Suicides are devastating to hear about, and more so when it’s a child that has decided to take his or her life. When Stanley Yap and Jerome Lau of brand communication agency Splash Productions learned that the daughter of someone they knew had committed suicide, they were disturbed and on further research, found that 27 young people in Singapore, aged 10 to 19, had ended their lives last year. The duo were finally moved to action in August this year, when news broke that two students from a top junior college had killed themselves within 10 days of each other.
“We thought that we really needed to do something about this. We wanted to start a conversation… to try and help parents manage their mindsets and expectations with their children’s results,” said Jerome in an interview with The New Paper.
What they’ve done is created a short film, titled “PSLE-GO,” to send a message to parents and children in Singapore that there is more to life than exams. (Watch it here.) It was a labour of love—the cast and crew contributed their talents to the production for free—and the plot will resonate with the average Singaporean, as it’s a heartwarming story about children growing up in a pressure-cooker education environment. We spoke to Jerome, producer for the film and himself a father of two, about the role that he hopes “PSLE-GO” will play in influencing the national conversation on education.
What questions do you hope parents will ask themselves after watching the film? If their kids are not performing academically, they may want to ask if they are really victims of the system or if they are really powerless. After all, there are always alternative choices and points of view.
Perhaps more important than doing well is having the mindset to deal with failure. Failure is an important fact of life, and it is better to learn it early on. So, parents may also want to ask if their bonds with their children are strong enough to weather failures and things that do not go as planned.
What message do you hope to send to kids who watch the film? We believe it is very important for kids to understand that grades are just one of many ways to measure success. Success comes in many forms—some people may be academically average but can be superb athletes, artists, inventors, musicians, and more. The sky’s the limit!
Based on your personal experience, what do you think is the typical Singaporean mindset when it comes to exams? Our education system streams and categorises students from a young age, and the “categories” students end up in seem to have great impact on their academic success and later on, career success. This places great anxiety on parents from the get-go. They are led to believe that if their kids are not outstanding from the start, they will remain mediocre throughout their lives. This has resulted in our society’s present obsession with exams and academic success.
Do you have a story to share about someone who struggled with academics but found another path to success? For me, success cannot be measured with financial or social status. Is someone who makes $20,000 per month considered successful? There are people who make that amount, and more, who are pretty miserable. I know many friends who struggled with their studies in school but went on to live very happy and meaningful lives. They are working in jobs they enjoy and are passionate about—this is success to me.
What other stories did you draw upon for the making of this film? We drew our ideas from many sources, such as ministers’ comments on the PSLE, the recent viral letter from a school principal urging students not to define success with grades, and of course the Pokemon craze of 2016. Some stories within the film are genuine, such as my son’s passion for water polo.
However, most of our inspiration came from interactions with friends. We have friends who often miss get-togethers because they need to help their children prepare for the exams. From there, we realised how obsessed—and helpless—this society has become as a result of exams.