Aug 19, 2008

Education and The Great Pain of Rather Useless Things

An article about PM Lee's National Day Rally speech:
ST Aug 18, 2008
Let Kids Learn At Own Pace

PARENTS who complain that the education system here is stressful for their children should look at other Asian countries where it can be worse.

In South Korea, there is a school where students can snatch only a few hours of rest each day, are not allowed to make friends or keep items like magazines in their bags.

It is like a prison, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday night.

'We are not like that. We have some stress but we should manage it, we should take it in our stride,' he said.

He referred to the South Korean school when highlighting to parents that some stress in school was inevitable.

But he reminded parents that they should also let their children grow and learn at their own pace.

He noted that parents push their children further by sending them for extra enrichment lessons.

And during examination, they would ply their children with chicken essence.

Singapore's competitive school system has been named as a culprit by couples who choose to have no or few children.

But, Mr Lee said: 'I think some pressure is inevitable. It is part of Singapore's competitive spirit.

'Other East Asian societies are even more ruthlessly competitive.'

I like the general theme of PM Lee’s speech, but I think he still missed the point. Frankly I do not care whether our schools are more or less stressful than those in Korea, or Japan, or anywhere else.

Here’s the more important question. After all that stress, what do our students actually get out of it?

In my own school days, I spent many hours memorizing the structure and details of the Periodic Table in chemistry. From Shakespeare’s Macbeth, I memorized large chunks of verse, word for word, line by line, because that was the way to score an A1 for Literature. In mathematics, I learned to do complex calculations involving an imaginary number called “i”.

None of the above knowledge is relevant to my life now. After junior college, I’ve never had any reason to look at the Periodic Table again. Macbeth was enjoyable, but it would have been much more enjoyable if I didn’t have to spend dozens of hours committing it to memory. And as a matter of fact, the last time I used an imaginary number was during the very last maths exam of my life – nowhere else, since then.

Most of the substantive formal content we learn in school ultimately has no relevance to the rest of our lives. This isn’t such a bad thing, if in school we just had to walk through the substantive content, gain some understanding, grasp the key principles and move on. We never really know what we might need to know, later in life (I might have become a chemist, an actor or an imaginary mathematician), but if we do understand the key principles, we'll be able to figure our way through.

Unfortunately, I think that our education system still heavily emphasises regurgitation over real understanding. Our schools still require tremendous volumes of rote learning. This is where most of the stress arises. In the typical Singapore school, we do not merely miss the wood for the trees. Instead, for the sake of our exams, we desperately memorise the bark, the twigs, the useless fallen dead leaves - and we will be punished for failing to do so.

Our students suffer great, continual stress, as they strive to master things that will have absolutely no relevance to the rest of their lives.

80 comments:

Anonymous said...

Aside from the difficulty of comparing different education systems, this is quite possibly a fairly idiotic choice. A single, fanatical school against the entirety of the Singaporean education system. Never mind that said school is most probably a prep school for students interested in Ivy education and such.

EBNEF said...

Hi Mr Wang,

Been reading your blog all this while and really appreciate your insights in our current affairs.

You hit the nail on the head regarding reforming our education system when you call for the need for "real understanding" over "regurgitation" & "rote learning". It does not matter what subjects students are exposed; the most important thing is for them to appreciate what they are learning. That way, the knowledge they acquired, though it may not be relevant to them now, may prove useful and rewarding much later in life. And our education system, which places overdue emphasis on academic success, does not provide space and time for knowledge appreciation.

The exerpt below from Steve Job's famous commencement address to Stanford students illustrates your point on education and application:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.


I'm not saying that our students should drop out of education system right now. This is also not Steve Job's intent for the students he was addressing. Our education system has to be different than what it is now. Hiring more educators or educators of higher quality (be they local or foreign talent) does not address the problem. It may exacerbate the already undue stress placed on the students with higher quality educators requiring higher academic standards of their students.

Education is not about academic success. It is a platform for our students to enjoy learning so that they can continue doing so beyond the formalise structure of public education. The change of mindset has to come from the top, from our leaders and our government. And even our existing educators have to rewire their thinking and relook at their teaching ideals and methodologies. Yes it is not easy, but that does not it is not necessary.

Anonymous said...

Outcomes are about foresight and the result of sharp decision making.

I remember in the 70s, myopic people too critised the education system like hell.

Then, a poor, swampy, squatter colony of barely 800 sq m was transformed into the world's seventh richest country today with a per capita GDP of US$49,800 compared to less than US$1,000 in 1959.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Quite right, Anon, I fully agree with you.

The education system needs to keep evolving with the times. Criticism is extremely important, otherwise the system will tend to stay unchanged; it will not improve; and we'll all suffer for it. (And so will the economy).

James said...

I'd say zero work is better than negative work.

Anonymous said...

The syllabus and exam format for 'O' and "A' levels hasn't changed much over decades. Maybe it is not easy to change because the whole system (student, teachers and methods, syllabus, admin, books, facilities etc) has to change. So status quo remains.
It is never easy to change an old practice even though there are lots of imperfections and ill-effects. Applies not just to education but also society behaviour and politics. And education is not something earth shaking if there is a change so few fight for change, unlike politics. Anyway, why worry, there is always foreign talent solution to any local shortcomings in skills, pay demand, age or numbers. In fact, this is and will be the only solution, despite what the gahmen plans to do otherwise.

Etudes said...

why don't you take a look at RP's Problem-Based Learning approach and comment on it?

http://www.myrp.sg/ced/

There's no rote-learning, nor regurgitation of useless facts. Instead students are encouraged to show their understanding and apply reasoning in what they have learnt.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang,
You are quite right, my technical workshop knowledge seems to be the only thing that I utilise in my adult life. The others would be fine if I do not have muck for it, it would have been enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mr Wang

Which poor, swampy, squatter colony of barely 800 sq m was transformed into the world's seventh richest country today with a per capita GDP of US$49,800 compared to less than US$1,000 in 1959?

I only know that during the WWII, Japan spent massive effort to occupy Singapore, which was then sleepy mosquito infested fishing village. Presumably we had great sasshimi.

And we all know civilisation was brought to singapore by the great LKY. He gave us fire, electricity and all that is good. such as crippling all the cina schools. Amen.

At this point, let us all whip ourselves for not being as talented as Dear Leader and not able to learn Russian which is obviously the language of tomorrow.

Quick question:
Which countries have best engineers/bankers/scientist/entreprenours/etc:
USA, Germany, Finland, France, Ireland, Suisse.
Or Singapore?

Now, S Korea have Samsung, LG, Lotte, internet gaming, animaton artists, "Rain", "BOA", "Park Ji Sung", world class surgeons, Guo Jing-class archers, hot-hot babes whose names I cant pronounce. etc etc.

