Monday 27 September 2021

What do PSLE parents fear most – Covid, clowns or going to a ‘lousy school’?

It’s that time of the year again.

I feel sorry for Primary 6 kids and their parents. How stressful it must be for them right now. The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) starts this week. More children are getting infected with Covid-19 and so far, none of the Covid-19 vaccines available in Singapore have been approved for use in children under 12.

But despite all that, you know what parents could be more afraid of more than the coronavirus?


And Singapore tested positive for them last week.

The bad news is there is no vaccine against them either – for children and adults. Pfizer and Big Pharma are sleeping on the job.

But then who could’ve predicted we would have an outbreak of a Stephen King movie? And I'm not talking about The Stand.

Last Monday, Singaporeans woke up to the bizarre reports of clowns terrorising children outside their schools.

It turned out to be maybe just one clown sent by an education company called Speech Academy Asia to promote its classes.

No, it isn’t bliss and no, we don’t approve. And yes, it is kind of queer.

Sondheim aside, not everyone is down to clown around town.

What the company probably hoped to be more like Ronald McDonald turned out to be more like It, prompting multiple police reports and Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin to post on Facebook last Monday: “Whoever is doing what I assume to be some viral marketing nonsense, stop it!”

Or at least wait a month until Halloween if you want to frighten children with your budget Pennywise cosplay.

The story was even picked up by overseas media outlets such as The Washington Post, South China Morning Post and Vice.

The Sun had this headline: “Parents terrified after creepy ‘killer clowns’ spotted lurking outside school and asking kids to ‘follow them’.”

Fact check: Unlike the coronavirus, the supposed “killer clowns” didn’t actually kill anybody, although safe distancing from clowns is still advised, preferably a lot more than 1 metre.

Speech Academy Asia has since apologised, posting on Facebook:
“We would like to clarify that; although indeed, the promoter is an employee of Speech Academy Asia, our team does not offer any form of monetary rewards for children to follow them.

“Additionally, our promoters strictly do not take any children out of the vicinity.

“We truly understand your concern for the safety of your children; hence we will be putting an immediate stop to our roadshows.”
And thus, the clownoravirus cluster was quickly closed to the relief of all.

Taking the PSLE in the middle of a pandemic is harrowing enough without having to fend off circus acts too.

Well, at least you no longer have to worry about your child not making it to Raffles Institution (RI).

I remember my parents really wanted me to go to RI. But after my PSLE, I was posted to Bukit Merah Secondary School.

For a long time, I felt like such a failure for disappointing my parents.

But I don’t anymore, thanks to Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. Or at least I think it’s him.

About two weeks ago, Dr Balakrishnan posted on Facebook:
“I called Mr Leong Mun Wai today to apologise for my private comments to a colleague in Parliament yesterday.

“I disagree with him on the issue, but I should not have said what I said. Mr Leong has accepted my apology.”

However, the minister did not specify exactly what comments he was apologising for.

The Straits Times reported that during a Parliamentary debate on Sept 14, after Mr Leong spoke, a voice could be heard saying “he’s illiterate”.

Later, a microphone picked up someone saying: “Seriously, how did he get into RI?... Must have been a lousy school.”

Mr Leong, who is a Non-Constituency MP from Progress Singapore Party, was an RI student. ST said that it is understood that these remarks were made by Dr Balakrishnan, who was from Anglo-Chinese School.

However, there has also been some conjecture online that not all the offending remarks were made by Dr Balakrishnan, who was sitting next to Finance Minister Lawrence Wong in Parliament.

Last Wednesday, in Mr Wong’s Facebook Live post about jobs, someone daringly went off-topic to write in the comments section: “Actually I think people are more interested to know whether you were the one who made the ‘lousy school’ comment in Parliament.”

And Mr Wong actually replied: “Thanks for the question. I assure you that I did not make any of those comments.”

And there you have it.

I believe the minister, who was from Tanjong Katong Secondary School.

So yes, it is thanks to Dr Balakrishnan that I no longer have to feel like a loser for not going to RI. I can feel like a loser for other reasons.

And parents don’t have to pressure their PSLE-taking kids to go to RI anymore.

Tanjong Katong will do. You can even become Finance Minister.

Or Bukit Merah and become a famous alleged humour columnist like me.

Just don’t call me a clown.

As for the pandemic, is it ever going to end?

Well, maybe next year.

- Published in The New Paper, 27 September 2021