Education, Examinations & Expectations

What do we expect when we pray for those taking exams?  This may sound ridiculous, silly even, but is it not an interesting question to consider?  What are we really asking for?

Take, for example, a conversation I had with a mother some years back.  She was really upset and disappointed with God.  I don’t think she was going to give up her faith, but she sure sounded like she was close to that decision.  When the PSLE results were announced, her son did well, but not well enough to get into ACS(I).  As such, he had to settle for ACS (Barker) – considered ‘second-class’ in the ACS family of schools.  To this mother, God did not answer her prayer, nor her son’s.  What made it harder for her to accept was that God seemed to have answered the prayers of the other parents – since their sons got into ACS(I) – and these were less-devoted Christians, and some non-believers!

You may be smiling at this true account 🙂  But I daresay such reactions are rather common in results-oriented, academics-crazy Singapore.  It sure makes me wonder what parents really expect God to do for their children when they prepare and sit for exams?  Perhaps they want God to supernaturally increase the academic capability of the child, to reveal all the questions and answers, to change the tough questions to easier ones for their child only, to blind the teachers’ eyes to wrong or inappropriate answers, etc.  Even more interesting, I hear of prayers for those collecting the results.  Are these praying for good results after knowing how well they did or struggled through the paper?  Are these praying for the marks and grades to miraculously change from D to A?  Or from A to A*?

Can God not do all these, you ask?  Of course He can for nothing is impossible for Him.  I have heard testimonies of how God had revealed the questions so the individual knew what to study.  But does He do it all the time?  For all?  I’m not too sure about that.  You may not agree with me entirely.  But if you are so convicted, I’d really encourage you to offer a course “How to ace your exams supernaturally!”  Not only will you have immediate sign-ups, you will have great opportunity for evangelism too.  Think about it … believe in Jesus, and get straight As!

Ok, coming back to praying for exams.  Of course, when the child does well, praises are offered to God.  But when the results are less than satisfactory, why question God?  Why accuse Him for not answering?  Do you really expect every Christian student to score As?  If so, you might as well believe in the prosperity gospel that suggests every Christian should be materially rich, wealthy and prosperous!

We need to get our perspectives right again.  The academic system needs a means of testing and evaluation and it’s called examinations.  In any group – in a class, a school, a precinct, a country – there will be those who do better and those not so well.  That is a given.  In the odd event everyone does equally well (or bad), you can expect the system to be adjusted to again separate the best from the not-so-good’s.  Given the emphasis on education and academic excellence in Singapore, we can safely assume that it will only get tougher, not easier.

As parents, we value the place of education in our children’s lives.  However, if we are not careful and mindful, it is also easy for education to take the place of God.  Simply put, we trust education more than we trust God.  We are so worried and anxious that without making it to the top 10%, we fear our children will lose out in life.  They will have to work under someone, or have their career opportunities curtailed.  At the end of the day, it’s all about landing a good job, for a good salary, to secure a good life.  Where is God?  Of course, He is there … but only to ensure exams scores are good that our goals for our children are realised.  How we pray and later respond reveal very clearly how much we truly trust God, or grades.

If one chooses to remain in the academic system, the pressure to perform and out-perform others will always be there.  Even for us, as homeschoolers, the pressure is still there, however subtle.  The key is to always have the right perspective.  I’ve found it useful to constantly ask myself, “Is it about education, academics and grades?  Or is it about learning life and knowing God?”  This is our prayer for each of our children – that they learn life and know God.  We recognise their strengths and weaknesses.  Not all may be academically-inclined to perform well in a school system; but all are individually gifted and talented, and capable of serving the Lord in whatever capacity He enables them in.

Also, not all bloom or mature at the same time – some earlier, some later.  It’s not a one-size fits all – whether you make it or you don’t. Sadly, school systems are much like production lines. If you don’t fit the mould, sorry!   You are promptly moved to the next line or category.  That’s what makes parenting and homeschooling so tough.  We need to know our children that we may encourage them along the right path at the right pace with the right perspective.  We too have been guilty of being a little impatient at times, only to discover that given just a few months more, the child suddenly gets it.

As a Singaporean parent, I am equally susceptible to the pressures and demands of our society.  Honestly, it’d be nice if each of my seven children do well academically and attain PhDs.  I’d be one proud father 🙂  But that is not my pre-occupation at all.  If the Lord so leads them that way, praise be to God.  If not, praise Him still!

In the meantime, my prayer is for them to have the right attitude towards exams, to do their best and to never give up, regardless the results.  I believe God can use any result and every life experience to shape them for His purposes.  And in the end, if each would love, know and serve Him passionately wherever they are placed, I’d really be one proud father 🙂

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6 thoughts on “Education, Examinations & Expectations

  1. Thanks for sharing. Another good friend had this to say in his blog too…

    School Results (PSLE) – What I’m learning about school grades Thanksgiving!

    So 巧 or co-incidental that this year’s 24th November was my eldest son, Joshua’s Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results’
    release, my youngest son, Samuel’s one month celebration (both rites of passage in our local community) and the U.S. Thanksgiving. It was indeed a good day to give thanks.

