Aug 24, 2009

Education Choices in Singapore & Malaysia

I had just been discussing international schools in Singapore. Now here's a Straits Times article discussing the situation in Malaysia:
ST Aug 24, 2009
More Malaysians turn to international schools
Demand up despite cost, as middle-class parents give up on local system
By Elizabeth Looi

KUALA LUMPUR: More middle-class Malaysians are enrolling their children in international schools despite long waiting lists, as parents grow increasingly frustrated with the local education system.

Up to 2006, the only Malaysians who could send their children to these schools were those who had lived abroad for at least three years, or had a foreign spouse.

An exception was those with businesses that could attract foreign direct investments for the country. These business owners were wealthy Malaysians.

Thus, there were not many local students enrolled in international schools. But since 2006 - when the rules were relaxed and international schools were allowed to enrol up to 40 per cent Malaysians - middle-class Malaysians have started placing their children in such schools, which have increased in number - from 32 three years ago to 40 now.

The number of Malaysian students has also gone up - from 2,608 among an estimated 10,000 students, or 26 per cent, in 2006, to 5,000 among an estimated 15,000 students, or 33 per cent, in 2009.

At least 20 more international schools are scheduled to open soon, according to school operators.

One reason some parents are transferring their children to international schools is the changes in the curriculum of the national schools.

One example: the decision last month to reverse the policy of teaching maths and science in English, which had been in effect for six years. Another change was when the government decided to limit the number of subjects students are allowed to take for their O-levels, compared with the unlimited number previously.

'The Education Ministry is very fickle-minded, they do not know what to do most of the time with the policies,' said property agent Tan Ching Suan, 49, who is unhappy with the constant changes in the local system.

So, even though the national schools are free of charge, she transferred her daughter to an international school two years ago.

More middle-class Malaysians have, like her, become willing to draw on their savings to send their children to the more expensive international schools. Some of them also work overseas or are highly mobile. Having their children in international schools makes it easier for them when they move from one country to another.
At one level, it's all simply about the (actual or perceived) inadequacies in the local school system. If the parents are able, they will naturally look for alternatives. After all, parents love their children and want the best for them. Simple as that.

I'm sure that some readers will want to say that Singapore's local school system is much better than Malaysia's. But that's not the point. Both systems have their own problems. One system may be better. But whichever country you happen to find yourself in, you will still want the best available opportunities for your children.

What's "best" also depends on the special circumstances of each child and his or her family. They can vary a lot from family to family. For example, MM Lee's grandson was dyslexic, and at the relevant time, the family decided that the Singapore American School would be the best choice for him. Why? Because the local schools lacked the expertise to help dyslexic students.

Other Singaporean families may be interested in international schools, for other reasons. Some possible & common reasons would be:
(1) they may think poorly of the Cambridge O and A-level syllabus that local schools typically use (in recent years, the reputation of the Cambridge syllabus has suffered badly);

(2) their child, if raised in a non-Chinese speaking family environment, may not be able to cope with the Chinese Language at the level which local schools teach it;

(3) they feel that the local school system is unnecessarily stressful and exam-oriented and tends to kill creativity and innovative thinking;

(4) as the world becomes more globalised, they feel that it is better for their child to be educated in an environment where he will interact with classmates of many different nationalities;

(5) the parents have future plans to emigrate or work overseas, so it is better for their child to start getting used to an international school environment;

(6) international schools tend to have a smaller student-to-teacher ratio (local schools are still mostly about 40 students to one teacher) and they feel that their child would benefit more from a smaller ratio.
In the long run, some of these problems could be fixed by improving the local education system, not necessarily for all local schools, but by having some of these local schools operate on a different model, thereby increasing the range of options available for parents and their children.

But if you are a parent and you need to register your child for a school next year, that's not much comfort.


Anonymous said...

mr wang,

let's put it this way. what you think as a one-size-fits-all education policy is a manifestation of the government's commitment to the principle of equality or equal opportunity.

in this case, an impoverished taxi driver would say to you, a high-flying lawyer, "why should my child be disadvantaged by not being able to enjoy the perks of an international school education simply because i am poorer than you?"

in other words, the principle of equality cuts both ways: it raises some, at the expense of lowering some others.

WhiteDuskRed said...

Here in HK the rich are anxious about getting their kid into Singapore International School because they prefer the English-speaking environment and the curriculum.

What's the real reason behind making every kid attend local schools? National Education?

If that's the case then they should simply make it a compulsory activity for all Singaporeans aged 12 to attend an N.E. camp. No point losing them to overseas schools.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Actually, the current education policy does not strike me as a "one-size-fits-all". Far from it. Within the local school system, we have, for instance:

1. the Normal stream;
2. the Express Stress;
3. the Special Stream;
4. the Gifted Enrichment Programme;
5. the independent schools;
6. the SAP schools;
7. madrasah schools;
8. autonomous schools
9. through-train programmes

etc etc. In case you didn't notice, the fee structure has become heterogeneous, and nowadays some of these schools (the independent ones, eg ACS, RI, SJI, Chinese High) charge quite high fees too.

What I stated in my post is that there are still going to be parents who want different options, because parents want the best they can.

Incidentally, as I had mentioned in my earlier post, the anecdote about my visit to Mark's house took place quite some years ago, when my son was not of primary school age yet.

Since then, he's gone to primary school (a local school) and so far, he's doing well, and likes school, and I think that in fact, the school is very good for my son, given his own personal circumstances (personality, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses etc);

and what I consider to be the inherent limitations of the school, I am able to mitigate with (1) activities that my son does at home and elsewhere outside school; and (2) my own parenting approach.

So, at the personal level, I'm quite fine with the local school system.

I'm just pointing out that other parents can have their own issues, and that's why they may be looking for other options.

Anonymous said...

mr. wang,

i concur that the system is more varied than i put it -- i conceded the heterogeneity of the singaporean education system at the expense of acknowledging the flexibility of the education policy we have in place here in singapore.

now, as to "parents who want different options, because parents want the best they can," they have to accept that they must work within the range of choices available to them, which you seem to indicate is rich enough.

every system has its parameters, and it's no use complaining that it hasn't room for all. outliers are only so few, and parents who hanker after the international school experience for their children would be better off seeking pastures new and far from these shores, rather than for the system to (publicly?) forego its fundamental prerogatives for the sake of a privileged few.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Oh, it's already happened before.

There was a time, you might recall, when many Singaporeans emigrated from this country, and one of the most common reasons cited was that their children could not cope with learning Chinese in schools here.

Their inability to pass Chinese could lead to quite serious consequences, such as not being able to progress to secondary school (or JC, or university). Therefore the entire family felt compelled to emigrate.

Nowadays, this problem is mitigated because the government has somewhat changed its tack, on the all-importance of Chinese, in our schools.

Still, one wonders what is the total number of Singaporeans we lost in those years, due to the inflexibility of the local education system.

Anonymous said...

Why after 44 years of independence and (so-called) improvement to education system, the teacher-to-students ratio never drop?

the answer:

Anonymous said...

I think the gahmen already trying new systems. ACS(I) is on IB, NUS High School is on AP. So there're the 2 new systems on test.

But the other main stream schools and Singapore's preferred "tried and tested" mentality will remain for at least the next 5 years though. Then, that's my suspicion. Until we get our own system that is internationally recognised, we're pretty much stuck.

Reminds me though, USA is using our maths and science textbooks. Hrm...

Anonymous said...

