are you competitive or comparitive?

Singapore has world-class education system – that I do not deny. My scholastic abilities have been tuned by my learning environment (observe the careful choice of words) and I’d like to think a big part of my confidence and street-smartness (or some would say arrogance) comes from a decade spent in ACS. However, if I had a choice, I’d rather not raise my children in a local school and if I had the resources, I’d rather home-school my kids; I do not want to subject them to the unnecessary and poisonous culture of the education system here – where students somehow feel that they are never quite good enough.

Our academia has changed considerably – some would consider it progress, some see it as regress and for a few others, digress; I belong to the third group. I think that we’re missing the point of education, really. We should teach people how to think not what to think. Today’s students are subjected to a lot more pressure and stress – that doesn’t come from themselves but primarily from their parents and secondarily from their peers. The desire to improve themselves is shrouded by external motivations instead being influenced by internal drives.

I’ve always opined that pride is not about wanting to be the best – there’s nothing wrong with that – but pride is about wanting to be better than someone else. There’s an element of covetousness in pride, where the desire to better oneself sprouts from the obsession to outdo others. We’ve heard it time and again – a student could far outperform himself and score a 60% in a test (and achieve his all-time highest score) but this joy is somewhat short-lived; his initial delight soon plummets into despair when he begins to compare his results with a classmate that scored 70%. The process is transferred to the next dimension and (if you pardon the direct translation of the old Chinese adage) there always seems to be a higher mountain that is insurmountable. Where does it stop? Before you know it, these students return home to mourn about their oh-so-terrible score when they should instead rejoice over their progress made. There’s no end to this vicious cycle of self and societal inflicted torment. No wonder suicide cases related to academic pressures have risen sharply over the years.

Achievements and successes are all relative – hence it is imperative that we manage our expectations and chart our progress on a realistic rate. Today, you should ask yourself if you are competitive or comparitive. There’s nothing wrong with benchmarking yourself against the best to gauge and improve your own abilities and thresholds. But once you begin to compare and slide into the venomous glance-over-your-shoulder behaviour, you inevitably welcome self-destruction and a never-ending pursuit of nothingness. We are all different – get used to the idea. To those who have more, more is expected of them. Learn to be comfortable with yourself and realise that if you want to be someone else, who’s going to be you?

When I stroll down memory lane, I don’t seem to ever recall a time that I wanted to be better than someone else because I realised that I’m constantly waging war with my own insanely high standards (again, this is a relative statement). To an extent, I seem to allow no one to determine how good or how bad I can and will be. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m an ambitious person and I effort to bring out the best of my gifts and talents by being excellent in all that I undertake, but in the event that my desired outcomes do not materialise, I have learnt to trust God for the lessons learnt in temporal failure and postponed success. I realised that I’ve always secretly (but confidently) trusted God for the results, for God was the origin of my desires and ambitions. Either way it turns out, I already know that God, being efficacious, has a lesson in store for me to learn; I believe that He has pre-prepared different packages of lessons for every single different outcome.

I urge you to be wary of the poisonous standards of this world, where it tells you that being contented with your lot is apparently mediocrity. A subscription to these worldly values often results in worldly remorse and regret – that’s not biblical or victorious living at all! Know that with Jesus, we fight from victory and not for victory. Be comfortable with who God has created you to be for your strengths complements someone else’s weaknesses and vice-versa – that’s how the body of Christ works. Everyone plays a different role and is a different jigsaw in the puzzle of life – never let this world determine how you should live and what should make you happy. May your spirit be acutely tuned to the dangers that inescapable and obligatory academic excellence brings.

So what if you finally become the best and better than everyone else? What’s next? At the end of the day, it’s all meaningless. It doesn’t make you better than anyone else, really. The antidote then, to competition and comparison, is contentment.

About Joey Asher Tan

Apart from Jesus, I can do nothing; I am absolutely nothing without Christ.

Posted on April 29, 2010, in Attempted Provocation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I concur!

    Yea, the focus should definitely be on how to think, as opposed to what to think. Having studied elsewhere for the past 3 years, I have had the chance to take a step back and ponder over the education system that we’re so often so proud off. I guess, Singaporeans tend to think that our education system is superior to all (if not most) other countries’. In many ways, it is true.

    If someone leaves the S’pore to study elsewhere (apart from UK and certain US unis), there’s an inclination to think that, “ah, perhaps he/she didn’t make the cut to enrol in a S’pore educational institution.” But I’ve personally witnessed friends whose academic performance in S’pore was average, but they are now excelling in Aust. Not that things are really easy over here. Not that S’poreans are generally smarter than Australians. But it is the difference in the education mindset & teaching styles. We are encouraged to learn. We are asked to challenge what is being taught. Learning has become fun again. Stressful at times, but still enjoyable. (This is not to say that things are completely not competitive/comparative here.) I’ve always, more or less, enjoyed studying even in S’pore. But I now enjoy learning even more!

