21 July 2006

P.E as an O-level Subject

ST July 21, 2006
Sports school is latest to offer PE at O levels
It joins Victoria in doing so, and both stress that the course is rigorous

By Maria Almenoar

YET another school will be offering physical education as an O-level subject to students.

Besides Victoria School, which announced this on Wednesday, the Singapore Sports School (SSS) has also received approval from the Education Ministry (MOE) to offer the subject.

Victoria School will incorporate O-level physical education modules into its Secondary 2 syllabus first next year and then in 2008, allow 40 Sec 3 students to take it.

Singapore Sports School, however, will let about 75 Sec 3 Express stream students and Sec 4 Normal (Academic) stream students start the curriculum from next year.

Both schools defended their move to offer this new subject, especially after concerns were raised that it was an 'easy way' for students to score at the O levels.

Said the principal of Victoria School, Mr Low Eng Teong: 'Our first step when looking to offer this subject was to check how rigorous the programme was.

'Looking at the topics covered and the 40 to 60 per cent weightage on theory and practical showed how intensive the subject was and how comparable it was to other subjects.'

One of the teachers in charge of the programme at the sports school, Mr Zachary Kang, agreed: 'A good athlete will not necessarily do well in this subject. For example, England and Arsenal football player Theo Walcott scored a C in PE. Students have to be balanced in physical activities and academic work.'

In Britain, physical education has been offered at the O levels for almost 40 years.

Under the theory component, students learn about anatomy, preventing sports injuries and the development of sports in different societies, among other things. They must also sit for a written examination. For the practical component, students must take on at least four 'speciality subjects'.

While the sports school has not decided on the sports yet, Victoria School is likely to offer students hockey, soccer, track and field and cross-country as speciality subjects.

Said Anuruddhan Arunan, 13, a Sec 1 student at Victoria School who is in its cross-country team: 'It's quite exciting knowing that I might be among the first students here doing PE at O levels.'

From this year, drama, economics and computer studies are the new O-level subjects being offered. MOE said schools have not asked to offer any other O-level subjects as yet.

mariaa@sph.com.sg
I think this is a good move. I like seeing a wider range of possible subjects being open to Singapore's students at the O-level and A-level stages. This offers students more opportunities to study subjects for which they have a genuine interest or talent.

As the ST article points out, physical education has been offered in the UK at the O levels for almost 40 years. So doing P.E as an O-level subject isn't even a particularly novel idea.

Out of curiosity, I decided to find out what are all the subjects that Cambridge offers as examinable O-level subjects. Here's the list - wow, 58 subjects in total. (Strangely, Physical Education is not listed - not sure why).

Some O-level subjects which plausibly could be offered in Singapore but (to my knowledge) are not currently offered in our schools or are only offered very rarely would be:

Art
Business Studies
Commerce
Commercial Studies
Design and Technology
Environmental Management
Fashion and Fabrics
Food & Nutrition
Music
Principles of Accounting
Sociology
Statistics
Travel & Tourism

Looking at this list, it suddenly occurs to me that this list of subjects which the vast majority of Singaporeans (two or three generations of them) never took at their O-levels may actually explain a lot about why Singapore is the way it is today.

For example, we lament that Singaporeans do not know how to appreciate the arts or express themselves artistically. But things may not have been this way if Music and/or Art were commonly taken by Singaporeans for their O-level exams.

We wonder why Singaporeans lack entrepreneurship. But quite possibly many, many Singaporeans today would be more entrepreneurial if, in their teenage years, they had studied subjects such as Business Studies, Commerce and Commercial Studies, which would have sparked an interest in at least some of the students.

We know that Singapore is kept clean only by the endlessly diligent efforts of our sweepers and cleaners, and that many Singaporeans still litter freely whenever they know or feel that they won't be spotted by the authorities. Perhaps if Environmental Management had been offered as a common O-level subject in our schools for the past 15 years, more Singaporeans would be voluntarily keeping Singapore clean.

