“Ugh. I have 2 AP exams to study for, 3 speeches to present, 2 formative quizzes coming soon, and an essay due tomorrow. Caffeine is legit the only thing that will get me through this week,” says Diana Yuan, a sophomore attending SAS.
Pressure and stress build up throughout the high school life of students in SAS, and often times, students lack the knowledge of how they can help themselves and instead tolerate their stressful workload. It can be compared to someone with diabetes, except, instead of plaque blocking your cardiovascular system, cortisol will enter the cells in the hippocampus. This will kill the cells in your brain, causing premature brain aging.
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all,” says Aristotle, a respected and well-known philosopher of ancient Greece who had a strange yet strong fetish for dissecting animals during his off-days.
The big question is: what the heck is “educating the heart?” and “why is it important?”
Educating the heart refers to the importance of not only focusing on developing the cognitive aspects but also all the qualities that make us human and gives us meaning in our lives. This is a foundation that should be reached before people start educating the brain. If we secure the foundation of education, there is no reason the education of the brain shouldn’t be successfully approachable.
For students at Singapore American School, we often misidentify the foundation of true learning. Students in SAS often get tied down by the most exquisite kind of agony from their academic life. However, these students have the ability to learn from existing countries that have found success in their education system. Finland is known for having a utopian education system with Finnish students scoring near the top in the Program for International Student Assessment (or PISA) for reading, mathematics, and science. What is more surprising is that Finnish students spend less time in school than students in the Singapore American School and have a lower homework rate than their peers in other countries. So what exactly is the secret to their success? How does SAS compare with schools in Finland?
According to studies done by the Pasi Sahlberg, a former director general in the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, the secret to Finland’s success with education is how they deal with a student’s social life before academics. This is very different from SAS students who exist in a circle of competition without considering the consequences that might be mounting inside. Competition is something that every student should experience during their high school life — whether it is studying for the SATs or playing on the Varsity soccer team.
However, countries like Finland have insisted that students don’t necessarily have to be pressured into doing something to succeed. In that scenario, Finland’s education system would not be seeing similar results as it is currently seeing. Instead, it would probably match more towards the stress levels found in the SAS community.
When asked if stress is a standard casualty at SAS, Jin Hyung Kim, a freshman, replied: “Definitely yes. My peers and I both feel stress and we see it when we open PowerSchool and our parents yell at us for an entire day. I think the high-stress level has to do a lot with the high expectations – both at home and here at SAS.”
Stress does not originate solely from the student’s sense of accomplishment or failure, but also from expectations imposed by the student’s guardian or parent. It is indeed true that academic parental pressure to a certain extent can benefit the child as he or she receives motivation to do better. But in SAS, the ferocious “Tiger Moms,” as Sean Chang, a freshman describes, put so much pressure to the point where kids can often be abused verbally and physically. This stress likely has the opposite effect to that intended by the parent, which is to drive motivation within them. Instead, it causes them to worry, be less inspired, and feel more disappointed.
Expectations of the student’s performance should instead come after encouraging them. Encouragements can range from allowing the child to openly speak up about their academic life (without the constant pressure from parents) to offers of assistance with the work they are struggling in.
SAS students are hungry beasts, craving the notion of “perfection.” Yet, can this standard be met while giving students a chance to educate their hearts first? An understanding of “educating the heart” should be the ultimate concern of SAS students. Through learning what passion is and how to tailor their education to meet their heart’s desires, students create a trajectory to reach success in their academic life as well. Educating the heart must come before educating the mind. And until this is done, the students of SAS might very well remain victims of themselves — purveyors of a “heartless” education — with the absence of the very passion, curiosity, and drive that is vital to their success.