    But having said all these, I still have S’pore MOE to thank for having a fantastic maths syllabus! haha

    Thanks for the gentle reminder about trusting in God & being content! :-D It’s apt, given that my most mind-boggling assignment thus far is due tomorrow!

    • hi su ern!

      wow what a surprise to hear from you here. (: you know, before i went to shanghai, i was always apprehensive about leaving my comfort zone. but now that i’m back and each time i speak to a student who has an opportunity to go for an exchange or to study overseas, i will encourage them to fly there in an instant. those who have been overseas for an extended period of time will understand that being exposed to another system does wonders for your overall development as a thinker and learner. i’m not surprised at the “second chances” that these supposedly “weaker” students have had since venturing abroad.

      when are you returning again? actually, i see you almost everyday… when i pass by your dad’s office… to see your picture plastered on his table. haha. and it was really funny when we had a vocal rehearsal just a couple of days ago… and his face was hidden behind the scores to only reveal his eyes… without the mustache, i went, “SU ERN!” in my head. hahahaha. (:

      all the best for your assignment due tmrw!

  2. I myself have been reading up on homeschooling for the past year or so, and asking people about it. Though it will probably be quite some time before I become a mum, I like to explore options. People often dismiss it but I think it has its advantages over a system that:
    1) Does not place God first. – When we should be thinking of eternity.
    2) Does not allow time for seeking God or family. Rarely does it allow the time for sleep, actually. I see my kids in Children’s Church with dark eye rings all the time, at 9 years of age!
    3) Emphasizes grades instead of knowledge – Oftentimes I find myself really enjoying a module, but when I do badly on an essay it takes the joy out of studying. It’s times like this when I really ask myself, have I not gained precious knowledge in any case? And who can take knowledge away from me?
    4) Prizes one form of knowledge over all others – Why is knowing how to fry good char kway teow less valuable that knowing what the answer to 12X6 is?

    I absolutely agree that learning how to think is more important. No one can ever teach you all you want to know in life, and it only breeds passivity instead of true academy. And as for contentment, it is something I struggle with (perhaps because I am the product of this system? Haha), but God with his grace has taught me how to trust Him always, and with a little bit of reflection I can really see how amazing it is that He’s brought me where I am today.

    And have you read ever read Faust by Goethe? Fits nicely with this post of yours.

    • i’m tempted to just give the bible to you now. haha. (:

      i absolutely concur to your points for it supports a healthy family structure. like you, i want my kids to grow up loving and serving the Lord. i want them to understand that academics and career is but one pursuit, not the solitary pursuit of life. if there was any pursuit i want my kids to embrace, it’d be that of the knowledge of who God is to them.

      serene, you have some very good insight and quotable quotes in that short sharing. do you blog? i’d love to keep up with your thoughts. (: in the meantime, let me go check out faust.

      i shall conclude this short repose with my anthem in life – john 15:5.

      • Yay bible! No actually I was intending to enter the contest. Just that I wanted to read more posts first. So do allow me to make a formal entry, and hopefully more people will try for it as well. Hoho!

        I do have a blog but I don’t actually write much in it, and what I write I’m afraid to expose. Basically it exists instead of a journal because I’m lazy to write. So I type.

        But anyway I much prefer bouncing off other people’s thoughts. Your blog happens to contain many insights that get me thinking and itching to say something :)

        • And like a complete dodo I comment without logging off my wordpress account. -_- I amaze myself!

          But anyway the blog’s private…so it’s ok.

        • haha yeah, i hope for more entries too! well there’s still time before the competition closes. i should post reminders every 2 days! lol.

          i think it’s always nice to read the thoughts of others – i like to know what my writing can evoke, if anything at all. i enjoy reading your reflections upon my reflections very much. you have good and well-thought out perspectives that really should be aired. thank you for expanding my periscopes. (:

    • I don’t like the sg system also… I remember doing badly for my O’s compared to my church peers. But my mom smiled. I still remember wondering why she is happy. I was like “how can you be happy when I get so shitty grades?!” Then she replied, “because I saw you study and I believe that this was your best.”

      This is a statement I remembered till today :)

      I hope my child next time learn how to think too. I had to learn so from an atheist who is my poly course mate 8 years older than me, not from school. I think everyone should take some course on critical thinking.

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