If you want to really talk about the quality of science and math education, the Soviet Union probably had a far better system. So using the US as a benchmark is moot.

Anonymous said...

Ah - well there's actually a secret they don't tell people about. The restriction on Singapore citizens attending international schools has been recast as a limit on the percentage of Singaporeans in each international school. So long as they haven't hit the quota, they can admit Singaporean students. Just call them up and ask.

This is potentially very dangerous if you think it is important to create a unifying Singaporean identity. But if you've already given up on the Pledge and stuff like that, it doesn't really matter. A passport is just a flag of convenience after all.

Anonymous said...

Is the government really too harsh in its Chinese programme? Personally, I find the dropping standards of mandarin in singapore a shame. Ethnic Chinese who are unable to articulate themselves in mandarin!?
Let me quote an example, I was volunteering to help do admin work for the legal clinic( event where heartland folks can get 20min of free legal advice); a large percentage of the lawyers were unable to converse in simple mandarin. A shame when most of the people they will helping were not well educated and from humble backgrounds. One of them told me, "thank you for helping me, I cant speak mandarin for nuts."
Is the stance on mandarin education too strict? I do not think so, we should do more. Moreover, letting the next generation go to international schools will not help either.

Mr Wang Says So said...

I think they went less harsh, starting from around 2002 or 2003?

That was after that feedback exercise (I forget the project name) run by Vivian Balakrishnan, when it became clear that indeed, Singaporeans were emigrating because their children could not cope with Mandarin.

At that time, Singapore had the highest rate of emigration in the world, after East Timor. Not sure where Singapore is ranked now.

Anonymous said...

"Ethnic Chinese who are unable to articulate themselves in mandarin!?"

Who can you blame when some are brought up in an English speaking environment and those speaking dialects at home? If you can you can, as not all humans have the same ability. There are inflexible people who speaks Mandarin despite all these but somehow cannot comprehend why others can't.

Being an ethnic Chinese not being able to articulate in Mandarin may be due to many reasons. For example, those brought up speaking Peranakan and English at home. Some can speak Malay and pick up Indonesian easily but yet cannot speak Mandarin although they can speak dialects. Now why should anyone be ashamed in not being able to speak Mandarin when their forefathers arrived many generations ago from China and their heritage include having some Malay blood?

Of course one might also say without understanding Mandarin, the person loses his identity, culture and the wonderful history of the Chinese. So what? Be ashamed? I think not.

The said...

/// Mr Wang Says So said...
At that time, Singapore had the highest rate of emigration in the world, after East Timor. Not sure where Singapore is ranked now. ///

Migration has two facets - emigration and immigration. Yes, Singapore had and still has one of the highest emigration rate. But its immigration rate is much, much higher, which is why it had been consistently among the top 10 in the world in terms of net migration (immigration minus emigration) in the past decade. Currently, it ranked 10th in the world in net gain of people. Most of the countries at the top ranking are nations with even smaller population than Singapore.

But your reference to emigration (and not net migration) is relevant here. Yes, large numbers of Singaporeans migrated because their children could not cope with Mandarin. And I noticed a very sharp drop in the standard of Mandarin in school. My son's school suddenly had 85% who got an A and A*, and my son's Mandarin isn't that good and he got an A.

But, with the floodgate flung wide open (hence the world ranked net migration stats), I guess many who came here already possess fantastic Mandarin reading and speaking ability. Sigh...

Anonymous said...

"(2) their child, if raised in a non-Chinese speaking family environment, may not be able to cope with the Chinese Language at the level which local schools teach it;"

but will have no problem handling the THREE (3) languages i.e. English, German, French or TWO (2) languages i.e. English, German/French at the level which international schools teach, because the level of Chinese which local schools teach is very unreasonably high, resulting in only a mere 85% of each cohort managing to get an A grade instead of the much more reasonable 100% of students getting A grade, that one would expect if MOE had been more reasonable, and worse, only merely electronic dictionaries are allowed during exam which means when the questino paper ask the student: "explain the meaning of the phrase XX", the student had to key in XX into the dictionary to obtain the answer and then to write this answer out, instead of the more reasonable thing MOE should have done which is to simply provide the answer to the question without having to use the electronic dictionary as an in-between, whereas the level of German and/or French taught at international schools to child brought up in non-German and non-French speaking family environment is so low that 100% gets the A grade every year, even when dictionaries are not allowed during exams.

Thus as you can see, tt all has to do with the quality and reasonableness of the education ministry, and NOTHING at all to do with children or their parents or their grandparents looking down on the Chinese language such that somewhere along the generation line, someone decided to stop throw their mother tongue out of the window and adopt a foreign language as the mother tongue.

It of course also has to do with the language itself. Chinese, being a character-based language which requires the memorisation of 3000 words, is capable of being learnt only by Chinese in China who, all 1 billion of them, have an IQ of 150 (even though many are peasants or farmers), whereas for overseas Chinese descendants like us with IQ of only 100, we can only cope with much easier languages such as English which has 3 words for every verb (eat, ate, eaten) and superlatives that sometimes add "er" "est" and sometimes use "more" "most", and even easier languages such as German and French which has masculine and feminine form for the same word.

In short, it's MOE's fault mostly, if not then the local school and its strict Chinese teachers' fault, and if still not, then the inherent difficulty of the language. No matter what, it has NOTHING - repeat, NOTHING - to do with Singaporeans' attitude towards this foreign language called Chinese/Mandarin/Dialect.

Oh yes, it may also have to do with CHinese being taught in Mandarin in School. Had it be taught in 5 different dialects - teochew, hokkien, hakka, cantonese, hainan - suddenly, every of our children from non-Chinese speaking family would love spelling, composition, reading and writing! So maybe, it's all the fault of the "speak mandarin, instead of dialect" campagin. Please remember: it's easier to read and write in dialect than in mandarin. They use different characters.

There, you have it. A very valid reason to choose international schools over local schools based on language curriculum. In fact, I would venture that of all the points you listed, this language point is the most valid - some singaporeans have even emigrated overseas due to language reason because overseas, though the school syllabus teaches many languages, it doesnt teach CHinese. Only Chinese language is difficult, rem? French? German? Sup Sup Suay lah!

Anonymous said...

"Their inability to pass Chinese could lead to quite serious consequences, such as not being able to progress to secondary school (or JC, or university). Therefore the entire family felt compelled to emigrate."

Please note that the English passing rate at O-level is **less** (<) than 50% for more than 30 years since 1970 to 1990, and passing English is a requirement for continuing being O-level then and now.

Please also note that even today, the lowest passing rate subject at O-level is.... English!

Please also note that English must be counted as one of the subject in L1R5 for JC admission, whereas Chinese - even in the past - need only be "passed" (can D7 be called a pass?) and need not be counted for points.

Did I mention that entire cohort of Chinese-educated students in the early 1980s were denied university admission when they were forced, overnight to pass GP in ENGLISH(!!!), because overnight, that became a requirement for university admission?

Finally, please note that even today, a very substantial number of students forgo JC edu and go the poly route due to fear of failing GP and hence denied university admission?

These people did not emigrate and in fact, cannot emigrate due to their coming from working-class emigration-ineligible family. Their denied edu in the past has caused structural unemployment now because we now do not have enough educated workers. Their continued denial to edu in the present, represent a major "educational-injustice" because they are actually quite brilliant students save for their English.

My point: Any socio-politico blog/ observer/ caring Singaporean should learn to identify the mountain from the molehole, to differentiate the big issue from the much more insignificant one.

