Thursday, August 16, 2012

One Radical and Risky Idea....

Politicians always avoid coming out with risky ideas because they set themselves up for easy attacks by adversaries  who will point out all the potential negative outcomes. Risky ideas can have huge paybacks and within them can contain ideas that can be adapted to improve the current system.

Speaking at an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) roundtable on population trends, former NMP Paulin Straughan proposed this radical idea to improve fertility:

Get rid of PSLE, get rid of streaming. Let the child go into school at Primary 1 and enjoy learning all the way through to the entrance exams into university. I think that will be a major transformation for parenting in Singapore.”[Link]

Paulin Straughan proposes  "scrapping streaming and PSLE for primary school students and implement a 12-year primary and secondary school system (with six years for each) that allow students to focus on learning, instead of passing examinations.". If you follow the link I put up, Straughan has other good ideas but this one about PSLE is the most radical.of her ideas. 

Does it make sense? ...Lets start by asking if things make sense in Singapore. Singaporeans work the longest hours, compete extremely hard at school for limited places in universities with a substantial number of places going to foreigners, resources such as cars and housing are limited i.e. the supply is inelastic so the harder we compete prices just shoot up. In order to compete economically,  Singaporeans postpone getting married (increasing number of singles) and having children...and start to diminish in numbers. The capitalistic profit seeking entities demand imported population to keep Singapore going as an economy and native Singaporeans' number shrink relative to new immigrants. This whole setup looks like a race to the bottom for Singaporeans unless we can snap out of this vicious cycle.

Why target PSLE? ....The whole primary school education together with streaming and secondary school banding (10 bands,+Normal Academic, + Normal Technical) has turned our entire primary school education system into a competitive highly stressful high stakes board game[Link].  Instead of inculcating the love of learning, we teach students to compete for marks in exams the purpose of which is to sort out who should go to which secondary school. In doing so it encourages parents to game the system resulting in a billion tuition dollar industry spawned to ramp students up for the PSLE:

"In PSLE 2011, TLL (The Learning Lab) groomed almost a mind-boggling one-half of the top ranking students in the entire country! This included a clean sweep of the first, second and third students overall. No school I know in the private or public sector has delivered such impressive results!"[Link]

Competition starts at a very young age with some parents sending their children to 2 kindergartens every days and spending lavishly on pre-school education. There is also enormous stress for parents who try to squeeze their children into limited places at "branded" schools. Richer parents are known to have moved to homes nearer to branded schools to enhance their children's chances of entering branded schools. Other parents volunteer to do duties at the school to improve their chances. 

The first 6 years of our education system , whatever its intended design, teaches our students compete intensely against each other at exams. They carry this culture of competition against each other into adulthood resulting in the stressful overworked society we see today. This stress is believed to be one of the leading reasons for the ultra-low fertility rate in Singapore. 

So what is wrong with working hard? ...The problem is not that we are working hard is that we are not working smart enough as a society. The Finnish has an almost stress-free education system to produce what is currently the most competitive economy and number one workforce in the world. "Cheaper faster"  individualistic and more competitive" rather than "innovative, creative and team-based". 

By scrapping PSLE, we re-focus our students on learning rather than exams. We teach them team work and how to help each other rather than build a culture of competition against one another. It reduces stress among parents, teachers and students so that they can focus energy on developing the child holistically rather than being narrowly focused on exams, streaming and which secondary school they will end up in. It may have a far reaching effect beyond the education system and ultimately lead to better outcomes for us as a society.

NMP Paulin Straughan idea fpr the education system is the equivalent of Lim Chong Yah's "shock therapy" for our labor market. Even if it does not get implemented for various reasons, it encourages us to think in another direction, move away from old assumptions and generate  new ideas. We should ask ourselves the "why not" rather try to answer the "why cannot"....even if we cannot completely scrap PSLE, we can revamp the system to remove the stress and bring back the fun of learning.  

Remember the future does not need to be the same as the past. Nobody mandates we have to walk along the same direction. If you look at our education system, where really is it heading? We are beginning to resemble the pressure cooker systems in S.Korea[The Herald-Sun - Teen takes reel look at S Korean schools] Japan and China.  There is no competitive advantage going on this path. For a person to realize his full potential, pressure and stress is not required - what stress, streaming, intense competition and banding does is to turn our children into winners and losers. The great irony of this whole system is after putting our own children through "Singapore maths" and other forms of pressuring mental acrobatics, we have fill our universities (esp engineering, maths, physics,science courses...) with foreign students from other countries. We can definitely do better for our own children in this area.

