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Posts Tagged ‘education’

Teaching kids about cheating.

In News Reports, Society on April 12, 2015 at 8:59 am

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Ex-journalist/blogger/university lecturer available for homework-completion projects. Fees will start at $200 an hour, and will vary according to degree of difficulty and immediacy of assignment. For “immediate’’ assignments that must “pass up tomorrow’’, tutor will require transport allowance to and from clients’ home with surcharges levied for work done after midnight (tutor’s surcharge not just taxi midnight surcharge).

Only parents with above-average children may apply. And that means anyone because I’m sure every parent thinks his/her child is exceptional.

You know, I think I can make heckuva lot of money offering my services this way. I think I will be especially good for “project work’’ assignments and long-winded essays. Anything to do with General Paper, I also can do. In fact, I don’t even mind completing homework assigned by kindergarten teachers. I like colouring.

What makes this a more attractive job than plain vanilla tutor: You can do the work at your own time, like a freelance writer with a deadline, and you won’t have to deal with pesky kids or have their kiasu parents wondering if boy-boy or girl-girl has really, really improved and can score A or not…

Anyway, The New Paper on Sunday reports that this is a new business that our education system has generated. What a wonderful revenue stream for teachers, ex-teachers and those who think they can be teachers but don’t want to be! One teacher who charges $250 an hour says he makes 75 per cent of his monthly salary this way. If he abides by the Education ministry’s a 6-hour-a-week maximum guideline for private tuition, he can make a maximum of $6,000 a month. Sounds good…

Are many parents availing themselves of people like him? The TNP report has three parents doing so, including one who said she sets aside $800 a month for such special services.

The reasons:

  1. Too much homework, CCAs and the poor kid doesn’t have time to rest.
  2. It’s only for unnecessary or superfluous homework which does help in final grades, that is, not core subjects.

TNPS backed up its story by referring to another in 2012, when it interviewed 80 parents who sent their children to “elite’’ tuition centres. Close to half “had hired or would hire’’ tutors to finish their children’s homework. In fact, one parent hired such a tutor to finish her 14 year old’s tuition centre assignments. She reckoned that since she waited a year to get her daughter into the centre, it would be a waste for her to give up the spot just because of unfinished work. (Makes me wonder if the tuition centre boots out kids who can’t finish homework assigned…got such a thing ah?)

TNPS also said it had come across websites which offer such services including a group that says it would complete projects, essays, reports and homework at a cost – even for undergraduates. The company has a no-questions-asked policy: “Whatever their reasons are, we do the work for them because we get paid to do so. We cater to that demand and we do a fantastic job.’’  So said its spokesman.

To think that we have been grumbling about the $1billion tuition industry, un-tutored tutors preying on parents and kiasu parents loading more classes on their already-gifted kids just so as to ensure they stay ahead or keep up with the pack. That the issue has been raised to a national level with tuition centres requiring registration and even accreditation.

You can’t help but think parents are going nuts…

Nutty parent 1: “Of course I’m going nuts! It’s the education system that is making me nuts! My kid will go nuts too if you see how much homework the teachers give! Isn’t there supposed to be some kind of “homework policy’’ so we don’t stress the kids out, like how many hours of homework a week?’’

Nutty parent 2: “There’s nothing nutty about this. If my kid cannot finish his homework, he will be penalized and it will make him look bad in class. I don’t want to destroy his self-esteem. How his classmates cope? I don’t know. I guess they just don’t get much sleep. I just think that as a responsible parent, I should help him out. Especially since I can afford it.”

Nutty parent 3: “What monkey business? In any case, it’s only “stupid’’ homework which I don’t think is going to affect his exam scores very much…so that’s okay. The teacher won’t know anyway since everything is typed. I would have helped my own kid out if I could, but I am just too busy. The homework also sometimes quite hard…’’

I’m sure everyone has a point of view on this matter. Teachers, for example, will tell of parents who complain if their children get too little homework. Or that the parents/students do not know how to manage their time. Or explain that parents these days just want their kids to do “well’’, even if that means the work has to be done by other people, in other words, they cheat.

That’s right. It’s cheating.

And it’s a shame if parents and homework completors (especially if they are teachers) do not see it this way but choose to dress this up as a transaction or some kind of parental aid for a poor, burdened kid.

Was it so long ago that students were warned about having “other people do their homework’’? Isn’t it better not to complete the homework or to tell teacher “cannot pass up on time’’ than having a beautiful piece of work that is really a con? Or would teachers flip at such responses and prefer to be lied to?

I wonder what such “protected’’ students will say to their classmates: “Heng ah…last night, my dad got so-and-so to come to my house at midnight to finish this homework…Yours how? Finish already? Not yet? You poor thing…Your daddy no money to hire someone ah…”

I don’t want to tell parents about how to bring up their children. It’s not my place to do so. I’m quite sure a lot of the responses will have to do with this onerous education system we have and terrible teachers. All I can say is: I wonder why people don’t deal with the issue by simply bringing it up to the people in a position to change things. What has happened to parent-teacher meetings? Where is the school board/advisory committee/alumni? Can’t the parents – if they are REALLY concerned – make an effort to reach the school principal?

Why throw money at a problem when it is possible to make the problem go away? If fact, why compound the problem by throwing money at it?

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When vocal minority meets silent majority

In Politics, Society on April 3, 2015 at 8:00 am

A discussion between Vee Meng (vocal minority) and Si Meng (silent majority)

VM: “….what did say? ’’

SM: “…erm…what? Didn’t say anything…Eating my prata lah….’’