Mr Wang Says So said...

But your point is irrelevant.

If your English is weak, going to an international school in Singapore doesn't help you, unless you manage to find one that doesn't teach English.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Just to be clear, I do agree with your English "educational injustice" point. It's just that it is not what my current post is about.

I could however refer you to an old blog post of mine, written in Feb 2006, where I commented on a news article about students who avoid JC because they fear GP. This is what I wrote then:

"Thoughts, thoughts.

The first thought that strikes me is a rather ironic one. Some Singaporean students shy away from junior college because GP is a compulsory JC subject and failing it would impede their subsequent attempt to enter the local universities. However, our local universities throw their arms wide open to students direct from the PRC. In other words, as far as university places are concerned, we discriminate against Singaporean students with a poor command of English, but we welcome foreign students who never did GP at all and who speak and write even worse English than those Singaporean students.

Well, well. Yet another disadvantage of being a citizen in Singapore.

The second thought that strikes me is that the PRC students tend to do extremely well in Singapore's universities despite having a poor command of English. This is also quite easy to understand. The PRC students flock in large numbers to our Engineering Faculties, where mathematical aptitude is far more important than linguistic ability. The PRC students are conspicuously absent from faculties such as Law, Arts, Mass Communications or even Business Administration. So it's a matter of knowing where your strengths are.

My third thought is that if PRC students can be bad in English but still make great engineers, then Singaporean students who are bad in English may also nevertheless make great engineers (or mathematicians, or IT programmers or chemists). Which in turn leads us to realise that it could be rather stupid for local universities to deny places to Singaporean students on the grounds that those Singaporean students did badly in GP.

Instead the local universities should give greater consideration to the kind of courses that the Singaporean student wants to study. If the Singaporean student failed GP but wants to study English Linguistics & Literature, then we may justifiably be sceptical or dismissive. But if he wants to study a course which requires some kind of proficiency other than proficiency in the English language, then really the poor GP grade should not stand in the way.

Fail, fail lor. GP only what.

Kevin said...

Hi Mr Wang,

In an earlier post, you mentioned that Singapore citizens are not entitled to register in private schools. Only PRs and foreigners are.

In this post, you stated that MM's grandson attended the Singapore American School because of dyslexia. Is there an exception given to children with specific medical conditions when it comes to registering in private schools, or is MM's grandson NOT a Singapore citizen?

Anonymous said...

"Who can you blame when some are brought up in an English speaking environment"

Exactly my point! Those brought up in English-speaking environment has no problem learning French/German, because these two are very simple languages (despite their having masculine and feminine version of the same noun). Chinese, however is a super difficult language such that only IQ 150 Chinamen can acquire (and all 1 billion of them in China has such high IQ, which explains why they all have no problem learning the language), whereas ordinary Singaporeans like us cannot be blame for finding Chinese (but not French/German) difficult if we come from English speaking environment. It has NOTHING to do with us looking up to French/German but looking down on Chinese.

"There are inflexible people who speaks Mandarin despite all these but somehow cannot comprehend why others can't."

I can comprehend! I can fully comprehend why our top O- and A-level students can study 3rd languages such as French and German and get A in them, but fail Chinese. Simple: Chinese is a difficult language meant for IQ 150 Chinamen.... French/German are easy languages despite masculine/feminine noun form... Repeat: It has NOTHING to do with our looking up to French/German, and looking down on Chinese.

"Being an ethnic Chinese not being able to articulate in Mandarin may be due to many reasons. For example, those brought up speaking Peranakan and English at home."

Yalor. It's like throwing one's grandma to JB. That has many reasons too. For example, those brought up by parents who abandon their poor mothers and adopt wealthy old woman as step-mothers. So how can blame us when we call the rich old woman our grandma, and abandon our real grandma in JB?

"Now why should anyone be ashamed in not being able to speak Mandarin when their forefathers arrived many generations ago from China and their heritage include having some Malay blood?"

I agree. When one emigrates, one should throw away one's poor mother in JB, and adopt a new rich woman as one's step-mother After a few generations, one's offspring will call the step-mother as great-grandma, while the real grandma is in old aged home in JB. What's there to be ashamed about doing so? Nothing to be ashamed. We must all be pragmatic - be it mother tongue or real mother, it should always be based on where one emigrate to, or the social status of said mother tongue/real mother etc. It should never be based on "blood ties" <-- what's that?

"Of course one might also say without understanding Mandarin, the person loses his identity, culture and the wonderful history of the Chinese. So what? Be ashamed? I think not."

Yalor! Of course, one might say that abandoning one's mother in JB and adopting an ah moh as one's step mother will result in one's descendant calling the wrong person "grandma" thus losing his identity, culture, etc. So what? Be ashamed? I think not! Please abandon your mother/mother tongue, according to where you emigrate to, or which mother/mother tonogue has more social clout! There is NOTHING at all to be ashamed of to be pragmatic.

Anonymous said...

"the reputation of the Cambridge syllabus has suffered badly"

at O-level, but not at A-level. The A-level syllabus remains the gold standard and a very detailed comparison between IB and A-level by none other than UK's UCAS itself hows that only the higher version of IB is comparable to A-level in depth.

Anonymous said...

> kill creativity and innovative thinking

Actually, at the lower level i.e. primary school, it is more important to get the basics right through rote-learning, lots of drills and repetition, rather than forgo all these to use the time for "creativity" and "innovative thinking".

Good eg. is math. You need to do lots and lots of monotonous rote-learning back and forth to get the multiplication table right and mental sums tip-top and understand fractions etc. The Americans, for eg, don't do that. They spend little time on such rote-learning and attempt to introduce creative problems into their math syllabus too early. That's like learning to skip, hop, jump, before walking is mastered. So their children end up with very poor foundation and hence poor performance in high school and hence are now advocating "back to basics", with many using the singapore textbook.

At the higher level however, creativity and innovative thinking is important. Thus, I think we can be proud of our Primary school syllabus and curriculum. But the same cannot be said for our secondary schools.

The Asian curriculum in general is good for the average student - he can get the basics right and is pushed up thanks to rigorous, repetitive rote-learning. The American curriculum is good for the gifted - he can get all the freedom to create and innovate without being held back by the teacher. And we can see it in the better Asian results compared to American results, when the entire cohort is tested in intl math/science exam, versus the number of top companies, scientists etc that US produces.

Mr Wang Says So said...


Your question was discussed (and answered) in the comment section of the earlier post.

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

Here are some relevant and interesting facts.

From my comments on Mr Wang's earlier posts:-

Graeme Hugo, ‘A New Paradigm of International Migration: Implications for Migration
Policy and Planning in Australia’ (Research Paper No. 10 2003‐04, prepared for general
distribution to Senators and Members of the Australian Parliament, 2004) 16‐7.

From the article:-

"In 2002‐3, permanent departures as a percentage of permanent arrivals was 53.7%, compared to 43.3% in 2000 and only 23% in 1990.

"With nearly 5% of the population living overseas permanently, this is one of the world’s major diasporas in relation to the resident population."

Singapore Government may not publish emigration numbers, but it is not difficult to work out.

Based on Department of Statistics,
Citizens growth (30,600) = Births - deaths + new citizens - emigration.

The citizen population increased from 3.1338m (2007) to 3.1644 m in 2008, a net increase of 30,600. Citizen births contributed 32,400, (2)citizen death was 14,500, and in 2007, there were 17,300 new citizens. This implies emigration was 4,600, at 1.5 citizens per 1000 per year.

