By Khoo Boo Kian
I write this review in close consultation with my son who had a terrible time in ACS Barker secondary 1 2014. We are not talking about ACS primary nor ACS Independent.
We write to protect other children who are still in that school and because my son needs to come to terms with his traumatic experience there.
My son's introduction to ACS Barker was in December 2013 at a welcome speech by the principal who spent half the time telling the audience to accept their fate at being relegated to this school as Divine intervention and not to fight it.
After succeeding in making us feel completely second class, he introduced us to the most sorry bedraggled bunch of teachers on stage I've ever seen, teachers who didn't even bother to dress properly for the stage and looking as though they had just gotten out of bed. My apologies to all the exceptions. I tried to walk out half way and drive to the nearest international school but was unable to overcome the fear of change in my wife and my son, the same fear that haunts many fellow Singaporeans.
My fears were prescient and crystallized during the Orientation Camp. The discipline master lined the kids up for a standby school bag and anyone who had food in their bags were given a severe public dressing down even though the bag was packed by my wife and the instructions list did not prohibit food articles. The food was bad but you had to finish everything otherwise you aren't allowed to leave. A water parade was held for the kids before a hike and when my son who has a small stomach couldn't, he was told that if he didn't finish, he was not allowed to complain even if he showed signs of heat exhaustion like headache and fever.
The camp was poorly organized. The two-hour kayaking course was spent with a one hour forty five minutes lecture on land, and a fifteen minute period in the water when the kids were asked to raft their kayaks together for a fifteen minute lecture on water. During the kayaking, the teachers amused themselves by using the paddle to splash the kids with water. When the camp commandant, I'm sorry, I mean school principal, asked them whether they are enjoying their camp, and almost all shouted with a resounding "No!" His reply was "this is the most enthusiastic group compared to other years."
Was he deaf or sarcastic?
Well, after the camp, we talked to the principal, and his unrepentant reply was that the orientation camp is more for training our children for national service than as a holiday camp to make friends, hence the title of this article ACS or Army Camp School.
The atmosphere of the school was like that of an army camp. If you were walking alone, you are likely to be interrogated rather than greeted.
If your tie is not tied properly or if your shirt was not tucked in, you can be sure to be criticised. I send my son to school almost everyday and every morning, he would spend five minutes tucking and re tucking his shirt into his shorts, just in case they should come out during school. He even requested for oversize shirts so he could tuck them deeper. Unfortunately, the oversized shirts came with collars too big for his neck so he would be scolded for not tightening his ties even though the tie had already come up to the top collar button.
On the last day of school in 2014, class ended at 11 and he assumed there won't be chapel which starts 1 pm. So he didn't bring his tie. The discipline master hauled him up, refused to listen to his excuses, and asked him to choose between two detentions or a five hundred word essay.
Even if we reach school at 7.15 am, my son would not leave the car until 7.30 sharp because he says,"I hate school, and the less time I spend in school, the better." Every morning in the car, he says almost without fail, "I hate school!" for the entire year.
The school doesn't allow mobile phones to be turned on. My son is so terrified about this rule, he's never contactable unless he himself wants to contact us. One day, the school police raided the class and ransacked everyone's bags for their mobile phone. Horrors, his phone was left on! Even though he never abuses his phone, he had to make a trip to the discipline masters office for this terrible offence and be threatened with confiscation for three months if he ever did it again. And that was only after the discipline master checked his log and realized my son never uses his handphone during school hours.
When I asked the principal why my son who is a good boy in school is being terrorized, his reply was that schools have rules, just like hospitals have rules, and rules must be obeyed.
Last I heard, the school is banning smart phones this year. A school that forced every student to buy a Mac Book which is a white elephant, is banning smartphones in this digital age where one often has to be computer savvy.
Meanwhile, my son was being bullied in school but despite our protests, no punishment was down to protect him from verbal abuse and from acts like pouring water into his school bag and damping his books and MacBook. The teachers nagged the boys but didn't stop them from calling him 'stupid' and 'retard' etc.