VM: “You haven’t been listening? That’s the trouble with people like you…so contented with your lot! Can’t you see so many things are wrong here? People can’t say what they want! The media is muzzled! We rank so low on human rights watch! We just care about money, money, money! Everything here is geared for the rich people, big business. We, the ordinary citizens of Singapore, are being trampled on and we don’t even know it!’’

SM: “That bad ah…I thought we’re always Number 1? You want to share another prata?’’

VM: “You should read more, especially what people are saying on the Internet. Then you’ll realise that this is not paradise and why people are buying homes in Johor and even, get this, staying there for their retirement!’’

SM: “Ya, I bought a place in Iskandar for investment and got burnt… Did you read about property prices here coming down? Shiok! I want to buy a new place, but then my old place now too cheap to sell….’’

VM: “Can you don’t just think about yourself? Think about single mothers who don’t get much help! Think about the old lady who collects cardboard and the old man who works at McDonalds! They should be enjoying their retirement! What kind of society are we becoming?’’

SM: “What? They didn’t join CHAS ah? Very good. Very cheap. My parents even better. Just wave PG card and get discounts everywhere… I hope cheng hu PG me when I turn 65.

VM: “My dear, dear Si Meng, you’re not connecting with me…I give up on you…You are the sort of people who just go with the flow, comfortable with your job, your HDB flat, your car…your little life…apathetic and couldn’t care less…’’

SM (slightly distressed): “Okay, okay. Of course, got some things wrong here lah. Like, I wish PSLE not so hard because paying for my children’s tuition is killing me.

VM: “Ah good. Something we agree on at last… We have a crazy education system that is driving parents nuts. Your children no longer have a childhood because they have to start running the rat race since kindergarten. Every school is a good school? Pah! It’s a myth! Even ministers don’t send their children to neighbourhood schools. The system just wants to churn out people for the economy. This ITE/poly thing…what master craftsman they want to produce? This place simply can’t afford to have more graduates so they want people to be happy to become master craftsman. We’re just digits in this economy, nuts and bolts to make the machinery run. Just soul-less people.’’

SM: “Eh? So cheem. I just want my children to get As and get good jobs.  Just don’t become cleaner or road sweeper.’’

VM (sarcastic): They won’t. Most of the jobs taken up by foreign workers already…

SM: “Oh ya. I also don’t like so many foreign workers around. Too crowded here already. They don’t even clean or sweep properly…

VM: “Talking about foreign workers….you agree with me that we must treat them well, right? You know their employers make them eat stale food? I still don’t think their living conditions are as good as the cheng hu say, never mind the new rules. We must treat these people better…and not subscribe to the capitalist demands of businesses who just want to profit from their sweat and blood.

SM: “Eh, my maid get day off every Sunday…’’

VM (in full flow):  “And look at the abuse of power. The ISA is still around. People are getting sued. Some kid rants on YouTube and cheng hu takes him to court! Just because he dissed Lee Kuan Yew! He’s non-conformist, like me! We should counsel people like him, not use the law on him!

SM: “Ya…his parents should just cane him…so boh tua, boh suay….”

VM (ignoring SM): “Have you seen what the Western media are saying about Singapore? All these controls on society. We always have some campaign or other. Laws against littering, graffiti and now this public drinking ban. We can’t even buy chewing gum here!’’

SM (placatory) : “You want chewing gum ah? I brought some from Malaysia. Before GST.’’ (passes chewing gum)

VM (making big show of chewing gum as an act of rebellion): I am thinking of starting a petition and get all the civil society types to sign. Maybe I’ll even book a slot at Hong Lim Park and get people to speak up. You should come along and see what this is all about…A good education.’’

SM: “Saturday? Not free lah. Got errands to run, send kids for enrichment class, dinner with in-laws…where got time?’’

VM (desperate): “Not even to ask for your CPF to back?’’

SM (lights up) : “Ya! Ya! I want my CPF! What age again we get it back? Can’t remember…When are we supposed to get GST rebate ah? And this Singapore Savings Bond thing…good to buy or not?’’

VM (shakes head): “I give up on you…You should be ashamed to call yourself Singaporean. Like sheep. Please don’t tell me you’re one of those fellows who queued 10 hours to go past the old man’s casket? Do you even know why you’re honouring him? Have you thought about PAP hegemony, repression, Operation Cold Store (no, not Cold Storage) and the Marxist conspiracy? Don’t you recall all that gerrymandering, political bullying and how the opposition always gets screwed? I know we should respect the dead but are you trying to turn him into a cult figure?’’

SM: “Aiyah…I…. queued… because…he…is…Lee Kuan Yew. Good enough reason for me. Eh, can you don’t talk so much or not? Tiring to hear..And where is that prata? Still haven’t come yet?!! What kind of service is this???’”

Master of nothing

In Money, News Reports, Society on March 11, 2015 at 11:29 am

My class of undergraduates told me recently that they had to do a compulsory module to get themselves “future-ready’’. They told me of how they were being taught to write a first-class resume, by filling it with stuff that employers want to read, and how to ace job interviews. I was frankly flabbergasted that undergrads would need to learn such techniques that can easily be “googled’’. A compulsory module? Sheesh. Employers would need even more skills to cut through the façade, to find the true person underneath the polish, methinks.

I think about how I have come across too many job entrants who seem to want a work-life balance even before work starts. And how they were more keen to know what the employer can do for them, rather than what they have to give to employers. Now, I suppose they will camouflage their motivations under a veneer of earnestness and politesse. And their resumes will be filled with community service and plenty of “outside courses’’ to show off their versatility, never mind that they hate them. How fake!

