Tuesday, 17 September 2013

A chat with our MP about the education system

Our MP (member of parliament) paid a visit to our street last weekend. This was the first time I have met her. I took the opportunity to voice out my concerns about our education system. I shared with her that as a parent, I was disappointed in the new policy changes and that what we desperately need is real change. I was rather baffled as I have been following our Education Minister, Mr Heng Swee Keat's, comments on the newspapers over the past year and I feel that he has got the fundamentals right, but why are we not seeing that filtered down to the policies?

I highlighted to her the problems and some suggestions from a parent's point of view. 

1. Students - They are getting so stressed that mental health issues like depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and self mutilation are all on the rise and it is very alarming.

Suggestion: Every time I speak to a child from an International School, be it a 6 year old or a 16 year old, they tell me that they love school. Why don't our children feel the same way about our schools? I found out that the way lessons are conducted there are vastly different from ours. We should perhaps study their system more closely and adopt those that would work for our framework. I know that the Ministry has previously sent teachers into International Schools. However, when they come back to their own schools and try to implement what they have witnessed, they are constrained by resources, time and support. To make anything work, the entire system has to follow through. 

2. Teachers - They are tremendously overworked with additional duties so much so that they can hardly cope with completing the syllabus, much less deliver inspiring lessons. The Enhanced Performance Management System (EPMS) has also been manipulated. Teachers realise that to get a better performance grade and hence a better bonus, they need to take on more initiatives and be more visible. This leaves them less time for their main role - teaching. Many good teachers end up leaving the service due to burn out or lack of work life balance, which leaves our children with new and inexperienced teachers. Sadly, many teachers start off very passionate, but the burden of the system leaves them drained and disenchanted.

Suggestion: We do not expect great chefs to do the administrative work and organise the parties. We let them concentrate on what they do best - cook. Can we do the same for our teachers? Let them have enough time and resources to come up with creative ideas to bring the lessons alive to the students. Let other people organise the fun fairs and sports festivals. Let CCAs be 100% outsourced to professionals. Instead, experienced teachers should mentor the new teachers, especially in the areas of keeping the class in order and handling difficult students. If the teacher can't even manage to get the students to sit attentively and listen, how can they teach effectively?

3. Tuition - Too much time and money are spent on tuition. I know of children who have back to back tuition on the weekends. There is practically no more time left for family bonding. Some teachers even blatantly tell their students to get tuition. 

Solution: We have to re-look our syllabus such that tuition should not be needed for the majority of students. It is unfortunate if new parents decide to stop at 1 or 2 children due to the high cost of raising kids these days, especially if much of the cost is contributed by tuition.

4. The 'teach less learn more' policy - it has not been implemented properly and now it seems to be a 'schools teach less, tutors teach more' reality.  


5. Parents - Because of the hierarchical system, whereby they are streamed from top down: IP, Express, Normal (academic), Normal (technical), ITE, etc, parents being parents will try to push their children to do as well as possible to go to the 'best' schools or to ensure they don't end up in the 'neighbourhood' schools, which leads to much of the stress faced by the children. I agree that there are now many pathways open to students. However, this top down system seems to suggest that "If you are not so smart, nevermind, you can go down this other path". How many parents would feel proud if their child went to 'Normal' stream or ITE? It is very hard to rid this 'labelling' mindset, so perhaps we should revamp the whole secondary education scene, into a horizontal system, recognising the different intelligences and the different ways children learn, and catering to them. 

Solution: Let us use the Primary years to sort them out. We can then stream them into different Talent schools in their Secondary years. We need to re-brand them, such that none of it is a 'second choice' school, but each a more suitable fit for the individual child. Examples could be:

1. Academia School
2. Entrepreneur School
3. Engineering School
4. Artistic School
5. Education School
6. Trades School
7. Culinary School
8. Design School
9. Technology School
10. Journalistic School

The core subjects such as English, Mother Tongue, Math, Sciences and Humanities should all be taught, but using different modalities and with different focuses. For example in the Design school, they can first study a product, research into the history of such products and various competitor's products, find out about the creators, learn about their countries of origin, and attempt to build a better design. We can easily incorporate all the elements of the different subjects into one project. When a child is motivated by his area of interest, learning is quicker and more dynamic. 

We have to challenge this basic assumption: Is academic intelligence the most superior of all intelligences? Will it get the child furthest in life? If we pursue this at all cost, will he have the happiest future? A career he loves? A family whom he cares about and who cares about him? Friends who will support him in times of need? One very worrying trend I am hearing from teachers is that students now have a 'each man for himself' mentality. They think that is the only way they can advance themselves and score higher marks than their peers. What has this system, and the parents' response, inadvertently done to our children?

We do not need mere robots which our system has been so successful in producing thus far. We need to prepare our next generation for the demands of our ever changing economic landscape. We need entrepreneurs, visionaries, innovators, leaders. We also need to realise that not everyone is academically inclined, and that there are multiple intelligences. And we need these different intelligences to shine if we are to push Singapore forward dynamically in this new era.

As it turned out, she was the right person I was speaking to as her portfolio is in the Ministry of Comms and Info, and Education. She briefed me on the direction they were heading towards and explained to me what a mammoth task it was, not only to craft the right policies but to move the whole system to align with their new direction. She said that the Ministry valued the opinion of parents and is trying to reach out more effectively. She also mentioned that the Ministry is serious about equipping teachers and schools to bring out the best in different students. However, it is a long journey and parents' feedback is most welcome. 
Coincidentally, #3 had some homework on 'Our MP'
After 9 years of being disappointed in our education system, I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. (Although I can foresee it to be a very, very long tunnel) I will give Mr Heng and his team my full support and hopefully, all of us - ministers, principals, teachers, students, and especially parents do our part in forging the next chapter in our education landscape. I have been invited to a dialogue session on education with Minister of State Sim Ann. I am looking forward to it and I hope that we can all have open minds and do our part to craft a truly world class education system. If we can transform Singapore into a first world country in one generation, I don't see why we can't transform our education system in one decade. Let us all rally together to move this mountain.



~ www.mummyweeblog.com - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

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