My son felt that he was being targeted by the system whilst the bullies and the naughty kids were getting off easily. The same boys were naughty but the entire class was punished again and again. You might as well break the rules if you're going to be punished. And sometimes my son will refuse to be punished for things he didn't do.
In fact I heard a special needs kid who is a friend of my son was almost caned for retaliation against bullies from whom the school offered no protection. The school should focus on the bullies and the disruptive kids instead of seeking out kids like my son who sits quietly in the corner.
I felt that the problem was that the principal and the teachers, in general lacked sufficient respect and love for the kids. And didn't have the courage or the ability to tackle the bullies.[junkie-tabs] [junkie-tab title="Academic Learning"]
I'm sorry teacher, but my son has a very low opinion of teachers after a year here, he's learning to undo his prejudice about teachers now.
The quality of english amongst the teachers in general was so poor that my son couldn't understand what was being taught so he switched off completely and spent his day drawing cartoons. If my son who has PSLE A stars for english math and science cannot understand his teachers, what hope do the others have? My son also has a distinction from the university of New South Wales English competition. And when my son asked questions, he either couldn't understand the answer, or he was ridiculed and laughed at e.g. when he challenged the biology teacher that a dichotomous classification of pets shouldn't include having or not having a pet.
As for the Chinese, my son got a C PSLE but there was no streaming for ability in Chinese so my son couldn't understand his lessons and kept failing. Everyday he watched his Chinese teachers mouth open and close and all sorts of sounds came out but it was all Greek to him. My son feels the teachers are almost all lousy.
As for the subject matter, maybe it's partly the national syllabus, but it was boring. Even the science which is his favorite subject was "done in such great detail, it became tedious" I noticed that the secondary one physics book is the same as that used by the sec four at O levels. The sec one math book was not printed yet and by the time we left the school, we still haven't got the book so my son did one year of math without a textbook. And oh yes, the math teacher made a mistake like teaching lesson three without teaching lesson two so the kids didnt have the foundation and couldn't understand. And there were no textbooks, so my son who is an A star math student had to take up math tuition. He doesn't need any math tuition now.
There are TWO tests a week and my son just gave up and carried on as though there are no tests. He ddint prepare. Now he stays up late whenever there are tests. The school does a handy job of posting all homework on the website so the mothers can check so you could say communication with parents is good but whether there will be a effective response to feedback is another question[/junkie-tab] [junkie-tab title="CCA"]
The debating is outsourced and done well. The ACS Barker team won the debate in 2014. My son says he found it very useful[/junkie-tab] [junkie-tab title="Facilities"]
My son says what's the use of a good science lab when you hardly get to touch anything the entire year? You are treated like a retard who cant be trusted to do anything right. What's the use of lugging a Macpro around that you use at most once a week? And this school does not have a field although it has a pool.[/junkie-tab] [junkie-tab title="Character development "]
0 stars Big fat zero
One of the teachers, instead of teaching, spent an entire session on how evil homosexuals were. How if there was a especially violent crime committed, it is most likely done by a homosexual. Another teacher said, if your grandfather is dying, rather than spend the last moments with him, you should go for your exam. Your grandfather will understand.
This school doesn't punish bullies but punishes those who retaliate against bullies.[/junkie-tab] [/junkie-tabs]
Within two weeks of moving to a private school, my son blossomed and transformed into a more confident, more expressive boy who never complains about going to school anymore. He takes more interest in his subjects and he tries harder at school. He finds his assignments much more interesting and the syllabus is more relevant to our fast changing world. The English is taught as literature and much more challenging but he will catch up for the last year. This shy boy can now act in front of the entire class during drama and make people laugh, what more can you ask?
I asked around and found that there are happy kids in neighborhood schools. If you are going to put your son in ACS, try out a good neighborhood school. I don't mean only the results, I mean are the kids wholesome and happy. Because a happy kid will do something right eventually. If you think this way, don't send your son to ACS Barker secondary.
TOC wrote to ACS Barker Secondary on 26 May for their response but has yet received any replies from the school.