If there is something I wish could be taught, it is the value of having a good work ethic. Of how you can’t get that big salary and promotion at once or even in the immediate future. How you can’t compare what you do and what you get paid for with what your bosses do and get paid for. How you should start by doing the small stuff instead of insisting on “policy’’ or “strategy’’ work. In other words, never mind that fancy degree, you still have to learn to walk before you run.

This got me to thinking about the recent debates in Parliament about education, learning and training. I like what Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said about having mastery of skills. We’re no longer just talking about lifting all boats with a rising tide or creating peaks of academic excellence. We’re talking about achieving master craftsman status. It reminds of the guilds of old when the title of master is only conferred after years of apprenticeship. There are now Place, Earn and Learn programmes for the technically inclined to serve paid internships at companies and who will then be given the option to stay on the job on graduation. It’s a good thing. But what happens after that?

Amidst all that talk of mastering skills, I haven’t heard much being said about the stamina needed to become a master. What do we see today? People who job hop for an extra $50 a month, who think that their job scope is too small, who actually believe that they have flattened their learning curve in a year. How long do the young people stay on in one job these days I wonder before they get dissatisfied with its rewards or complain about “burn out’’? I think people prefer to short-cut their way to bigger pay, and that means going to the next highest bidder. I don’t know about you but I look askance at a serial job hopper, never mind their protestations that they changed jobs, switched companies to “learn something new’’ or for bigger challenges. They will say that they are “mobile’’. But if you don’t stay put in one job long enough to know everything there is to know about it, how do you even begin to say that you mastered something?

Because of the tight job market, it’s easy to find jobs that pay $50 extra. What happens is that even the mediocre gets rewarded in the frantic hunt for heads. So after a few years of job switching, someone has a fancy job title which does not reflect the brain power or the skills the title implies. Think about it. Don’t you know people like this? Then there is another group who like the glamour of working in big companies, so that everyone else will go waah no matter that they are a small cog in the machinery. I even know of well-educated people who do not even want to name the companies they work in, because they are small SMEs.

Moving from white collar to blue collar…Look at the aircon repairman, the car mechanic or the plumber. These are small SMEs who complain about not being able to get foreign labour. The locals don’t think it’s worthwhile training to be the best aircon repairman, mechanic or plumber. If everyone thinks that way, how can we pay them more for better service and expertise. In fact, they prefer to go into the crowded F&B market, preferably to be their own boss.

Yup, a mindset change is needed. A new eco-system. An improved work culture. They sound like meaningless phrases that are now so often bandied about. Yet the problem is real. Nobody will be a master of something when people keep jumping ship for a few bucks more. At the moment, the prize is not about being at the top of your game in the long-run and earn big bucks, but a bigger and bigger pay packet as quickly and as frequently as possible.

The G spot – on education

In News Reports, Politics on March 2, 2015 at 12:26 pm

I like reading G replies to MPs’ questions. Sometimes, the questions are asked orally and since the G gets up to answer and take followup questions, the answers get air-time or print space. But there are also questions which ask for written replies, and unless there is a big news point, it usually gets ignored by the media.

I have been trolling/trawling through the MOE website to take a look at some past questions and answers because I have asked those who follow me on Facebook to send me questions they have for the debate during the Committee of Supply. This is the time when the G talks about its work for the coming financial year and take questions from MPs. It takes the form of a “cut’’ in the budget. MPs say they want X ministry’s budget “cut” by $10 or $100 and then asks questions. Okay, there has never been a real “cut’’ in recent memory; it’s more like a formal excuse to raise questions.

Anyway, I was looking what has been said about foreign students in Singapore schools, including the tertiary students.

This is the question I posed which got the most number of Likes:

There is a concern that the G is subsiding the education of foreigners with more and more scholarships. Can the G give the breakdown of how much has gone to who in recent years and what sort of benefits we, the nation, has reaped from the scheme. Besides goodwill, that is.

Now, it seems they’ve been asked a number of times, especially by Hougang MP Png Eng Huat and NCMP Yee Jenn Jong, both of the Workers’ Party.

In fact, Mr Png asked more or less the same question twice, in 2013 and in January this  year on the spread of foreign students here.

The answer in May 2013: The vast majority of university places have gone to Singaporeans. In AY2012, Singaporean students comprised 79%, while International Students and Permanent Residents comprised 16% and 5% of the universities’ intake respectively

The answer in Jan 2015: At the tertiary level, in each year, IS make up around 1% of the Institute of Technical Education’s (ITE) intake, around 10% of the Polytechnics’ intake, and around 15% of the Autonomous Universities’ (AUs) intake. PRs make up another 3-5% of the cohort.

As for the mainstream schools which Mr Png also asked for, these are the figures: Out of the total enrolment in our national schools (Primary Schools, Secondary Schools and Junior Colleges), around 9% are PRs and another 5% are IS

So the numbers been pretty consistent at least at the tertiary level, with the proportions the biggest in the Computing, Science and Engineering departments.  With the expansion of university places and a decision to cap the foreign intake at 2011 level,  the proportions are likely to fall.

The question of foreigners in the education system is a perennial one, even though places for Singaporeans have been increased. The replies by MOE revolve on the need to add “vibrancy’’ and “diversity’’ to the system and I believe every parent with school-going children know what sort of competition their foreign peers pose.

The other big question is not so much the number of places the foreign students take up but the amount of subsidy given to these students which could have been diverted to locals.

Here’s where there is this thing known as the tuition grant, which is a subsidy that tertiary students get so that they don’t pay the full price of study.

In January, the G told Mr Png:  The number of international students who receive tuition grant in each of the matriculation cohorts has decreased over the last few years from 2010. Currently, international students who receive tuition grant in each matriculation cohort comprise about 6% or 1,700 in the polytechnics, down from 9% in 2010. In the publicly-funded universities, they make up 13% or 2,200, compared to 18% in 2010.

