Apr 10, 2012

Show and Tell in Korea

Flying off to Seoul tomorrow, on a working trip. Hopefully, it is cherry blossom season. It's also the time for North Korea's rocket testing - sigh, occupational hazard. Keeping my fingers crossed.

I'm headed to Korea to conduct training. I have half a day  to talk to my colleagues there about some new laws in the U.S., the EU and Korea itself - laws which will greatly change the way they do business and run their operations.

My daughter asked me why I am going to Korea. I told her that I am going there to do a "show & tell". That is perhaps the easiest way to explain to her the purpose of my trip. "Show and tell" is something that she herself has had to do several times in school.

In primary school, "show and tell" means that the student picks a topic, brings the relevant object to class and gives a speech in class. She might, for instance, bring a photo, a toy, a favourite book, or a holiday souvenir and tell the class about it - what it is; where she got it from; what's unusual or special about it etc. In a more advanced version of "show and tell" (like the one my son - an older child - had to do recently), the student might be asked to use Powerpoint slides.

If you look carefully at "show & tell", you'll see that it calls for several different skills. Among other things, it requires voice projection; linguistic ability and the confidence to speak before an audience. But the child also needs to find ways to make her speech engaging to her audience. She has to think of interesting things to say; she may have to do some research about her topic, and find a logical way to present her points. She may want to try little ways to polish up her speech, for example, say, by posing a question or telling a little joke or using an appropriate hand gesture at certain times.

"Show & tell" is an important thing to learn. In adult life, "show & tell" has practical applications when you have to interview for a job; pitch for a sale; conduct training; present a business proposal; or explain a product, policy or procedure to your colleagues. In fact, every teacher who needs to stand before a class and teach a topic - whether it is science, math, geography or biology - is also doing a "show & tell".

One problem for adult Singaporeans today is that they never did "show & tell" when they were kids (well, my generation didn't, at any rate). It just wasn't part of the school programme back then. "Show & tell", I think, is a relatively new phenomenon in Singapore schools. Traditionally, we have emphasised rote learning and memory work and easily gradeable forms of assessments (such as MCQs), over less-structured and more "free-form" types of schooling, such as show-&-tell.

What's the consequence? Well, I can only make some anecdotal observations. In a country where there are ever-increasing numbers of foreigners, it seems to me that nowadays, it's common for Singaporeans' contributions to be undervalued in the workplace. I see situations like this quite often - the Singaporean does most of the hard work, he has a strong sense of responsibility and his work is technically sound and reliable. But somehow he doesn't get the credit. Instead some FT waltzes in and takes the limelight. And the FT is usually someone who is more articulate and outspoken (basically, a better show-&-teller).

Hence locally, we often hear the observation that ang mo's are NATO ("no action, talk only"). I don't think that this is entirely fair - because I certainly know a few ang mo FT's who are very good at getting things done. However, I do also think that:

(1) the average Singaporean works harder than the average ang mo; and

(2) the average angmo is generally much more articulate than the average Singaporean (especially when it comes to talking about one's own work accomplishments).

It's because of the communication factor that the angmo leaves a much stronger impression than the Singaporean at the workplace. The angmo came from a different background - one where he was, from an early age, much more encouraged to speak up, state an opinion, communicate clearly and express himself. In contrast, the Singaporean was expected to just shut up and get his homework done.

The consequence today? The quiet, hardworking Singaporean may end up getting few marks for the plenty of work that he has done (because in the workplace, there are no exams, and if there are no exams, you will not be assessed on your grades, but only on what people know you have done - and not what you have actually done).

Meanwhile the louder, more articulate angmo gets full marks for the relatively little work that he has done. Because whatever he has actually done, he is much more able, due to his communication skills, to make it known to his bosses or supervisors, and to present it in the best possible light.

So the angmo gets ahead; and the Singaporean gets overlooked. That's one reason why Singaporeans are losing out in their own country.


Anonymous said...

It is a pity you dont play computer games Mr Wang. As you will see how our home boys in the form of the Brtoherhood keep talking down to the ang mor every hour, day and year after year.

Maybe to be articulate and confident, one needs to believe they are better than the whites, this is what playing online games has taught me whenever I see them with the ang mors, but they practice very hard, I think, as they are so good that it is hard to believe they are all born that way.

