20 May 2006

Political debate should include educational policies

Moede Funct, a guest commentator, details the many ways in which Singapore's education system creates stresses for many people concerned. He asks whether policies, especially policy changes, are well thought out. Is there a bias towards serving the bright kids? Full essay.


Anonymous said...

I am an Indian citizen, who studied in India until Grade 10, equivalent to 'O' Levels. After that, I came to Singapore under a scholarship scheme and studied for two years in a junior college. I feel that as a reader I must comment on this discussion based on my own experiences in Singapore.

I feel that the Singapore education system assumes that students at all levels are aware of and appreciate the fact that education is for economic advantage, and are prepared to make significant sacrifices of their time and comfort to gain this advantage. The crux of the matter is that the majority of the students simply do not appreciate this fact. I feel that the realisation of the importance of money strikes the average human being when he is between 19 and 23 years of age. Moreover, it happens even later in prosperous societies where relatively inexperienced teenagers are not aware of what poverty or hunger means.

It is easy to see that all the major policies of the government in the area of education are geared towards economics. Young Singaporeans generally follow rather than resent such policies aimed at making the curriculum more rigorous because they see that everybody around them is doing so, and because there is a significant amount of parental pressure. They get into an endless cycle of mugging obscure concepts for tests and exams, just because they are required to do so. Faced with such a daunting amount of constraints on their time, they end up becoming more like obedient robots, rather than the independent thinkers we would want them to be. Obedient robots are more useful for the government, but we must remember that in case the government fails, we will not be able to count on obedient robots to help us find the way.

Stressful courses at the university level make sense, because at that age, after NS, students are ready to appreciate the importance of education as a means of learning the skills to earn money and survive. But before that, we are just giving young teenagers artificial causes (tests, grades, and so on) to get them to do what we want them to do (study). Therefore, I feel that as many attempt as possible should be made to reduce the stress level at the primary and the secondary levels. Rather, we should try to create an environment in our schools, where young Singaporeans are able to learn the important lessons of life, and start thinking logically and independently. We should also try to give students at these levels an opportunity to find out what they truly love, and let them excel in it. Job skills should be left for the university to handle.

Anonymous said...

Firstly I'd like to say that I'm impressed with how short and "non-complaining" this article is. My friends and I, all teachers, used to spend Friday nights chatting and complaining about school. We could probably write books about school.

I'm guessing that in Singapore, education is possibly the next biggest political minefield after race and religion. One can probably trace all the way back to the Nantah days.

I quote from the article: "The Ministry of Education (MOE) can do more to monitor impact on students' psyche."

As a young and beginning teacher, I was hit too by the immense changes that JC students were going through, simply because I perceived that my educational grounding was being attacked. What was my worth, since I had gone through the pre-change JC curriculum? Was it gone?

With reference to this: "Weary but astute educators often comment that policy makers ... impose them down the hierarchy, often caring little as to how schools and teachers are affected."

Not only do we feel that policy makers do not care how schools and teaches are affected, depending on the principal's nature, they may not care either. This attitude simply pervades every level of the hierachy.

"Principals likewise have limited lobbying power, sometimes due to inbuilt party-whips (not just applicable to political parties) at other times, hindered by powers-to-be and their own career image."

More tellingly, the higher up people are in the hierachy, the less contact they are likely to have with the most unfortunate pupils who bear the brunt of the policies, which in the long term may not benefit them.

Instead of seeing a collection of individual pupils, I suspect many policy makers simply put them into categories and then procede on to trampling all over them.

It's especially crucial when principals now have more power, since MOE has devolved many powers down to the school level.

3. Expectations, Appraisal and Ranking of Teachers

This probably requires an article by itself. Many teachers that I know entered the profession to teach. Not to sit on committees and manage events. In my undergrad days, I used to sit on commmittees which oversaw events. While I thought it was good preparation for a career in event management, I thought that those days could be over and I'd get to teach. How foolish i was.

I think that schools should outsource such things.

It really kills the idealism of teachers when people manipulate the appraisal tools and that affects teachers' job scope

The biggest thing bugging teachers is the whole concept of the D grade. Not only does such a grade do no good to the self esteem, it prevents teachers from transferring to other environments where he/she might thrive, instead of continue to perform poorly.
Also, some teachers who profess not to mind the D grade are instead told to think of all the extrinsic benefits they would be missing out on, as well as the professional insults that would be heaped upon them fairly/unfairly. Notice that not a single word is mentioned about care and concern for the student's educational development. [Although some would say it is implicit, considering that it is the 'bread and butter' of a teacher's job. Nothing could be further from the truth]

point 4.

First, high achievers are always going to be stretched more and further. Some parents [now known as stakeholders] are happy. Some are not: " What about my child? He's just normal. How are you going to help him?'
I believe in differentiated learning, but some parents are not content in having their child 'lose out'.

point 5.