We are world class. We have ... Creative (is it still solvent?). And Lee Jia Wei. and some guy who did some work for lucasfilm(I think).

Obviously we have the superior all round education system.

NoName

Anonymous said...

Hey, Mr Wang. I like the cartoon. :)

Unfortunately some of your less-mathematical readers will not get the joke.

Lau MT said...

I feel that Mr Lee's comments as quoted in regards to the education system and the reason for couples not having children is simply this:

our system is good because there are other countries that are worse.

That is not very logical.

Anonymous said...

http://www.oikono.com/wordpress/?p=442 - Someone wrote about and provided another view on the Korean education system versus Singapore. The author seems to think that in some ways, the Korean prep schools might encourage more creativity.

Universal said...

Hey Mr Wang

You don't like my post earlier this afternoon? You can email me at mtsp66@gmail.com and engage me.

Universal

Mr Wang Says So said...

What post?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wang,
if you were to become a chemist, you would have studied chemistry at the university, and the time for you to start memorising the periodic table is not when u enter university, nor at A-level, nor "later in life", but at O-level!

Likewise, if you were to become a mathematician, you would have majored in mathematics at university, and to do that, you would need to start your education on imaginary numbers by A-levels at the latest.

It is not right to push memory work (periodic table) or dump "complex calculations" (imaginary number) to university. British universities have been complaining for years that they have to teach their 1st year undergrads, what they expect to have been covered during A-levels.

If we were to take your logic to the extreme, we might as well not memorise anything or do any complex calculation until we are sure of our career path!

It surely must be like this:
intro imaginary number at O-level math -> Euler's formula at A-level math -> ready for undergrad math education at university.

Or are you suggesting:
inadequate preparation at O-level math -> inadequate preparation at A-level -> intro imaginary numbers and study Euler's formula etc for the 1st time at undergrad math class -> extend university by another 2 years to study what should have been studied at O and A level?

Ditto for memorisation of periodic table, and literature!

Anonymous said...

Every career needs some rote-learning. To be a lawyer, you need to have memorised some key points about some key court cases, so that you can a) "regurgitate" them off-hand in a witty exchange in court, or b) at least remember enough key words to know where to look up the details. (Even to google, one need to know the relevant keywords, right?)

Likewise for chemistry,One cannot keep looking up the periodic table all the time. One need to know the valencies of the elements quite well by heart to be able to "cook up" new chemicals as a Chemist.

Thus, rote-learning is essential. The only question is when to do it. Clearly it is better to do it at a younger age when a) the mind is better at memorising and b) the mind is not that good at reasoning and manipulating logic. And most importantly c) sometimes, you just need to have it memorised first b4 anything else can be done, as explained earlier.

Anonymous said...

We have an obviously unhealthy obsession with academic results. Worst of all, we are often made to learn things via regurgitation, hardly the kind of skills we need in this new world order. Combine this 2 together and you have children so hotwired and hothoused that their span of thinking is severely narrowed.

S'pore parents are very fearful that lousy academic results will greatly disadvantage their children when they join the workforce. And our entire system points to results as the indicator for success.

Our GLCs and civil service are the largest employers in the job market and also the greatest perpetrators of this fear by judging and predjuding candidates based on academic results. You are not likely to get past the screening for 1st interview if your results are just mediocre. This becomes a viscious and incestous cycle where batch after batch of recruits are brought in based on the same criteria. The talent pool becomes narrow and myopic. There is no diversity of human resouce. I have heard of MNC CEOs who specifically will not hire from these organisations cos they're all cut from the same cloth.

Being exam smart does not equal street smart, people smart, risk-takers, etc... If you think having great academic results serve as a dolby mark to the MNCs that we're good workers, then you are mostly right, ie we're good workers period. However, what we really need are champions. Look carefully and you will realise that the incestous talent pool that LKY feared and lamented actually extends beyond just key government appt holders. Indeed, the human resource depts need to seriously relook their recruitment process. Being "safe" is too expedient and lazy. Having been paid market rate remunerations, we certainly expect more.

We need to give our kids space to develop and explore. Kids learn things that are very often not obvious to the eye, and we should not always insist on focussing on exams that only satisfy our need for immediate feedback. Harness our kids' creativity by encouragement and instilling curiousity, not by grilling/exams. Have the courage and vision to provide this space when we evolve our education system. I think this will be the key turning factor for us to produce the next NOKIA.

Sparks

Anonymous said...

"Our students suffer great, continual stress, as they strive to master things that will have absolutely no relevance to the rest of their lives."

What are the 'things' you referred to? The tiny details that nevertheless have to be memorized because of the emphasis on rote learning, or the entire subject? If it's the latter (as the majority of your post suggests), then I have to disagree. At that age, there's no way you'll know what you'll end up using in your future career.

What many people don't realise is, the point of our first 12 years of school isn't the factual knowledge, but rather to learn how to organise your thoughts and how to approach problems.

Anonymous said...

To change the system, you have to first change the assessment approach. As long as the examination based and syllabus-based assessment approach remains, it is hard to change the rest.

Knyghtryder said...

I'm a product of the Singapore education system, but I've never done a single assessment book and have only flipped through a 10-year series just to see what the big deal was. So I don't believe that it is necessarily a given that our education system only produces students capable of regurgitation and not true understanding. The fact is that if students can be bothered to really put in some effort to understand what it is they are supposed to learn they will be able to learn it without just rote memorisation. The fact that so many take the easy way out to memorise their books instead of trying to understand them just reflects an under-appreciation for knowledge on the part of our students. p.s I too studied Shakespeare in school, except in my case it was Merchant of Venice and while I've certainly never had recourse to quote the bard in my every day life, the lessons encapsulated within his plays have informed my life.

Onlooker said...

Actually, It depends on what job you hold after school.
For me I still have to deal with a lot of mathematic formulas now and then.
I once heard that Math is the language of universal truth.
Because 1 + 1 always = 2. If it equals to any other number,Then someone is lying.Either on the poser side or the answer side.
Imaginary number like the root of a negative number, Pie(the symbol or approximately 22/7) and the constant of integration C after integration.I getting crossed eyed XP.
Actually a lot of Scientific Theory is based on Calculus lah.
Also I stop caring about the "postpone for Olympic" National Day rally a long time ago.At least until Mr Brown make me interested in the Black eyed pea song after that not care again.But I still pick up pieces of it on forums.As it is the same old same old.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,

I feel you need to teach in a school before making such comments.

You frown on fact regurgitation? Do you know that academically weak students struggle even with simple memorization of facts?

The system is set up to cater to the masses. Your comments on education seem to imply that the vast majority of students are capable of rote learning. Do you think that is true in the Normal Academic and Normal Tech stream?

