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Is Life Beyond Grades?

I was initially nonchalant about this ‘Life Beyond Grades’ campaign (“Campaign”). The name of the Campaign is self-explanatory but many people did not take it at surface level. With the increasing flak it received, I started to look into it. The whole saga reminded me of when the position of PAP was being threatened. The myopic viewpoint from the top made the ground felt they were not being empathised.

An article shared on the Campaign website is good, and one paragraph ironically echos my sentiments about the Campaign’s one dimensional solution to a multi-faceted problem.

“Research, writing and telling stories about society are often dominated by people who are in positions of relative power. This would include politicians and intellectuals. I think it’s important that people in positions to either make decisions or tell stories, don’t tell their stories or make decisions as if their perspectives are the universal perspectives. The act of making decisions or telling stories should be one that includes the voices and perspectives of people outside that narrow class of people.”

Anyway, with people voicing out their opposing thoughts of the Campaign on Dayre and other platforms, I started to think about it and formed my own opinions. I wanted to voice them out on this blog, but procrastinated to talk about something this controversial. In this case, procrastination is a good thing. Because the more I thought about it, the more I realised the issues are not so straightforward. Even as I finally penned down my thoughts, I believe I will still miss out certain points. Hopefully I did not write from a narrow class perspective.


About the Campaign


In case you don’t know what the Campaign is all about, head over to lifebeyondgrades.sg. They have good articles for you to read and chew on. IMO, the Campaign is a good initiative. At least it sparks conversations about the over-emphasis on grades. It makes the society and parents think and debate over it. As iron sharpens iron, opinions from various standpoints are voiced out and refined.

Even if you haven’t visited the website, it’s likely you have searched the hashtag #lifebeyondgrades on Instagram (“IG”) to find interesting testimonies—mostly of people holding placards of their PSLE grade and writing their success stories in the caption. Or you could be searching the hashtag on Dayre or other platforms to read about opinions of this campaign.

I remembered the first few testimonies that I could find are those above 200, and mostly with good 200 scores (to me, above 230 is good). That was my first impression anyway. As I clicked through, I didn’t find these testimonies especially encouraging. For example, there’s one particular testimony that left a deep impression. She scored above 230 and I can’t remember who she was, and to her it’s along the line of a bad grade. I tried to search on IG again for it and instead found a few others, including the founder who scored 235, calling themselves a ‘failure’ and ‘didn’t do well’ in school. Perhaps this group of people reach out to the students at elite schools, where 230 is regarded as doing bad in school. But to me, “elitism” flashed across my mind.

I scored 221, and couldn’t make it to the express stream of my ideal school, a neighbourhood school mind you. I was asked to go to the normal stream because of that 1 point. So to me, getting above 230 is good, because it’s like SAP school category. Hence, the supposedly bad grades are good to me, and these good 230 grades naturally translates to success they now mentioned in their testimonies. Isn’t life still about grades then? Perhaps for my benchmark, success stories of those who scored below 200 seemingly fits more into this campaign than those above 200.


Success, despite of bad grades


The Campaign is trying to perpetuate that even if you don’t get good grades (whatever your definition) in school, you can still have the typical kind of success that are posted in the IG testimonies.

Regardless of grades, you still have a good shot of being successful in life. Put it in another way, grades don’t necessarily equate to success. Speaking of which, there should be people posting about their high PSLE grades but “fail” in life. 小时了了,大未必佳。

This is important for parents to know because most think that this kind of success, of fame or fortune, only comes through getting good grades in school. And nowadays, the rat race is starting younger and younger, as young as a few months’ old. You should see the myriad of infant classes.

The stress parents put on their children to do well is increasing and thus leading to more cases of depression in young ones. Hence, if changing Singaporeans’ mindset of ‘grades equates to success’ can alleviate this stress, this campaign might be good afterall, other than to spark debate.

On a sidenote, while schools are trying to place less emphasis on grades, students might end up being more stress to be a well-rounder! Now they have to excel in grades AND other skills.

Why Do Parents Want Good Grades?

Let’s go back to the root reason on why parents want good grades for their children. Other than to show off, getting good grades seems to be a tried and tested method to secure a well-paying career in future and thus a comfortable life. It’s more of a risk to have their children get bad grades. How high is the probability of their children becoming an exception and posting such success story despite of school results?

