Well I’m gonna open a can of worms here, because I think it’s time people knew that studying in a girls’ school isn’t as dandy as everyone thinks it is.
Many have the impression that girls who get to study in a girls’ school grow up to be fine young educated women, have BFF friendships lasting forever and fond memories of their school days.
For some girls, yes they are lucky enough to have these. But not so for others.
Going through four years of a girls’ school taught me many things, including the meaning of hypocrisy, the fickleness of “friendships”, the pretentiousness of some teachers, passive-aggressive bullying and above it all, the consequences of social non-conformity.
Some background about entering a girls’ school
When I first entered a girls’ school, I was super duper excited.
Coming from a neighbourhood primary school, going to an independent girls’ school was something I had really looked forward to because:
– four years of not worrying about boys seeing your period stain
– I totally bought into the whole Enid Blyton Mallory Towers girls BFF FOREVER idea
– I studied hard to get there (yeah elitist thinking I know, it didn’t take long to eat humble pie)
– possibility of getting a good swimming coach (the school had a good reputation in swimming)
– more opportunities to expand my horizons academically and holistically
But my experience was quite different, completely unexpected and somewhat disappointing.
Here’s what you probably would have never heard about studying in a girls’ school.
(DISCLAIMER: not every girls’ school is like this, and there are many girls who love their school, but humour my sharing ok?)
1. The first day of school is judgey
It didn’t really go well. You’d think everyone starts off equally, but some girls are more equal than others.
These girls were from the affiliated primary school (let’s call them “affiliates”), have a headstart in knowing the school customs, culture and cliques.
Newbies were outsiders to be tolerated, unless you came from another branded school, then they’d give you a modicum of personal brand equity.
Those from neighbourhood schools like myself were seen to be country bumpkins, uncultured ruffians who didn’t know the culture codes and hence was of little value to the affiliates.
You could already tell from the first day how affiliates judged you from the start.
It could be as simple as not knowing you should fold down your socks, or speaking in broken English.
2. Elitism starts from young
The first person I sat next to in class didn’t like me already. She was an affiliate and the vibes coming out of her every day were so negative!
Once, she and another affiliate stamped hard repeatedly on my feet because we were in disagreement which House (we were divided into Houses like in Hogwarts) was better.
The snobbishness of some of these affiliates was such a turn off, it was at the age of 14, I swore to myself I would never send my kids to a branded primary school and have them grow up into elitist snots.
3. BFF subject to changes
Friendships formed are largely based on cliques and how popular you are.
It’s easy to lose friends if you make a wrong move, or associated with anything seen as a liability in the delicate social world of girls’ school.
Girls will tell you they love you, hug and kiss you, write you love notes folded neatly in special origami fashion with glitter pens signed “Friends Forever” and all that empty promises.
The next week, you could be the loner that they walk past without saying hi. Actually they would just avoid crossing paths with you. And it could be due to someone simply starting a rumour that flies all over school and suddenly you’re an outcast.
4. Black books of bitching
I’ve never seen one in my life, but I heard how there are books circulated among the “in” crowd which consists of names of hated people (students and teachers alike).
People could write reasons why the hated people were the worst, add more rumours and insert good ol’ female bitching.
One was even confiscated by a teacher, but how do you punish nameless girls who have written in the book anonymously?
The damage that mass ostracising can do to an individual’s self-esteem should never be underestimated.
At the height of its brutality, I contemplated suicide twice, but thankfully was persuaded out of it by a very good friend I met outside of school, who taught me what true friendship is when others simply discarded me, their former “BFF”.
5. Not every teacher is a good teacher
Generally, most of the teachers I had were sort of ok, a few were good. And some were hell.
One male teacher, named David, who taught Chemistry, was extremely biased towards the popular girls.
He would spend the most time chatting with them about non-Chemistry topics, and once I had to stand in front of him for 5 minutes to ask a short question, until I got fed up and said loudly, “Mr XX, can I ask you a question?”.
It was very important to me, as to why a carefully drawn graph paper that I had certainly tied (with a dead knot) to my O Level Prelim Chemistry question paper, had gone missing, and it was worth 7 marks I think.
His flirting demeanour immediately changed to a frown, and he brusquely gave a one sentence reply that it’s my fault the paper disappeared, and then went back to happily chatting with the popular girls.
Another teacher I had in art class, Serena, pretty, slim but potty-mouthed, loved to yell at any student who didn’t bring the right art tools or submit a proper artwork.
You could hear her shouting, “Drag your bloody carcass here!”, even when she was pregnant.
She took an obscene pride in art-shaming her students in front of everyone. I suppose I have to be thankful she gave me 50/100 for my overall art grade.
6. Pretty on the surface, partly rotten underneath
You would think a school meant to groom young, well-mannered educated ladies would have a positive culture of inclusivity, respect and humility.
I remember my alma mater for its ruthless treatment of outcasts, worship of the elite (in terms of grades, popularity and high-achievers), and pretentiousness as a façade to look good.
You know something isn’t right when the principal is the common enemy that everyone blames when things go awry, and branded cars, bags, boyfriends (yeah even got branded boyfriends from ACS), cliques and holidays are the epitome of success.
For a Christian school, I found it weird that there was very little support for a Christian CCA group. I quit the committee within a few months when the President and VP didn’t turn up for the first few worship sessions, and the teacher-in-charge was difficult to meet.
Honestly, I breathed a big sigh of relief when I graduated, and haven’t been back to visit the school since.
Was it all that bad?
Even though there were many things I hated about going to this school, my parents’ efforts at paying expensive school fees didn’t go to waste.
For one, I experienced what my generation “educated”, “elite” society is really like. People trying to look good and fit in, while finding ways to assert their appearance of humility and good character via serving selected charitable and/or religious causes.
I learnt how letters of love and friendship only represent a fleeting feeling people feel for you at that moment, but only the strongest friendships remains long after those letters have passed.
I truly appreciated the teachers who were sincere and good, who did what they thought were in the best interests of their students and saw each of us as young talents to be groomed, instead of KPI-targets.
I had opportunities to explore multiple sports, go on field trips, participate in school activities, sing and clap with fellow classmates during Chapel, have the pleasant surprise of receiving letters and little gifts from others who didn’t blacklist me, hang outside school with some schoolmates who accepted me, and the privilege of training under a humble Olympic champion and his team of coaches.
Going to a girls’ school is like an exercise of your emotional, mental and spiritual stamina.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
And I suppose all the above counts under “holistic” education, no?
Also published on Medium.