Not every student take their studies serious. Many in the weaker schools need to be constantly encouraged, pushed and counselled before they are remotely interested to even read a textbook, let alone make a serious attempt to memorize basic facts.

You talk about learning key principles only. News flash; schools are dealing with mainly key principles. In chemistry, students are learning what constitutes a molecule, what happens when an acid mixes with alkalis. How more basic do you want the school to get?

It seems that in your post, you are pretty long on general suggestions but deeply short on specifics on how to improve the education system.

Do try to teach in a school if you can. Not every student is like an RI or RGS student. Most are just basically struggling to pass for most of their 2-3 years in upper secondary. And only from a supreme effort do they get a decent O-level or A-level grade.

Anonymous said...

singapore keeps trying to boast that it has a world-class education system, but i dont understand how they can claim this when students are not happy doing what they do. complaining about stress is understandable, but when students complain that they are not studying what they truly have interest it, this shows a lot doesnt it? and no prizes for guessing who's the people brainwashing our parents that "science" is more useful than "art".

CK said...

What a coincidence! The Sydney Morning Herald just reported this:

http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/phone-a-friend-in-school-exams/2008/08/19/1218911717490.html

An excerpt from the story:

PLC's headmaster, William McKeith, was inspired to stretch the open-book exam to new technological heights after hearing the views of an international education consultant, Marc Prensky.

Mr Prensky threw out the following challenge to educators in a British Educational Communications and Technology Agency publication: "What if we allowed the use of mobile phones and instant messaging to collect information during exams, redefining such activity from 'cheating' to 'using our tools and including the world in our knowledge base'?

"Our kids already see this on television. 'You can use a lifeline to win $1 million,' said one. 'Why not to pass a stupid test?' I have begun advocating the use of open phone tests … Being able to find and apply the right information becomes more important than having it all in your head."

I'd say hire Mr Prensky and be done with it. This is the kind of FT we should be hiring.

Kevin said...

I don't think there is a 'one size fits all' education method or system. However, segregating students would inevitably lead to accusations of elitism; adopting a homogeneous socialist approach would result in holding back some and leaving some behind.

In the final analysis, whichever system that education board adopts, it's still going to be competitive because of parents.

However I need to strongly disagree with you regarding what we can get out of the education system, Mr Wang.

It is impossible to identify would be lawyers and scientists, and then teach them how to read law and all the skills pertaining to it. Not to mention, there are many jobs that cannot be covered by academia. Take for instance, an airlines pilot, or a professional soldier.

There is also the matter of choice. By giving children a broad based education, they have the option to discover what they enjoy. Out of every hundred children, I am sure there is at least one person who was inspired by the Lord of the Flies to spot and write a allegorical critique about fear mongering in society.

Likewise, there's another 99 who has no interest and prefer to learn by memory. You can lead a horse to water... .

I am no expert of the academia but I am aware that because of what I studied in school, I am conscious of that there's a writer called Shakespeare, that Pythagoras's theorem was used to calculate the distance of the earth from the sun (which resulted in landing a man on the moon), the germ theory of disease, how to use a computer before I could afford one of my own, and much more.

A broad based education builds the foundation on which specialists are born. Engineers cannot be engineers without a strong foundation in math and physics, and we know it takes years to hone mathematical skills.

Our broad based primary and secondary education system is fine the way it is. It's the players that keep on trying to skew the playing field in their favour, that is the problem. I propose to limit the number of school hours and remedial classes. ECA should involve non academic interests.

Kevin said...

ck,
I am sure the next time you have an open heart surgery, the surgeon will give his colleague a call to ask about the funny blue valve and where it goes. He can't patch you up, but he could buy a vowel.

Let's not mix up TV shows with real life.

"I phoned an auntie and expanded on the idea"
Education is supposed to encourage creativity and the student to think for themselves, not the auntie.

Kevin said...

anon August 20, 2008 12:43 AM -

How happy do you think the kids would be when they grow up and possess only a PSLE cert? How happy do you think they are going to be when so many work opportunities are no longer available for them.

Do not rail at our education system when what they are trying to achieve is the betterment of people. Parents forcing their kids is not the system's fault.

Kids are usually very happy when allowed to watch TV and eat ice cream all day. Does that mean you advocate that as part of the curriculum? Despite what parents may feel about their own children, given a choice, not many children would choose going to school over play. Sure we can make school fun, but fun should not be the main priority. Real life isn't all about fun. Fun comes as a consequence to a job well done.

FYI, science is the foundation of society. Art can only flourish if there's science to nurture and finance it. Look at the US and the current economic mess they are in. It comes down to the fact that Americans are more interested in entertainment, while foreign students are leading the way in science and engineering.

Kevin said...

Despite all that's said about education being fairly useless in real life, I doubt anyone would take their own advice and do just the bare minimal to get their cert or degree. But somehow, it's someone else's or the system's fault.

Anonymous said...

What many people don't realise is, the point of our first 12 years of school isn't the factual knowledge, but rather to learn how to organise your thoughts and how to approach problems.

*snigger* *no shit* *must resist* *tooth fairy* *santa*

I'm a product of the Singapore education system, but I've never done a single assessment book and have only flipped through a 10-year series just to see what the big deal was.

Any1 who believes anon say "Aye"!

"Aye" "Aye" "Aye"

Not every student is like an RI or RGS student.

I believe if it is a course on eg electronic gaming or sports science ... the so-call weaker students could give Mr Wang a run for his money, nevermind RI\RGS students ... I believe that is the whole point. The education system is hammering round pegs into squares holes as needed by the economy (according to the gahmen .. who sometimes misses by an economic cycle or two).

NoName

shaox said...

Hi,

As a mathematician I do feel a little disturbed to have a subset of people I interact with referred to as "imaginary mathematicians". It's a cute phrase but it's a pretty obvious pun with negative connotations... gives people the impression that the things we work on never exist and we're all useless.

Complex numbers (numbers with real and imaginary parts) and complex analysis do have many applications in many areas, such as high-level engineering and combinatorial problem solving.

It is fine not to fully understand what is going on behind imaginary numbers, but yeah, there's no such thing as an "imaginary mathematicians". "Complex mathematician" sounds so much better ;)

Mr Wang Says So said...

Some posters have probably misunderstood my post.

Let's go back to my Macbeth example. As I said, I (and other students) spent many, many hours memorising verse, down to the exact words and lines, so that we could regurgitate these during the exam.

If the system did not require all this mindless memorisation, we would have saved many, many hours. What might we have done with those hours?

We could have done mini-sketches and drama performances of scenes from the Macbeth play, really acting it out and feeling what it would have been like to be Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Duncan etc,

We could have done little research projects to understand the historical socio-political landscape at the time when Shakespeare wrote this play, so that we could get a sense of how audiences then might have reacted to these themes of power, greed and evil.

