I would like to post and share bout’ something that’s of my concern.  It’s primarily about our education system and how I’ve felt, read, and seen it has became over the years.  Portions of the article below is taken off the net and I have also added some of my own thoughts as well.  Please do read it with an open mind. 

Part I – A Pursuit Of Certification & Grades ?

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There is a popular phrase “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen”. Our education system is somewhat like the proverbial kitchen. There are a lucky few who managed to escape the kitchen, and have the fortune of learning the ropes of life in a less stressful education system. The rest have no choice but to stay behind and face the heat head on.

Having been in the education industry for about 10 years, I have worked in schools alongside teachers (old & young & trainees), students (pri & sec) and also those people working and supporting the system on the backend support (HQ). I have been made to teach relief classes in teachers’ absence and during that couple of years, my colleagues were mostly teachers and staff of the education field.

Over the years, I can’t help but notice both the positive and also the negative aspects of our system. Of how the education system has changed and varied according to the times.
There is just something not right with it.

If you look at it from the outside, no doubt, our country has one of the best education systems in the world. Even though there have been controversies over our students’ true linguistic abilities, Singapore’s overall literacy rate is one of the highest in the world, students excel in international rankings and universities, and the workforce is generally well-equipped with the fundaments and the relevant knowledge required.

Nonetheless, all this assortment of benefits have blinded many to the real question that should be asked of the system – at what costs are we enjoying these takeaways ?

Competition for education is rife and every kid do not want to lose out to another classmate. Tuition then became a formality. Many parents have resorted to spending huge sums of money in paying for private home tutorage hoping to meet the insurmountable challenges to enable the child to excel in his or her educational pursuit.

For failure simply mean failure. For in this country, it’s all about certificates and grades. For if you don’t do well in your edcuation, it means you won’t have a bright future. Aint that the perception that’s thrust upon our society ?

That was the case during my time and that is the case now. But when you get to the working world, we all know that certificates will indeed get you somewhere. Intelligence, diligence and hard work is required for you to go far in your career but getting a cert simply means that you had half the race won already, as compared to those who don’t. Aint that right ?

And over the years, as everyone participated & competed with each other in the race of academic pursuit of excellence, I felt that they are categorised in 3 different categories =
The high achievers, the underdogs & the late bloomers.  

Thanks in no part to our media’s endless glorification of high achievers, it only put more pressure and stress on the underdogs and the late bloomers from such a young age. And in that pursuit of society’s expectations of their academic expectations, a lot of kids were made to forgo their childhood just to get an A grade in class.

I remembered the fateful day when I received my ‘O’ levels results, sullen expressions were synonymous with results slips that are tittered with D’s or E’s. Nowadays, the odd B or a single C credit is sufficient enough to trigger that sullen expression.

Yet in the midst of all that heat, it can also be argued that underdogs and late bloomers are at a greater advantage than their high achieving peers. After all, the high achievers will be at the top of the academic ladder, successfully gaining entry into programs such as the Gifted Education Program, Integrated Program, NUS High School, all of which have the word “prestige” written all over them. Such programs are obviously aimed towards students with high academic calibre and are designed to further hone their academic ability.

In short, the good just gets better. And alas for the late bloomers, it is the early bloomers who will be on top. The education system is unfortunately designed in such a way that only early bloomers are identified and further groomed.

So on paper, the score card reads High Achievers 1 Underdogs & Late bloomers 0.

Yes, apparently the scoreline is in favour of the high achiever because they simply get better in the academic sense. However, the important life experience the underdogs and late bloomers gain place them at a commanding advantage.

The word “failure” is not a familiar one in the vocabulary of the high achievers but it’s most likely and probably is with the underdogs and late bloomers.

This is not a bad thing. If you ask me, encountering failures early in life will imburse one with important life skills. Besides acquiring the important ability to cope with adversity, those who fail will be in a good position to understand what it is like to bounce back from failure. And such students will wisen up after experiencing failures.