Just my two cents, nice to see you blogging again.

AL said...

My generation has been programmed from young to be modest about one's achievements. A fantastic solution to an age old problem may end up distilled into one or two lines.

This modesty bug has bitten me a few times.

Other FT or ang mo have modesty issues, its literally do or go home jobless.

Anonymous said...

see how Singaporean's can't speak up. Our own citizens cannot say good things about a hard working humble culture =)

Anonymous said...

Your observation is very true but I feel that it applies to Chinese Singaporeans only. I am still amazed that my Indian colleague continuously get job offers and recommendations although his work quality, work attitude and knowledge sucks (based on my yardstick). However through better communication, he gives the impression that he is very good.

Singaporean said...

OMG, MOE finally introduce something useful for our youths.

i wish this "show & tell" was introduce back in our days and we wouldnt be so dumbfounded everytime in presentation/interviews.

and less situations of being stuck in awkward quiet moments.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately it is no longer just the ang mo who are highly skilled at show and tell in the work place.

Increasingly the dark forces from South Asia has gained strong foothold in a few international banks in Singapore. They are a lot more NATO than the ang mo by comparison and move by the villages.

Grumpy said...

Don't be fooled. Including Show and Tell in the syllabus means it is just another item that needs to be graded and that the parents need to stress over. My kids in P1 had their first show and tell last term. At the end of the term, they came back with a grade for that very FIRST attempt.

There was one more show and tell this term, and there will be another one later this term that will also be graded (and this one counts to the full year holistic assessment crap).

Oh, and wait, they need to do Show and Tell for Mother Tongue too.

MOE has managed to suck out every single ounce of fun from Show and Tell. From not having any Show and Tell in our day, they now go to requiring P1ers to be automatic public speakers at the start of formal school (as well as fluent English and Mother Tongue writers and speakers and math geniuses).

And agreed on the communications skills, or lack thereof. We are merely products of the system. Look at the general environment we have been raised in for the longest time: Do your work you digits, you need to raise your productivity, and shut up. It's no surprise that most Singaporeans just do the work and shut up, while it is usually the FTs that talk, flourish, charm, and appear to have confidence, creativity and wit.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking abt your article. I think there is a deeper trend to this.

A company which hires and fires favours NATO people who are gone before the damage is revealed. However, long term employers favor hard workers, because their efforts come out in the end.

It is no coincidence that japanese companies have good workers and long term job stability. The new hire and fire trend in Singapore is destroying many companies long term capabilities, by filling their ranks with NATO.

Of course, NATO is situational good or bad. If you are an insurance company, you may want all NATO

Anonymous said...

"just shut up and get his (home)work done"

If you think about it, that still seems to be the culture for Singaporean adults - in Singapore or outside Singapore.

We are not valued for opening our mouths and giving our feedback.

Japanese MNC employee said...

NATOs are not incompetent. They can actually do the work if they are required to. Except they don't have to, because someone else is already doing it for them. NATOs work less and get better rewards due to their better communication skills.

BTW it is no different in Japanese company, the good talkers get rewarded better.

Anonymous said...

Very true on the part on articulation.

We have a culture which tends to undersell ourselves (keeping quite and feeling awed and sometimes blushingly embarrassed by the oversell of others, namely foreigners) and look down upon ourselves, more so if it is so openly & officially sactioned through all those propanganda about the benefits of " foreign talents that locals are lacking".

And we start to scratch our heads when the performance or the quality of those so-called foreign talents that we happen to work with and know are very much so so.

Weekly Show-And-Tell said...

""Show and tell" is something that she herself has had to do several times in school."

In Angmoh schools, mini-Show-and-Tell" is done every week since kindergarten! A typical school would have something of this typical format: every monday, for eg, during "circle time", the teacher will go round the circle, asking each child to talk about what they did during the weekends, with something to show if feasible eg. a sea shell, if the child happened to have gone to the beach.

You may ask: how is geting all the students to rearrange their chairs to sit in a big circle to have a "circle time" possible or even feasible, given that there are 40 students to show-and-tell?

Ans: they have 20 students per class, not 40!