We might have been able to read another Shakespearean play; compare the two plays, appreciate the common themes, and come to a deeper understanding of Shakespeare's works.

At the end of it, would we have a better understanding, or worse understanding, of Literature? I think we would have had a far better understanding of Literature.

The memorisation did very little, in accomplishing ANY of the aims of teaching Literature.

(Apart from passing an exam, of course).

Mr Wang Says So said...

Kevin:

I have nothing against a broad-based education. In fact, I think a broad-based education is very important.

The fact that you believed I was against a broad-based education shows simply that you did not understand what I was saying.

Whether an education is broad-based or not is a completely different question from whether it is stressful or not;

which in turn is different question from whether it prepares students for real life or not; etc etc.

Mr Wang Says So said...

"How happy do you think the kids would be when they grow up and possess only a PSLE cert?"

Ahh, Kevin. How deeply you misunderstand.

I do not advocate mediocrity. I advocate brilliance.

I would love to see an education system which produces more Singaporeans who are highly-qualified; confident; articulate; passionate about their careers; creative; successful; AND able to say, "I really enjoyed my education; it was fun; I love learning; school was a wonderful experience."

Instead today what we have are Singaporeans who are afraid to have children, because children would have to go to school.

Is that not .... tragic?

Mr Wang Says So said...

"Out of every hundred children, I am sure there is at least one person who was inspired by the Lord of the Flies to spot and write a allegorical critique about fear mongering in society."

Good point, unfortunately I am a very atypical and unusual product of the local education system.

If I were to teach Literature, I would not teach Literature in a way that resembles how Literature is typically taught in our schools today.

In fact, if you are interested to have some idea of how I would like to see Literature taught, you can click the link below.

http://mrwangsaysso.blogspot.com/2008/01/safety-in-syllabus.html

(That post describes me being invited to give a talk on Literature at a local secondary school in January this year).

Anonymous said...

Hi there! I always enjoy reading your posts. I just thought you'd like to know that I use this imaginary number "i" all the time! I am an electrical engineer and it is used in such diverse fields as antenna design, laser design, and in pretty much any other device that transmits information by radio or light! The problem with the Singapore education system is that they teach people how to manipulate "i" mathematically but never state why it is useful. Frankly, I'm not even sure most of the mathematics teachers in Singapore know what "i" is really used for.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Right ... This is actually one symptom of what's wrong with the system.

Can you imagine it? How many generations of students in our schools have spent hundreds of hours each, performing calculations involving "i" .... and never ever knowing what the heck it is for?

Mr Wang Says So said...

"The system is set up to cater to the masses. Your comments on education seem to imply that the vast majority of students are capable of rote learning. Do you think that is true in the Normal Academic and Normal Tech stream?

Not every student take their studies serious. Many in the weaker schools need to be constantly encouraged, pushed and counselled before they are remotely interested to even read a textbook, let alone make a serious attempt to memorize basic facts."


Your point is irrelevant. Whatever kind of education system we have, there will be students who are more interested and motivated, and there will be students who are less interested and less motivated.

The fact that there are such students does not in itself say anything about whether there is too much or too little rote learning in our schools.

Certainly, if a student is lazy and you can convince him to do only one thing, it doesn't follow that the best one thing you should get him to do is "memorise".

Anonymous said...

Of all those subjects I took during my school days, I hope one will be useful to me when I need to pick up drink cans faster than others in the near future.

Anonymous said...

dont talk about changing syllabus tell me is the math that you are learning now different from the math that you learned 20 years ago? Is 1+1 = 2 the same as 20 years ago ?

Talk about problem based learning , it is the same shit but different asshole if u know what i mean. you still need to memorise things for your exams mostly useless things. I know of people who go to that school and they learn useless crap in year one.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang said:
"We could have done mini-sketches and drama performances of scenes from the Macbeth play, really acting it out and feeling what it would have been like to be Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Duncan etc"

It has been done in many Lit classes. You also forgot to include field trips, which was also done.

Without memorizing, no one bothers to seriously learn at all. It's just games.
Mr Wang said:
"We could have done little research projects to understand the historical socio-political landscape at the time when Shakespeare wrote this play, so that we could get a sense of how audiences then might have reacted to these themes of power, greed and evil."

Done before.

In the end, the entire project would be done by the hardworking students, while the weaker ones just coast along.

There is not much actual learning because students are just COPYING facts from books.

If you were to pull the students out one by one and ask them, they usually would be stumped.

Are your views on student learning shaped by video clips and shows where kids are eager to learn?

Most of the kids in school are not self-motivated learners.

Would you like to teach in a school? Real teaching. Giving a speech to students is somehow not the same thing.

Kevin said...

mr. wang,

I think we've achieved something useful from this post:

(if any teacher's reading)
It would be very useful if teachers made their subjects more useful - namely by describing how what students are studying are useful in daily life and in the real world.

----------------------

as for my post re: getting a PSLE cert, etc, it was not directed at your post but at anon who wrote "Singapore keeps trying to boast of a world class..."

----------------------

Perhaps I was vague in my first post: I do not think that you are against a broad based education. I digressed too soon. I am in disagreement with your implication that we get very little from rote learning and repetitiveness in school.

Here's a good example: many Japanese ladies were very impressed that I understood what Leonardo diCaprio was saying in Romeo & Juliet. They thought I was cultured.

Another example is how (someone else here has posted before me) useless math in reality teaches logical thinking and mental organisation.

----------------------

As for brilliance, I do not think one can truly suppress brilliance.
But what about average and below average students? Being of a somewhat lower mental horsepower myself, I can somewhat empathise with teachers who need to get through to kids who have no interest or just aren't of high mental calibre. (Honestly, try working with someone really slow or dull sometimes, and put a time limit on getting a job done with them) Even if the subject matter was fun, it does not necessarily equate to better understanding or better grades. In such a case, repetition and rote learning. I'm not talking about getting A's; I'm talking about just passing.

As for unhappy people who don't like what they do, it's really very simple - they have no life outside work. There's nothing for them to work for, and apparently, its not their fault.

--------------------

In my opinion, while external variables (genes, teachers, parents, school system) are all important, the one key factor that really matters is the individual. The individual needs to make up his mind. We cannot decide for him and there are no syllabus/ system/ or style of teaching that is going to change that. People don't enjoy what they do because they didn't choose. They just went 'with it'. And apparently, that's the system's fault, or Nanny State's fault. It's the same almost everywhere (everywhere being somewhat limited to rich, developed, stratified societies). But I digress. Again.

Kevin said...

"Of all those subjects I took during my school days, I hope one will be useful to me when I need to pick up drink cans faster than others in the near future."

You sure can. You can count the number of cans, work that against the number of competitors and come to the time you need to down a can in order to drink more.

