Disclaimer: Any opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Glyph.
Disclaimer: I don't mean to say students in 'good' schools magically do better, or that its impossible to do well in a 'bad' school. I just want to highlight my experiences and the difference in resources that different schools have.
Some of you may know I didn't do too well in PSLE, and started my journey in Yio Chu Kang Secondary(YCKSS). While I am hesitant to call it a 'bad school' (there were several outstanding students who emerged from yck), students definitely had access to less funding, fewer motivated teachers(might not entirely be their fault), fewer co-curricular options, and significantly lower quality school materials than I expected. I was also heavily limited by my academic options. As a lover of language and the arts, there was no Pure Literature for O levels offered in my school, nor were there any options for elective Lit. In Sec 2 I made the decision to try to transfer out of yckss to another school, Montfort Secondary, that offered Pure Literature. This decision would completely change my life. My first day into a 'better' school completely shocked me. The first thing that hit me in the face was the money.
While in YCKSS we did our sports underneath a small ISH, and sometimes on our small parade square that also doubled as our basketball court. Montfort had a dedicated quadrangle for assembly, a basketball court, a huge shared ISH with Montfort Junior, and an entire Stadium to play sports in. In YCKSS we still had tables where the wax was peeling off, which would get in our fingernails and all over our pencil case materials. There were quite a few shaky and rusting chairs, which screeched when moved and made for a rather discomforting metallic smell. In Montfort there were clean and stable tables and chairs, not of the wax variety but rather more modern plastic. We had a surplus of extra furniture that could be used for CCA activities or used to replace anything that broke.
I would later learn, that this was the norm in 'better schools'. The biggest difference was in the attitude of the teachers, who rarely looked down on the students, and most definitely never gave up on Montfortians. When I was in YCKSS I remember asking my English HOD if she would allow me to do literature, maybe open an elective class, not even pure. Her response was to snicker and declare that "either nobody will join, or everyone will fail". When I walked into my first Pure Lit class in Montfort, the lovely Ms Priya, who taught my class, stated that "Anyone can study and do well in Lit." For her it was a passing remark that she made to one of my classmate's jokes, completely normal, but to me, it was enough to make me tear up.
The availability of teachers for quality consultations, the more conducive learning environments, the significantly higher quality notes the teachers printed for us to study outside of textbooks, these were all 'normal' to my classmates who had been in Montfort for 2 years prior. But to me it was all luxuries I couldn't believe existed. This is why I fume with rage whenever I hear people talk about how every school is a good school, or that there are 1 or 2 token students from neighbourhood schools who do well, and so "anyone can study hard and do it", "those who don't do well are usually lazy or aren't trying hard enough."
The difference in quality education is huge between the schools, to the point where it felt like the only thing they had in common was that we all sat for the same O level examination. I can confidently say my grades were directly affected due to the customised notes my teachers gave us, the better environment, and the fact that I felt people actually expected something of us students. And all this was only from a small jump, from a 190 aggregate school to a 210 school. I cannot even begin to imagine what 240 schools and above enjoy. The scariest thing is how invisible this privilege is. Many of my poly friends who were from better schools told me all the luxuries I saw were "normal what." Most of them have never set foot in or experienced what it was like in a "bad neighbourhood school."
"The scariest thing is how invisible this privilege is."
Today I am a writer, photographer, and videographer, and I wholely attribute the path I took in life to that decision I made to transfer, but it scares me that the decision I made in 2014 would turn out to be such a huge one. It scares me that I am one of the few students that transferred from a 'lower' school to a 'higher' school. It scares me that my old YCKSS friends' ideas of what schooling is like is vastly different from my Montfort friends. It scares me to think about whether some of my yckss classmates who underperformed in O levels might have turned out very differently if put in a better environment. It scares me that people can still look down on 'bad' schools, and think the people there underperform out of laziness, when they will never know how many luxuries they enjoyed that the kids in the 'bad' schools never did. I don't know how to end this, it's just so horrifying. All I can write is that I hope whoever is reading this takes a moment to understand their privilege, and maybe change their views on students who perform poorly. Maybe there's more to it than just laziness. And to those of you struggling in 'bad' schools now, my heart goes out to you. Maybe things will get better, maybe you need to form study groups or seek notes from your friends in 'better schools', or maybe you're faring perfectly okay right now (great job you!). But not every school is a good school.
(This opinion piece was first posted on the writer's Facebook page and is re-posted with his permission. (https://www.facebook.com/chan.qinghao/posts/3484920864879665))