Citizens leaving Singapore don't seem to be that high.

I know a country with a higher emigration rate than Singapore - Australia. It seemed to us that it is a country apparently known to many Singaporeans, which allow its citizens to choose the tertiary education they want and for providing a lot more tertiary opportunities than Singapore.

Australia's emigration is about 70,000 per year out of a population of 21 million in Australia.

This works out to 3.3 per 1000.

Therefore, our emigration rate is a lot lower than Australia.

As a result, the possibility that education in Singapore is a major driver to Singaporeans emigrating to another country cannot be fully proven when compared to Australia.

Apparently, if you google, you will find that Eastern Europe, Caribbean and Philippines have the world's highest emigration rates.

We need to further investigate the actual reasons for the 1.5 per 1,000 Singapore citizens emigrating. For any one who know where to find this information, please kindly share your sources.

My view is our Universities are the way they are in their admission criteria is largely because of limited resources and in recent years, required to become 'world-class'...

Based on what I know of the US and Australian Universities I had attended, one of their criteria is "Graduates who are employable, not only locally but also abroad."

Could this is the reason why some "foreign talent" bondbreakers were tolerated? So as to increase the number of graduates in their Alumni working overseas.

Our education system is not perfect and should always be continously improving. And as Singapore Citizens, we should have priority in local primary schools for Primary 1 admissions.

In Malaysia, intake in Universities were first reserved for Bumiputras and what is their quality of tertiary education compared to Singapore?

And what is their emigration rate compared to Singapore?

Mr Wang Says So said...

Told you. When the government changed their 2nd language policy, the number of Singaporeans emigrating dropped.

As for Aussies, I have several working in my department. All of them plan to return to Australia one day. They leave to make more money elsewhere, and when they make enough, they go back to Australia. That's why they still do things like maintain a property in Australia, keep their bank accounts open. They certainly don't want to give up their Australian citizenship.

On the other hand - this is anecdotal, of course, but it's what I see - when Singaporeans pack up and leave, mcuh more often it's for good. Sell the HDB flat; cash out the CPF; close the POSB account; and leave for good.

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

The 3.3 per thousand for Australia is those permanently leaving Australia. These are the ones who packed up, sold their houses, collect their superannuation and closed their Westpac accounts.

Emigration from Singapore has slowed.

There are many Singaporeans I know who are working overseas as well, and still retain their Singapore citizenship and their CPF.

Anonymous said...

~Told you. When the government changed their 2nd language policy, the number of Singaporeans emigrating dropped.

Not true and does not tally with the objective statistics released (though difficult to dig up). On the contrary, the number that emigrated has increased over the years, with no slowing-down whatsoever even after the change to the 2nd language policy. That's why the government is having a big headache. If only it's as simple as reversing a language policy -- that would have made them very happy!

Not surprising either because most often it happens like this: A-level holders want to do uni edu overseas, thanks to LKY creating this social conditioning for the past 40 years via his scholarship system, that the the best edu is overseas, and nus/ntu is not good enough for the best. So, they all want to study overseas. After uni, they stay there to work. Why not? higher pay, intl exposure etc. After a few years, they get comfortable and settle down there with bigger house, foreign spouse etc. This is the type that LKY is most worried abt, because they represent the cream of the crop. He described this scenario some months back. They are mostly in UK/USA.

The other type is the squeezed upper middle-class. In their late 30s, early 40s, they cannot take it anymore and pack up for Canada or Australia via their immigration point system. This type are mostly married and emigrate with kids. LKY is less worried abt this type since they are not that talented, by his definition. But he is worried abt the ethnic ratio being made even more unbalanced by their departure. This type emigrate for economic reason. You can read abt them in's emigration section. They do not struck me as having lousy chinese lang skill.

So tell me, where got any significant group who previously emigrated due to language and who now no longer emigrate due to language policy change? Sure, some people may have done that, and you may know them personally, but that's within your own small social circle. When we look at the statistics at the national level, they are negligible when compared to the above 2 groups. Otherwise, the statistics would have shown a slow-down after the lang policy changed. Did it? (it did not!)

Anonymous said...

But Mr Wang, wrt leaving for good, can they not? Bear in mind that once you are out of the Garden of Eden, you are out for good.

Sometimes, it's better to leave the door slightly ajar, rather than leave people with an outright exclusive or choice. At least people will still harbour the possibility, and not perform all those actions mentioned (close account, sell HDB flat etc.)

However, I suppose they do not welcome the return of the prodigal son.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anon 10:07

While I get ur point, u may have got some facts mixed up.

There are many Chinamen(is this an insult?) who do not speak Mandarin. Mandarin is merely a northern dialect (of the Hans). And there are many non-Hans in China. even among Hans, there are many who are illiterate. The simplified chinese that we used today is a dumb-downed version. And we may have to dumb down further. Maybe cos there isn't 1 billion 150 IQ Han chinese?

Anonymous said...


The number dun add up.
The number of "citizens" has been padded by "new citizens" over the last 15 years or so.

And the numbers does not cater for the fact that most countries do not give out citizenships like toilet paper. Unlike Singapore.
How many born-n-bred SG citizens are actually on some waitlist and really no longer SG "citizens"?

Only the Gahmen knows.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Dug up another old post of mine, from April 2007:

Lee Kuan Yew on Emigration

I must have written something interesting, because that post drew 120+ comments.

Anonymous said...

anon 2:14,
I am anon 10:07. You took pain to point out that Mandarin is merely a northern dialect of the Hans. May I know what's the relevance of that to my argument that Chinese is NOT a difficult language since 1 billion Chinaman (yes, an "insult", in line with my style of commenting earlier) has no problem learning it? What is your point? Is it:

A. to prove that Mandarin is an inherently difficult language and that's why only northern Hans with IQ 150 can master it, whereas southern Hans and other part of China with normal IQ 100 can only master Cantonese (or teochew, or hakka or hainan, or hunan, or suzhou), each of which uses a DIFFERENT written script and DIFFERENT reading characters?

If so, let me ans you: the last I check, Mandarin, Teochew, Hakka etc all share the SAME written characters and are read using the SAME (except for slight variation) characters for more than 2000 years since Qin Shih Huang, the first emperor of China unified the Chinese characters.

Or, is it,

B. to prove that if PAP had not implement the !@#$% "speak mandarin, less dialect" policy but had instead split all Chinese lessons in school into 5 diff classrooms and employ 5 different teachers so that Chinese pupils can learn Chinese using Teochew, Hakka, Hainan, Hokkien and Cantonese respectively (in fact, any dialect will do except the super-difficult mandarin), then suddenly all of you who hated Chinese lesson, will love Teochew composition (written in the Teochew characters which you think exist independent of Mandarin characters), Hokkien spelling test (written using Hokkien script, which you seem to think is different from Mandarin script), Hakka exam (with characters written in Hakka script which of course is diff from mandarin script! LOL) etc, and all will now get A1 because while Mandarin characters are difficult to read and write and memorise (require IQ 150 which only northern han possess! Yes, I rem that! Thanks for pointing that out), somehow, Teochew and Hokkien and Catonese characters are super easy to read and write (and that's why non-northern han with normal IQ can master them)?

Please explain your point because I have always find it very puzzling that people who hated Chinese in school blame it on Mandarin. To be precise, they seem to think that if their teacher has taught them in Hokkien, somehow they will be able to read long Hokkien passages and write long Hokkien essays and thus all their problem is the fault of the govt teaching in Mandarin instead of in Hokkien. Now, if only the exams are in Hokkien! Sure A1!! These people always take a lot of pain to point out how Mandarin is only a dialect blah blah blah.

So, kindly point out to me precisely: in which dialect should PAP has taught Chinese in school, such that all those who hated and did badly in chinese previously will now do super well in Chinese taught in that dialect.

Only by pointing out that, can I, with my thick skull, understand why the problem lies in Mandarin and the govt's "speak mandarin, less dialect" policy. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

anon 2:14,
"The simplified chinese that we used today is a dumb-downed version."

May I know what's the relevance of pointing out the obvious? Are you trying to say that, previously the non-simplified version was much more difficult and yet since 1 billion Chinese (or whatever the population was) had no problem learning it for 2000 years, therefore my point that the Chinese in China has IQ 150 is correct?

Or are you saying that for 2000 years, China has more illiterates than, say, Europe, because Chinese with its non-simplified script is inherently more difficult to learn than Roman script? Historical data does not support this. Literacy was much higher in China than Europe during the Tang dynasty/Middle age.

Or are you saying that China had to simplify its script because the previous script was too difficult? If so, HK and Taiwan pple must have be IQ 150 (along with the chiense pple for 2000 years), 'cos they have no problem learning the non-simplified script.

Like or don't like the Chinese language is up to personal preference. IT's just that I buay tahan those "losers" who keep coming up with these two excuses in order to "win:

Excuse 1: Chinese is an inherently more difficult language than English. (see my 10:07 comment which debunk this).

Excuse 2: If only govt had taught Chinese in school using Hokkien/Cantonese, we would have loved write Hokkien compositions and read Cantonese passage to death!

Bull shit!

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

To Anonymous who said..."Not true and does not tally with the objective statistics released (though difficult to dig up). "

I tend to agree that its not simply the 2nd Language Policy alone.

Mr Wang, where did you get that conclusion from?

Anonymous, where did you get the information to show that emigration of Singapore Citizens to other countries has increased?

Anonymous said...
"The number dun add up." What numbers were you referring to?

If you could put a email, I could send you 2008 demographic trend data from Department of Statistics. Singapore Citizens population drop largely because of a drop in birth rate and not emigration. In 2008, its only 1.5 in every 1000 citizens.

The increase in population is largely due to immigration of inflow of PRs, workers, expats, etc.

Regarding, "The number of "citizens" has been padded by "new citizens" over the last 15 years or so." Where did you get this from? Where is the source of data for last 15 years?

I also doubt we have a policy of "giving out citizenships like toilet paper." How can you substantiate this?

Here are some facts which I dug up in my database:-

In the first half 2008, there were 34,800 new PRs and 9,600 new citizens. The comparative figures for 2007 were 28,500 and 7,300 respectively.

Let's assume you are right about 'flooding' new citizens for the last 15 years. Even if you take the average of 2007 and 2008 and multiply by 15, there are only at best 126,750 new citizens. Do you consider this flooding?

I don't agree with the policy of having so many PRs who are here to compete with Citizens on a level playing field when sending children to Primary 1. They can compete with us on jobs and schools, which I believe we could compete better if not as well.

Getting to Primary 1 is way too much.

Perhaps a points system could be introduced. For Citizens, you get extra points and you earn points through community service at school, etc. Then PRs have to work harder to get their kids into their desired schools.

My last post for the day...

Mr Wang Says So said...

Errr, in my post, Chinese language was only one out of seven examples that I gave, of reasons why Singaporeans may wish to send their children to international schools. Emigration wasn't discussed in my main post either.

So I am not sure why these two themes are so heavily discussed now.

ACS seems determined to make the point that Australia has a high emigration rate; and Singapore has a low one. Whether Australia has a high or low rate, I do not really know or care. Whether Singapore has a high or low rate, well, in past years it was certainly high enough to cause the government a lot of concern.

As for Chinese in our schools, this is what I have to say. There can be two main reasons for learning it.

The first reason is cultural; "we are Chinese, therefore we should speak Mandarin" etc etc.

The second reason is utilitarian; "we should learn Mandarin because it is useful especially as China's economy grows bigger" etc etc.

All I would say is:

(a) the cultural reason doesn't appeal to all Chinese Singaporeans (especially not for those whose fathers' or mothers' tongue is really not Mandarin).

(b) while Mandarin may be useful, it really isn't so obvious to me, from the utilitarian perspective, that it had to be implemented the way it was implemented. Eg it could be said that starting from the 80s, we should have let students choose between:

(i) Cantonese, so that we could build better relationships and do more business with Hong Kong;

(ii) Bahasa Indonesia, so that we could build better relationships and do more business with Indonesia

(iii) Bahasa Melayu, so that we could build better relationships and do more business with Malaysia.

(iv) Thai, so that we could build better relationships and do more busienss with Thailand.

From a utilitarian perspective, it might even be said that it could have been better to have allowed some students to choose, instead of Mandarin, to do an extra science subject; or maths subject; or computer programming, or whatever.

Anonymous said...

As for Chinese in our schools, this is what I have to say. There can be only ONE reason for learning it: it is our language / used to be our language before our parents/grandparents threw it away in favour of another more "classy" language.

As to our aged grandmother, this is what I have to say. There can be only ONE reason for acknowledging and taking care of her: she is our grandmother / used to be our grandmother before our parents/ threw her away in favour of another richer woman.

As to Singapore, this is what I have to say. There can be only ONE reason for being its citizen and loving it: it is our country / used to be our country, before our parents abandoned it in favour of another richer country.

This should be our approach to life - be it to our language, family or country. But of course, that's not how things is done in Singapore. In Singapore, not only language, but family and nationality are all a matter of utilitarian principle. I am not blaming ordinary Singapore citizens. This is started by LKY, with the way he runs Singapore. And Singaporean in turn followed excellent example from language all the way to nationality.

Mr Wang Says So said...

You missed the point. That wasn't your grandmother. That was just some old lady whom the government kept insisting was your grandmother.

Mr Wang Says So said...

I know my own grandmothers by the way. One spoke Cantonese. The other spoke Hokkien. What about yours?

Anonymous said...

To continue with the Grandmother stories prompted by Anon 10:07, my own Grandmother speaks Malay and my Grandfather Hokkien and he is usually not at home. We live in a kampung amongst all races, Indian, Eurasian, Cantonese and Malay. So it means we abandoned Mandarin? WTF are you talking about sending Grandmother to JB and 1 billion Chinese with IQ of 150 who speaks Mandarin? You mean that these 1 billion high IQ Chinese speaks Mandarin and no other languages and Chinese Singaporeans speaks only one language which is English because they are unable to speak Mandarin? Most Singaporeans speaks 2 or 3 languages although you state they have IQ of 100 only. I would label you as one of those rigid and inflexible Singapore Chinamen.

You with your high IQ of 150 simply cannot understand that if an Indian or Malay baby were to be brought up in China they will be speaking Mandarin.

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

I had highlighted the Aussie emigration numbers to clarify the point you made about Aussies are only going overseas to work and not emigrate permanently from Australia. There are actually 5% of the population living abroad and 3.3 per thousand emigrating permanenetly in 2008.

The other facts were highlighted in response to the comments from other Anonymous how Singapore is being flooded by new citizens. The fact is we are not.

However, its true we are flooded by many foreigners now who are workers (low-end workers and expats, which some PRs and some are not)but we are not flooded by new citizens.

What remains as part of the discussion here is that these PRs are competing with us on a level playing field for entry into Primary 1.

If evidence is anecdotal, please highlight it to be so. Otherwise, we would take some of the twists and turns in the writing as facts, which are very misleading.

Anonymous said...

YOU missed the point. That CHINESE old lady was your grandmother. That ang moh old lady was not your grandmother. The government wanted you to remember that your grandmother was a CHINESE old lady, not some ang moh old lady whom you kept insisting was your grandmother.

Setting up a straw man argument of hokkien/cantonese versus mandarin does not change this fact. Look at the words in bold. Anything about hokkien/cantonese versus Mandarin? No! The issue was never about hokkien/cantonese versus mandarin. It's about CHINESE versus Ang Moh. Deliberately creating a division/disunity/rivalry between Hokkien/cantonese versus mandarin does not change the fact that your grandmother is a CHINESE old lady and not an ang moh old lady. Please know your own grandmother.

P.S. If Chinese were taught in Hokkien/cantonese instead of in Mandarin in local school, would you have loved writing Hokkien compositions, reading Cantonese passages, and embraced the gov's policy of mandatory passing of Hokkien/Cantonese WRITTEN exams for sch admission purpose? You know the answer yourself. You know clearly that switching from mandarin to hokkien/cantonese would have no effect to your sentiment in the above school edu issue (is your blog article not abt sch issue?).

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:50pm

I know u will find this difficult to believe, but I (with half-fucked Mandarin\Cantonese\etc) help on occasion to moderate calls between Northern and Southern Chinese who cant understand each other on the phone.

And you may also be interested to know that indeed chinese intellectuals had fought for hundreds of years to simplify the characters to promote literacy for the masses. I can also assure u that u will find it difficult to understand the chinese of even the Qing dynasty. U may be able to read some of the individual characters but thats about it.

finally, u will be amazed that the organizations like the US army does indeed grade the difficulty level of languages and French is graded as among the easiest while Chinese just below Arabic in dificulty level. (see excuse #1) and I indeed improved my chinese by reading Chinese gongfu novels ... inspired by Cantonese TVB dramas (see excuse #2).

PS: The Taiwanese would tell u that their IQs are indeed higher than the mainlanders 'cos most of the intellectuals fled the mainland during the civil war\cultural revolution ... personally i have no comments

Anonymous said...

No, you know not your own grandmothers. One spoke Cantonese and so you disavow that you have a CHINESE grandmother. One spoke Cantonese, and so you again disavow that you have a CHINESE grandmother. You adopt some ang moh old lady as your surrogate grandmother, and then create this diversion about cantonese/hokkien versus mandarin to confuse the issue (in your legal mumbo jumbo, a straw man argument), all done conciously to disavow your CHINESE grandmothers so as to acknowledge the ang moh old lady as your surrogate grandmother.

You ask if I know my grandmothers. Why? of course I do! One spoke Teochew, and read CHINESE characters and write CHINESE characters. One spoke Hainanese, and read also in the same (surprise? surprise!) CHINESE characters and write also in the same (surprise? surprise!) CHINESE characters. They would both have been very sad if their grandson, me, refuse to read CHINESE characters, refuse to write CHINESE characters, and in fact, disown CHINESE as his mother language, on account of the twisted argument that pronouncing these characters in Teochew/Hainanese is better than in Mandarin. They won't know what a straw man argument is. So they would have just told me directly: "Arguing 100 times that you like Teochew/hainanese more than mandarin is not going to change the fact that your grandmother is a Chinese, not an Ang moh"

Anonymous said...

anon 9:18,
I don't even know what c**k you are talking about. I wrote a satire claiming sarcastically that since some Singaporeans claim Chinese to be an inherently difficult language, then by *their* strange twisted logic, all 1 billion Chinamen (this word is *their* insulting phrase for chinese citizens) must have an IQ of 150, since they all have no problem learnig Chinese.

You obviously don't get my sarcasm. So go fly a kite and don't embarrass yourself.

Anonymous said...

My new mother
My father is a very "pragmatic" Singaporean. He saw that his mother i.e. my grandmother, is a poor and sickly Chinese woman. So he did what all clever people would do: he threw my grandmother in JB! He then wooed a rich Ang Moh old lady to become his mother-in-law (i.e. my new grandmother), and married her Ang Moh daughter i.e. my step-mother. So, from the day I was born, my step-mother was never a Chinese, but an Ang Moh.

Tell me: does that makes my real mother and grandmother Ang mohs? After all, my (step-)mother is ang moh and that's the only mother I knew since birth. Who is my real grandma? Who is my real mother?

(replace "mother" with "mother language" above and you will get my analogy)

I answer them myself. Save Wang the trouble:
Sorry. Cannot talk about Chinese versus Ang Moh, because that's a threat to my ang moh affiliation. So, let's not talk about Chinese as a unifited single language written and read using the same 3000 characters, nevermind how it is pronounced, and then compare it to Ang Moh (in terms of whether we should learn one or the other or both in school and at what level of standard compared to each other and whether intl sch are better than local in this regard). Let's turn the topic to an infighting, a disunity, a division within Chinese itself. Let's split CHINESE up into different dialect and talk about pros and cons of speaking one dialect versus another (including mandarin, which is a dialect). That way we can leave Ang Moh out of the equation, skirt the entire issue of learning Chinese in school, of which writing and reading (which uses the same Chinese char) is the bulk and talk only about verbal stuff, as if that's what learning CHinese in school is all about. LOL

Anonymous said...

I know my grandmother! One spoke Hokkien and therefore she was not Chinese since hokkien is not Chinese as hokkien is written and read using NON-Chinese character script. My grandmother was thus an ang moh! The other one spoke Cantonese and therefore she was also not Chinese since Cantonese is not CHinese as Cantonese is written and read using NON-CHinese character script. My grandmother was thus an ang moh!

So you see? Everytime someone accuse me of adopting an ang moh grandmother as my real Chinese grandmother, all I need is to split/ disunite/ divide "Chinese" up into 50 diff dialect, talk cock sing song about 1 dialect being more "homely" than the other, and I can divert the whole thing away!

Now, damn it, if only Qin Shih Huang did not unite China under 1 written script, and the government of modern China did not unite China under one pronunciation, there would have been no "Chinese", but 50 diff languages, just like India! That would have made my task of emphasizing the diff bet Hokkien/Cantonese and Mandarin (leading eventually to my conclusion that my grandmother is ang moh) much easier!

Anonymous said...

Wang, did you know your Hokkien-speaking grandmother well enough to have learnt to read and write in the Hokkien character script from her? If so, please teach me. I do not wish to lose my roots by reading and writing in the Mandarin character script. I wish to read and write in Hokkien.

For eg, I know that in Mandarin character script, we write: 福建人就是华人. (Hokkiens are Chinese). Can you teach me how to write that in Hokkien? We must never let the government take some Chinese old lady and insist that it is our grandmother. Our grandmother is not a Chinese. She is a Hokkien.

Mr Wang Says So said...

You missed the point.

I quite enjoyed studying Chinese Language myself, by the way.

I am simply pointing out why some Chinese Singaporeans do not identify with studying their "mother tongue" language in schools.

The reason, as I said, is that Mandarin is unfamiliar to them. They find it difficult and it has no appeal to them from a cultural sense.

It's not what they speak at home. It's not what their mother spoke at home. It's not what their grandmother spoke at home.

In other words, the reason why some Chinese Singaporeans do not identify with studying Mandarin in school

is exactly

the same reason why some Chinese Singaporeans do not identify with studying English in school.

You see, in the end, culture and tradition is what people feel.

You can make 10,000 arguments about why a person should feel that Mandarin is his language (or why he should feel that Christianity is his religion or why he should feel patriotic on National Day, or whatever).

If he doesn't feel that way, he just doesn't feel that way.

There's no need to get upset about. If it's the truth, it's the truth.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:54, 11:16, 11:51 (same person?)

I assume u are still in satire mode?

IMHO, I think we should differentiate between the written script and the speech. and there really isn't 1 billion Chinamen proficient in the Chinese script.

But as Mr Wang has pointed out, we are digressing from the article.
It is also obvious that you do not have extensive experience speaking to real Chinamen (from different parts of China ... big country) nor familiar with the history of Chinese language.

Perhap u want to check out Wiki first and then maybe post your argument on your own blog. Do send us the link. There is obviously much interest.

Anonymous said...

To the Anon who appears to be getting very passionate about Chinese people speaking Chinese (Mandarin):

I have to say that your position seems to stem from two key points:

(1) An ethnically Chinese person "should" learn to speak Mandarin.

(2) An ethnically Chinese person who does not wish to learn to speak Mandarin, does so because he looks down on Chinese (language/culture or whatever).

Point (1) is debatable. I can see that you feel strongly that this "should" be the "right" way to go about things. Frankly, I think there is no "right" way. Being ethnically Chinese is an accident of birth, i.e. it cannot be chosen. Learning a language is a personal choice. Being ethnically Chinese does not create a moral obligation (or any sort of obligation, really) to learn the Chinese language or culture. Would an ethnic Chinese who does not learn the Chinese language / culture be missing out on a a rich, beautiful culture? Certainly. But the same can be said of any culture or language.

Point (2) is laughable. As other commentators have been trying to tell you, there are many reasons why an ethnic Chinese does not wish to learn Mandarin (e.g. he feels unconnected to it). To leap from this to the assumption that he looks down on the Chinese is, I think, more demonstrative of a paranoid mind that sees victimization where there is none, than anything else.


Anonymous said...

Yes I believe it so and obviously he is unable to articulate well in English because not many can really understand what he is ranting about. He claimed to be writing a satire which obviuosly fell flat and it is difficult for him to accept that not all Chinese think like him.

Mr Wang Says So said...

"Wang, did you know your Hokkien-speaking grandmother well enough to have learnt to read and write in the Hokkien character script from her?"


No, she was illiterate. She could neither read nor write Hokkien nor Mandarin.

Of course, she would have laughed loudly, if anyone suggested that she was any less Chinese, just because she could not read or write the language (in any of its forms).

cannotsleep said...

I think a big problem with the way Mandarin is taught in schools is that it assumes all students to be native speakers of the language(as native as it can be in Singapore anyway).

Yellow skinned IC-certified Chinese who come from English speaking families are at a disadvantage in this case. Ideally, they should be taught at a slower non-native pace instead. BTW is that the case with Chinese B?

Also, in many cases, students grow to hate the Chinese language because of the pressurized environment in which they are learning it. This happens when you are constantly being told stuff like "你是華人卻聼不懂華語,你不覺得羞恥嗎?". Even so, I've heard many cases of people who hated Chinese while in school but eventually embracing it again at a later stage in their lives.

The Mandarin vs Dialect debate is an interesting one. Generally speaking, the writing system and style is pretty much standardized while spoken Chinese is something much more complicated. To me, dialects are as much a form of spoken Chinese as Mandarin is, though you will realistically have a lot more communication problems if you do not know spoken Mandarin of course.

Why are some people so hung up over the language divide? This is an interesting phenomenon which I have observed which is pretty unique among the Singaporean Chinese community. Perhaps a residue baggage of grudges against the overly drastic change in the sudden emphasis on English as a working language in the past? This would be interesting to study...

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

Mr Wang,

The other hypothesis could be the interest for Chinese Language increased as a result of the rise of China, which some of us had already mentioned.

If you notice the number of listeners and profile of listeners for 93.3FM. The number of listeners are increasing and getting younger.

According to the 2008 Nielsen Radio Diary Survey which has an estimated 1 million listeners aged 15 to 39.

Its averages and increase of 3% increase in listenership since 2002.

The other Chinese station, Love 97.2 is a close second.

I am quite sure they could cut the data by age and nationality. That would be interesting compared over time. However, one potential reason to this could be because of the increase in the number of Chinese PRs, expats and work permit holders from China and Malaysia.

It will be interesting to see if there is an increase in the profile of young Singapore Citizens listening to 93.3FM.

Frankly, I am not sure how effective an International School education is. We have a friend whose children was educated in one overseas when her husband was posted abroad for several years.

Subsequently, when they were posted back to Singapore, the child was put into a local primary school. They discovered to their horror that their child could not cope with the regular exams and tests.

As a result, they now have to seek MOE approval to put their child in an International School.

She shared that students (our local primary school equivalent) in International schools do not have to sit for tests or exams as regularly as students in local schools.

In preparing our next Generation to compete with the Chinese and Indians, I wonder if going to an International School makes sense.

Does it really stimulate creative thinking?

If so, is what we pay for (heard its in the S$10,000 per year range) for the amount of creative thinking and having an easier life worth it?

Perhaps the solution is not International vs Local, but to explore ways to improve our local education system.

Anonymous said...

The inability to do exams should NOT be regarded as a liability. It is because our society is modeled such that an exam result determines our life and death and an "end all" for everything in this country.

What we have created is a country where many of the top are excellent exam takers, but unable to be creative. Being great at exams is a horrible metric to gauge a child's ability.

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for sharing.

The issue is our friend's daughter could not take the stress, and its not whether how well she ace her exams.

Unfortunately, in many countries, exams are still used to gauge a person's ability.

As a fresh graduate, before you could get yourself to an interview with a Fortune 500 company, a top management consulting firm (e.g. McKinsey, Bain, etc.) or top investment bank (e.g Goldman Sachs, etc.), they always look at the results to shortlist their candidates.

How else could they gauge the potential of the person since that fresh graduate got no other work experience/accoldades besides their CCAs?

Once that person is selected, then they go through the company's appraisal system.

There are many routes to success (e.g. being an entrepreneur, in the creative field, etc.) where exams are of lesser meaning.

However, for the majority, this is still a fact of life.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Your friend's daughter's case is an example of why parents want to send their children to international schools.

MANY Singaporean students are stressed, all the time. It is just that they do not have, or do not know that they have, any other alternative.

The stress therefore just becomes a part of their lives. A sad part, but a part nonetheless.

Whereas your friend's daughter came from another sort of background. When she became stressed, your friend saw that this was a bad thing, understood that there was an alternative, and moved her back into an international school.

What if your friend had not moved her back? Oh, she would just become just like many, many other Singaporeans students in the system today, stressed, frustrated and unable to cope.

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

Mr Wang,

I agree with you. Its indeed a sad part of life, especially in Singapore.

Having said that, our friend had wondered if her daughter were never put into an International School, would her daughter have coped better in the Singapore Education System?

To me, navigating through the exams system is just a way to land that interview and put my foot in the door. Some consulting firms called those who ace exams as people with 'raw intelligence' or good 'intellectual foundation'.

I only started learning more about problem-solving skills when I entered the workforce.

I also heard that not all scholars made it to the top. After all, have we wondered how many top positions are there compared to the number of scholars?