Or you can recall what your chemistry and bio teacher say about interaction between ethanol based beverages, alcohol, engine cleaners with your guts.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Mainly, your underlying assertion is simply that I am not a teacher, therefore I do not know what I am talking about.

I distrust this kind of reasoning - it reminds me of LKY saying that his government is the one that brought economic success to Singapore, therefore no one is to criticise his government.

It also reminds me of doctors who think they know best, and fail to consult patients on THEIR own preferences.

Although I am not a teacher, I have been a student, and also I am a parent of children who go to school.

I think that teachers are not the sole stakeholders of the education system. In fact I think the key stakeholders are not the teachers at all; they are the students. Teachers exist, because of students, not the way around.

As for your point about individuals making their own decisions, I agree fully. As a matter of fact, I am such an individual. However, there are two possible, and different perspectives to discussions about education. We can either discuss :

(a) how an individual person can strive to seek to grow / develop / learn / find his own path, within a given education system;

or

(b) how an education system can be improved, for the benefit of as many individuals as possible.

These are two different kinds of discussions, and both are valid. The fact that a given individual may have ways to maximise his own education opportunities doesn't mean that, say, a nation has no duty to try to improve its education system.

As for brilliance, I probably have a somewhat different view from yourself. I tend towards the view that actually, just about all of us have great potential, mostly untapped and undeveloped.

In my opinion, the difference between a brilliant person and an average person is most often that the brilliant person was exposed, serendiptiously or otherwise, to conditions which made it possible for a little more of his potential to be developed. That is all. The interesting question then is, what are these conditions and how can we create them more systematically, for a greater number of people?

Mr Wang Says So said...

"It has been done in many Lit classes."

Certainly. And it is good. I would hope that it is done more, because IMO it is more useful than memorisation. Which is not useful for the appreciation or understanding of Literature.

However, I think that if you consider what Literature in school today is mostly about, you will find that it's still very much about memorisation. And the same applies for many other subjects.

James said...

we r not simply providing the right conditions for learning. we r also not simply understanding the purpose of education. If I am not wrong, the Greek word 'scholas' is the word for this, and it is supposed to mean 'to enjoy'.

We do not hv a command: GOTO Randy Paush. Perhaps Mr Ng EH can punch in that command.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Our education system must be wrong.

If Singaporeans can say, "I refuse to have any babies, and the reason is that one day, they'd have to go to school",

then this is a very strong signal that our education system must have gone very wrong somewhere.

Anonymous said...

There are also Singaporeans who have chosen to emigrate permanently, for reasons linked to the education system here. This is another big sign of things gone seriously wrong with our schools.

Kelvin Ng said...

Are our schools no more than circus acts?

http://greysteppenwolf.blogspot.com/2008/08/circuses-as-schools.html

Anonymous said...

You sure can. You can count the number of cans, work that against the number of competitors and come to the time you need to down a can in order to drink more.


Or you can recall what your chemistry and bio teacher say about interaction between ethanol based beverages, alcohol, engine cleaners with your guts.


Btw Kevin, there are quite a number of old folks at various food courts who can use your tuition rite now! :-)

the one key factor that really matters is the individual.We cannot decide for him and there are no syllabus/ system/ or style of teaching that is going to change that.

Story of flawed marble


And apparently, that's the system's fault, or Nanny State's fault.

here

Btw ...

many Japanese ladies were very impressed that I understood what Leonardo diCaprio was saying in Romeo & Juliet. They thought I was cultured.

I am impressed! I only get young Japanese ladies walking up to me calling "Kami-sama" "Kami-sama"

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang said
" Mainly, your underlying assertion is simply that I am not a teacher, therefore I do not know what I am talking about."

It's me again.

Well, it's more that your goals seem way too idealistic.

Like I said before, in most project work, the work is done by the more hardworking students, while the weaker ones just coast along.
And by work, I am refering to COPYING. The so-called "research" is usually a glorified term for find the right materials to COPY.

A theory exam may not always be the best medium of exam. But it is the only medium of exam that a student has to rely on his/her own efforts to pass, short of cheating.

You can't rely on friends to do the work for you. You can't hide in a crowd, and try to pass off for a Lit expert. You can do all that in group work.

Mr Wang said:
"Although I am not a teacher, I have been a student, and also I am a parent of children who go to school."

You should really give teaching a try. It is a totally different world from being a student or a parent of school-going children.

I still think you are assuming every kid is very eager to learn, and is very self-motivated to spend time on their own in the library, reading up on their lessons.

Mr Wang said
"then this is a very strong signal that our education system must have gone very wrong somewhere."

I have always thought that the problem lies not so much with the system, but with individual parents.

Most parents are too busy working or pursuing their careers to spend meaningful time with their kids.

Either that, or they are doing a very poor job in imparting values to children like basic courtesy, love for reading and learning.

It is quite easy to blame others when in reality, most parents are doing a poor job parenting.

Perhaps if you have friends who are teachers, you should ask them more about the disciplinary problems in school, and how parents would go all out to shield their children from receiving punishment. There always seem to be some justification for breaking the school rules.

Sigh...if I could only expect the judge to show the same compassion whenever I get caught speeding...

Mr Wang said:
" Mainly, your underlying assertion is simply that I am not a teacher, therefore I do not know what I am talking about.

I distrust this kind of reasoning - it reminds me of LKY saying that his government is the one that brought economic success to Singapore, therefore no one is to criticise his government."

No. I am just asking you to go try be a real teacher for once, intead of being an arm-chair teacher.

Then come again, and give us your views on how the system should be improved.

Most of the people who are cheering you on in this post are not teachers themselves.

And it is not difficult for you to even register to be a relief teacher in some neighbourhood secondary school.

Give it some thought before you dismiss my suggestion so easily.

I think I take your comments far more seriously than you take mine. So, whose the one with the closed mind, me or you with your "LKY" sense of reasoning?

family man said...

I believe that one main reason why there is so much pressure in school is that our govt is too tight fisted with the no of students going into local u. If there is no cap limit to the number of students who want to go to U and can go to u - we will all be less concerned about this push for grades. I am not proposing a lowering of academic standards - we already know of thousands of poly students going to foreign U and doing well. But I do believe this is one of the reasons for the obsession with grade.

PS - I just read asiaone on profamily package.
Yes, stay at home moms are not supported by our govt. They want the moms to work and the maids to raise our kids. I wish as a father, I can get some of the rebates and freebies while my wife watches the teens at home :(

Anonymous said...

Most of the kids in school are not self-motivated learners.

Would you like to teach in a school? Real teaching.


even though I think Mr Wang with his mensa IQ does not understand us mere mortals .. I believe even he does not claim that teaching is easy.

Other than Singapore, I believe few other country actually brags about how perfect their system is.

