Archive for November, 2010


November 30, 2010

Strangely enough, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty when slacking off


Because education, that’s why.

November 27, 2010

The relevant parts of yesterday’s article are, unfortunately, unavailable on the free Straits Times archive, so I’ll just quote it here:

Coral Primary pupil ‘Aqilah Dariah Mohd Zulkarnian spent almost all her time studying in the last two years. The only respite: 40 minutes of television a day, during mealtimes.

The 12-year old’s hard work has paid off, as her Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) aggregate score of 278 makes her the top Malay pupil and among the top three pupils in Singapore.

Her school in Pasir Ris also posted its best results in its 11-year history.

~cut for irrelevance~

‘Aqilah’s results of four A*s and a merit in higher mother tongue did not surprise her teachers or parents.

Since Primary 5, the girl has stuck to a regimen of studying after school, taking only a 20-minute break each for lunch and dinner, during which she would watch a little TV.

Her goal was to be the top pupil in her school and her motivation was a burning desire to study at Raffles Girl’s School (RGS), “because it is a top school”.

She did not slack at the weekends either, and instead worked even harder, taking breaks only for meals.

“I feel happy that my hard work has paid off and I can get into RGS, which has been my dream school for a long time,” ‘Aqilah said, adding that she wants to be a doctor.

Her mother Eireena Rahman, 40, a mother tongue teacher in a primary school, described her as a go-getter.

“She is very disciplined and pushed herself very hard. I didn’t pressure her but just made sure she did her homework and some studying,” said Madam Eireena, who also has a 16-year-old daughter.

Just… wow. It is telling that we have annual reports about national examinations and the students who top them, and triumphant announcements of how well Singaporean schoolchildren fare in mathematics and science compared to their peers around in the world. And of course the Brand’s/New Moon’s chicken essence advertisements featuring <insert name>, the Top student of <whichever standardised examination> implicitly endorsing <product> .

I share some of the sentiments in this letter. For those of you who cannot access it, it goes on about how the PSLE is “critical” and how it is becoming even more vital for a child to perform well in the PSLE.” While I think the rhetorical question “How can we expect a 12-year-old child to understand the importance of this examination to his educational future?” hints suspiciously at the kiasu Singaporean my-child-cannot-lose-out-but-he-doesn’t-understand-the-increasing-importance-of-the-PSLE-so-I’m-in-a-bit-of-a-bind attitude which I don’t particularly condone, I do agree that an excessive amount of emphasis is placed on the PSLE (and other national examinations).

It may be tempting to deny that an abnormal amount of effort and worry are spent on the PSLE, but, quite frankly, I’d like to believe that the evidence to the contrary is clear enough to anyone reading the above excerpt from the report on our dear PSLE pupil with the stellar grades. For those who can’t, don’t, or won’t see it, I’ll spell it out: a 12-year-old isn’t even technically a teenager, and a 10-year-old primary 4 student is definitely a growing child. So, what exactly are our children doing with their childhood?

Apparently, our children are spending their childhood studying, and as a whole we think it is fine and dandy. Assuming the Straits Times reflects, to some degree, the national psyche, then our nation thinks it a good and excellent thing to laud children who spend “almost all of the last two years studying”. And by study we mean “preparing for an examination based, to a significant degree, on rote learning. Not, as the dictionary would have it, application of the mind to the acquisition of knowledge, as by reading, investigation, or reflection. Nor do we mean learning about the natural world and society through inquisitive play, or pursuing interests that may develop into fruitful passions. Nope, what we mean is textbook learning.

So, yes,  our nation thinks that, on the whole, it is perfectly fine for out children to engage in mindless “study” rather than self-directed learning. Perhaps I should migrate to Finland when I want to start a family.

Another thing: it appears that a suitable aim for primary school students is to do well enough on the PSLE to “get into a top school”. Because, that is a very good thing to be aiming for, seeing as the only other things a primary school student can do with his time, like taking up a sport, reading, creative expression, playing and building friendships, or pursuing a passion, aren’t really very worthwhile.

Not, of course, to criticise our top PSLE scorer. I believe wholeheartedly her mother’s description of her being a go-getter. What I do worry about is what’s she’s going for and what she’s aiming to get, and if those things are what she wants or things that we have made artificially valuable with our emphasis on standardised examinations. (And no, don’t go on about how Integrated Programmes and whatnot have been introduced to deal with this problem. That only leads to parents complaining about how IP reduces the chances of their precious sons and daughters getting into top schools because of limited spaces, and just shifts the focus from “acing exams” to “getting into the IP”).

So, yes, to reiterate: we could take a leaf out of the Finnish education book.

PS: yes I know this topic is a perennial bugbear and that I sound trite. The issues I raise are not new, and by only crying foul without offering any real solutions I just sound like a windbag. Forgive me.  I merely express my opinion about how tragic I find the system from the ’60s worked too well for its own good, leaving us stuck with something of a problem. I didn’t really think very much about this post, I just wanted to vent outrage and, perhaps also express an admiration for parents who homeschool their children.

And exams (and everything else as well)

November 21, 2010

I haven’t posted here in pretty long, especially if one doesn’t count links to pictures/videos. Probably due to all the A levels and the “ahhhh I should apply to university” and the “ahhhh why does the SAF want me”. Anyhow, I should/will post something soon once all the madness blows over. Because madness blows over, just like a light morning fog amirite?

November 10, 2010

If a bubble is big enough to take two seconds to pop, do you really have any worries in the world?

Hey A-Levels,

November 6, 2010