So, here in SG, do we have 20 students per class? Actually, yes, we do! First, we put all P3 students through an IQ test and select the top 500 (1%). Then we put them 25 students per class, and give them angmoh style education with these circle times etc. It's called the gifted programme. As for the other 99%, well, LKY did say we are digits, right? :)

Weekly Show-And-Tell said...

Also, in angmoh schools, every student does science "research" and power-point presentation from, say, Pri 4 onwards, where "research" means every student picks a topic of his interest, say, Sharks, or Penguins, and the teacher will supply him with a few books on Sharks or Penguins, from which he will learn to sieve through to extract the relevant info, and put up a poster, or a powerpoint presentation, and "show-and-tell".

Again, one may ask: Did we have such a thing in Singapore during Mr. Wang's time?

Ans: Why, yes, of course! Remember? First, we put all P3 students through an IQ test and select the top 500 (1%). Then we put them 25 students per class, and give them angmoh style education with these science "research" for the top 1% of the cohort. It's called the gifted programme. As for the other 99%, well, LKY did say we are digits, right? :)

Weekly Show-And-Tell said...

Finally, in angmoh school, every student studies social science, where they learn history in this typical manner: "Pretend you are a participant in such and such a historical event (a conflict between 2 parties: A and B). Pick one side - A or B. Write an account of what you saw, bearing in mind you are writing from the point of view of A (or B)"

So, in this way, every student learns that history is written by the victor, that depending on which side you are on, accounts of the same event can be very different, and that you can deliberately use certain words or phrase to highlight your bias and prejudice against A or B!

Again, one should ask: Did we have such a thing in SG during Mr. Wang's time, and do we have such a thing now for Wang's daughter/son?

Ans: No surprise - of course we had and we continue to have! First, we put all P3 students through an IQ test and select the top 500 (1%). Then we put them 25 students per class, and give angmoh style education with social studies on the Maria Hertogh riot etc to the top 1% of the cohort. It's called the gifted programme. As for the other 99%, how can we have them understand that history is wrtten by the victor? That's political suicide! LKY did say we are digits, right? :)

Weekly Show-And-Tell said...

In the 2011 General Election, the Singapore Democratic Party put up a manifesto proposing the reduction of class size from 40 to 20+ per class, among many other proposal on education reform.

It lost the election.
60% of Singaporeans do not mind their children do rote-learning in big classes, while only 1% of the cohort get angmoh-style of education.

Then so be it. The rest of us - myself for eg - have voted with our feet, and are now giving our children a real education in angmoh countries, an education that ALL singapore children - and not just the top 1% - deserve!

Anonymous said...

'Show and tell' has been practised in other advanced countries, e.g. Australia some 20 years ago when my children were there for primary schooling. Korean learned to adopt the technique later.

You cannot expect Singapore schools to do such thing because the Singapore schools are very rigid and teachers are afraid of stepping on OB. What if the child picks a topic that is an OB subject? A hypocritical society and government in Singapore cannot accept such freedom of speech. This explains why Singaporeans do not articulate well.

Anonymous said...

It is LOL joke if 'show and tell' must be graded jus like the joke of grading national education. Angmoh schooling does not even have formal test and exam for the first 3-5 years of young children education.

Anonymous said...

The Aussies are so good in talking that even though they know nothing about something, they can talk till u r convince they r experts. That is why Singaporean employers and managers got to be very careful not to become suckers.

YC said...

Just to share that I think immigrants have a better impression of themselves then singaporeans who are used to self- mocking. For eg. my student from the phillipines in Primary school whom I tutor, laughs at Singlish, which she probably learnt was inferior from her parents. I think me as a Singaporean, I do have pride (think back to when we used to sing those National songs in Primary school in the late 1990s.), however we do not think we are good, like our English has an accent, which gets dismissed by foreigners, and our Chinese is not good enough, etc.

I usually move around in Jurong where I think most of the foreigners are situated, and I have been thinking that they are definitely more outspoken and competitive than me.

I was wondering which country I should move to in the future, maybe China, since might still have an advantage there. After all, Singapore is way expensive for an average salary, and if you have health problems, die ah.

FYI =)) I visited your blog again after a while, coz my student was studying your poem. =P