While the idea appears drastic and somewhat risky, remember it can sometimes be riskier to do to little and wait too late....

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

"NMP Paulin Straughan idea for the education system is the equivalent of Lim Chong Yah's "shock therapy" for our labor market."

What shock therapy? What so shocking if they have no power for action?

If no action, even Lucky Tan, me or any commentator can also suka suka propose their own shock therapy, radical, risky or what not idea what.

The real "shock therapy" to shock PAP is to win over the 60% voters from the PAP next election.

And who can shock PAP on that?





Anonymous said...

Shock too much on paper, in blogs or even video is shiok, not shock.

Anonymous said...

If don't need tuition anymore, how will Singaporeans supplement their low income from work? How about those that teaches tuition for a living.

Anonymous said...

Too much of a shock, even for parents. Honestly, with the amount of money thrown on private tuition, wouldn't it be better to be home schooled by tutors rather than waste time in mainstream school.

Anonymous said...

have you watched the HBO series "Girls" about our new generation? The problem with not given them any stress and making them believe that everyone of them is special is that many of them will end up highly dependent on their parents in their adult life. They won't want to work, they are forever trying to find out their "talent" since they are brought up to believe everyone is somewhat talented (when many are just mediocre), and they will become very soft. Is that what we want? I always believe some degree of stress and motivation pushes a person to realise his or her potential. I do agree that that IP Program should be scrapped though. It makes the PSLE the most important exam since anyone who can get into IP gets a free pass into uni and bypass the most challenging O Levels.

It's very easy to criticise others. But sometimes some of these shock therapy will have shocking consequences. Kids not given exams at all until a very old age will never learn to be responsible and motivated.

Anonymous said...

The Singaporean;
Both leaders and citizens;
are incapable of happiness;
and will feel safe only in choosing the option that causes maximum pain.

It's the Singaporean mind.

Anonymous said...

Get over the shock become no more shock. It becomes normal.

Anonymous said...

In future, those singaporean kids will become the typical Type As that the society will see more of: -

http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/school-failed-to-get-me-into-law-20120516-1yrcb.html

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/college-whiz-kid-alix-is-not-happy-with-nearperfect--score-20120105-1uctj.html

Then these people become your elites and enter politics and it is what you get today...top in GDP & world financial rankings, bottom in sports & fertility and relationships.

Welcome to the new normal.

Anonymous said...

When MM Lee said

"Do we want to replace ourselves or do we want to shrink and get older and be replaced by migrants and work permit holders? That's the simple question."

And his son, PM Lee said

"Do we want to replace (other countries) or do we want to shrink and get older and be replaced by (other countries) and (cities)? That's the simple question"

It is clear Father/Son wants to have the cake and eat it.

What should have been said instead, is the following

"Do we want to replace (this govt/leaders) or do we want to shrink and get weaker and replaced by (other new immigrants)? That's the simple question.

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with our students competing for marks in an exam?

Athletes compete for points and setting of new records in competitions.

We also separate athletes into winners and losers, instead of letting them play the game for the fun of it.

Even when playing a game of non-competitive basketball or soccer, we still keep score and count points.

And by the way, the Finnish are finished! Their education and way of thinking failed to produce the iPhone and Galaxy, which are creaming their Finnish phones.

Veritas said...

Paulin Straughan may not get all the facts right. Many thought that schools in Western Countries are idle and everyone party all the way until college. This is only true for junk school. The elite school in USA like, Phillips Exeter Academy, Lowell High School has even higher standards than RJC.

I ever asked my European colleagues how they found their schools. Those engineers from "Gynasium" stream curse and swear and told me they are tortured for 6-7 years. Even French cursed their prep schools for "Grand ecole".

I agree however that our streaming has big problem. But to think that Ang Moh party all their way without any competitive exam other than college entrance is wrong. The Ang Moh is extremely elitist as well. The students in Gymnasium got to learn all it requires as Renaissance man. They learn about history, political system, economics (even Marxism)....etc. It is some sort like aristocratic training. Our students in RJC does not even have that (PAP hate students to think, they just want to train technocrat).

