You'll never guess what these successful achiever women scored for their PSLE
In Singapore, we are all too familiar with standardised testing and the chase for paper qualifications. After all, in a meritocratic society that prizes grades, a higher level of education usually means a prospect of a better, more comfortable future.
A campaign called Life Beyond Grades, started by a group of people in Singapore namely PR maven Tjin Lee, creative agency co-founders Charmaine Seah-Ong and husband Derek Ong, singer-songwriter Aarika Lee and co-founder of a magazines for mothers Dolores Au, was meant to counter that belief.
This group of parents believe that grades and exam scores should not be an indicator of a person’s success in Singapore. And their fight begins with the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination).
The social campaign #LifeBeyondGrades calls for people to share their PSLE scores on social media and to share their personal life journey since the exam. The participants vary in their results but they share one thing in common. Regardless of how low or high their scores were, they went on to define their own success.
Here are eight inspiring stories.
Photo: The Straits Times
“Be adaptable, be open-minded, stay positive and humble. The greatest stumbling block is self-negativity”
“235 is my PSLE score. It may also refer to how many times I’ve picked myself up from failure,” says Tjin Lee. Her PSLE score has only spurred her on to work harder through adversity and challenges. Since then, Tjin has not only founded PR and events company Mercury and chairs the Singapore Fashion Week, she has also worked to better women’s lives through other business ventures like Crib Society (that supports female entrepreneurs) and Trehaus (a family-friendly co-working space).
As a mother of two sons, Tjin wants to set an example to buckle the common notion that good grades are the be all and end all in Singapore. And that’s what spurred her to start the social movement, Life Beyond Grades.
“I survived my score but there are many young lives that are negatively impacted by theirs. We share our scores today to remind students and parents struggling through the academic journey that no matter what number you hold up at the end of the day, it’s the LIFE behind it that matters. There is #LifeBeyondGrades. Reach for it.”
Aarika Lee, now 35, had been afraid of disappointing her mother when she received her PSLE scores 23 years ago. Regardless of her grades, Aarika’s mother never once doubted the capabilities of her daughter. “I never once thought you were average. I always knew you would find your way, ” her mother said to her. And it is this validation, which strengthened and moulded Aarika to be the woman she is today. Aarika is a singer-songwriter, a mother to two and co-founder of creative agency Elementary Co.
Her participation with the social movement is near and dear to her heart. Aarika wants to pass on the validation her mother had given her when she was younger to other parents who are facing similar predicaments.
“I thank my parents, for seeing life beyond grades. Thank you giving me the mental and emotional strength to live the life I want.”
Her score of 217 put her way below her peers in her family (her cousin had scored a 281 two years before) but that did not stop Pat from chasing her dreams. Her father ran two hawker stalls and her mother made sacrifices to ensure that Pat was able to pursue her interest – art.
Though she didn’t become an artist in the end, the creative fire had been sparked and she had used it to be successful businesses – social media marketing firm GoodStuph and nostalgia emporium The Damn Good Store. Besides her professional life, Pat is also on the judging panel for the Her World Woman of the Year awards.
“Not all kids are academic and that’s okay. There are many paths to success, and some of the best life experiences and lessons are not from any classroom.”
You might not have heard of her, but you would have definitely seen her businesses. Elim Chew made her fame with the now defunct 77th Street, the former go-to place for edgy jewellery, streetwear and facial piercings. But the Her World Young Woman Achiever winner in 2002 has not let her PSLE score or her failures slow her down, instead she spots market needs and creates new business ventures. Some of these include I’m Kim Korean BBQ restaurant and FastFast, a courier delivery service.
For Elim, life outside of school is the best teacher. That is why she believes in volunteering as much as possible to connect with other peoples to find out and help others who are in need.
“I believe that life skills such as adaptability, creativity and emotional quotient are even more relevant for our children’s future and we need to give them space to learn that.”
When Jenny Tay was in school, performing well in exams were stressed – not surprising considering she was in the top class of the school. Yet, when she did not perform to expectations, her teacher told her off rather than encouraged her to work harder.
But the 2016 Young Woman Achiever is thankful that her parents were unlike her teacher. They believed in and focused on imparting positive values like kindness and resilience to the young Jenny. It all paid off: Jenny is now the managing director of Direct Funeral Services and she has made the company stronger than ever. And Jenny believes that she couldn’t have done so, if it weren’t for her parents’ emphasis on character building over chasing good grades.
“I’ve always believed that with dedication, hard work & pure intentions, something beautiful will come out of it.”
Dalillah Ismail grew up with negative voices. She had always been told she was never enough – “Never good with words, as I was told. Never good in academics, as I was told. Never confident enough, as I was told.” And it was even tougher, as her passion in the arts were outside the norm.
If Dalillah had listened to these voices and given up, she would have been able to set up her own company, Camelia & Co., a co-sharing work space business, and realise her dreams of creating a platform where like-minded people can come together and support each other’s dreams.
“Study hard, play hard and give your best in everything that you do. But most importantly, whatever grade you are, it should never define you completely. “
She scored 271 (over 300) while her husband scored 213. Despite this, the couple found each other and fell in love. Her husband, Dennis Tay founded local multi-label brand Naiise while she carries her weight as the company’s marketing and buying director. Yin and yang, they complement each other to create a harmonious team both at work and at home.
Grades, to Amanda, don’t matter in the end, “there is love, experiences, friendship, adventure, success and failure. And the sum of all these, should be what makes you who you are.”
“To be allowed to pursue what they want, because they will find success in their own way and anything is possible once you set your mind to it.”
If anything, radio DJ Sonia Chew is grateful to her parents for creating a nurturing environment that allowed her to pursue her passion. In primary school, Sonia didn’t do well academically, but her parents continued to shower her with encouragement. And she finally blossomed in secondary school and her path to showbiz began when she chose to do a diploma in Mass Communications in Ngee Ann Polytechnic rather than a junior college (polytechnics were considered the unconventional route then).
Her hopes for this campaign? That children are able to grow up in a positive, nurturing environment that allows them to enjoy their childhood and not be bogged down by grades.