By the time Old Boy got his PSLE results, we already knew which secondary school he would go to. He was accepted to RI and ACS (I) through DSA for sports.

Those were the only two schools he applied to so we were pretty happy. I asked him which “I” he preferred.

“None, mum, I want to go to the university.”

Nah, I waved his comments aside, one of these will be a great school with an excellent school leader and wonderful teachers. I suggested RI, firstly because it was too far to drive each way to ACS(I) and secondly, it is my alma mater, it was kind of nice to have another generation of Rafflesian in our family. He did not object or comment.

It was certainly MY tradition, I was excited to sing the school song and see some familiar teachers. For Old Boy, the initial excitement of going to secondary school slowly faded. When he was in primary school, he would chat non-stop about the things that happened in school, but when he was in secondary school, he would get into the car and fall asleep.

I had no clue how he was doing in school, until it was obvious he was not having fun. He did not submit his homework. In fact, he did not even know what homework he had. His kind teachers would give him extension after extension after extension, but he still would forget them.

At swimming meets, he would sit on a mat with me. And whenever he had an opportunity, he would run off to sit with the ACS boys. You would see a sea of white and blue and one all-white boy. Though those were rival schools, they accepted him for some reason. He was an ACS boy in an all white uniform. My friend said I put him in the wrong school.

I have forgotten his first year results, but it was good enough to not receive any academic warning. I remember the year coordinator liking him a lot because he was such a great writer. His English compositions were always top. He did well in MEP (music education program) and his mathematics was at least three years ahead of his peers. To cream it all, we didn’t have to pay school fees as he was on scholarship.

In his second year, he became quieter, and he missed even more homework. It was also at this point that I spoke to someone in MOE about Old Boy when she was handling Sunshine Boy’s issues. She suggested I look at an animation university that the government was bringing into Singapore that year.

I brought Old Boy to the briefing and he was so excited that he wanted to go to the university. But he was barely 14, so both my husband and I didn’t want him to go to uni that early, even though I knew he could qualify.

Since he was 11, I had done high school work with him at home. We don’t send our kids for tuition, because tuition is opposite of what I believe education should be. Instead of narrowing the education experience, I broadened the experience by exposing my kids to a large volume of interesting topics, and I made sure the courses taken were accredited. Through that, I knew that Old Boy had already earned enough credits to go to the university.

The weeks that followed after Old Boy saw the animation university was difficult. We didn’t want to give up a place in a prestigious school, but he didn’t want to miss out a chance to pursue something he loves.

After weeks of battle (he went on a hunger strike), we decided to give him a chance to apply. Old Boy engaged the help of an art teacher in RI to prepare a portfolio for entrance to the animation school. Every recess, he would meet this RI art teacher. So this together with his high school diploma work, he was accepted into the university at 14 years old, the youngest ever.

Once school started, he became a changed person, all chatty again. He can describe a pencil nonstop, he would stay up the whole night doing his homework. It was hard work, but he was engaged, challenged and motivated.

When the news spread that he went to university at 14, friends became curious. I remember one parent asking me what he was doing and how he got there. I explained to her that he likes to draw cartoons, and I can still recall her response, “O, I am not interested. In our family, we are either doctors or lawyers.” ????

It really does not matter to me whether my kids become lawyers or doctors or cartoonists. What is most important to me is that they find purpose in their lives and are driven everyday to do what they love.

Over the years, I have met many parents of very bright students from extremely prestigious schools but many of them have still not found their purpose nor their self-esteem. Some have cruised along for so long, it can be impossible to reverse.

In choosing a secondary school for your child, are you looking for prestige, are you looking for reasons for them to go to great schools, or are you more concerned where the kid fits, where his ‘kind’ are, and where his heart finds home.

I think I was really fortunate in that we managed to find a home for him after I fouled up. Had I not started providing him different alternatives from young, I wonder if he would be like one of these I have to counsel today. Some always believing that they are stupid, some always afraid of failure, and some will never understand their full potential.

Some say I put my son on a fast track, but I think I rescued him from the perils of modern education.

*Old Boy graduated at 18, and became an entrepreneur. He is now 25 and owns a patent, his business has gone multi-million and he is now considering going back to do a masters degree to upgrade himself for the next phase of his life, having worked for 7 years.

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