The grading system was different then, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Primary Six, like it is now, was the most stressful time of my primary school years – for my parents.
I was in a SAP primary school, mainly because my parents thought it’d give me a grounding in my adopted mother tongue, and partly because my parents were influenced by the fact that the Prime Minister’s sons were educated there.
Mandarin as a first language was probably hard enough, but I made it a lot harder for myself by not being interested in whatever the teachers were handing down to us to rote learn. I remember the tomes titled “Up Down 5,000 Years” which were given to us in Primary Four, and which was supposed to contain everything you needed to know about the fabulous history of China. I learned nothing except that cheap books from Bras Basah had pages made out of really porous paper which soaked up my doodling.
The only things I really enjoyed about my time in primary school were the calligraphy lessons, the sneaking out to MPH and Popular Book Store, and making rockets out of matchstick heads.
I did so badly in Mandarin tests and exams, often scoring 25% or thereabouts, that the school did something outrageous. They put me and maybe two or three other boys in a special group that was registered to take the PSLE Mandarin exam as a second language instead of first, so that they would maintain their 100% pass record. They were that sure I was going to fail. So was I.
It was a win-win situation. The SAP feeder school maintained their impeccable record and got rid of me because I didn’t qualify for their secondary school any more. I got into a secondary school where Mandarin was not a do or die subject. (It was more like a die also never mind subject).
More importantly, when the results of the PSLE for 1981 were announced, I did well enough that my mother said in relief, “Good, you’re not going to VITB”, because VITB, the precursor to ITE, was like a dreaded disease. Stupid kids went there, and came out stupider, able to do only things like carpentry and electricianism. Then for the first time in my life, she took me shopping for any toy I wanted.
So I got myself a two track slot car set like this one: