Jan 18, 2009

A Song & Dance About CCAs

CCAs in the school system can be viewed in many different ways. Here are three examples:

1. CCAs are unimportant and a waste of time. They need not be taken seriously. The student should focus on studying.

2. Every student needs a break from studying sometimes. CCAs are a great way to relax, have fun and do something other than homework.

3. Students need to strive to excel in both studies as well as CCAs. Therefore CCAs add even more pressure to a system that's already too stressful.
All three views have validity. How valid they are, for any individual student, really depends on his own opinions, beliefs and personal circumstances. There is no right or wrong. However, there are more-optimal and less-optimal possible paths (again, for each individual student). Some relevant factors to consider would be (1) how well or badly the student is already coping with his studies, (2) how interested he is in his CCAs, and (3) what he expects to learn or gain from the time and effort spent on his CCAs.

Personally, as a student I had participated very actively in CCAs and had enjoyed myself enormously. In fact, all my happiest memories of school days are associated with my CCAs and my CCA friends. I also feel that from my CCAs, I had gained certain skills and attributes which continue to serve me well today. (In contrast, I regard a significant amount of my classroom knowledge as practically useless to me today).

In its ideal form, the school CCA system can be seen as providing the infrastructure to help students explore and pursue their individual interests. If you like sports, the system provides you with the facilities, the the coaches, the opportunity to compete, and so on. If you like art or music or something else, the system similarly provides with the necessary resources.

If the school provides all these resources, and you don't make use of them, then that is your own loss. It is a loss that you may rationally choose to suffer - for example, you judge that you are better off spending the time studying your textbooks. It's still your loss, anyway.

I recently blogged about my son's school offering various optional courses to the students. My son himself is at the age when he's tentatively interested in almost everything, but hasn't got any strong specific preference. After some discussion with Daddy and Mum, he chose Speech & Drama. So we signed him up for that.

I think that Speech & Drama could help him to be more self-confident (with things like standing in front of an audience, or even expressing a view in class). He'll probably have a lot of fun with the drama activities and make some new friends. I think it's reasonable to expect that his speaking skills should also improve.

Taken far enough, this Speech and Drama course will lead to some sort of international examination / certification in speech and drama, from Trinity Guildhall in London. I am not sure whether my son will go that far, or whether that would be a good thing. It is quite possible that he may lose interest halfway, or become interested in something else (or perhaps the time will come when he is better off spending the time studying).

I wouldn't know, at this stage. I don't think it matters. My son can just jump in first, and get his feet wet. And have fun. We'll figure out the rest later.


Anonymous said...

Advocating all-round education again, Mr Wang? This won't go down very well with kiasu Singaporeans, you know, haha.

Anonymous said...

As I recently graduated from school, I can agree with you from my personal experience.

It was through my CCAs I explored my career options and learnt a thousand and one things which can never be replicated in the classroom. And it was fun!

As a student I didn't really care what the school expects of my CCA - in fact my secondary school CCA was an under-performer in relation to sch ranking. I think if students ignore such pressure, and do it the way they want, they should be relatively stress-free. But of course there's some sacrifice in terms of prestige lost...

don said...

mr wang

the most important thing is to expose your son to as many things as possible. make him embrace diversity and appreciate the wide range of non-academic activities.

2ndly, also rememember that sometimes you have to make decision for him. he's too young to understand the importance of certain things. for example, when i was young i dislike swimming classes and piano [especially all the discipline regimental nonsense] but now that i haf grown up i am extremely grateful to my parents for sending me to these classes because music has turned out to be one of my greatest joy and passion and added alot of colour to my life. this is only possible with the benefit of hindsight so i suggest you send your kids to piano/violin/cello/whatever classes as well.


Anonymous said...

Thanks to your info abt the UK Guildhall exam, my 7 yr old girl now has one more exam to take! lol

I seriously think such exams are impt and it's not just in the singapore's context (of getting into top sec sch via DSA) - UK has a large market for such exams too (or that Guildhall Exam Board would have closed shop long ago), and no wonder: students can get UCAS admission points for university entries via such exams!

This shows that expectation of children to play the piano, dance, perform drama etc is NOT just confined to Singapore parents - everywhere in the world, parents are equally kiasu...

...except USA, where such academic and artsy abilities are frown upon and there is a pressure against becoming a nerd/geek/smart alec! That's why the average American student is at the bottom of international ranking in math and science (and I suspect in music and the performing arts too).

SO, never ever say sg's parents are kiasu - everywhere the same, except usa and usa is not the world

Same anon as above said...

A country does not need every, or even most, of its people to be very capable, in order to become a powerful nation. Eg. just one good bill gate type - who btw, is good enough to get into harvard - is sufficient to change the world and create jobs for thousands. And other factors come into play too eg. political factors, meritocracy, import of foreign talent etc. That's why USA can become the world's superpower though its average student under-performs in all academic and non-academic areas.

