that education post i promised
i still haven't written that post on education, have i? well -- some preliminary thoughts to get me/you going (though who knows, this preliminary thoughts thing might just turn into a whole post) [ed: it did]: many people know that education is one of my big Issues that i'm willing to go on about just about forever. with good reason, too, i think -- what kind of education system a country has produces the kind of society that it will have in the future, and if you get your kids young you mould them -even if you don't intend to- you shape them, you set the outline of their lives before them. it's important, then, that you get your education system right, not just for the sake of the future of the country, but -at least for me- more importantly for the sake of the children you are changing.
lest we forget, the Singaporean education system has for the most part been highly successful, which i think is something that we didn't take into account nearly enough when we were discussing it during the seminar. most kids emerge from this system with the ability to read, write and do math; most kids emerge from the system with skills that will serve them well through life, even if their lives inhabit a rather limited scope -car mechanics, air-conditioner repairmen, that sort of deal. it takes great care of the majority of the kids, even if it does rather fall down on the job at the top and bottom end of the spectrum.
but that is not to say that it's perfect. far from it. and that, my friends, is the real problem with the education system. the unwillingness to affect bold change, out of a fear of the new, out of an unwillingness to rock the boat. 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' really is the motto of the MOE. (instead of 'Teach. Mould the future of the nation.' which i always have the urge to misspell and punctuate thusly: 'Teach Mold. The Future Of The Nation.') in our discussion with MOE representatives the current changes to the system came up. a quick recap, for those who have no idea what i'm talking about:
- four 'families' of schools (Raffles, ACS, Hwa Chong, and Victoria i believe) are switching some of their kids to the six-year 'through train' model, where they will no longer take the O levels at sixteen, but just the A levels or the International Baccalaureate at eighteen;
- as a result of this, the original GEP schools are not longer running GEP programs (Raffles, ACS); and
- two private schools (privately funded and privately run) are being opened.
in addition to these changes the ministry is also looking at various issues with exam stress and overloading the curriculum of the kids etc.
now we all know my opinion of the through train program - i like it, for the most part, but dislike its implementation. i think it's going to be rather rushed, and of course the first few bunches of kids are going to suffer for being the guinea pigs (though i daresay they'll still have a better time of it than the kids going to regular O-level-A-level route), but that is unavoidable with any big change in the system. and it was pointed out that if the kids fail to do well at the A levels they won't even have their O levels to fall back on -all they will have is the PSLE cert. a valid point. however, seeing as they are preselected (not to fail) i doubt this will be a real issue, at least not in the initial years. there's a reason these plans are only being implemented in the top schools - these kids are far more likely to do well even if the program they are in is absolute crap.
my problem with the private schools -and to a certain, lesser degree with the through train- is that education isn't just about what you learn from books. going to school is in part -when you're a kid, a great part- a socialisation process through which you learn how to interact with your peers. school takes you out of the isolated, insulated little world you have always inhabited, and brings you out into a larger, more varied world. it's supposed to show you that there are all kinds of people out there and you will have to get along with all of them or your life will be miserable (as some kids' lives invariably are, in school).
quite frankly i have to say that for the most part, my school experience has surrounded me with kids as smart as and smarter than i am (i doubt anyone would claim i am one of the brightest crayons in the GEP box) who come from similar backgrounds, which would have wound up handicapping me if i hadn't been in RJ Humanz (some of my GEP friends had trouble adjusting to normal sch life, and this was adjusting to the brightest ten percent or less of the entire cohort) and then gone to college in Singapore --but i didn't. i escaped to Chicago instead, where everyone is weird and therefore it's ok. and what i'm worried about with the private schools and the through train is that kids from a certain background and place in life will congregate (ok to be more specific i'm worried that the private schools will become a rich-little-boys-playground) and never learn that there are other people out there who aren't exactly like them. then god help them when they emerge, blinking, into the light of reality at the end of the train-tunnel (oh dear, my metaphors are getting carried away).
i'm not saying that the through train or private school is in itself bad. heavens no - i want it for all kids, though i'll accept that some kids aren't suited to this kind of pedagogical method- but i think i'd like to see a little more consideration from MOE about the social aspect of education rather than the purely academic paper-chase (oh, that's a post for another day) aspect of it. and instead of having two private schools outside of MOE jurisdiction, i think i'd like to see the private-school aspect of choice being applied within the MOE system - i fail to see why greater customisation is impossible under the MOE. all it really needs to do is widen its boundaries and guidelines a little, and trust in the system it has built -and the market- to correct any excesses during transition periods. if MOE took its fingers out of a few pies, and took a step back from the ground-level ops of the education system, who knows how much better it could be? and all with less, not more, effort from our civil service.
all right. i think that's quite enough for now. feel free to chime in via comment. =)