International students in our tertiary institutions pay higher fees than Singaporean students. The tuition grants for international students total about $210 million per year, which is less than 10% of the total annual subsidies to our tertiary institutions.

So there you have it. It’s $210million. Even with the grant, they still pay higher fees than Singaporeans, with IS paying 70 per cent more and PRs paying 25 per cent more.

In return for this subsidy, they are obliged to work  in Singapore for three years unless they got approval to defer service because they want to pursue further studies. Apparently, eight in 10 start work immediately.  Here’s where the numbers get wonky. It seems an average of 250 defer service. So are there bondbreakers? Or not?

Here’s what MOE said: MOE has been enhancing tracking efforts to facilitate more immediate and closer tracking of tuition grant recipients who had not yet started work upon graduation, or who have not sought formal approval for deferment. As the work is in progress, the final figures are not currently available. Action will be taken against those who default on their service obligations by pursuing liquidated damages from these individuals. Where liquidated damages cannot be recovered, their status as bond defaulters will be taken into consideration should they subsequently apply to work or reside in Singapore.

That sounds quite lame. It does make one wonder what sort of tracking device the MOE has given that the tuition grant scheme has been in place for a long time. No figures at all? As for escaping without paying liquidated damages, and the penalty is not being able to work or live here…hmmm…why would they?

Looks a case for ….the Auditor-General?

—————————————————————————————————

Is every school really a good school? It’s been a couple of years now and there’s still some perception problem going on. How do you separate a designer school from a neighbourhood school? I guess the difference will be grades. Parents still look at which schools got the most number of A students no matter how hard schools obey the MOE directive not to disclose too many numbers or rankings.

Thing is, every school being a good school is not about every school having the same (top) grades. It’s about having more good teachers spread around more schools which will try to specialise in certain areas beyond the academic side.

The G said that it employs 30% more teachers than a decade ago, with “academies” set up to share best practices. There’s a STAR or Singapore Teachers’ Academy for the Arts and even PESTA or PE and Sports Teachers’ Academy.  Then there are “niche’’ areas established by schools, such ase Design Thinking, Outdoor Education, Applied Learning and Aesthetics. In 2013, 73% of secondary schools and 66% of primary schools have already established a niche.

But too many people have been asking why the G leaders themselves do not walk the talk, by sending their own children to an “ordinary’’ good school. Is this more a question of letting everyone be happy thinking that their kids are in good school, while they are actually being prepared earlier for a skilled job?

One poster said: “I feel they lose the moral authority when they send their own children to top and foreign schools. If they can make that distinction, then the mantra should be changed to “every school is good, but some are better than others”.

Perhaps it is time for an update and to see if these “niches’’ have done anything to advance a student academically or otherwise. A parent would ask about the use of Design Thinking in their child’s future – and how that would fit into his educational future. As well as whether with better teachers, has Ah Boy’s grades got better?

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————People are still wondering if teachers are really teaching or doing all sorts of other things besides teaching. This is not withstanding the publicity about Allied Educators who are meant to lighten the teacher’s load over the years.

One poster said: “I’ve gathered a lot of feedback from friends in the teaching line that most of their effort is spent on administrative and event management, than actual teaching and curriculum planning for the students. They’ve feedbacked this numerous times to MOE, proposing employment of staff whose job portfolios specialise in this to assist or even take over, so that they’d be able to devote more time and effort to duties with direct relevance to teaching instead. However MOE seems very adverse to this proposal till this day. Am curious to find out their rationale behind this.’’

Now, there are school counsellors as well as another group who specialise in Learning and Behavioural Support, helping teachers manage students with mild special needs such as  dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyper-activity disorder.

The third group supports teachers both within and outside of the classroom, including the conduct of co-curricular activities and remedial classes. In May last year, the G said that since allied educators were introduced in 2009, their numbers have been raised from 600 in 2009 to more than 2,500 today. MOE said it had “largely achieved’’ its staffing targets, with an average of seven such allied educators in each Primary and Secondary school.

Perhaps the question is how it sets the targets in the first place and whether what schools need is really more administrative support, that is, clerks, rather than the fancily named allied educator.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

There is a new term parents have to get used to. It’s the Pupil-Teacher-Ratio.

Nope, it’s not about class size which is something most of us are used to.

One poster said: Please publish statistics for actual class size in actual classroom setting throughout the years. (Don’t just count total number of teachers to total number of students.) My observation: class sizes of 40+ are still a norm.

 The good news is that the ratio of the total pupil enrolment to the total number of teaching staff in schools has been going down over the years, from one teacher to 26 pupils in 2000, to one to 17 for primary schools. In secondary schools, it’s from one to19 in 2000 to one to 14. And that, by the way, is comparable to the OECD average of 15 and 14 for primary and secondary schools respectively.

The bad news is that people still think in terms of class size. It’s no longer the case where students are divided into equal numbers and stuffed into classes with a teacher coming and going for different subjects. MOE said in a letter in July last year that learning support programmes in literacy and mathematical skills at Primary 1 and 2 are conducted in classes of eight to 10 students. “Some schools may also choose to deploy two teachers to a class of 40 students where one teacher guides the class through the curriculum while the other teacher assists specific students who may have greater learning difficulties.’’

Given the tremendous interest in “teacher’’ time and the amount of autonomy schools have, perhaps schools should publish its class size statistics on their websites? Or can the G furnish more detailed figures?

