Over the weekend, there were several viral articles about how difficult this year’s PSLE maths exam paper was. We looked at a few of the tougher questions, and admit that some may have (no, they surely would have) stumped us, especially under the pressure of an exam!
The Straits Times summed up the overall feelings of parents and students with its article titled: ‘Speechless’: Some parents, kids upset over tough PSLE maths paper. Meanwhile, Mothership gave us an education in how to solve the toughest question.
Unhealthy Comparison Of Grades From A Young Age
Looking back at our education journey in Singapore, many of us would have grown up having parents invariably compare our exam results. We would be compared to our siblings, cousins, classmates or even the neighbour’s kids. If you felt frustrated and were never able to keep up, you were far from the only one.
We know they didn’t just do this for fun – they wanted the best for us. Getting good scores increases our chances of getting into good schools and ultimately good-paying careers.
However, this never-ending comparison can also be very unhealthy and sub-optimal – and put the mental health of children at risk. Of course, grades alone would not be the sole determinant of how far we go in our careers and lives.
As logical as this sounds, when we enter the workforce, we ourselves start obsessing over another comparison – how much we are being paid compared to the average and to others. This can be an equally unhealthy way of looking at our salary.
Here are some reasons why comparing your salary to the average salary in Singapore is quite similar to how your (and other parents) are comparing grades.
#1 50% Of People Will Never Be Able To Match Up
Comparing to the average, or more precisely the median, salary is always going to leave some people feeling lousy. This is simply a function of how the figure is derived. 50% of people will always be below the figure and 50% of people above the figure.
This means regardless of what we may do, 50% of workers will never be able to match up to the median salary of $4,534 in Singapore. This is not because such workers aren’t smart enough, working hard enough or good enough. It’ simply how the median salary in constructed.
The other 50% of workers will also be above the median salary mark. This does not mean that they are smart, hard-working or good.
#2 Fixating On Grades (Or Salary) Kills Creativity And Excellence
Parents who only compare grades are telling their children that English, Maths, Science, Mother Tongue (and other subjects at different levels) define their worth.
Similarly, employees who fixate on pay think that it defines who they are.
In both instances, that is not true.
By fixating on grades, students will become less likely to take risks or pursue an interest that does not serve the goal of getting a better grade.
Looking at the real world, there are many career opportunities outside those that require the best grades (i.e. medicine, legal, banking, IT and others) that can offer a lucrative and fulfilling career. For example, a career as a YouTuber, Runner, Video Gamer or business owner has the ability to be equally fulfilling and even more lucrative.
By only looking to earn a higher salary from Day 1, employees will be keenly aware of the money they are going to forego to pursue their dreams or even start a business. Worse still, even if they see it as a possible career, the fear of failure will stop them from going for it.
#3 Comparing Can Actually Limit Your Potential
Just because a child happens to score better than their siblings, cousins or neighbours’ kids does not mean they are unable to do better. Not fixating on grades does not mean ignoring them. There may be scope for parents to encourage their children to do even better. Some kids are great at maths – so push them to do their best – while others may be good at other things besides academics.
As a worker, just because we are earning more than our colleagues does not mean we should take it easier at work. If it is in our ability, we can always strive to do better.
Similarly, even if we are already earning more than the median salary, it doesn’t mean we have made it. For example, an in-house lawyer who earns $6,000 a month will actually be earning less than the 25th percentile of in-house legal counsel salaries according to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
#4 Grades (Or Salary) Is Not The End-Goal
Comparing grades can lead to the unhealthy obsession to capture every mark possible on an exam paper. That’s not really the point of being educated. Scoring well and getting into Raffles Institution (RI) will not necessarily make you the most literate person.
Your education should prepare you to excel in the workforce. Even better if you are able to excel in a field you are truly passionate about.
Similarly, earning every dollar more can become an unhealthy obsession for employees. Unfortunately, that’s not really the point of building a fulfilling career. You may be able to leave your current employer for an extra $200 elsewhere. But will you really be happier, work on projects that are more fulfilling, having colleagues that are better? And the bigger question is whether it will be a springboard for your career?
Being a doctor, lawyer, investment banker or computer engineer may pay well, but they may not be professions we want even if our abilities give us that option. We may not enjoy the work environment, working hours or maybe we have other passions we rather turn into business opportunities.
At the end of the day, we should be building a career we enjoy rather than chasing every dollar possible.
More Money Is Always Better – But Money Alone Is Not The End Goal
It’s also important to note that we should not completely ignore comparisons and benchmarks. We should know where we stand. This gives us a good picture of striving for better.
There’s a thin line between “striving for better” and “obsessing over grades/salary”. Again, every individual is different and will have different definitions – and that’s fine. Just remember that a little stress provides good encouragement, too much stress inhibits growth.
As an employee living in an expensive city like Singapore, having more money will always make our lives easier. However, we need to think about what we want to do with our career rather than think about how much we are getting paid. Choosing the career we want will make us happier, and when we’re happier in our work, we have a good chance of earning more.
Listen to our podcast, where we have in-depth discussions on finance topics that matter to you.