Sunday 27 December 2009

Post-PSLE anxiety: After six years, it comes down to this

At exactly 6.14am on 22 Dec, my wife was woken by the frenzied opening guitar riff of the song Wonderland by Big Country.

The 1984 UK top 10 hit was coming from her Walkman handphone which she had placed beside her on our bed where I was still snoring away.

The song meant that she had received an SMS. We had been waiting for this SMS for three weeks.

But in a way, we had been waiting for this moment for six long years – from when we balloted for the place in my son's primary school to agonising over whether his PSLE score was good enough to him into his first-choice secondary school.

A few months ago, he had taken the selection test to get into NUS High School of Math and Science.

When we were informed that he had failed to qualify for the next round of selection, the blow was like a death in the family. Our hopes had been raised - then snuffed out.

After a few days of mourning, we regrouped and re-evaluated our options.

I said let's forget about trying to get him into a supposedly "good" school and just go for the nearest. I was aiming low to avoid another heartbreak.

My wife baulked at the idea.

This is even though she had sometimes regretted not sending our children to the primary school that is right next to our home and opting instead for the supposedly "better" neighbourhood primary school, which was farther away.

My wife quickly did some research and came up with Bukit Panjang Government High School, which had perfect blend of reputation and "nearness".

Being a casual parent, I never heard of the school before. For one thing, I didn't know it's not in Bukit Panjang, but in Choa Chu Kang, which is where I live.

That was three weeks earlier.

Barely conscious, my wife instinctive flipped open her clamshell phone, cutting off one of my favourite songs, and read the message:

"From MOE: S97XXXXXJ is posted to BUKIT PANJANG GOVT HIGH SCHOOL, Exp course. Please report to the secondary school on 23 Dec 2009 at 8:30am."

She immediately leapt out of bed to tell our son the good news. Meanwhile, I was still dreaming about being a pro golfer.

Then she came back to wake me. "We got Bukit Panjang!" she said excitedly.

"Oh, good," I replied, closed my eyes and went back to my 14 mistresses.

At exactly 7am on 23 Dec, my wife was woken by the frenzied opening synthesizer riff of the song Strange Love by Depeche Mode from her handphone.

That was the alarm that she had set to wake her up and get ready to be at the school by 8.30am.

She immediately leapt out of bed to go wake our son, before coming back to wake me. “You going with us?” she asked.

“No,” I replied and went back to my 30 mistresses.

By the time I woke up at lunchtime, my wife and son had already returned from the school with a folder containing several lists of things we had to pay for.

Apart from the usual uniforms and textbooks, there were two name tags ($5.40), a school tie ($7.40), a yearbook, an organiser, a locker, a padlock and passport-size photographs.

I'm glad I'm a citizen so that I don't have to pay higher school fees from 2011.

Also in the folder was a flyer promoting a blood donation drive organised by the school. Talk about bleeding us dry.

At least, we didn’t pay for the folder.

My wife then told me that she found out Bukit Panjang is the National Science Challenge 2009 champion - after beating Raffles Institution and NUS High School on TV!

And that somehow made it all seem worthwhile.

- Published in The New Paper, 27 December 2009