Friday July 6, 2012
A defiant tiger cub roars
Tales of Two Cities: Sydney by Joyce Au-Yong
FEW days ago, the Sydney Morning Herald published a story about a girl who received a whopping 99.95% for her HSC (Higher School Certificate) — the highest award in secondary education, or to put it in local contexts, equivalent to our STPM.
Sarah Hui Xin Wong, fifth in Chemistry throughout the entire state of New South Wales, had a guaranteed placement at the University of Sydney to pursue her undergraduate studies.
While her results were outstanding, the over-achiever argues she could have gotten even higher marks if she were not discriminated against her disability — the fact that she had a “joint hyper mobility of the wrist and hand” — causing her hand cramps, which led to illegible writing during the tail end of her last two papers.
And it wasn’t that the school didn’t offer a solution for her handicap as it had even offered to provide an individual to transcribe Sarah’s dictation as a form of compensation, which she had refused.
While this incident occurred in 2008, Sarah’s mother, Eileen, has since lodged numerous complaints against the school and the NSW Board of Studies on grounds of discrimination. Needless to say, she lost the case.
But really, even in spite of her disability — aren’t the grades good enough? How much higher does one need to strive for? Would the extra 0.05% really have made that much of a difference?
The article also incited numerous comments from other parents who felt that this was just another case of a “Tiger mum” at work. Coming from a typically Asian background, reading about this case hit me in a few ways, especially when returning to school after some six years of working. Here’s what I’ve come to learn:
#1. Grades are only secondary
Instead, what counts is what you make of the opportunities that education provides us with, which could come in the form of building and forging relationships with people from all walks of life, who will mould and change the way we perceive our perspective on life — or even when it comes to acquiring a new skill or unearthing an inherent knack for something that you never knew existed.
This semester, for example, I decided to take a course on “International Politics of Human Rights” as one of my electives.
While many of my peers either eyed me curiously, or looked at me in disdain when I told them of my choice, it was possibly one of the most enriching courses throughout my Master’s programme at the University of Sydney. I learnt a lot about the way countries and states interacted with one another as well as their underlying motivations spurred on by decisions made by the echelons of power. My lecturer was also a contributing factor to my interest in the subject, despite being tough, was extremely knowledgeable and selected the course content well.
Although it was a difficult course with a steep learning curve, I managed better than average grades for it. In comparison, however, I had also taken a class on Project Management that I had just breezed through and obtained a distinction for, but admittedly can’t quite see how the majority of the content that I had learnt could be applied to the working world.
And in all honesty, unless you’re a fresh graduate applying for an internship or a first job, no one really cares about your grades. To emphasise my point, let’s take Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs and even Tiger Woods as an example.
The one thing that they had in common? They were all university dropouts. Do not misunderstand me — I am not denying the value of education — and if I were, I wouldn’t be pursuing my postgraduate studies.
It is, however, the experience and the value that you bring to a company that ultimately matter.
#2: Tiger mums – take it from me, forcing your kids to do something that they hate just doesn’t work
Amy Chua, the author of the controversial book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which discusses the strict parenting techniques of Chinese mothers versus their Western counterparts, says that Chinese parents understand that “nothing is fun until you’re good at it”, and will force their children to continuously practise and keep at it (whether it is math, piano or ballet) until they excel.
And once they do, the praises flow, which “builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun”.
I have to strongly disagree with Chua here. Like most Chinese families, I was forced to learn the piano (why is it always chosen as the instrument to master by all Chinese mothers?) when I was young. The fact that I vehemently abhorred it made me not want to learn it, let alone excel at it.
Even worse, I blamed my mum for imposing this upon me, and it strained our relationship tremendously. Doors were slammed, unsavoury words were exchanged and there was a lot of bawling on my part.
Eventually, my mum pulled me out of the much dreaded piano centre and I dedicated my time to pursuing something more productive — reading. It was something I thoroughly enjoyed and my love for creative writing started when she began ferrying me to libraries. And for that, I can never thank her enough.
I showed my mum the article about Sarah once I had read it, and she scoffed at it, and said it was “ridiculous” and that the family was “crazy”. I smiled, knowing that the “Tiger mum” that I once knew was now gone.
Joyce Au-Yong is a Malaysian currently pursuing her Masters at the University of Sydney, and revels in the many joys (and even idiosyncrasies) that Australia has to offer.