Friday, June 03, 2005

What's wrong with our "Education"?

This is an article I wrote about our Education System while replying to a forumite in YPAP Forum

I find this relevant when I read about people complaining about those violent acts happening in our schools recently. There are even people asking the Ministry of Education to re-introduce Religious Studies in our schools to strengthen the morals of our young.

The debate will go on and on but we must first get the fundamentals right.

Goh Meng Seng

Dear Lai

You have written quite a bit of thought provoking pieces here in YPAP forum. But Alas, those from YPAP are only interested in "defending" and bombarding your views, instead of really examine the root cause of all these problems. Thus, I really doubt Wong KS's invitation of young people to join PAP so that they could really "influence" the policy making process. If YPAP couldn't even take criticisms as it is and try to critically examine them, how could we expect those at the very top to take our criticisms seriously? That is why I always believe that if you really want to make the difference, joining the opposition parties and working towards the alternative politics is the ONLY way to make better this country.

Let me share with you my views on this issue. In my opinion, this has got to do with our "EDUCATION" system. We no longer "EDUCATE" our students in schools; in the late 80s and 90s, our schools are just "factories" that keep stuffing technical knowledge to our students, but not "EDUCATING" them to become a human being with decency. "EDUCATION" was left to "chances" and each individuals' natural inclination. Now, it is even worst. Our schools have shifted their attention to "AWARD WINNING".... Principals are more interested in winning awards after awards for the school so that they could beef up their portfolios, profiles and achievements; they could even make students sarcrifice their studies just to make sure that they win awards for the "school" (but in actual fact, it is for the principals' own profile filings).

This shift in "Education" system has got to do with the so called "advancement" of society. When the economy needs a great supply of "techincally trained" (note, not "educated") population to fill up factories' position, our "Education" system was turned into a factory that is only interested in chunking out "products" that are equipped with technical knowledge. Well, not that it is wrong to do so, but on the expense of the deliberate neglect of character training in TRUE EDUCATION of the populous into a "HUMAN BEING" was too high cost to pay. When they find out this "problem" of over emphasis on "technical training" (in terms of results orientated), they come up with another sets of "measurements" that they thought could "balance up" the "education" system; yes, using the number of "non-academic awards" to measure a school's "success" in "education". This is rubbish.

This has resulted in principals (especially the young ones) to put in all efforts in winning "awards"...all kinds of awards. This is no "character building" at all. The casualties? Students. Especially for those below average neighbourhood schools... those principals know pretty well that with that kind of "academic quality" of students, it is impossible to impress their bosses at the Ministry level with "academic achievements". Thus, to them, to win all sorts of awards are their top priorities. Teachers that could help the schools win awards will be treated as "jewels", never mind about their teaching abilities. Examinations could be postponed or even break into two different time frame, just to let students prepare for activities that could possibly win awards for the schools! Never mind whether the students could cope with their school work or not....they are not "top quality" students anyway... use them as tools to win awards to glorify principals' achievements lor!

I know all these funny things happening in Singapore schools because I have many friends in the teaching profession. It is really disheartening to learn all these crazy happenings in schools. Schools no longer "Educate" morality, not even provide "academic/technical training", but has become a "award winning" machine for principals to glorify their own profiles! Beside "award winning" mentality, principals "glorify" themselves by spending unnecessary monies on landscaping, monuments...etc etc...Who to blame? Of course the chief of MOE has to be blamed!

This "glorification" culture has extended into all sectors of the civil service; that is why you see all sorts of funny and "designer" buildings built for the civil service.... there are more than seven wonders in Singaproe! That is why we could spend $600million on the two durians, knowing that we are going to spend another $50million in ANNUAL maintenance fees!

This is the decay we are facing right now... friendliness and civic minds? How could we cultivate all these when the whole government, from the top to the bottom are all obsessed with self glorifications?

Goh Meng Seng


David Stewart said...

I have added your weblog to my favourites and I will read it when I have more time. It looks very interesting.

WPSgNews said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Goh Meng Seng said...

Dear David,

Thank you for your link. May I know what's your blog address?

Goh Meng Seng

juz said...

i agree that some schools have taken on a 'award-winning' mentality instead of one of educating.

I know a boy, now in sec 1, who is one of the victims of this system. He came from a known primary school, and so despite not having mastered the basics of the previous year, he was promoted from year to year anyhow, as any retention would have affected the school's standing.

Such a bright young boy with a dim future, partially due to the system, and partially, to neglect.

Anonymous said...

I've seen schools here which don't put forward candidates for exams where they think they won't do well (e.g. O-Level)! I can understand not wanting to overstretch less able students but just because someone is only capable of a C pass should they not take the exam!? I really think this is so the schools in question can claim they have a 90-something % A pass rate for such and such a subject. That way the principal can "boost" the school and be perceived as a high ranking school. Of course it is an insult to parents who may send their kids there expecting they will also get A passes like "all" the other students.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. The part about how "Educating" has been abolished made some sense. I feel like an object in a cheapskate factory where they stuff terrabytes of info into one GB. However, I also feel that while the school tries to promote education of the person, they can only do this half-heartedly because they need to meet with the requirements of the MOE.

So is this the MOE's fault, or just my lack of the broader perspective?



redintherain said...

More so than the issue of focusing on awards, the larger problem in our education system, and in most education systems, is the tendency to reduce the individual to a being measurable along a one-dimensional gradation scale, marked out in units by levels of 'competence'. 'Competence' in turn, as we might have been aware of in this discussion, is arbitrary - shifting based on the larger interests and aims of the state. Once it could have been technical adeptness, a while ago academic excellece, and now, by way of what you claim, the ability to claim achievements in sports and other co-curricular activities. While I disagree with you over the claim that winning 'awards' is the main issue at hand, I get where you are coming from, and I also see what you say as a symptom of the larger tendency for education to be ultimately, reductive. Individuals are constantly defined by where they stand in the 'measuring scale' - individuality becomes flat and students, teachers, principles all try to define themselves as unique along this one-dimensional scale. To be different is to get four As. To be reknowned is to win more awards. Individuality becomes a matter of positioning, rather than depth. An insiduous effect of this is that social classes tend to become reproduced. The scales of 'competency', arbitrary as we have noted, are the scales by which the dominant class will measure against succesfully. This needs more elaboration, but it is lengthy, unwieldy, but if you care for more information, Bourdieu's symbolic power is a good resource. What I want to further emphasize is the contextualized workings of the system. Namely, that the schools, particularly Singaporean schools, constantly reinforce this lie (that one can be measured) through the disregard shown towards the nature, character and true morality of each individual pupil. Such variables and qualities, complex as they are and contributive to an individual's sense of self and development, have also been reduced to a collective measuring scale. The ability to follow school rules - to keep ones shirt tucked in, to put on the school badge, to grow one's hair black - is the unit of measurement. The lie, so effective, sometimes causes wholly reasonable, virtuous, loving people to bow their heads in shame after being scolded for diverging from these superficial norms. But, what can we do? I think the role starts from the teachers, they have to be able to see students as more than mere units to be assesed by the same criteria. And for that, we have a long way to go.

Anonymous said...

As a student, I disagree. The school provides Civic and Moral Education which I feel shapes our character. Besides, I think that while moral values can be instilled in us, "character"should be something that we shape out ourselves. I think while the school does place a certain amount of emphasis on awards, we are given the choice as to whether we desire to participate in the activity. Have you considered that the student, if less academically inclined, might actually WANT to focus their energies on other activities? I know other students from neighbourhood schools who put a lot into the activities they are doing because they enjoy it.

Jeff said...

I vouch for your comments. I was a former teacher in a neighbourhood sch. Winning award after award was 2nd priority. 1st priority was putting all these on a huge banner for all to see. Academic results went south and 9 students actually failed English.

We have let our students down.

Anonymous said...

We probably need another Goh Keng Swee. We do not need LHL! There is no such thing as bad crew, only bad leader!