But, that's for the country. As individuals, it 's not ok for a child to be just average. Such a child loses out in salary, power, status, finding a mate - in fact, every aspect of life! Thus, we should not short-change our children. We should enroll our children in all sorts of "cca" - music, speech and drama, sports, karate etc AND expect the child to treat them seriously and pass exams in these areas, the way the child passes exams in academic subjects. People in UK do that too (else all these Guildhall, ABRSM exam boards won't be around for decades). And I suspect people in Europe.

We should not let our kids end up like uneducated/uncultured "cowboys" that many american kids turn out to be, when they leave high-school.

Anonymous said...

Just to state an analogy about CCA. Been reading up on International Soccer news lately. Biggest event is the on-going transfer saga of Milan's Brazilian soccer star, Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite better known as KAKA. He is subject to £100 million transfer bid from Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City. If the transfer goes through, he will be getting £500,000 per week or about £26 million annually while his dad who acts as his agent gets £9 million commission!
Assuming a S'pore kid who has got one-tenth of KAKA's ability & talent - will his S'pore parents encourage him to harness & honed his natural soccer skills or forced him to focus on his academic studies. More likely, Spore parents would concentrate on the latter! Using simple statistical analysis - most Spore parents are more likely to forgo a potential £10 million [remember: one-tenth of KAKA's ability] in a soccer career to focus on a mundane working career which would likely never even attained £500,000 in a best scenario. Never say that is impossible as there are already Asians playing in European soccer such as Park Ji Sung (Manyoo) and Nakamura (Celtic)!

To put it in simple terms, high earners are those that excel in non-academic fields - Sportsmen; Actors; Playwrights; Book writers eg. JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame; Musicians/Singers, etc. A working career based on academic results have no high earning potential except if he/she attained a top corporate position which is just as unlikely.

The other thing is that Spore focuses on the end product rather than enhancing the learning experience. What is the point of enrolling your kid in all sorts of CCA - music, speech and drama, sports, karate, etc just to get the certification only for the kid to toss the skill aside to move on to the next big thing. Is this called learning? I think not.

Chee Wai Lee said...

I would suggest letting Little Wang find his niche. Suggest activities, let him try them out and see if he enjoys them.

Even as adults, sometimes one wonders if one really enjoys doing what he or she is doing. Unfortunately, it seems awfully hard in Singapore society to change what you want to do in life and succeed.

Maybe it's just me ... thinking about doing something completely different in life from what I was trained and educated to do now seems like a very very terrifying thing.

Mr Wang Says So said...

From the perspective of a parent, it's quite important to me that my children enjoy their CCAs, whatever their CCAs are.

But I also agree that once they've chosen their CCA, there should be some genuine commitment to stick with it for some time. One gets nowhere flip-flopping from one interest to another, without ever staying with it long enough to really discover what it's all about.

My daughter is an obvious "Speech & Drama" kind of girl. She's outgoing and spontaneous and loves to sing, dance, play-act etc. However, she's not in primary school yet.

My son is actually the more literary sort. He likes to read, and to write little stories. But the school didn't have any courses relating to creative writing.

Anonymous said...

Let us take as an example the founding anf development of Singapore. Did our leaders (from the first generation of PAP) slog and spend all their time mugging or undergoinf compulsory CCAs in their schools? What was their inner landscape like as children? What did these leaders do? Yet no one (least ofall the present generation of PAP ministers) would dispute that the first generation was exceptional in many ways. What does that say about the cramming ideology of the MOE?

Anonymous said...

Hey Mr Wang,
Thanks for your timely piece. Coincidentally, page 2 of today's(19Jan)ST is also talking about it.
It spawned from a query by current Minister for Education about the possibility of getting every school student to take up a sport as a CCA.

Anyway, I had a coaching session today with a certain JC, and now being the start of the year, I took the chance to let those fresh faces know that selection for representing the school is inevitable, as per logistical constraints.

However, those who are interested in the sport should still train as hard to get better, and learn to enjoy and do well in the sport, as a recreational activity.

As a coach, there is a certain pressure to 'perform', and there is always a dilemma about being inclusive(welcoming everyone), or focusing on those who have a better chance of winning medals. While these are not mutually exclusive goals, the logistical, budgetary and time constraints can force a difficult choice sometimes.

But enough of excuses...

Anonymous said...

Expert instructors in the various areas are having a field day these years. Schools now flushed with cash seek out such expertise to buy their services to enhance their CCA achievements, say, from preparing students for international Maths quizzes to national dance competitions. Some schools even block out timetables for outside motivational speakers (thought teachers are trained to motivate?)to pep their pupils up. Accolades and rewards are then proudly claimed (highlighted in appraisal performance indicators) by the principals and teachers in charge who actually only nodded and spend much of their time marking attendance and rounding up absentees respectively.

