Principal's 'champions' challenge upsets students
We want to be known as a school of champions, not a school of first runners-up.
Catholic High School's principal Lee Hak Boon told this to the entire school cohort on Friday morning.
But what was meant to be a motivational speech rubbed some students the wrong way.
The unhappiness started with representatives from the basketball, softball and volleyball teams presenting their runner-up trophies to Mr Lee.
The three C Division teams had missed the top spot narrowly in the recent inter-school matches.
In the basketball match, for instance, CHS lost to North Vista Secondary School by just three points.
After receiving the trophies, Mr Lee addressed the school cohort, commending the CHS boys for their fighting spirit.
He then said the school has the potential to be champions next year if they learn from the winning teams, and added: "If we could be champions, why settle for runners-up?"
One student felt Mr Lee was "heartless" in saying this.
"If this is what schools teach, that we must win at all costs, then something is clearly very wrong with the education system," he told The New Paper in an e-mail.
Another student said in a separate e-mail: "Mr Lee did not care about their feelings. He simply told the entire school that our players were inferior, right in front of the teams.
"He even went as far as to complain about the basketball team missing all of their shots, even though the boys fought their hardest and lost by only three points."
But a parent who heard Mr Lee's speech last Friday was puzzled by the negative reactions.
Leasing officer Christopher Yong, 53, was at CHS to root for his 14-year-old son, the vice-captain of the C Division softball team.
"If you ask me to interpret, I would say, yes, a little bit of disappointment from the principal at having got three silvers. But there were no ill feelings," he said.
Mr Yong said Mr Lee would be present at every match and competition.
He added: "He even went the extra mile to conduct motivational workshops for the softball boys three times a week.
"If he really didn't care about the students, why would he choose to do that?"
Adding that he was sad that Mr Lee's words had been taken out of context, Mr Yong said: "The principal is very encouraging. He even tells the coach not to scold or yell at the boys during matches.
"The students could have taken (his words) badly because they felt that he gave them a smack, but it's not meant to be like that. It's meant to spur them on.
"If you tell them second is enough, when will they become champions?"
Similarly, Mr Lee was surprised by how his students had interpreted what was meant to be a "well-intended challenge".
But he acknowledged that some of them could have misunderstood his intentions as they were still dazed by the loss.
Emphasising that he was proud of his students' achievements, Mr Lee said: "Our school believes in celebrating our students' achievements, and guiding them to have a mindset of striving for improvement.
"At the same time, I had intended to also spur our students to learn from the winning teams and work on areas of improvement."
He said he addressed the students again yesterday morning to "clarify and commend the CCA students again for their fighting spirit and achievements".
Member of Parliament Baey Yam Keng, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said it was natural for a principal to want his school and students to do well.
He said those who were upset by Mr Lee's speech were probably the ones who fought hard for the trophies, only to have them slip through their fingers.
"(Mr Lee's) speech was intended for the whole school. The other way this could have been done is to separately address the team in a more encouraging manner," the MP for Tampines GRC added.
"The students could have taken (his words) badly because they felt that he gave them a smack, but it's not meant to be like that. It's meant to spur them on."
- Parent Christopher Yong, who heard Mr Lee Hak Boon's speech last Friday and was puzzled by the negative reactions