    Pursuing Grades – of this World or not?
    Living here where academic excellence is do or die, where parents spend inordinate amounts of money on extra classes for their kids and say that they feel like they themselves are going through their kids’
    exams, I’ve always asked myself “How should Christian parents live differently?”

    If the Bible calls us to be in this world but not of this world, to avoid conformity to the patterns of the world – should we rush them from school to tuition to enrichment classes all day long and celebrate only when the kids bring back top marks? The local phrase we use is “怕输” – “scared to lose”; or in proper English “Fear of failure”. Are we as Christians just as scared to lose as our non-Christian counter-parts? If we are then is there something missing in our faith?

    Our words betray us?
    And what should Christian parents say when asked about their childrens’ results? The standard answer seems to be “Oh, none of it is my credit, it’s all to the glory of God.” Personally I find these answers unsatisfactory. It cannot apply to all situations and is mostly used by parents when their children get good grades. What of children who do not get ‘good’ grades, did they not bring glory to God? Or if grades were blessings from God, were they not blessed because they’ve not been ‘good’ somehow?

    Good Grades or Good God?
    In my musings I have come to realise that there are two dangers with pursuit of good grades:
    1. That it is but the start of chasing after things in life that leads us to be defined by things, such as a great career, wealth, fame, good looks etc., rather than to be defined by the identity we have in Jesus and His death for us on the cross.

    2. That we look at grades as an assurance of success and security in life when they are actually only options and choices for life’s next steps. Every grade gives an option, there are no dead ends, especially when we are under God’s care.

    As I have written in my recent blogs – those who believe that worldly success brings joy and fulfils our hearts’ deepest yearnings often learn regretfully that this is not true. My wife asked me why I was rather sanguine about the whole PSLE thing and my reply was that after working this number of years, I have realised that the amount of emphasis we place on academic excellence is somewhat misplaced. Those who only know how to study for grades are often lacking in social skills that are even more important in the workplace.

    What I learnt from Joseph
    During this period God brought me back to the life of Joseph (for those who are not familiar with this man in the Bible – look him up in Genesis 37 – 41. You can go to Bible Gateway
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=genesis%2037%20-%2041&version=NIV)

    Joseph was the favourite son of Jacob, the patriarch of the nation of Israel. Unfortunately, Joseph’s brothers were so gripped with jealousy and envy that they plotted and succeeded in selling him to Egypt as a slave. This led to years of incarceration and slavery for Joseph till God’s gifting on him were finally recognised by the pharaoh of Egypt through a series of events. Through these difficult years Joseph had but one option, to wait patiently for God to act. Eventually, God elevated him to a position second only to the Pharaoh and saved the people of Egypt from a devastating drought.

    Honestly, which parent would not want for their child to be in Joseph’s final position in Egypt? Probably all. But which parent would want their child to go through the journey to get there? Probably none. Yet the learning point is this, Joseph’s life (and the rest of ours for that matter) was not something that could be engineered by man, only by God. So if Joseph had lived in modern times, none of those extra classes, top marks, top schools would have led to that position of ‘success’ that parents so desire for their children.

    So what grades did Joshua really get?
    You may think after all this that the reason why I’m writing this is because Joshua’s results were not so good. The truth is that Joshua got good solid results, enough to get him to the school of his choice* and to have options to choose courses he desires. He is pleased with himself as we are with him. He may not have appeared on any ‘top’
    lists but his results are a good reflection of the solid, consistent work that he has done through the year. Marie and I were already proud of him, his discipline and determination in his studies before the results were out.
    * I am not writing down Joshua’s actual results because he has already posted them on his own facebook page and I am of a generation that is more discreet when it comes to public announcement of grades.

    I’m still learning too…
    The real reason why I’m writing this is because I am no less affected by the pressures of academic success. I too get unhappy when the boys come home with ‘not good’ results. I have grown up with the belief that top grades are everything; and I believe within me I have much pride over this. But I hope I’m learning …

    I tried to be different when I was at school waiting for Joshua’s PSLE results. To a mom whose son got top marks and gave me the usual ‘It’s not me, it’s all God’ spiel, I said, “You know, which ever grades our sons get, it’s the exact grade that he needs – and that’s what God has given to them.” I got this blank, non-comprehending look, perhaps because I truly took the glory and gave it to God, not to her or her son. I’m still not sure this is the best way but I think it’s a step in the right direction.

    1. Dear Daniel,
      Thanks for commenting. Interestingly, Serene also shared this same blogpost by Chi Hong after reading my post 🙂 Let’s continue to encourage and remind one another of what matters most … Jesus and His Kingdom!
      Blessings
      Henson

  2. Hi, found your blog from Serene’s links on her blog. Thank you for sharing the right kingdom perspective Christian parents should maintain, I personally found it very insightful,thought-provoking and very practical from a local Singaporean view.

  3. Thanks for sharing!
    Indeed, it is a lesson to be learnt thru’out our lives…
    *Trusting the Lord with our exams does not guarantee straight As
    ‎*Trusting the Lord for our salvation and our lives does not mean that life here suddenly becomes smooth and perfect.
    * Trusting the Lord with our finances does not mean that we suddenly become wealthy.
    *Trusting the Lord with fertility does not guarantee a large family.
    *As in all areas of life, we are simply trusting for His will to be done, with an acknowledgement that all things belong to Him.

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