Especially when we (Singapore) have produced NOBODY of note. (LKY was a product of the BRITISH system.)

Teachers ... maybe we need a big bang approach? relook exams? less obsession about grades? more training for teachers? better teacher-student ratio? more flexibity for teachers? less admin work for teachers? less WITS projects? more say in the latest education fad? students get a choice in what they want to do? If we must have elitism, can it wait till Uni?

Teachers ... u know very well what is wrong.

The problem is that no1 has the balls to walk up to Teo\Tharman\Hen and tell them what is wrong with the system.

Teachers accept status quo. Parents accept status quo.
Children suffer.

PS: Kevin ... I know u digress. Can you blog about your view and drop a link here?

NoName

Anonymous said...

Wow, this education thing is really a hot topic, going by the no. of posts. Hopefully someone with some brains in MOE can extract some ideas from here. Just shows we've got ideas, isn't it? Debate and brainstorming is always a good thing. If there is such a culture in schools to just discuss like this, projects that encourages these things, guess what it does to open up minds. But of course, you must have the time and space...and not just be buried under homework (teachers included cos they have to mark them) and regurgitating volumes of work.

This is what I mean by giving space in our education system. Relax the KPIs and teachers also get some time to engage in creative pursuits that challenges the mind and make things so much more interesting. The system needs to be less hurried, at least in the early formative years. Teachers must be empowered to pursue creative activities, and I am sure there's no lack of ideas. We are all humans, whether you in the East or West. I think teachers' KPIs is the Achilles' heel.

The integrated programme in Secondary schools I think is one great step forward. However, beware the objectives are again "lost in translation".

Sparks

James said...

the entire system has no accountability nor governance nor institutions ......

Mr Wang Says So said...

"I have always thought that the problem lies not so much with the system, but with individual parents."

I am not disagreeing that parents can be the source of the problem. Parents are simply not the focus of my present post, although they might be, in future posts.

"Perhaps if you have friends who are teachers, you should ask them more about the disciplinary problems in school, and how parents would go all out to shield their children from receiving punishment. There always seem to be some justification for breaking the school rules."

I am not as out-of-touch as you might believe. My brother is the principal of a neighbourhood primary school; and before that, he was the discipline master of a neighbourhood secondary school. We have had many interesting discussions about education, and he also reads this blog, although he does not usually comment.

No. I am just asking you to go try be a real teacher for once, intead of being an arm-chair teacher.

..... And it is not difficult for you to even register to be a relief teacher in some neighbourhood secondary school.


Actually I have done relief teaching before. Admittedly in a SAP school, but then I had to teach its bottom Express class (it had two Express classes).

Also, I am currently in discussion with a certain girls' primary school to help set up and conduct a remedial reading programme for students weak in English.

The plan is for me to do this as a parent volunteer (it counts towards my daughter eventually getting a place in the school, for Primary 1). However, the idea is for me to do something a lot more ambitious than what the average parent volunteer. I don't mind, I'm happy to do it because I find it very enjoyable to read with young children.

XiaoS said...

Being small, no resources, nothing at all!!! What would you have expect to ensure the prosperity we got to enjoy today? The role of education system as a filtration system (and LESS as a value-added system) is a way to sift out the elites, which Singapore desperately needed. Going through all these may be useless to you and me, but a small country really needs it just for survival means.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Wang

Your kids should be able sleepwalk into the top primary schools via the GEP route. No need to volunteer la. The kids at Singapore Children Society needs your help much more than the kids at the top primary schools.


Dear Anon Teacher(s)

Dunno if u are a parent but the days where parents take the teacher's word as gospel is over. For better or worse .. history. Oh, Parents dun have much time to parent either. cut some slack.

Tell us .. if LKY promise u one wish... that you can make to change the education system. what would that be?

1. Parents must obey teachers?
2. Teachers have flexibility and can devote 100% of their time to teaching?
3. ???

What would that be?

(pardon the grammar\logic ... in between pointless conference calls)

NoName

Anonymous said...

i disagree with xiao s. It is precisely because we are small that we must aim to maximise education opportunities for as many youths as possible. People are our national resource. Seeking to eliminate them is stupid.

CK said...

"I am sure the next time you have an open heart surgery, the surgeon will give his colleague a call to ask about the funny blue valve and where it goes. He can't patch you up, but he could buy a vowel.

Let's not mix up TV shows with real life."

Kevin,

I happen to be a nurse. You have no idea how right or wrong you are with that example. I shall not elaborate in case I get sued. :)

Anonymous said...

dear kevin, perhaps you have misunderstood my post.

i definately didnt mention anything about children should just do what they like and eat ice cream and watch tv the whole day. yes children should study and need to study because they have to equip themselves with knowledge. but the whole debate here is how should the system work to make knowledge sharing effective isnt it?

what i mean is that students are not studying what they truly have interest in. if the kids were studying something that they had interest in, will parents need to force them to study? and more often than not, parents influence children over what they should study in order to survive the rat race or "in the real world".

what if the child has interest in the arts (eg dancing, theatre works)? yes, we have SOTA coming up, but how many parents are willing to let their children pursue their education there? IMO, most likely singaporean parents will say something like "it's too risky, it's more important that you pursue something that helps you make money and lets you survive outside."

"Sure we can make school fun, but fun should not be the main priority."
yes i agree that fun is not the main priority in school. you go to school to learn. but i thought kids can learn better under a more relaxed environment.

"Fun comes as a consequence of a job well done." really? if lets say a child had interest in english literature, but later due to influence from her parents that literature has no future in singapore and instead, pursues a Degree in Accounting and Finance and scores in it. She enters the real world and does her job well, makes enough to make a comfortable living, will she really feel that "i've done my job well, and hence im having fun". well, perhaps in the short term she will. but i believe in the long term she'll only recall that she missed a chance to pursue something that she had interest in. pursuing something that you have interest in is an experience that no amount of money can buy.

Whether science is the foundation or arts is the foundation is like the chicken and egg problem. arts and science in society complement each other. *reminds me of a GP essay*

From what you say, "Look at the US and the current economic mess they are in. It comes down to the fact that Americans are more interested in entertainment, while foreign students are leading the way in science and engineering." Americans are more interested in entertainment. eh, that's because they are interested in gossip etc. what has got to do with arts as an academic discipline?

CK said...

Another coincidence found in the Independent (UK) today:

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/leading-articles/leading-article-the-obsession-with-results-harms-childrens-education-903999.html

An excerpt:

The publication today of this summer's GCSE results for England, Wales and Northern Ireland is expected to show another increase in the number of children who have achieved decent grades. Those who have done well deserve warm congratulations. But there is another, less encouraging, side to the story. The weight of evidence suggesting that the public exam system, as a whole, has become corrupted is now impossible to ignore. A report by the think-tank Civitas is the latest study to suggest a growing number of schools are "gaming" the exam system in order to flatter their performance in Government-published statistics.