NEXT BATCH: On town councils/HDB/estate planning

Great grad dreams

In News Reports, Politics, Society on September 10, 2014 at 1:19 am

I’ve met several parents over time who have sent their children abroad to study for a degree. And there have been times that I’ve been taken aback at the course of study. Like criminology, art history, media studies, psychology or sociology. I wondered if this was because they were “sexy’’ subjects. I don’t hear so much of those who take up “hard’’ subjects, like engineering. Of course, I hear of plenty who study law abroad, now a headache of the Law minister who wonders if the Singapore Bar would be big enough to accommodate them.

Going by what MPs say in Parliament, there are many different kinds of parents:

  1. Those who think a degree of any kind would lead to a good job and would therefore fork out big money to get their students into a university abroad, especially if they can’t get into a university here.
  2. Those who want to pigeon hole their children into degree courses that they think would bring in big money for their children in their adulthood. They want to set them up “for life’’.
  3. Those who let their children pursue their “dreams’’ regardless of whether they have the aptitude or can fit into the economy here later. They proudly proclaim that they let their children be, even if their children are really mistaking infatuation for passion.

I pity Education minister Heng Swee Keat who seemed to be contorting himself to explain that he wasn’t dissing the worth of a degree.

“Qualifications matter, but they must be the right qualifications and of the right standard for what we want to do,” he said, citing doctors, nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists as examples of occupations that require professional qualifications. “But not all qualifications matter — not if they do not help us build the right skills for what we want to do,” he added.

At the risk of over- summarising, I think he was also trying to say that even a diploma could be as “good’’ if it means the diploma holder has the depth of skills that the course required of him.

He’s in a bit of a bind because his predecessor had already stated that all primary school teachers will be degree-holders from next year. The assumption is that grad teachers will have a stronger mastery of content and pedagogy. So now Mr Heng has to say he will continue to hire non-grads who have the aptitude and passion. Nothing was said about whether they can master “content and pedagogy’’.

In fact, Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing sounded a bit gleeful (sorry!) when he said that early childhood educators – the people under his domain – don’t need degrees. Just like our parents didn’t need degrees to bring us up.  

Actually it’s all back to what the education system is all about. Mr Heng said it was about the quest for skills rather than paper qualifications. I think he should be blunt and say that it is about churning out people who can fit into the economy.

That’s what it’s about isn’t it even if it isn’t politically correct to say so? People can’t expect that the economy in future will accommodate jobs of all kinds or even the number of jobs in a particular profession. (Hence, lawyers being pushed into doing criminal and family law instead of “big money’’ law). I can sort of imagine bureaucrats toting up numbers of workers needed to fill different sectors in the short, medium and long-term and collaborating with the university, polytechnic and technical institutes of the number of places for courses every year.

The difference is that instead of setting up a three-tier structure with the technical institutes at the bottom, then the polytechnics and universities stacked on top, the push is now to see them all as parallel structures with the formerly bottom two rungs supplemented by workplace training and extensive skills to reach the level of university graduates. So Singapore doesn’t want just an ITE grad, it wants an extremely skilled ITE graduate with the opportunity to catch up with their university peers later in life.

Now, whether that will work or not is something, to use that trite phrase, “time will tell’’.

So now, we are deluged with media reports of ITE/poly students who did well. Actually, we should also be exposed to the other side: graduates with esoteric degrees who discover that they can’t advance as far as they want. In fact, MPs are already saying that more grads than non-grads go to their Meet-the-People sessions looking for jobs. I can just imagine what these disappointed people are thinking: “I am a grad, and I still have no job’’. And then going to Hong Lim Park to claim that foreigners were taking their jobs…

Sigh.

Everything is so inter-connected.

Random thoughts on today’s news

In News Reports on January 14, 2014 at 12:11 am

Sometimes, things strike me as I’m reading the news reports. I don’t know if the same things would strike you but I thought I’ll just share them. 

A Bishan maisonette has just been sold off to a couple for $1.05million, which is $250,000 over valuation! This, in the days of property loan curbs! More interesting tid-bit in the ST story is that there are 285 “landed’’ “public’’ homes here. A corner terrace house in Whampoa recently fetched $1.02million. They were built by HDB’s predecessor, Singapore Improvement Trust. Who are these lucky fellas who are sitting pretty in them!?!    

Wow! Strong words in court: “Mercifully he passed away… and did not have to witness the proverbial washing of his family’s dirty linen in public.” That was from Justice Quentin Loh who said the sons of the late Singapore scouting pioneer Dennis Goh had instigated the suit to get their sisters removed as joint owners of the Clementi flat he left behind.

Am tempted to talk about a man who wanted to light his girl’s fire but chose to set her alight but it doesn’t seem very PC. Anyway, the scorned and love-lorn ex-cabby pleaded guilty yesterday. Here’s what’s interesting: The man, who was suffering from a major depressive disorder, had been detained not once, but three times, under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, which allows suspects to be held in custody without trial, according to ST. This provision is for people considered a danger to society. Hmm…

The Thai teen who lost her case against SMRT and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) may not have to pay trial costs which amount to more than $200,000. That is, if the teen, who lost her legs in the accident, doesn’t appeal, said SMRT and LTA. That seems like a lot of money to deter anyone…It’s a warning that the girl is going to have to pay through her nose if she fails again in the next round. Or it’s a plea to her to think very carefully about whether she really has a case against them. All that would really depend on how her lawyer advises her. Got case or no case? Can get that $3.4m in damages or not? The authorities should come out quickly with those guidelines on legal costs as promised by the Chief Justice earlier this year. I still can’t get over the fact that the two doctors who sued Mindef for infringing their copyright for mobile medical stations said they stopped pursuing the case because they ran out of money to fight it…

Our schools are good. No, they’re great going by the O level scores of the 2013 cohort.  Of the 34,124 who took the exam, 82.7 per cent attained at least five passes, matching the record set in 2004, said ST. That’s the big picture. What about the weaker students? According to TODAY,  the 4,170 students from Normal (Academic) course who sat for one or more subjects, 90.3 per cent have obtained at least one O-Level pass. Is this an improvement? Maybe, we should turn out attention to this group of students next and see how we can help them level “up’’?