They are perhaps given more opportunities to shine.

However, if they do not measure on their way up, they are also sidelined.

Therefore, it is probably true that we see many at the top are exams smart. However, do bear in mind that they are likely the top percentile who made it on their way up while some of their peers were dropped or sidelined due to lesser performance at work.

The good thing is I am beginning to see more fresh graduates demonstrating more problem-solving abilities compared to myself when I first started.

The other way we could look at it is many people in our neighbouring countries do not even have opportunities to go to school.

For most of us here, we at least acquired enough knowledge, basic language skills to communicate and participate in this blog.

Anonymous said...

Dear ACS

I know it is difficult to believe but the Singaporean heartland has always been very Chinese (who are also very loyal fans of Taiwanese\HK stars). the English educated one are probably listening to songs downloaded from the internet.

sometimes I feel that there are loud complaints because the English-educated *elite* (the term is used loosely here) has a disproportionally loud voice.

Pls also note that ability to speak Chinese does not mean good grades in Chinese. (Even the Chinese in China have a problem.) If anything, the heartlanders have it worse 'cos they cant afford quality Chinese tuition.

Btw, example of gahmen giving out citizenship like toilet paper.

Anonymous said...


Our neighbours are developing nations. (Let's pretend that we have a more vibrant blogsphere than Malaysia.)

Singapore is a newly developed CITY STATE. And before the adminstrative center for the British in this region. Jewel of the East. And thats when MM Lee was still swimming in ...

If we are to compare with ,say, Taipei ... u could say that we are depriving the late bloomers of a chance at higher education.

Maybe we should compare toilets. U know in Tokyo, they have super advanced toilet bowls that cleans for u? Ok I am digressing ...

Btw, have u ever noticed that the HK dramas are so witty and funny compared to TCS? Eh .. wrong question ... well just take my word for it ok?

***drum roll***

The formal Beijing Mandarin that our political masters impose on us is derived from the Imperial Court. Trying to be funny usually means losing ur head. I mean literally. Yes, you can be witty and interesting but takes more effort.

On the other hand, Cantonese, Hokkien etc, are the languages of the masses.

beka said...

As a student myself, I would say the problem with Chinese-language education vs English- or third-language education is the way it is taught. English and third-language are taught by syntax: the language is studied, dissected rigorously; parts of speech are learnt and committed to memory. By contrast, the curriculum emphasises learning Chinese through creative reading and writing. The different teaching approaches may well account for the different student responses to these subjects. I myself find the grammar-oriented approach to make grasping the language easier than the vocabulary-oriented approach would.

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

To both Anonymous,

I am very surprised that you would trust one sample from a claimed interview from a blog as your evidence that Singapore is giving out citizenships like toilet paper. Respectfully, I do not know how credible this source is.

As far as possible, I always use credible facts and logic but I seriously do not know if it is worth responding to your comment.

When we became independent, Singapore was in a lesser situation than Malaysia. Now we have become a first world, you use a different benchmark.

Malaysia has a system where many places in Universities are reserved for Bumiputras and you get pushed up for a ‘pass’ if you are a Bumi. Do you have any idea how are their Universities ranked?

If you hated Chinese, you could go there and pick up Malay as your first language, provided they want you as a PR (if you are Chinese and Indian).

Even if you compare our system with faraway places like HK or even the US, we managed to produce students who could at least converse in basic Chinese and are quite good at Mathematics. Once you get through our mathematics system, you will realize that taking the SATS and GMAT tests are a breeze.

For Taiwan, they have so many Universities while we have only 4. Almost any one with reasonable results get into all kinds of Universities (da xue), even for facial and skincare. Like I mentioned before, it has to do with resources. We simply do not have enough Unis, which I believe they are trying to build more.

Just a thought. If everyone is a graduate, then supply exceeds demand and would that mean eventually graduates pay would decline?

Regarding our Mediacorp productions, I don’t believe it got to do with our production folks not being creative. I believe it has to do with our Media Development Authority (MDA), which I heard, needs to scrutinize and approve every script before it is allowed for production or airing. We do have many HK, Chinese and Taiwanese production folks in Mediacorp. I think it all got censored in MDA. And as a result, many of them leave. Therefore, I doubt it is completely the fault of our education system.

One more thought on creativity. In every society, based on a normal distribution bell curve, there would always be about 5% to 10% of people who are very creative/ intelligent. Singapore citizens of each cohort year is an average of about 32,000. That would be only 1,600 to 3200 of creative/ intelligent people each year. Some would get lost along the way in the system or lack of parental support and thus never harness their creativity again in their adult life.

It is believed that the Soviets (during Cold War Days) and Chinese have an even more rigid education system with lots of streaming and yet, they can still produce very creative people. Why?

Based on a documentary on Discovery Channel about the human brain, we really cannot stop creativity in some people. It is how our brain is wired and it’s hard to explain.

I have a friend in my JC class who did well in our education system and is very creative at the same time. Now, he is doing creative work in China instead of choosing to be in another industry. Therefore, it is not impossible to do both (although its only one example), its already enough to prove it is possible.

Look around and you will notice that many in the creative field such as drama or acting were trained as lawyers. Creativity is not just about the Arts. It’s also about finding a unique solution to technical and business problems after analyses.

Isn’t reclaiming the swamp in Jurong to build an industrial park a creative idea? How about developing a financial centre in Singapore during the 70s to 80s?

Its not just PAP. Its also the civil servants in the Government such as Ngiam Tong Dow, etc. who made things possible.

For languages, I do agree that there are some people who are not good in languages by nature. This is not a good thing of our system, which I have already agreed and highlighted earlier. But generally, the education system is not entirely broken as asserted by some.

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...


I also believed in the importance of how our parents and your environment nurture us.

My father is English-educated while my mum speaks mainly Teochiew when I was in Primary School. I failed my Chinese from primary 1 to 3 and hated it. However, at primary 4, I had a classmate who sat besides me who read Jin Yong swordfighting novels. As a result of his influence, I started reading them too.

By Primary 6, I managed to complete reading the whole series of Jin Yong’s novels and went on to read Gu Long and Ni Kuang’s Wisely adventures, etc.

As a result, I get As for my Chinese classes from Primary 5 onwards.

I suspect the Govt did away from the other dialects partly because they believe many students could not cope with so many languages and in part to socially integrate the Chinese Singaporeans population. Its difficult to comment if this is good or bad.

I came from a primary school in the heartland and during my time, many of the Mono and Extended intakes spoke Hokkien and Cantonese and my first words I learnt from them were words for swearing. With additional influence while in the army, I managed to be fluent in Teochiew, Hokkien and Cantonese dialects.

In my undergrad days, I also took up the Japanese language.

There are only 2 major dialects in Singapore I have yet to master, Hakka and Hainanese.

I feel lucky to have managed to pick up these dialects and languages.

Imperial court or not, I have relatives in the countryside in China who could speak only their dialects even today. Their heads are still intact.

rentinsingapore said...

Government should take action to increase quality of education. Unless it will affect country's people

mountain san said...

The fickle mindedness of changing the language teaching of Math and Science, is already a sign, that this education system, could not compete to international level.

Anonymous said...

Mountain san,

Are u referring to Singapore or Malaysia's education system?

The other thing I am wondering after reading on the comments is whether there are any other public education systems any where in the world that could produce as many students who could faciliate entry to Universities globally.

In countries such as US and Australia, it seems that it is the private schools that produce the most of the brightest.