This is done in a number of ways. The simplest is for a school to omit to enter a student for an exam if they are unlikely to get an A-C grade (which has become the benchmark of a "good" GCSE). Another is "teaching to the test", where teachers relentlessly drill students on how to spot exam questions and improve their scores (even if this impedes their wider understanding of a subject).


Hmm, that sounds like some country I know...

Anonymous said...

I am no scholar. I have a son studying now.

I noticed one thing. If he likes the teacher or the subject, he learns beyond what the curriculum requires. He would borrow library books and such to learn more.

But if there is an exam or when he is forced to learn, he will do very badly.

At 9, he was learning to do animation from the internet sites. He had no help from old foggy me nor the school.

Sad thing is, his spirit of learning does not spill over to his school subjects because he tells me the subjects are boring and the teacher, lame.

I think education need not always mean exams, tests and assessments. Acquaint them to the subjects, leave a good impression in their mind. This will serve them better later in life.

After all, most of us also forget those things that we studied if we don't use them after graduation.

Education shud be about inculcating interest. We don't need to have exams in all subjects. For teachers who think that students will muck around if there are no tests, think again.

What is the definition of having learnt something? passed a test? and then forget afterwards?

My wish for the system would be to do away with most of the unnecessary tests. Let the child more time to explore what he likes, having met the basic core curriculum. Passion needs to be encouraged. Right now, our curriculum is too ambitious. Teachers I spoke to agreed with me. The average kid cannot handle the depth and stays even more mediocre. The stigma from streaming makes it worse.

Having straight As in 13 subjects does not indicate a passion in anything to me. Rather a person who spends more time studying and maybe a higher IQ.

But briliance requires passion, sorely missing in our new generations.

Kevin said...

Hello Anon,

Thanks for responding.

"what i mean is that students are not studying what they truly have interest in. if the kids were studying something that they had interest in, will parents need to force them to study?"

It sounds to me that this is an issue with parents' expectations, rather than with the system. What can anyone do about it? It's nothing new really. Parents have been for the longest time dictating what they think is best for their kids. I don't think any tweaking of the system will change that.

'"Fun comes as a consequence of a job well done." really?'
In order for this line of argument to work, we have to make several big assumptions, namely the individual does well despite having no interest, the individual obeys the parents, parents always have their way, the individual regrets the career choice at a later date, and that the individual has only 1 career in his/her life. I think realistically, only a small percentage of people can satisfy most of these assumptions. For instance, parents may wring their hands for their son becoming a ballet dancer but they may still support him financially. etc.

"Americans are more interested in entertainment. eh, that's because they are interested in gossip etc. what has got to do with arts as an academic discipline?"

Yes - exactly that. Read on. There are many writings on this subject by people more informed than I so no point repeating it. I recommend http://suddendebt.blogspot.com/
This is one of Mr. Wang's favourite as well, if I'm not mistaken. Hellasious' analysis & predictions so far has been spot on. Once Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae goes under, the proverbial shit will finally hit the global fan and perhaps you could get a drift of things to come.

As for the arts, I'm not trying to diminish it but its been proven beyond any doubt that for the arts to thrive, we need specialists - lots of them. Science and industry provides these specialists. As for Singapore, we have the luxury to speak of the arts now is because we've managed to build a base industry that is more sympathatic to artistic specialists. So it's not a which came first question.

Kevin said...

Mr. Wang,

"Our education system must be wrong."

Perhaps you give too much credit to human beings. People are driven by very base instincts. To over-ride one base instinct (to procreate), it would take another stronger and more selfish base instinct (do I have enough to get by, would I prefer to go out drinking with my mates).

To say I don't want babies because of the education system sounds frivolous to me. Koreans seem to be getting it on quite well. Japan has the same issues and the education system has always been tough)

One could easily argue "I won't have babies because its hard to get around with kids without a car."

Whatever system we adopt, people will always try game it in their favour.

Kevin said...

Dear Anon,

"I am impressed! I only get young Japanese ladies walking up to me calling "Kami-sama" "Kami-sama""

Is this before or after you've picked up the cans?

If you refer a religious link to a discussion, the discussion has pretty much ended.

Mr Wang Says So said...

"Perhaps you give too much credit to human beings. People are driven by very base instincts." .

Perhaps you give too little credit. Or perhaps you forgot that people can have sex with contraceptives.

Sex is a base instinct, but the decision not to have children is not.

Anonymous said...

Hey Kevin

You sound like you have very strong views with plenty to say.
How about putting it up as a coherent article like Mr Wang?

I am sure u are plenty smart, worldly and all. Unfortunately, you , given the constraints, u now sound like a brash, arrogant rich kid out of school. You know. Like a summary of everything that is "wrong" about our education system.

(note: "wrong" is relative)

Similar to knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing.

Before u go ballistic, please note that I have been telling Mr Wang that your type is template for success. Forget monte-sorry(or whatever)! Aggression(and being totally amoral and thick skin) is the way to go.

Really, Singapore needs more people like you to beat the competitors from the sub-continent and USA.

Keep it up. :-)

NoName

Kevin said...

Mr. Wang,

I beg to differ. I tend to subscribe to evolutionary psychology. For women, having children is a base instinct, especially as they approach 30. For men, having sex on the cheap is a base instinct (many women = good). Women naturally tend to prefer men who hangs around after the act (1 resourceful guy = good).

Our higher decision making process (which may be very complex in itself) are in the final analysis, deeply rooted in our primal instincts.

Kevin said...

dear Anon,

I'm sorry if I sound brash and arrogant, although I'm still working on the 'rich' part. That's not my intent. I'm a consistent C grade student, even now. I don't have a formula for success, nor the experience to answer problems. I don't think my observations are by any means unique, nor is it the final say on things. My views are my own. I don't have much value to add. If we were having a face-to-face discussion, it'd probably take less than 10 min. I also value my privacy.
As for starting my own blog, I really don't think I have the mental horsepower or eloquence for that.
Thanks for the regards.
k

Anonymous said...

We're all wasting our energies writing.

Look for outcomes i.e. KPIs.

The basics - food, shelter and
clothing.

In short, the GNP and per capita income!

Whatever - education, healthcare must lead to the above universal measurement.

How do we Singapore measure up relative to others?

Kevin said...