And many Singaporeans are still so naive and unaware of how their society and their lives have been so heavily and mechanically engineered by the Powers That Be. Perhaps there would be greater consciousness today if Sociology had been a mainstream O-level subject for the past 15 years.

(Singabloodypore, by the way, is founded by a sociology academic).

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57 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, There is this university in India called Indira Gandhi National Open University. More famously known as IGNOU. Probably no one in Singapore knows about such a univ. But it happens to be the world's biggest open univ. Acc to 2005 figures, it had 1.33 million students doing various courses.

For a list of courses, go to the website www.ignou.ac.in and look at the "academic courses on offer". It offers an astounding 125 courses. Now beat that.

Should be revealing info for some of the "frogs in the well".

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Philip

Anonymous said...

FYI. Art, Design & Tech., Food & Nutrition and Principles of Accounts are offered for O levels. the number of canditates are in the thousands for each subject.

soulburnz said...

In support to your second anonymous' comment, Art, D&T, F&N and PA are offered in O levels, okay, at least during my time. But perhaps what in they really teach may not be what you're expecting.

I took Art and PA. Art always ended up doing craftworks more, I don't remember we were made to study Art by famous artists and their ideas. Just plain drawing of still life, doing batik, designing poster. I failed that anyway.

From what I know from my PA teacher, the PA we took wasn't exactly PA, it's only book-keeping, but it's the fundamental of PA. But PA was fun but tedious when doing the questions.

But I can say that during my time, the schools seem to be more interested in further grooming students from the pure science stream. And the people from the science stream...hmm...somehow seems to be aloof.

Anonymous said...

1) Art
2) Food & Nutrition
3) Principles of Accounting
4) Design & Technology

These are subjects that are offered in Singapore, especially in the "neighbourhood" schools where students not strong in sciences usually take combined science and one maths. In the Normal (Academic) stream, students take at least one of these subjects. That was the impression I got during my time.

Any school teachers to confirm this?

I agree that commerce and commercial studies should be introduced earlier. And sociology, why not?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Music, too, and possibly Fashion & Fabrics as well. I believe Food & Nutrition and Fashion & Fabrics are what we used to know as 'Home Economics'.

Anonymous said...

There's a "Home Management" in the list - I think this is the former Home Economics.

Are you sure Music is common in Singapore as an O-level subject?

Boon Hong said...

During a discussion with some friends, one of us lamented that the schools today seem to teach less than what we learned during our time. For instance, kids today know only the metric system, they don't know how long is a mile, body temperature in Fahrenheit, or atmospheric pressure in pounds per square inch (what's an inch?). Apparently, in the pursuit of a "holistic" education (read robbing the Edusave funds for "immersion" trips to Beijing or Xian), many essential building blocks have been discarded. The halls of learning should be dedicated for academic pursuits; there's why ECA is called "extra" curricular activities. Under ECA we can have economics societies, drama clubs, photography clubs, debating societies, gardening societies, etc where students can explore their non-academic interests, like starting a business. There's a lot of acknowledge to be acquired in the disciplines of learning, and the scholar can only do well if he/she focuses on the books. Of course, there are those who are not into academia, and that's where trade schools come in (or sports schools, and now art schools). Point is, one should be taught how to walk properly before being asked to bungee jump. Interviewing an overseas engineering graduate on one occasion I was surprised that one his electives was photography. It made me wonder which subject he missed as my own university program was chuckful of thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, electrical and electronics, control theory, computer programming, kinetics and statics, structural engineering and naval architecture - and that was for a B.Eng (Mech). One of my friend's son studying in USA actually has credits for golf. Maybe, in the future, they may offer credits for blogging.

John Riemann Soong said...

Pffft. Business. The very word makes me turn my nose at it. You cannot beat quantum mechanics. That said, NUS lacks such facilities anyhow.

Why is it that all these tiered schools are the only ones introducing new subjects? The neighbourhood schools are the ones who need new subjects to excel in. The concept of only allowing so many people to take it also rings bells of elitism.

