SINGAPORE: Year Two school student Mohd Qaiser, 14, recalled a day in Primary 1, when he went home devastated and locked himself in his room, crying endlessly.
Qaiser was just seven years old then, and he could not bear the frustration of not being able to spell.
“When I went back home I was in the room crying. I have been trying to train for just one word. I am trying, I am trying. I keep on failing,” he said.
The heart-breaking scene was played out on Aug 21 at the preview of Channel NewsAsia’s new documentary series, Don’t Call Us Beaten, which takes a look at what it’s like to have failed the first milestone in Singapore education – the Primary School Leaving Examination.
Among the 80 invitees were Qaiser and his schoolmates from NorthLight School, along with students from Assumption Pathway School who attended the screening with their parents and teachers.
Assumption Pathway and NorthLight are the only two schools that take in students who failed their PSLE.
They are focused on helping students who failed to develop skills in preparation for further education and job opportunities.
The fly-on-the-wall documentary follows students at the two schools who cope with the challenges of learning difficulties. The documentary team - who also produced this year’s hit reality documentary Don’t Call Us Poor - spent an entire school term this year filming and interviewing teachers and students.
It is the first documentary to give an honest behind-the-scenes look at school life in Singapore.
CREATING GREATER AWARENESS
HOPEFUL: Education Minister Heng Swee Keat hopes the documentary series will help dispel the social stigma of academic failure.
With principal production over, the five-part documentary, which airs on Monday (Sep 14), was lauded by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat at the preview screening at Great World City’s Golden Village cinemas.
“Don’t Call Us Beaten is a very special show. It highlights two very unique schools and how both schools give second chances to our students," said Mr Heng.
“Every child is different. Everyone has different learning needs, different learning styles. If we can come together as a community to help every child learn, every child can succeed.”
NorthLight principal Martin Tan said that the documentary can help "create greater awareness among Singaporeans about these two schools and that (the students) can continue the journey of learning and growing".
Mr Tan praised the teaching staff and highlighted their dedication to helping students unable to cope with mainstream education.
“They could have gone to do something easier, but they decided to opt for NorthLight because they are driven by the mission to give hope to these students," said Mr Tan.
NorthLight student Mohd Qaiser with his mother (right) and grandmother (left) at the preview screening of Don't Call Us Beaten. (Photo: Kane Cunico)
Sin Ziyue with her teacher, Faith Denning, from NorthLight at the preview screening. (Photo: Kane Cunico)
Parent Jasmine Tan, who appears on a web-exclusive episode of the documentary, said she left the workforce for five years to stay home and coach her daughter, Sin Ziyue, while she was in Primary school.
“She was the sort of child that did not know how to write," said Mrs Tan.
"She did not know how to pay attention to the teacher. Her enrolment at NorthLight School gave me hope. Greatness can be achieved in every field. Every child is special in his or her own way.
“Watching her mature intellectually, from not liking, not wanting, to accepting the challenge, we think it has been a driving force.”
"I HOPE IT ENCOURAGES STUDENTS": NARRATOR LIM KAY TONG
Don't Call Us Beaten narrator Lim Kay Tong. (Photo: Kim Wong)
Celebrated actor Lim Kay Tong, who narrates the series, said he empathises with students and parents like Mrs Tan.
During a recent voice over recording session for the documentary, Mr Lim told Channel NewsAsia that he was no stranger to struggling in school.
“I was useless at a lot of subjects at school. I concentrated on my strengths, that was my strategy. You just need to find the things that you really love to do and just focus on that and be very good at it," said Mr Lim.
“Hopefully, it encourages students who are in the same predicament or parents who have children struggling with school that there are ways out and there are solutions.”
Don’t Call Us Beaten airs on Channel NewsAsia on Sep 14 at 8pm (SG/HK). You can also watch web-exclusive footage from the documentary series at Channel NewsAsia Connect’s YouTube page.