On Education

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

At risk of sounding cliché, my relationship with formal education can only be described as a roller-coaster ride. While I typically find myself recalling all the lows, I acknowledge that there were times where I did thrive in this meritocratic system, most evidently in primary school and thankfully, rather last-minute at the A Levels. Indeed, I've been lucky enough to perform in the exams that seem to matter the most (though of course, in the larger scheme of things, they really don't). 

That said, I stand by the fact that academics has never been my strong suit. I'm not someone who does well naturally in standardized tests, and never prioritized working hard for academics either - though I've come to embrace the latter as a source of pride as it served as an indicator that I didn't allow myself to succumb to mainstream expectations of society. Of course, this came from a position of privilege where I was able to find other strengths that I valued in myself, which others valued too (i.e. still needing that affirmation from society anyway, just in alternative ways).

Speaking of privilege, saying that I struggled academically may seem like a bit of a stretch when looking at my educational background. Indeed, I have been fortunate enough to receive an exceptional education from top schools and a local university. "Aiyah, the last position in Raffles is probably still the first in some other school," was something I heard over and over again but honestly that felt like one hell of a lame excuse for poor academic performance. Nobody knew if that was actually true, and it just wasn't... a nice thing to believe in either, potentially further entrenching elitism in society.

Plus, experiences are relative. The external validation I received for my "academic prowess" from those who only saw the uniform I was wearing and not my actual GPA, wasn't going to negate the fact that I was drowning metaphorically. There's no denying that sinking feeling I felt in my gut after every mathematics paper I did in secondary school, the embarrassment of getting hauled up to meet the vice-principal because I was performing poorly (yes, this seriously happened), and the apprehension of showing my parents my grade cards (I might have just stopped showing it to them from secondary three onwards heh). These were all valid emotions.

Suffice to say, formal education had never been the most rosy experience (academics-wise, that is!) and I found myself subconsciously and mistakenly conflating the idea of learning with education. Due to my inability to produce positive education outcomes in school, learning started to feel like a chore - done merely as an exchange for a letter grade in my transcript, rather than something that would actually make me feel happy and contended doing.

In the most recent semester in university though, I experienced pure, unadulterated joy for learning for the first time in a long, long while. What was different this time? It marked the first semester I didn't have to clear any compulsory modules for my respective courses and I had semi-control over what I was going to study. Yes, I was still limited by the demands of my degrees but I had a bit more freedom this time to choose. I went ahead and picked modules that scared me, and that were not directly related or useful in whatever I'll be doing in the near future, simply to learn for learning's sake.

While not every module inspired me with the same intensity, I daresay I have never felt more energized in school. This was surprising because despite my overload every semester, this particular one was when I faced my heaviest workload ever of 29 modular credits (the typical workload is 20 credits!) Attending classes was immensely enjoyable, and credit goes to the inspiring professors and tutors I had the honour of meeting/ being in the presence of, especially those that taught me financial journalism, sex in the media, and communication for social change. Somehow, it also turned out to be the semester I performed the best in. Perhaps performance is truly intrinsically linked to passion.

It's a bittersweet feeling knowing that the next semester marks the final semester of my undergraduate studies. A part of me wishes I didn't rush the five years of study into four, but at the same time I'm also excited for what's ahead, and am glad that at least it's ending on a note where my mindset towards formal education is one of fondness.

Of course, this isn't going to mark the end of my journey as a student - and no, I'm not about to make  a cheesy reference to how life is about continuous learning (though I suppose it's not wrong to view it in that way too). I do have little dreams I still hope to accomplish, and so much more I want to learn about in a formal education setting. Heh, graduate school sometime in the future, perhaps? 

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