New transport fares are going to be announced on Thursday and the G is promising help for the lower income. They can expect fares to go down to the levels of 10 to 15 years ago. Anyone remember what that was like? The thing is, the G talks about public transport vouchers again. Now if I remember correctly, hundreds of vouchers in the past hadn’t even been taken up…Either people really don’t need them – or there wasn’t a good plan to get them to the needy. Perhaps, that should be fixed first.

Here’s an ST Forum letter writer’s appeal: “We have the police force to protect us from bullies. So why not set up a social media police force to protect us from cyber bullies?’’ Who wants to apply for the job?

 

The night before school…

In News Reports on January 2, 2014 at 2:45 am

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat had some wise words for students and teachers to kick off the school year in his Facebook page. Parents also had some wise words with their kids last night.

What the Education Minister said:

It is the first day of school tomorrow. For many of us in education, there is nothing like that first-day look on the children’s faces – it is one of pure wonder and eagerness to learn. 

What the Singapore parent said:

Ah Boy and Ah Girl ah, tomorrow start school again. Don’t be scared okay? Stop crying! You’ve played enough already during holidays! Tomorrow, I make you half-boiled egg and you take essence of chicken to school. I don’t care if you don’t like eggs, just swallow can already

Education minister:

I know it can be a day of anxiety for parents who worry if your little ones will be able to cope on their own, or if they will enjoy their lessons. But even for the most anxious parents amongst us, it is also a day of pride and hope. On my children’s first days at school, when I saw all their new schoolmates, chattering with excitement, I felt a strong sense of promise. I thought, they will learn many new things, they will discover their strengths and passions, and they can reach for their dreams. 

Singapore parent:

Actually, Mommy and Daddy very worried about you two. When you cannot catch up in class or don’t understand what teacher say, must tell Mommy and Daddy. We get you tuition teacher. You make us proud of you hor and don’t let the next door neighbour see us no up. School is actually very exciting. You know our schools got very good PISA scores? PISA! PISA! Not pizza. Too late at night to call for pizza! Put down the handphone! Mommy and Daddy want to talk to you! Listen! (cools down…) You will make many new friends in school. Study together but keep away from the bad boys and girls, okay? Ah Boy, if anyone bullies you, hit back. You are strong. Ah Girl, you must go tell teacher, don’t just cry in the toilet like Mommy last time. Must have passion. P-A-S-S-I-O-N. Spell it properly! And don’t day dream in class. You hear me, Ah Boy?

Education minister:

Like every parent and every teacher, I want every child to succeed. All of us at MOE and in our schools are dedicated to giving our children a broad and deep educational foundation that prepares them for a lifelong journey of life and learning. We look forward to doing this with the active partnership of parents and anyone who cares about the future of our children. Let’s work together to support Every Student to be an Engaged Learner. Let’s give them the knowledge, skills and values that will help them succeed in life and be good people. And let’s remember to give them the love and encouragement to enjoy these learning years. One day, our little ones will have the same pleasure of sending their children to the first day of school. When that day comes, I hope they will remember their own first days with joy.

Singapore parent:

You know Mommy and Daddy want both of you to get good marks so when you grow up, you can become doctor or lawyer. If you don’t, we will complain to your principal and teacher. You can play but  cannot play too much okay? Ah Boy, this is your PSLE year and they already change the test. So must study hard, hard. Ah Girl, no more Cartoon Network channel for you. You big girl already. Ah Boy! STOP PLAYING WITH MY IPAD! Thwack! You just wait…next time you have children, you will know how hard to be parents…

Education minister:

Students who are coming back to another year of school – you are older now and the younger ones will look up to you. Keep doing your best in school and at home, and remember to be helpful to your parents, your teachers and your friends in school. 

Singapore parent:

Ah Boy, you already so tall and big boy already. You must look after your mei mei. Don’t let her get bullied and make sure she eat properly at recess time. This year, must try hard to get better marks. You must be polite and nice to teacher, so she won’t complain to us so much about you and also pang chan you a bit.

Education minister:

Teachers and school staff, hope you had a restful, refreshing break. Welcome back, I wish you a great new year of filling and shaping young minds. I look forward to working with everyone in this new school year to prepare our children for fulfilling and happy lives.

Singapore parent:

Now switch off light! Go sleep! Mommy and Daddy also got to work tomorrow!

Mr Sitoh, say it like this lah

In News Reports, Politics on March 7, 2013 at 4:36 am

The Straits Times today honoured PAP Sitoh Yih Pin by excerpting his speech in Parliament for its Speech of the Day column. Mr Sitoh spoke about trust between the government and the government. Interesting. A few days ago, ST carried a report on the level of trust between the parties. While Singaporeans trust the G as an institution, they don’t trust the leaders when it comes to breaking bad news. Mr Sitoh didn’t mention the survey carried out by public relations firm Edelman, by the way. My guess is that he probably read the findings.

Anyway, he said the G should be courageous enough to tell the truth, even if it is unpleasant. No one can quarrel with that. Straight talk is always appreciated. Methinks it can be more hard hitting. So I will list his six hard truths – and with tongue half in cheek, rewrite them – and respond to them.

1. We will increase the number of places in universities and polytechnics and 60 per cent of Singaporeans will become PMETs, but some graduates will never stay in private housing or own a car. This is because 85 per cent of housing are HDB flats and only one-third of families have a car presently and these numbers will not change drastically.