On the other spectrum, Western countries produces lots of illiterate that was schooled for 12 years. The situation is very bleak for students (especially blacks), in USA poor neighborhood schools.

Western schools run on the ideology that the people can slack. They just need to for the elites who did thinking for them. (Our elites school students are not even taught how to think, and why PAP is bad)

I agree MOE sucks big time. How to reform MOE, we got to be careful.

Anonymous said...

It's fascinating the way people shoot down ideas by quoting ONE eg of such an idea going wrong. Becos of this ONE case, an entire idea which would affect thousands, should not be carried out, they argue.

Then there's the PAP way of using utter extremes to pour cold water on proposals. So again nothing changes.

We are seeing all the worst bits of the wonderful, great policies that have been implemented. Nevertheless we continue with them. Perhaps someone should just point out the Normal things that are going wrong with these policies to stymie all those offering extremes as excuses for inaction.

ah lian said...

Change is ALWAYS good, esp if what we have now, we cannot tahan anymore. I know many won't agree with me, coz change comes with many uncertainties, and might just as well turn out to be for the worse than for the better. But then we can change the change! The point is, change will shake things up, get new ideas to be formed, new actions to be taken, and that's how we'll progress.

"Vote PAP vote PAP, they're not good anymore, but the opposition will be worse!"

Pls don't think that. It's IMPOSSIBLE for things to get better by maintaining a status quo that sucks.

It's just like how the PAP "moves on" -- by brushing off citizens' concerns, by NOT addressing them, but instead focusing their efforts to CONVINCE citizens' the gahmen's policies are best. And we just have to ADAPT ourselves to them!

Yes, people are v adaptable. After a while, we learn to cope (more or less) with ANYTHING.

But I refuse to get used to letting myself be blamed for the gahmen's failed policies.

Anonymous said...

Definition of Insanity:
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Albert Einstein

Singaporeans are insane.
Keep voting PAP.
And expecting things to improve.

Anonymous said...

Scrapping the PSLE (or 'O' levels) would mean no longer providing those who are more suited for vocational jobs an early entry into the job market. You may potentially get more dropouts without a interim certificate.

The system can always be tweaked to "to focus on learning, instead of passing examinations.", without uprooting the fundamental strengths. Singapore already has an exemplary formal basic education system. Other countries are emulating it. Stick to the guns, no need to keep bringing in new ideas. What's lacking is the connection to the real economy beyond the age of 12. And consequently, the translation into fair wages for the learned skill set, i.e. First World wages for First World qualifications. Without a mechanism to adjust wages to fairness (pegged to fair cost-of-living) in line with the rest of the First World, our ever dynamic workforce is condemned to constantly having to upgrade with additional qualifications for noticeability - which AGAIN may not translate into fair wages.

This is the basis of the rat race, which is carried as a message to our offspring because of our own failure to convert qualifications into success.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lucky,

You might be interested in the life and beliefs of John Wooden.

http://www.ted.com/talks/john_wooden_on_the_difference_between_winning_and_success.html

Regards,
Roy

Anonymous said...

I'm a teacher and my principal wants the teachers to focus on mean subject grade rather than the joy and fun of learning. They check teachers' file to make sure sufficient is given. As a teacher, MOE system is not good for someone to learn. It's good for rote learning and talking down to pupils to get them to be conditioned rather than to facilitate and think. PRincipals in MOE schools want money. The higher the MSGs the larger the principals' performance bonus. They are not doing it for the singapore students. It's about money with a does of public relations. Many good teachers are struggling with MOE's system.

DanielXX said...

I work in finance and I can tell you our new generation in my opinion is really quite jialat. Too soft, can't work hard and have no sense of ownership of projects and therefore are unwilling to see things through. To a certain extent, I agree with LKY that they need to have spurs stuck in their thick hides. Or else Singapore is farked, with or without foreigners.

Anonymous said...

"... no sense of ownership of projects ... "
DanielXX

Disagree.
This is the correct way to work.
Since Singaporeans don't own anything anyway.
Why work so hard to make our elites even richer?

Anonymous said...