To these parents, they might know that studies is not all there is to life. However without the good grades, you limit the choices of how you can live out your life, unless you are rich. It’s similar to having money. Money is not everything, but without money, you have fewer choices in life. Good grades, like money, seem to give you the freedom to choose.


Life = Success?


This brings me to the next point – does life equates to success? This seems to be the assumption made by the Campaign starters, and also the point of contention for many detractors.

From the testimonies, the definition of life beyond grades means success at work. Isn’t this shifting one “problem” to another—from school to work? So are you deem a failure if you ultimately don’t have a success story at work? If you just work in an average cubicle job? Is there no life beyond success?


What is Success?


If you have to dig deeper, you should find yourself questioning what success is. This success can be different for different people—some is to be in an unexciting but stable job, some could be to help others and some is to live out the typical success stories and earn loads of money.

It’s so ingrained in Singaporeans that success means having a well-paid, cushy job—the lawyer, doctor and accountant. I became an accountant and was unhappy at it. I can be good, but how good can I get it is a job misfit with my personality, interest, strengths and potential God has placed in me. Even if I can be a successful accountant, I’ll be unsuccessful in life. That is if I equate success to happiness.

Come to think of it, the engine of meritocracy is now going on full speed and with the toll on young lives, the government is trying to put a brake on it. But this takes time to undo the entrenched culture. So this Campaign can be a good start to change. I was reminded of how my parents used to force me to get good grades, up till a point where I pushed myself on my own. They even had to tell me to relax. By then, it was too late–grades and career success are important to me. It’s something to prove my worth. It took so many years for God to undo this wrong thinking of self-worth.

If I have to measure my life with the typical standards of Singapore, I am a failure on two counts.

  • Being a writer seems to be a good for nothing, unless of course you are in a proper job like copywriting.
  • Being a SAHM means being useless to society and wasting the degree or education.

For the longest time, I feel judged. Even now at times. Judged by family, friends, society, and myself. However, I’m starting to see the facade of the typical success. Even if you are successful in the eyes of others, rich and famous, but you’re so busy that you can’t enjoy your money, family, and friends, is that considered life beyond grades? You have no life beyond success. The pursuit of money and success will still lead to emptiness. Ask Solomon.

Solomon who has all the wealth, wisdom and whatever worldly things he could ask for, and still utter,

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.” Ecclesiastes 1:1

So what is the life beyond grades? I can’t answer this question without God being in the picture. To me, this life is the life God has intended for us to live. For some it might be a life of typical success. But for me, it’s not.

As I flowed with God, I took a risk and step out of my typical success story, and into the unknown path. At one point, I was in deep doubt. It took me a long time to embrace this seemingly downtrodden valley.

Looking back now, I saw how God was developing the potential that nobody saw in me. He strengthened my wings to fly when I had only contended to walk fast. He does the inward work in me while nothing seems to be happening on the outside–like a caterpillar in cocoon. It’s almost always the seen versus the unseen. School taught me IQ, but I neglected my EQ development. School gave me knowledge, but only God can give me godly wisdom. Learning is beyond school.

Through these years, God moulded my character and personality—He expanded the root system in me so that I can grow into a big tree and stand strong.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor 4:18

As a parent, of course I wish baby Evangeline will do well in school. But as a Christian, I ought to trust my child in God. He will know the best path, instead of the standard good grades route. Praying that God will open my eyes and see the potential and skills He has placed in baby Evangeline. And for God to guide me and give me the wisdom to develop them.

““For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
    declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

I can plan as much as a parent, but God plans better. He has a good future in store for her. My main job as a parent is to point her to Jesus, and allow her to follow the desire and dream God has placed in her.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

The endless pursuit of things in life will always lead to emptiness. Only the pursuit of God can fill us. I’m learning the meaning of contentment and to balance it with excellence. To do the best in whatever we do, and be contented in the lot God has given to us. Like in the “Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30), whether you have more or less, use whatever God has given you wisely for His kingdom.

“The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” 1 John 2:17

Life is definitely beyond grades. If you ask me what this life is then, I would say a life of joy and peace that can only be found in Jesus. Peeling off another layer, you’ll see that even this life on earth is transient.

Eternal life is beyond our earthly life. So grab it.

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son Jesus” 1 John 5:11



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