When I say wisen up, it simply meant in terms of planning back-ups in case of subsequent failures. And this ability to come up with contingency plans in case of failures is considered an essential lifelong attribute. That mentality and mode of recovery will indeed go on to serve them well into the future.

I would like to share with you all on something interesting which I saw on television last Sun. I was changing the channels and I came upon this Indian variety game show on Vasantham Central. A group of students from different schools were competing in an outdoor challenge. They have to make a raft out of tires, pipes and bins in order to “rescue” their friend in the open sea. The first group to make raft, save their hostage and come back will win the challenge. The four schools were – ITE College West, Republic Poly, Singapore Poly & National University of Spore.

It wasn’t really an easy task, as I’ve done it in my Sec 3 camp previously in 1998. A lot of planning, thinking has to be made. And of course, intelligence and teamwork played a huge part in it. I watched in awe of how the students took the challenge to task. And surprise surprise, among the 4 schools, the winner turned out to be none other than ITE College West. And no prize for guessing the team that finished last.

Yup, it’s NUS . . And I gotta admit honestly, I actually smirked and laughed a little when I saw their jaded faces, some in utter defeat and some in shame of being a few years older and yet still lost out in the challenge. Well I don’t blame them . . for I always believed that in life, street smart is indeed equally important to being book smart. And to be street smart, you don’t need certificates & grades. You observe, do, fail and you learn . . and you do again. And that’s where the late bloomers and underdogs can sometimes excel ahead of the high achievers.

But as I’m saying this, I gotta admit, the main concern for the education system currently, is the lack of late bloomers and underdogs these days. For everyone wanted to be a book smart & a high achiever. Ok i take that back . . everyone is told and expected to be a book smart & high achiever. That disappointment will come when they really can’t be one. And instead of falling up again, they gave up.

In 2010, the suicide of two junior college students have once again highlighted the primary ramification from a highly competitive & rigid education system : tremendous stress and pressure. Many might conveniently brush off such assertions as ludicrous, establishing the opinion that kids need to get used to stress sooner or later & that they should be taught how to manage such pressures instead of being lulled into false senses of comfort.

However, when this stress originates from dull learning, memorisation and the regurgitation of facts for the sake of acing examinations, where exactly are the positives? Most students who have experienced multiple major examinations should share the sentiments of painful preparations in the hope of fulfilling expectations from parents and teachers who expect nothing but the best.

Our society has always been so concerned about certificates & grades that we basically forgot the fundamentals of education & learning. A school needs to be more than a place for the dispensing & dull feeding of information, it needs to be a platform for students to shine in their areas of expertise and providing channels for questioning, interaction and discussion.

It shouldnt be on the focus on grades and certificates. And obviously not an individual competition where the winner takes all and as a result, the loser lost their will.

How often have we felt that we’re getting fed up with school? Or going to school?
Sure, it had taught us how to read, write, think & analyse but seriously, was there really a need to pedantically cloud our mind with information and textbook narratives that we may never come into contact with ever again?

With the evolving global landscape, it would not be soon before pure academic excellence and mere superiority within a school based sanctuary would cease to be the accepted recipes for success. People who would truly find joy and triumph in life would be those who have stuck close to their passions regardless of the peripheral pressures, moving beyond the antiquated notions of traditional Singaporean pragmatism.

Parents too must accept that there is no fixed script for success – failing an examination would prove to be insignificant if their child can dedicatedly find a way to make things work.
And according to popular belief, one of the reasons on what the education system has became and also how it can come to this state, is partly due of the presence of ‘elitism’ in our education system. For those who don’t know that that term, let me put it to you below in a single line.
The term Elitism comes from the word Elite which means —-> A class of people enjoying superior intellectual, social, or economic status. 

As much as I would like to continue on, I shall reserve it for the next installment – Part II which will be posted soon aitez.

Thank you for reading.

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