"""Too soft, can't work hard and have no sense of ownership of projects and therefore are unwilling to see things through."""

Isn't it very fashionable to work smart and not working hard. So how did this work-life balance come about.

Someone needs to work hard for some other person to work smart right ? In short, if you need to kick, someone must be willing to be kicked by you.

Anonymous said...

"Vote PAP vote PAP, they're not good anymore, but the opposition will be worse!"

You seem to know one part of the answer (the former). However, what makes you so sure of the latter if they are not fully tested yet.

patriot said...

How Singapore youth behaves today is the result of the grooming, education and upbringing of the leaders, school and parents.

patriot

Anonymous said...

By asking innocent ? u're asking gov't if they jia back bueh. Lky 'd be amused somebody echoing back his underlying motives behind education socia.etcl schemes. If people r not preoccupied with school grades. NSF enlisting.NSMen enactments. heavy home and car mortgages, big medical burdens, rising GST, cost of living, work enslavement to meet ends needs, blah^3. Then wat the populace do after their liberalization from these shackles, well shift their attention to politics of course and then u will demand transparency accountability. democracy. challenge authoritarism cronysism, blah ^5.

Anonymous said...

Blogger can harp for neXT millennium abt loss youth, time, freedom, creativitiness, missed marriage and children bliss, spontaneous fun of childhood being robbed by self serving educational system but change will not come becos they serve the ruling party so well (not necessary the interest of the people) in keeping the populace at distant and away from things trangressing at ruling level. also dont count for change even any opposition parties takeover, once they appreciate how these streaming, competition keep people struggle against each other enough to create political apathy. in the way successive dynasties in the past emulate and retain practices dat keep people under controlled and dominated state.

Ng Eng Hou said...

With the Internet, education should not be just stuffing of facts or knowledge, because you can have this online, the main thing is to teach people how to look for information make use of the knowledge. We need to be equipped with some skills in Mathematics, Language and Science. Education is not about just about passing exams and score high marks. Though IQ is important, EQ is even more important. In school, inculcate the attitude of getting along with others is of utmost important. Teach students to have financial literacy so that they can take care of their finances when they grow up. Bilingual is not enough because mainland Chinese is getting more and more bilingual. We need to encourage our people to learn as many languages as we can, especially our neighbors' languages. In some small European countries, their citizens can master 3-4 languages.

We need to do these in order to survive in the future!

Anonymous said...

12 years of study with no exams. Free to study what they like and free to dream and explore. Siund like a fantasy BUT i can tell you for sure it is the passport down the tube for 99% of the schoolchildren. They will come out illiterate, ill-disciplined and equip with ZERO knowledge nor learning skills.

Anonymous said...

Right.
And this present lot of highly educated leeders is the sure fire way to success?

Anonymous said...

HK reviewed and changed their education model about 2 years ago. Good to take a look at it.

Anonymous said...

First of all, TLL is but one tuition centre which actually has 'entrance exam' style tests for prospective students. I assume, correct me if I'm wrong,that this works out to stream students into classes according to ability but also allows them to weed out potential candidates that do not 'fit into the system' and pull their statistics down. This methodology, while economical for them as a business, does reflect the current system quite a fair bit.

You can propose doing away with the PSLE, like doing away with exams till Primary 3. This changes nothing. Parents will continue to send children to tuition and push for better grades, more so because there are fewer standardised tests (exams) to gauge abilities, making the pressure higher. The issue lies in our society's approach to exams and the structure of the education system.

Western societies have a more even work-life balance and the children engage in more relevant subjects such as Legal Theory, Accounting etc from high school (this from the Australian system since there's an example from Canberra above). The system needs a better mix of 'thinking' subjects and rote-learning subjects and definitely a reduction in syllabus, not just classroom time to try to push the balance back.

Not something that can be changed instantly and the issue of 'shock' - with such an ingrained issue, change has to be gradual, not a one-shot thing. This issue has come up so much in recent years and its not that people aren't aware, its that the system doesnt allow change and no one is pushing for anything to happen because the higher ups seem to only see it as 'not a serious detriment yet, no need to do anything'.

Anonymous said...

Which is why, I, a new citizen, will join hands with the 40 per cent to vote out the ruling party.

I do it not for myself, but for future generation.

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