Top photo by Medha Lim
Speaking to the press during the Workers' Party (WP) Marine Parade GRC walkabout on Sep 4 morning, Yee Jenn Jong, leader of WP Marine Parade team, reiterated his concern with the education system in Singapore. Frankly, the topic comes as no surprise as he has been raising the issue of education in parliament since 2012.
Let’s take a quick look at his key points:
1. He wishes to gradually introduce an alternate system to take the pressure off younger children into having to study for major exams at the tender age of 12
JJ (so they call him) said that Singapore has been stuck with the same education system the past 30 to 40 years. Back in the days, it used to work. Singaporeans were driven to excel and transform ourselves and our nation from a third to a first world country. While this might still work for some, the majority of us have been pigeon-holed into a system where getting
good above average Godlike grades is so paramount that we have turned into myopic individuals.
Children go through the motion of starting their education route as early as kindergarten and come Primary 1, these kids are carrying backpacks twice their size to after-school enrichment classes. Guys, the only enriched people are the tuition agencies, yo.
2. We need to remove the stigma of coming from a neighbourhood school
He said we shouldn’t be afraid to come from neighbourhood schools.
In fact JJ himself came from Temasek Junior College, a “neighbourhood school” (um, say what? o.O) But we get where he’s coming from. Our education system needs to be refined and we need to eliminate the stigma unfairly associated with neighbourhood schools. And where would this start from? Ourselves.
3. One size does not fit all
Ever bought something supposedly “free size” that turned out to be either too small at the sides or too big at the bottom? Or did not fit at all? We are not a “one size fits all” community. Each of us work differently, and honestly, there has been many a late bloomer around us who needed time to grow into themselves.
JJ suggested we do away with the T-score system to a letter grade system for PSLE (something, he mentioned, that was brought to light in the 2013 National Day rally speech) to minimise the pressure on parents and their children. It’s all about balance - you work hard, you play hard. You wouldn’t want our future generation to end up like those people with extremely high IQ but low EQ, right?
4. Pressure is self-created
Rightfully so. Ever heard of the phrase “it’s all in your head?” The reason why we Singaporeans have been driven to being the best of the best is only because of peer pressure. We see our classmates getting straight A’s or a GPA of 4.0 and secretly die inside because we attained one B or a GPA of 3.5. It’s not that our grades are bad, it’s simply because we never think we’re good enough.
While this is a good mentality to have from time to time to keep oneself hungry, forcing yourself to succeed becomes an unhealthy obsession. Which is why the idea JJ has proposed, although with some potholes (e.g. beginning with 2 schools in each zone - how are we to segregate such schools? Wouldn’t there be an over-demand for these schools? And his idea about excluding the elite schools from such a system?), may actually help our education system in the long run.
5. The system could attempt to do away with primary/secondary schools and instead, combine it into one school with a major exam at the end of 10 years of education
This might seem like a terrifying idea for some parents, even for me as a University student in my 20’s. Should I start a family later on, what if my kid refuses to study till the last minute? What if I find out my kid has never kept up with his/her homework and knows zilch? What if my kid takes this huge exam at the end of 10 years and does badly? Would I have failed as a parent for not pushing my kid to succeed? CAN WE PANIC NOW?
This is the train of thought that has been embedded into my head from as young as I can remember - You succeed, or you get left behind. While I don’t think we should harp constantly on this message, minor tests and assessments from time to time will be good way to review and let one know where one stands because by nature, humans are lazy and we will opt for the easy way out, given the choice.
I’m not saying education isn’t important because it definitely is, and it is essential that every Singaporean is equipped with the ability to get into a quality school with quality teachers and resources. If we produce low quality schools, this would result in a majority of low quality students, which will breed habits such as the lack of need to succeed. This will eventually affect our quality of living and will have an effect on many other aspects of our lives, be it in work or in school.
So tl;dr indeed, but in summary there is merit in what JJ proposes.
It starts from you taking that step to chillaxing about your all-important make-it-or-die attitude, because you’ll die faster from stress so why not just choose to be that better balanced student/parent?