However I'm still curious about the O-level system's room for all these subjects, namely because I'm not in Singapore anymore and won't be until well after it has passed. If even more subjects are allowed, how will all these fit on the timetable, if say a person happens to be interested in far more than 9,10,11 or even 15+ subjects? I'm only curious of course because when they grant flexibility, I tend to be the one who tries to push it.

Clearly, if one does not take all these subjects one has interests in, he or she will lose out to his or her peers, which will make these additional subjects a jealousy.

Why? I'm here stuck with American education. It seems that I will lose out because my peers (or even to people younger than me) will be taking subjects I all have interests in, want to take as subjects, but subjects the pitiful unambitious standard of American high school education does not let me have room for.

As a side note, it's funny how Cambridge have all these South Asian languages but not East Asian languages. But for Singaporeans it is a compensation for the Mandarin-dominated second language field I suppose.

Is Art a rare thing? Often it is the teacher: previously I thought it a monotonous subject based on technique, or for people "born with" the talent, or the desire. But my teachers opened my eyes up to the subject as a medium of expression.

Anonymous said...

Food and Nutrition and Fashion and Fabrics was part of Home Economics which you guys never took .. : P

Instead the older generation boys took technical studies.

I think both boys and gals should have taken BOTH these subjects to make every one a more balanced person - but not implying that they become heterosexuals!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Soulburnz i think teachers in those days did not know who were the famous artists mah ... but had a job to do. So too bad.... u are the guinea pig.

Young generations out there, better thank us for being your guinea pigs that you now get to enjoy a higher quality educational system!!

John Riemann Soong said...

We really must reject the mindset that taking one of these subjects must mean they are "sacrificed" in other areas.

What about linguistics? Reconstructing the Proto-Indo-European language, or the Aramaic language's influence on the Manchurian language through proxy.

"Maybe, in the future, they may offer credits for blogging."

Perhaps if it becomes an art form, just like creative writing, that would not be unreasonable. After all, in the early 1800s "photography" would be comparable to blogging in terms of being a hobby, rather than something professional (since film was just invented).

"like starting a business"

I have my own disdain for business, but I think it is an academic subject. Too often it is a cliched subject however - I think the issue is scope as well. I tend to be a supporter of voluntary/libertarian collectivism - the science of production, not the science of selling to people things they don't need. But I digress.

"they don't know how long is a mile, body temperature in Fahrenheit, or atmospheric pressure in pounds per square inch (what's an inch?)"

These aren't SI units, and really should be discarded. Being exposed is good, but it's pointless working with units like these, except from a historical perspective.

"Of course, there are those who are not into academia, and that's where trade schools come in (or sports schools, and now art schools)"

Often the issue is not that Normal stream students suck at science and therefore go into design and technology or some other cheesy subject. Rather the environment is rigid. It's not necessarily being poor at or having no aptitude for the sciences, but if you were to integrate the sciences into other subjects - conceptually, and not merely teaching them some vocational trade, then yes.

If you ask me, the IB, Integrated Programme and the like should be aimed at the lower tier students because these are the people that need it most.

Perhaps they happen to be better at applying human sciences in the field of anthropology, or political science.

Perhaps that students craftwork in a neighbourhood school with a score of 20 for L1L5 have the potential to be linguists like Noam Chomsky, poets, or international diplomacy.

If you only consign them to very general biology, very general physics, and very general chemistry, and mathematics course with a narrow scope (lots of calculus *without* the complex numbers? Are you kidding me? What happened to the beauty of Euler's Identity for secondary school students?) how will you discover their talents for the things that truly matter?

John Riemann Soong said...

Correction to my previous post: students doing "craftwork".

Anyway I re-emphasise the attitude for this quote by boon hong:

"I was surprised that one his electives was photography. It made me wonder which subject he missed as my own university program was chuckful of thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, electrical and electronics, control theory, computer programming, kinetics and statics, structural engineering and naval architecture - and that was for a B.Eng (Mech)"

That's all wrong man.

First you don't appreciate that photography can be a very professional, scientific and expressive subject.