I have a friend teaching in a special education school. Its really unfair, as she is unable to tap on the benefits that MOE staff receive. This is especially where leave and personal development issues arise.

Thank you for the article, I expect that you'll get another spike in hits. Afterall, it was once joked that if you threw a rock in a bus at random, you'd most likely hit a teacher.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much of the shifting sands in education policy is endemic of a civil service where promotion prospects up to the Ministeral level are based on projects.

New minister? New set of policies. Recent visit to another country's schools? New set of policies.

It is one thing to be nimble, and quite another to change a system for the sake of looking good.

There is also far less input from the ground up than ideal. We have so many teachers on the ground, but they are hardly involved in setting policy.

Last but not least, there isn't any supply (or demand, for that matter) of rugged policy evaluation. For instance, nobody has published anything to conclude if the gifted program has actually achieved what it set out to do.

Anonymous said...

I can safely say I am a member of the Singapore education elite. GEP, RI, RJC, PSC scholarship. You name it.

Over the years, we have systematically grouped people of the same schools, similar life experiences, similar values, and for some, the same places of

This is the result of the education system, with its ideology of elitism, wrongly framed as meritocracy. The system is designed and managed by people who have succeeded in it and are more likely to perpetuate it with 'better' policies.

They are also less likely to be able to conceptualize alternatives that bring the best out of people of *different* capabilities.

Lim Swee Say said (p14, Sunday Times 21 May 06): "If a suaku like me can become a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, then there's no reason why one of you here ... cannot be the Prime Minister of Singapore 33 years from now."

What he is saying is, if I can do it, so can You. (Extend this argument and you get: The system works, don't challenge/change it.)

For all his hard work getting to where he is today, it's clear to me that Lim Swee Say can't see that we aren't all like Lim Swee Say.

Anonymous said...

i cannot help but agree with some of your views. i also agree with an earlier comment that our education is geared towards economics. this ultimately leads to a policy of elitism where the creme de la creme is obtained and the majority who often come from a family which cannot often provide them with the cultural capital needed to do battle in an increasingly competitive educational environment

i think if we are to do a survey of university grads, majority would not have come from neighbourhood schools. why? I feel that many do not start on a level playing field as their counterparts who come from more affluent backgrounds.

This is not to say that there are no rags to riches stories or of neighbourhood school kids who make it to the very top. However, such stories though nice to hear, are not many. The fact is education is a vehicle of social mobility but many of our kids are not equipped or able to hold on and stay on in this fast moving vehicle.

Sue said...

As a Student, I had my ups and downs in the Education System Starting from an elite School RGPS then landing myself in a Neighbourhood Sch JSS and then eventually in ACJC and Now in Uni in the UK.

I used to remember as a kid when I participated in oratorical/ story telling competitions... just the fact that I was from RGPS... pple used to think i would win or when we got exam papers... it was told that some sch like Nanyang or Rosyeth have high standards and exam papers are tough but others were easy.

When I was in Secondary School... I saw friends in the NT and NA stream simply give up for they felt no way out... their future was decided at 12. It is very sad when a child feels no way out; to take away hope is probably the greatest crime.

I believed in my parents and they are both graduates so nothing less than that is good enough for me... but i know many of my friends didnt have the same kind of motivation as many of their parents probably barely finished schooling or only had a O' level.

I feel there has been a systematic segregation of students... with the top schools being English speaking and not able to speak their mother tongue and in the so called neighbourhood school, they struggled with English...

People forget that what makes us unique as Singaporeans as opposed to our countries of origin are that we are bilingual... good at both the languages.( a sort of melting pot of both the west & east)

All this said and done, I think our education system tries to get more out of us as students, which helps us later in life... but I do not like the streaming, divisions and the unnecessary experiments by MOE.

Most of all I Loathe the Grade Curve, Every student should have the right to get a, it should not be on a comparative basis.

Most of all, we ought to open our students up to read , read widely have a real knowledge of social issues, philosophy, psychology, literature not just English but to waddle into Chinese and Indian and Malay literary work.

To allow students to pursue more than just maths and sciences and JC, to give the Arts equal value and open our doors to more subjects instead of something like CME which my teachers just used to teach other subjects he!

I don’t mean to increase our students load but we also need more independent thinkers’ not just mere followers.

I remember once that on Tele, I watched as Govt announced that they want to TEACH creativity. I thought how ironic… to teach the most free wheeling element of the human mind.

klimmer said...

It would seem to me that the education system in Singapore is mostly oriented towards producing good quality civil servants. Hence, the emphasis on academic excellence. Perhaps it would be more effective if they had a more 'open ended' policy, as opposed to the current detailed, 'leave nothing to chance' approach. One afterall cannot possible predict labor demand 10 years later.