade right there in our living room. (Oh please, of course we didn’t stop ourselves!)
This was definitely a moment for the family annals.
Putting PSLE in its “proper place”
It also made me think back on the decision your mum and I made when we sent you off to primary school six years ago.
We wanted you to have an enjoyable, memorable childhood, one not burdened by academic pursuits. Though we always asked that you try your best in every endeavour, our love and support for you remained constant no matter what happened.
One other thing was also constant: Our belief that no-one should ever be defined by their school nor their school results.
And let me tell you that holding tight to such a belief is no mean feat.
The peer pressure is often unrelenting. The evidence of how success is measured is present daily in news and conversations everywhere.
We don’t want that belief and value for you, nor your younger brother when his turn comes to take on the PSLE.
Choosing the right race, not the rat race
I both appreciate and take the cue from Apostle Paul, who said in 1 Corinthians 9:24 and 25 (NIV): “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
Son, like it or not, we are all in this race called Life. And it can begin right if we recognise the “crown” we’re racing to win. It’s the “crown that will last forever” – Jesus Christ, our everlasting Lord and Saviour.
And, my Boy, don’t miss verse 25. Sadly, many in this world do, joining all kinds of “rat races” to chase after crowns that will not last – awards, scholarships, trophies, prizes and championships. Not to mention the approval of mortal, fallible men and women.
We are all in this race called Life. And it can begin right if we recognise the “crown that will last forever” – Jesus Christ.
One such “rat race” is of course the PSLE which, in the larger scheme of things, is just one rung in the trellis of Life.
And not even the most definitive one.
In short, those aren’t the races in which we want you to partake.
We want you to join the “right race”.
What your mum and I want for you is to undergo “strict training” for the “right race”, the only race that truly matters as you enter the potentially tumultuous teenage years ahead.
In his book Thoughts for Young Men, the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool JC Ryle wrote:
“Youth is the seedtime of full age – the moulding season in the little space of human life – the turning point in the history of man’s mind. By the shoot we judge of the tree – by the blossoms we judge of the fruit – by the spring we judge of the harvest – by the morning we judge of the day – and by the character of the young man, we may generally judge what he will be when he grows up.”
This so aptly expands on the meaning encompassed in Proverbs 20:29 (NIV) which reminds us that “the glory of young men is their strength”.
Forget the past, strain ahead to the future
You’re on the brink of entering a new phase of life, one where you can decide who you can become.
And, as your parents, we want to prepare you for that and not just the next exam paper. If you think about it – now that the PSLE exam is done and dusted – it is just another piece of paper.
As we leave this milestone behind, we need to heed Apostle Paul’s call: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.
Don’t get me wrong.
I’m not ignorant of the hard work you put in all these months and how the preparations for the PSLE also helped to shape your discipline and determination.
But, as we leave this milestone behind and move forward, we need to heed Apostle Paul’s call to us all – a call best summarised in the following verse:
“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead …” (Philippians 3:13, NIV)
That is my hope and desire for you as we enter into 2022 and the exciting years thereafter.
I love you, Son. You’ve got this!
Your loyal supporter always,
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