Thursday, July 11, 2013

The alma maters

It's P1 registration season and as usual, there are people who have their knickers in a knot because of the stress of not being able to get their kid into the school they want (the parents, not the kids). There has been a lot of talk in the press to scrap the alumni-old boy/ old girl phase of registration because that seems to take away the bulk of the vacancies, leaving people with no affiliation huffing and puffing.

I get that P1 registration is stressful. We are in the midst of it now. Evan's registration is done. Jordan's is the following week. And it was with great difficulty, well not really because I just had to feed frogs, that we will be able to register her in that phase.

People have asked me where I weigh in on the issue of scrapping the alumni phase since I am on both sides of the fence on that one. The boys haven't been a problem because Packrat is part of the Old Boys Association but Jordan cannot go to the boys' sister school because that was not where I was from. That thought brings me back to being in P6 and trying to figure out where I wanted to go to secondary school. My mother asked if I wanted to try that school since it was a mission school but the visions of me in a blue and white shapeless sailor dress was NOT APPEALING at all. I remember putting it down as my last choice. Ah! The clarity of hindsight.

Anyway, even with that difficulty, I would still be on the side that says don't scrap it. I'm very big on loyalty; to people and to places. And the alumni phase is about loyalty.

Granted there will be people who will abuse the phase, who will join the alumni just so that they can get their kids in but that is discounting those who are fiercely loyal. Packrat, his brother and my brothers are extremely loyal to their schools. I have very strong feelings of pride for my secondary school as well and it's something I want JED to grow up with.

But it's not just individual and personal loyalty we talk about. I don't talk much about Singapore on my blog because this blog is for JED. But this loyalty thing has got a lot to do with Singapore as well. This year's Pre-U Seminar was about “Singapore 2030: Our Future, Our Home” and one thing that was hotly discussed was the heart-ware of Singapore. The issue of identity, which has been something our government seems to be groping about, trying to figure out. Why is it that Singaporeans seem to be somewhat disconnected from Singapore? There is always talk of fleeing, even in our family. It boils down to what keeps us rooted to Singapore.

Family is one thing but connection and rootedness is another thing. Everyone spends at least 10 years in schools. Some schools more than others build on tradition and emphasise tradition. The ones that do, call it elite if you want, are the ones that seem to have a stronger alumni base. I cannot say how proud I was that my grandfather, my father, my brothers and my nephew come from the same school. That sort of pride, that sort of loyalty and identity is what Singapore needs. If the alumni phase of P1 registration gets scrapped; obviously for pragmatic reasons it makes more sense, Singaporeans lose one more way of maintaining some sort of connection to themselves and to the institutions. As it is, every time an old building is torn down in the name of progress and development, there is one less thing for us to identify with.

Loyalty, school pride and identity are not pragmatic things. People want P1 registration to be fair across the board, clear and transparent (because that's how our government claims to work) but matters of the heart are always messy. And while this system has lots of flaws and generates a great amount of stress for parents, this really isn't how we ought to fix it. I don't have an answer but I know that robbing people of a way to be loyal to something in Singapore, isn't the way forward. And I hope that it never happens.

That will be a sad day for Singapore, even if we don't realise it.

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