AUGUST 15 — I was thinking about this last week after lunch with some former colleagues at an international school I worked in about 20 years ago.

We were talking about our ex-students and, at some point in the conversation, a certain pattern emerged.

Oh, remember that half-English half-Malaysian kid who was hopeless in Geography in Year 7 (the IGCSE equivalent of Form 1)? He’s the managing editor of two online newspapers now.

And that Pakistani girl who was struggling in Year 8 History? She recently got a PhD in Aeronautical Engineering.

And what about that Bangladeshi boy who couldn’t answer a single question in Year 10 Geography? He’s now a surgeon in Portugal.

Being on Linked-In, I also see many of my past students’ profiles and I often fail to recognise them, not just appearance-wise but professionally.

This is to say that two decades ago I’d never imagine this girl, quiet as heck in class for three years, ending up as a Chief Marketing Officer of a broadband provider or that boy, unable to go any higher than the bottom 20 per cent in class in 2006, being based in Cardiff as a Financial Director in 2022.

Immediately, some readers may highlight the point that, hey, this is an international school I’m talking about. So maybe that already suggests advantages not open to most Asian kids?

That may be true but this notion that performing very well academically (or the opposite) is a strong predictor of anything substantial in said students’ career is also quasi-BS once I think about my own relatives and classmates from public schools.

For example, one of my cousins was total crap at school. Now he runs about three businesses dealing with car repairs and owns half a dozen houses.

Another distant cousin who was known in school only for his height now zips back and forth from Jakarta to his multi-gazillion dollar home in Glenmarie.

Almost everyone I can remember from my SEA Park secondary school class, not just the top-scorers, are now accomplished professionals. (See note 1).

Am I saying that academic results are completely irrelevant so maybe let’s scrap school entirely? Well, no.

We can ensure our children participate (and even excel) in school without demanding unrealistic grades from them. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
We can ensure our children participate (and even excel) in school without demanding unrealistic grades from them. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

School is an essential part of our children’s formative years, so it simply wouldn’t be smart to abandon or dismiss it. It’s in school that much of our character is formed, our socialisation skills are birthed, etc.

For all its flaws, we can’t chuck aside formal education without a good replacement.

Nevertheless, we can ensure our children participate (and even excel) in school without demanding unrealistic grades from them. We can nurture the positive effects of schooling (eg. friendship, learning, etc.) while jettisoning the negatives (eg. academic pressure and comparison, report-card-as-identity-marker syndrome, etc.)

The future is opaque. Our predictive skills are terrible.

We simply do not know how our girl will think 20 years from now, so maybe we should lose the 24/7 helicopter parenting on homework and tuition and what-not?

We simply do not know which areas our boy will develop an expertise in when he’s older, so maybe we needn’t go ballistic if he brings back a less-than-stellar report card?

We simply do not know what paths may open for our children once they learn to decide for themselves and begin interacting as adults, so maybe let’s quit comparing our kids with their cousins all the time?

Given how different our teenagers will develop and mature (especially once they’re past their mid-twenties) — given all the uncertainties discussed — maybe parents (especially Asian parents) need to learn to CHILL OUT when it comes to our kids’ school results.

As parents, perhaps we need more patience and understanding. We should focus less on micro-managing their academic performance and more on guidance, encouragement, imparting principles, warning against dangers, etc.

Give them space. In time, they will do us proud.

* Note 1: Me? I got “only” four As for SPM and barely passed my Bahasa Malaysia (sigh) but since then I’ve worked in no fewer than four countries and hold a PhD in Political Philosophy. I was super-quiet in school but in the past 15 years have run hundreds of training seminars. Go figure?

** This is the personal opinion of the columnist.