Mr. Wang,

While we're on the issue of babies:

I am sure someone have thought this before but could anyone tell me what's so bad about the idea of starting government subsidised creches in the larger MRT stations, centralised locations near work places like manufacturing plants, etc. It would create employment, keep parents close to their children, improve the rental situation in the stations etc.
The idea is extremely popular here in Tokyo. Even the driving school I went to had a free creche (from 1 - 8 years old) for mommies. In my opinion, it's vastly superior to cash handouts and packages to parents, although those are pretty welcomed too.
There's also the power of suggestion as well - seeing kids around would inspire would be parents to have some of their own.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kevin

sou desu ka. Btw, if u need to improve ur grades, u can check out Mr Wang's latest post on old Mr Buzan. (who has been ard for ages)

My IQ is average (maybe below). mildly dylexic. attention span of a mayfly. but I scraped thru NUS with Mr Buzan's help. Twice. Which tells u the quality of NUS and Singaporean education in general.

PS: Median income and purchasing power more important than per capita income.

NoName

mr wong said...

I just read all 70+ comments at one shot. Here are my thoughts:

Firstly, ask yourself, what do we hope to get out of 10 to 16 years of formal education?

I think we agree good grades is not enough. But does that mean grades are not important? Maybe.

Some say what we study is not relevant to the working life. What do you mean by not "relevant"?

We all use words and numbers in our work. Doing literature and complex Mathematics might not seem to have a purpose, but surely it gives us the confidence in our abilities.

Would a student have been better off doing, say, dancing? Sure, she could have been a great dancer in Singapore but struggles financially. Would the education system have done her justice then?

Someone commented about Steve Jobs learning typography. That's selective sampling, the survivor bias. Did you hear about his classmates who took up low-paying jobs at printing companies?

The education system is here to give you a basic grounding so that you can get a job. Don't expect it to fully tap the potential of all students in all areas.

That is the responsibility of the parents and the child himself. Go take up classes in whatever interests you. Don't moan about the cost, there're always cheaper alternatives out there.

I do think that every one has something they can be good at. Whether it's a skill that's financially lucrative, now that's a different matter.

Now, I hope schools will teach life skills. By that, I mean Stephen Covey's 7 habits of personal and inter-personal skills. These are skills that everyone can use and should practise.

A teacher here commented on the important role of parents: I fully agree.

Broken or dysfunctional families are too big a problem for teachers to solve, but I hope they continue to try their best. Otherwise the child will have little chance to break away from a downward spiral.

I believe readers here are mature adults. So if you ever have kids, please be understanding about the pressures they face.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Mr Wong:

Thank you for your attempt to summarise. I'll attempt to summarise too.

Some people seem to think that just because Singapore's education system has always been the way it is - in other words, very stressful - that's just the way it should continue to be.

And some people seem to think that Singapore's education system HAS to be that way, so that we can all have jobs, skills etc.

I don't agree. For example, Finland, Denmark and Sweden are some countries whose education systems are as highly ranked as ours. And yet stress, struggle and suffering are NOT the defining characteristics of their schools.

For example, you won't hear Finnish women say, "I don't want to give birth, because my child would have to go school, and that would be terrible suffering!." In their society, school is simply not regarded as a painful experience.

Unfortunately, school is widely regarded as a painful experience in our society. PM Lee said as much in his ND rally speech. He acknowledges that the overly-competitive system here is one reason why some Singaporean women have given up completely on the idea of having babies.

Now the main point of my own post really is that a lot of this suffering and pain in our system is ultimately pointless and unnecessary.

It is pointless and unnecessary in the sense that our students get little or nothing, out of it. They suffer to learn things to a degree which is very unnecessary for preparing them for real life.

Essentially they suffer for nothing. And yet the suffering is very real.

That is my summary. Thank you for reading.

Kelvin Tan said...

Here is my own summary of the overall educational system, from the economist's perspective. =)

The whole objective is to rank students.

The most highly ranked students will be the President scholars, SAF overseas scholars etc etc, all the way to the lowest ranked student who will have 4 Us for their A levels.

We give the top ranked students a "high return low risk" job as a government scholar.

Now, because ranking is relative, this entire system works like an "arms race". Everyone and their mother's son will try to move up the rankings at the expense of others.

During my time in early 1990s, even a single grade of B can still allow you to be a President scholar.

Now u need about 7 distinctions, hundreds of CIP hours and so on and so forth.

Until you revamp the extremely high payoff that comes from being the winners of this arms race, that is being the President scholar, our educational system will perpetuate the stress.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Right, Kelvin.

Now what I would like to see is an education system where the whole objective is not to "rank students", as you say.

I would like to see an education system where the whole objective is to educate students.

I do not say that this will be easy ... but equally I do not see the point of continuing with a status quo that is so obviously flawed.

Kelvin Ng said...

It depends on the ambitions of those who are in the system, who run the system. If they have no educational philosophy of their own, or their idea of this is more of the same: "excellence", "take you to the top", it just perpetuates the vicious cycle. Let's face it. The easiest way for educators to climb is to show results, not to deliver real education. New teachers quickly learn this and decide which way they want to go. By the constant slew of new measures to sieve out students, to have ever more elitist measures in for example NUS (No U-turn Society) from Talent Development Programme in the 90s to bidding for modules now, it seems that our premier university does not know that achievement does not equate education. Read the speeches of the NUS President and this would be obvious. As graduates from the NUS system ,being leaders, will set the tone for the rest of society, this does not augur well. Singapore will remain a cut-throat, competitive animalistic society with little concern for the common man and the common good, unless something is done about it. There needs to be a change of heart from the top, to stop perpetuating this cycle of academic violence and the wastage of true potential of the second-tier, third-tier students that the system does not care for now.

Anonymous said...

You know what? After reading all the postings, I realise we are all very smart people! Smart in putting forth our arguments in writing...I wonder how many of us are as impressive when engaging in an open verbal discourse. The hallmarks of a great education is one where one can think on one's feet, have a confident disposition when speaking, and generally aware of current affairs. I have a feeling we are mostly paper warriors, and when confronted by others (especially from Westerners), we tend to keep our heads down and shy away....and let others take the limelight. What we read on blogs is definitely not reflective of our real persona. Just look around the offices in CBD, and you'll realise our people have no match for westerners in terms of confidence and eloquence. We got the same problem in parliament too. Whilst our education is rigorous, I think parents should fill in the gap with confidence and language skills building - through short courses that are fun and engaging.

Otherwise, the education system can turn our kids into well-trained hermits or paper-tigers.

Spark

One who thrive under the system said...

It might be the reason why so many of us are in the Science stream (other than its economic viability). Precisely because I hate memorizing huge chunks of information, I chose science, where most of the things I need to know are compressed in a few elegant equations and where I can derive things from simple fundamental principles.
I might have been more geared towards the liberal arts if not for having to cram&regurgitate for 'humanities' back in school. If only all lessons focus more on logical reasoning rather than dumping assortment of facts and figures on us (just for the embellishment).

Kelvin Ng said...

A proposal on managing the stress in Singapore schools:

http://greysteppenwolf.blogspot.com/2008/01/stress-testing-in-singapore-education.html