I observe many parents pushing their kids to get into the IP schools (Study hard! Do well in primary school! Sail through PSLE with flying colours! Get in and you’re set for life!!!). But I wonder if they think beyond getting in, and consider what six years of being in an environment full of super-achievers will do to their bright kids. It’s not just schools and teachers and parents perpetuating the stress. Quite apart from these external ‘culprits’, kids are perfectly capable of creating stress for themselves too. Especially if one is an achiever who has been "conditioned" for success from all those years of being in elite schools and expects a great deal of oneself.
Just to illustrate. I graduated from a JC where the usual questions before and after A levels were along the line of :
Are you applying to Oxbridge? Ivy League?
Did you get provisionally accepted? HYP or lower Ivy??
Which scholarships are you applying for?
Which scholarships offers did you get? (Oh, the pitying looks when one admits to certain (perceived) "lower-class" scholarships!)
To be at ease in such an environment was already an achievement in itself.. Not everyone possessed sufficient resilience to escape unscathed. There were suicidal thoughts when lofty expectations (die die must get into Oxbridge!) were not met. Kid you not… In their world, they had failed miserably.
Less severely, I had classmates who were so ashamed that they "only" made it to the local unis that they evaporated away from our lives forever. And there were many who thought they were destroyed for life when they didn’t make it to med school. Every other discipline was a poor second choice. I still recall, vividly, an outstanding girl who was so distraught by her rejection from med school (this was when the med school had an unreasonable 1/3 cap for the number of females) that she spent four years moping about it – she was disgusted with only getting into law school and actually tried pretty hard to flunk out by refusing to study.
Some friends have admitted that they regret sending their kids to IP schools – their kids are certainly very bright academically, but they are drowning in the stress – not created by their very sensible and increasingly worried parents, but, apparently, by themselves. I can’t help thinking that maybe kids should receive psychological assessments when they apply for these ‘elite’ schools, like in scholarship interviews.