By Regina Hong, Yale-NUS ’17 – See bio
As part of a series of changes to the educational landscape of Singapore, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has recently announced changes to the biennial Singapore Youth Festival (SYF), with the old system of awards (gold with honours, gold, silver and bronze) being replaced by certificates instead. The event will be renamed Singapore Youth Celebrations (SYC).
While the article was not too clear on whether the certificates would be merely certificates of participation or certificates of distinction/merit/credit etc, the point was clear if it referred to the former: Less stress for the students involved, who might be pressurised by the reduced time they have for their studies during SYF as well as the need to catch up post SYF. This was supplemented by the view that one ought to celebrate the “diversity of the arts” instead of being merely focused on the “awards”.
My first reaction was dismay, which my mother laughingly pointed out was the consequence of my having been subjected to a results-fixated environment. I beg to differ. Rather, I see results as rewards and acknowledgements of the efforts that a team or an individual has invested in working towards a particular goal. Realistically, would a student truly relish learning in a world where there were no demarcations of one’s performance relative to the rest of the playing field? It is only natural to continually want to hone one’s skills and better one’s performance and what better tangible way to mark this progress than by the implementation of results, or in this case, awards?
But what about the individuals or teams who do not rank in competitions, and who grow disgruntled and are subsequently discouraged from participating altogether? Unfortunately, the world runs on such a basis. People who perform are the one who get visible rewards. Take a salesperson, whose performance will be determined by the number of sales he or she has raked up in a month. Or the service officer, whose capability is affirmed by the smiles and thank you notes she/he receives from her customers. Regardless of the industry one eventually enters, one will constantly be assessed and graded on one’s performance. On a micro level, the SYF system of awards is doing just that. Call it a fast introduction to the less pretty parts of life.
Supporters of the change may also argue that since the arts are subjective, pinning an award to a performance would not necessarily be an accurate reflection of its calibre. Yet, no performance is ever fully exempt from critical judgement. If so, why then would there be such a sizeable number of awards ceremonies with large numbers of actors, directors, singers, authors, painters etc in attendance? It is only natural to want to know if your work has resonated with the general populace and if so, on how deep a level. The system of awards in SYF would reflect how deeply a particular piece has moved the judges and how much “soul” the performers have lent themselves to the manifestation of their art piece. Certificates just would not do justice to the level of devotion one has to put into performing a good piece. An appreciation of art cannot be simply expressed via certificates of appreciation. It is only correct that performers who have gone far beyond what the rest of the field has achieved be awarded in recognition of their accomplishments.
Perhaps the most compelling reason for the change would be the real and constant worry that students who have taken part in the SYF would not be able to catch up with their studies post SYF, leading to a lot of stress on both teachers and students alike. This would be particularly pertinent to students who will be facing one of the Big Three (PSLE/O-Levels/A-Levels) in the particular SYF year. I believe that most performing arts students who have taken part in the SYF will tell you that they are well aware of the risks they take when they sign up for the SYF performance. I also believe that most students will have the maturity of thought to know how they ought to prioritize their studies and their CCAs. It is inevitable that students may have to spend some time catching up post SYF. But I have seen many of my friends around me who have taken part in the SYF catching up to and even surpassing academically those of us who were not involved in SYF. Shifting the emphasis away from awards will not help to reduce the stress of to-be SYC performers if they have yet to learn time management.
At the end of the day, we are still young. We fall and make mistakes. But we also know that sometimes in life, you only get one shot at doing the things you love, and though the stakes involved may be high, we are willing to take on the odds. In some ways, the SYC feels like a penalty for wanting to know how far we can take ourselves after crossing paths with that elusive something known as passion whilst juggling our duties as students. I guess from now on, it will be harder to know.