Re-written: Hey, I know most of you young people are going to be university graduates, but face it, just because you have a degree, doesn’t mean you get to stay in a bungalow and drive a Ferrari. I mean, for every one of you, there are five others with your qualifications. How to give all a bungalow and a Ferrari? Remember that 85 per cent of people live in HDB flats and one in three families have a car now.

Response: Orh ok. Then I study for what? At least, can make the HDB flat bigger or nicer? And make sure the HDB price is not the price of a bungalow or private property? I don’t need a Ferrari. I don’t mind taking public transport. I hope by the time I start work, the trains and the buses are running properly. I mean, have you seen how jam-packed it is at peak hour? I can’t even get to school on time some days.

2. This country needs to continue to be run as a meritocracy. There is no other feasible alternative. The best will get more. One may rightly question the norms of meritocracy, as in what makes a person more meritorious? One may even ask why there are so many brand-name schools in the more affluent areas in Singapore and not in the new HDB estates. And in the harsh reality of meritocracy, we also expect the meritorious to do what is necessary for meritocracy to remain relevant – they must contribute more than others to the betterment of the society and maximise welfare for everyone living and working in Singapore. Meritocracy cannot be “take and take” by the best and the ablest without any obligation to serve and contribute.

Re-written: Man, you tell me lah, what to replace meritocracy with? If you work hard, you can get far and you get rewarded. That’s how it’s always been here. I think, I’m not sure, I mean… you go figure why the brand name schools are in rich people’s neighbourhood. But just because you are among the best, it doesn’t mean you think you are entitled to all good things in life. So give more of your time to the community, more of your money, more of your whatever…

Response: I can take meritocracy lah. But now I live in an HDB estate, and went to the school near my home. That school ah can’t be compared to the brand name ones, which got swanky buildings and smarter teachers. So these people don’t start from the same line as me, and therefore, can probably run faster and further from me. I get left behind how? Of course, if I become a doctor or lawyer, I definitely will do more for the HDB people, like give free legal advice or free medicine. (Even if I don’t, how can you tell?)

3. Even if we increase our total fertility rate to 2.1 in 2013 suddenly, we will need to import labour to care for the elderly over the next 20 years. The babies born now or in the near future will not be ready to look after the 900,000 baby boomers retiring over the next 20 years.

Re-written: You know, even if every couple have two children from now, we still won’t have enough people to take care of the old. People like your parents, you know how many there will be over 20 years – 900,000! So can stop grumbling about foreign workers and nurses and care-givers or not? You think you can take of so many people by yourself?

Response: You think my parents are what kind of people? They are educated, got degree, got savings, got medical insurance. They know how to keep healthy. Anyway, are you trying to scare me with 900,000 old people? For all you know, they will move to Johor or somewhere not so expensive. They are already complaining its crowded here.

4. Our public hospitals will continue to give good care that is accessible and affordable to all. But we will have to continue to have waiting times and the latest high-tech expensive care options will not be available to all.
Ultimately, health care is a trade-off between affordability, accessibility and quality. Usually, quality in terms of expensive care is of a lower priority, although we will not compromise patient safety. This is true for most developed countries in the world.

Re-written: When you get sick and go to hospital, you know you can pay your bill. Really! Believe me! Okay, so you have to wait a bit to see a doctor, and maybe that expensive drug or machine cannot use Medisave to pay for. But what to do? Everywhere else, the same.

Response: Touch wood! I don’t want to get sick at all. And are you sure I can still pay for medical bills when I get older? I don’t think the Medisave is mine. I mean, it’s mine but I can’t use the money for some things unless the Government says so. I suppose I can buy a lot of health insurance policies or just go somewhere else where it is cheaper to get the drug or medical treatment. Wait a minute! What if I can’t afford the drug? I will probably die? Cannot be.

5. We will make our public transport reliable again and increase capacity. But COEs may never go back to the days of old again. There are limits to our car population just as there are limits to our human population.

Re-written: Face it, kid. You might not even be able to buy the COE, much less the car. You think you can turn back the clock and get $1,000 COE? Fat hope! Anyway, can you imagine how crowded the roads will be? You might as well take public transport. Don’t worry it won’t have so many breakdowns and you will be able to breathe on the bus and train.

Response: You sure bus and train fares will still be cheap? I mean, someone has to pay for the drivers and all that right? COE? Huh, already given up hope.

6. We will limit the influx of foreign labour to Singapore, but we cannot shield our workers from competition. The reality is that our workers will still be competing day and night, 24/7 with workers in China, India or Indonesia

Re-written: We heard you. So we’re going to scale back getting foreign workers in. But, you know what? Don’t think just because there will not be so many of them here, you can sit back and relax and collect your pay cheque every month. Don’t forget that the Chinese, Indians and Indonesians are working very hard in their own countries. If they make your company go bankrupt, then what you do?

Response: Yah lah. Yah lah. How many times you must repeat this?

Go to http://www.breakfastnetwork.sg for the New Normal Labour Market, What’s all this about giving transport operators money and the very minimal explanation against a minimum wage scheme

Where is the “no Lit” camp?

In News Reports, Reading, Society on March 3, 2013 at 6:11 am

I have been waiting to read a view that opposes the “pro-Lit’’ camp who bemoan the dismally small number of students pursuing Literature as a subject. No dice. Perhaps, the volume level of the “pro-Lit’’ camp has drowned out the “no-Lit” camp; or perhaps, they can’t out-argue the pro-Lit camp, even though there must be oh, so many more of them who think that Literature is, well, rubbish. And even if not rubbish, the subject is simply not good enough for my child to take for his or her O levels.