Might it then not serve the country and taxpayers better if we instead employ such people like gymn instructors, external coaches, counsellors, etc., and officially put them on MOE payroll (rather than susu lembu sapi's nama strategy), pay them a fraction of the teacher's pay albeit the job security as public servants. We are at the same time creating & multiplying meaningful and purposeful employment leaving the teachers to teach and engage the pupils to learn their subjects. Teachers could then not be so highly remunerated as they would stay on to do what they claim they always want to do i.e. to teach learning.

Anonymous said...

I sent my child to Mrs G's Guildhill School of Music and Drama class (held in remodelled garage) in 1980's as it was within walking distance. Her present school is now THE speech/drama school.
My child loved Mrs G's classes and finished Grade 8. Her A-level grades are not all As but she got into law-she probably did well in the interview. Boy, could she talk and well ;) Whatever a child likes, money is well spent.

Anonymous said...

January 20, 2009 12:03 AM

"As a coach, there is a certain pressure to 'perform', and there is always a dilemma about being inclusive(welcoming everyone), or focusing on those who have a better chance of winning medals."

You bet. Yours is no iron rice bowl but hire & fire. If you get winners, the school (principal) & the teacher-in-charge, will get the credit i.e. the perm staff. If not, your contract hangs in the balance. The supply is there in the market from China and ex-teachers who don't want to set and mark exercises/papers.

MOE won't even know which external coach(es) or instructor(s) work their butt out.

This is the name of the game (susu lembu; nama sapi) unless accolades & awards are accompained by coach(es)/ instructor(s) names in the appraisal reports of concerned.


Anonymous said...

Recruitment of teachers. Between aptitude (measured & quantified by recognised academic qualifications) & attitude (behaviour).

The former is a constant; the latter can only perceived & even if it's possible to ascertain at interviews is never a constant i.e. it changes with time, mood, age, dis-satisfaction, etc.

The former is more mobile but the latter's not & is usually more street-smart people. The latter has no market in the outside and will usually stay in good as well as bad times in the public sector.

Education basically is the business of imparting knowledge and shorting the learning curve of our students. Imagine a teacher who is unable to solve a Maths problem or unable to comprehend a concept. Teachers by the very nature of their job cannot not have brains first. Harvard, Yale or Oxbridge is what it is today is in no part due to its emminent & scholastic educators. Take away the academic talents and the future of our country will be harmed. Look at all the unranked 10universities in Malaysia with the dominant type of academic staff they recruit regardless of the kind of qualifications they possess over the years.

Backdoor entry into our teaching force should also be discouraged. Actors and actresses are best left to dramas and Mediacorps. Students who fail to gain access into our 4 local universities or good universities abroad can also come back with flying colors from the liberal say, Malaysian or some Indian universities with vernacular degrees. Once accepted into our schools they become a protected species and treated on par with the rest in terms of pay, routine promotion, etc. Very often given the relatively small teacher:pupil ratio of their disciplines they can become exceptionally visible in the non-professional areas and thus gain unintended advancement to the top to the chagrin of the service later on. Who really bothers abt picking up the pieces in situ when leaders move on every 5 years to another school?

It's therefore in the interest of Singapore to have both aptitude and attitude in teacher recruitment but the former must come first. Our kids deserve nothing but the best as we do not have any mineral but only human resource.

Slither said...

As a 19 year old who's slacked off the CCA bit in school for most part of her education, I can really see how a little talk would have gone a long way.

If I re imagine my childhood with or without CCA, I know I would have been better off with it.

Just recently I took the task of talking my little sis (P1) into choosing a CCA. I'm glad you did too. I gave her a little talk and helped her imagine her future.. if she did rhythmic gymnastics, how she'd imagine herself in it as she grows up, and what if she was in modern dance.. She chose speech and drama in the end. (:

At their age where kids are interested in everything, it is really in the hands of their parents to make sure these little branches of interest don't shrink back into themselves.

After all, the same amount of time that passes us by, would pass them by too. What if just a little nudge could bring them closer to having the time of their lives? Rather than having all that scattered interest amount to nothing.

Childhood is fleeting. And as Mr Wang says so, they can jump in and get their feet wet, and the parents can figure the rest out later. (:

chengguan said...

i think i regarded not participating enough in CCA during my school days. in contrary, my wife who was active in scouting in her school days seems to be doing much better in terms of socializing and everybody likes her.

too late? maybe, maybe not... there are still plenty of activities out there for people like me every after we left school. i.e. toast master, cooking classes...