I wonder why the silence? All this will do is show that the pro-Lit camp is correct. Their views go un-challenged because, having studied literature, they can analyse better, critique better and write better. That’s why the rest, illiterate louts better at the computer or calculator, simple have no response.

Okay, before you get me wrong, I belong to the “pro-Lit’’ camp although I can’t say that I fell in love with the subject in secondary school, where my teachers usually just made us read prose or poetry aloud and asked us to write essays. It was the teachers in junior college who showed me that literature is more than just reading the classics and Shakespeare. That language can be used in many ways, to appease, deceive, placate or outrage. That a story can contain many messages, even contradictory ones. And that there can be many points of view, and all of them could be right.

This is the reason for the perception that it’s hard to score in Lit. Unlike mathematics, there is no formula that leads to just one answer.

I’m glad that the teaching of Literature has advanced somewhat, going by what The Sunday Times reported. One article gave two examples of how lit is taught. For Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, for example, the teacher got his students to compare the “taming’’ with the taming of women in other societies through stories and plays by Jamaica Kincaid, Kyoko Mori, Maxine Hong Kingston and Stella Kon.

Academic Suzanne Choo gave the best reason for the study of literature: “While literature education does foster aesthetic appreciation and a taste for good writing, what we often forget is that when students are asked to respond to questions such as “What makes us sympathise with Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart”, “Is justice served at the end of Macbeth”, or “How does the writer develop the sense of irony in the poem Dulce Et Decorum Est”, they need to consider the underlying beliefs determining a character’s intentions and behaviour, thus affecting our feelings towards him or her, the different social-cultural values influencing how concepts such as justice are perceived, and the ways in which literary techniques contribute to the implied author’s philosophical proposition in the text. In short, these are questions requiring critical engagements with values.’’

The study of Literature isn’t about reading old books with old words. Or even new books with new words. It is about learning to read “critically’’ and to appreciate the way language is used to convey different meanings. I will go so far as to say that a background in literature makes you a bit more media literate (now.. that’s a term that’s terribly in vogue for those who think literature belongs to the Middle Ages or for the middle-aged).

We are surrounded by media and it takes a critical eye to sieve the wheat from the chaff, to grasp underlying messages and to spot flaws in logic. This is a useful skill in any economy. Someone who can do so will usually be able to formulate their thoughts better, organise an argument better or present a case better. They are open to differing views and have the language capacity to take it all in, so to speak. They are comfortable with “uncertainty’’; that there is sometimes no right answer, and we can all agree to disagree. Now if that is not a useful skill in any profession, I don’t know what else is. What is knowledge if you do not have the skill to communicate what you know and make yourself understood?

Enough of that.

I really want to hear from the other side of the fence. The schools which discourage literature as a subject, the parents who prefer that their children do mathematics, the students who think literature is a waste of time – where are you?
If you believe that literature is a “soft’’ subject and waste of time, as compared to say, a “hard’’ subject, tell us why. If you think there’s no money to be made specialising in literature, well, that’s probably true, but what about a basic grounding? If you think the problem is the way schools teach literature, then share with us your story.

We should hear from you too.

By the way….

In News Reports, Politics, Society on December 21, 2012 at 1:06 am

A by-the-way by-election

Those who are not in the habit of reading The Straits Times editorials should read it today. Ignore the lame headline: Weighing the case for a by-election. The bottomline is: ST thinks that a Punggol East by-election should be held soon. Of course, it was carefully couched: “So on balance, it is perhaps best not to delay holding a by-election in Punggol East. Constituents’ expectations outweigh other considerations.’’

(Gosh. ST didn’t believe its own poll of residents which showed most can’t be bothered….!)
In any case, I am glad that after much meandering and huffing and puffing and having to make to case for and against, it came down to making a decision. I was intrigued though at the final paragraphs.

As in Hougang, Punggol East’s constituents should decide how seriously they take the personal failures of their former representative, and how they judge those shortcomings against the record of his party’s work for them. The party’s standing led to a win in Hougang. It is up to voters in Punggol East to decide if the same logic should apply. They should be given a chance to do so.

By the way, the party it referred to in Hougang is the Workers’ Party. So Yaw Shin Leong’s case of infidelity was too small for residents to decide that WP should be thrown out of Hougang. ST is saying that in the case of Punggol East, constituents have to decide if the same logic should apply: That is, whether Michael Palmer’s case is too small to throw out the PAP.
Very nice touch!

IP college? Why?

Everybody’s a-twitter, tittering and in a tizzy over the case of River Valley High principal in a CPIB probe. So there’s a woman involved apparently. Shades of Ng Boon Gay! Anyway, since nobody is really confirming anything and much of what the media is saying is speculation from unknown sources, I am not touching it.

I am more interested in this story about a new JC that will open in 2017 for students from three new Integrated Programme (IP) schools: Catholic High School, CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ School and Singapore Chinese Girls’ School. It’s in the ST.
The students will spend their first four years in their respective secondary schools. They will spend the final two years of their IP programme at the new JC, which will also accept students from non-IP secondary schools. So now we have 13 JCs, after Innova in Woodlands opened in 2005.

It’s mighty odd. I thought the idea was for the IP kids to do their A levels in their old school, not move on to some other place. This means it’s no different from other JCs except that the three IP school students get a “free pass’’ so to speak, as others will have to rely on their O level results to get in – I presume. You mean three IP schools can’t do the last two years for the students? Why? Shouldn’t the students just sit for the O levels then and compete like everyone else for a place? MOE said more details will come and I hope it will not just be about how the new JC will have wonderful facilities and great teachers etc. We need an explanation of the rationale for this move.