Then you insult him by making a remark of "what subject he missed". Perhaps it only points at your own narrow scope - perhaps he's a Da Vinci. Perhaps he did all those things and more, only signifying that he achieved more. Taking an additional subject does not rule out other subjects. If anything, schools should have extended timetables because there isn't enough room to take up enough subjects one can be interested in.

(It is very disheartening, and only points at the education system's rigidity and narrow-mindedness, when one has to choose between dropping some subjects and keeping others, not because one can't keep up with the workload, but because the school can't fit it in your timetable.)

Then you cite all the extensive subjects you studied for, implying there was no time for other subjects, which is simply not true.

Then you plugged your resume.

I can only hope you are being sarcastic. I don't mean to offend, but that's my frank reaction.

ying said...

To soulburnz,

There's Art as a subject and Art History. My secondary school offered both. Art History focuses on the theoretical aspect of art.

Santos said...

But soulburnz wants to be exposed to painting techniques of Da Vinci and not simply read about him.

John Riemann Soong said...

The latter is just plain history.

Sometimes focusing too much on historical technique is also pedantic.

I find art as a subject very liberating compared to many examinable subjects because one is able to choose the message one wishes to express, and use a variety of tools needed to achieve it.

As far as I was told in secondary two (before I left at the end of the year), one isn't examined on whether they know the techniques of Rembrandt, Monet or Da Vinci: rather, one is examined on how well they communicate their message, be it dealing with social injustice, love, resignation or otherwise, as long as it is pertinent and poignant.

Which is why it's such a great subject.

If one had ot be examined on techniques of specific artists, it would become rote and thus would become pointless. Knowledge of diverse technique is necessary to express poignantly, but clearly the syllabus my school used was highly satisfactory.

They do not have anything like that for most high schools here in the United States. I lament.

lau min-tsek said...

I like the general believe that the more subjects we offer, the more likely we can develop a more diverse skillset for students or a more rounded student with better life skills.

The truth is, the offer of more subjects does not do so.

Did the introduction of Confusician Ethics (during my time - I don't know what they teach now) lead to greater appreciating of the Old Sage? Literature in English is probably the only time most students would ever read Shakespeare in their entire life. And many of my classmate who took Chinese Literature as an easy subject to score an 'A' (and they did) could not even write a decent letter in Mandarin 20 years later.

I LIKE the idea. I know SOME exposure is better than NO exposure. I also LIKE the idea that having a more diverse cirruculum helps to engage and encourage students with talents that deviates from our traditional cirriculum. I also HOPE that it may lead to better SELF ESTEEM.

But it is the execution that is the main problem. How the subjects are taught and whether students can shake off the "I must score an A in another subject" mentality needs to be addressed.

And I also noticed that many changes in cirriculum are usually made for the top schools with admission reserve for top students. That is something to think about.

Studious Bingo said...

Mr Wang,

Please

Stop Posting Stop Posting for the day and save them for the weekends!!

I am trying to finish my thesis and you are distracting me!

Mr Wang Says So said...

I think that the execution point is valid, but this is also why schools need to (and do try) to differentiate themselves.

For logistics and planning reasons alone, it is very difficult for a school to cater well to a cohort of students who are very diverse in their demands (eg some want to study Art, some want to study Physics, some want to study PE, some want to study Japanese);

but it is not so difficult for a particular school to aim to become good in 1 or 2 particular niche areas (and then students who are interested in those niche areas can start gravitating towards those schools).

Examples of niche areas would be higher standards of Chinese being taught in the SAP schools; or P.E being taught in Victoria School; or schools which are particularly strong in the sciences and maths; or schools that are particularly strong in the "Arts" sorts of disciplines etc.

John Riemann Soong said...

"whether students can shake off the "I must score an A in another subject" mentality needs to be addressed."

If I take up a subject, I probably want to ensure I will score an A in a subject I am passionate about. I notice many of my American peers have the pathetic attitude of being happy at "aiming to pass". That's far worse, in my opinion.

There are way too many subjects to be interested in to take up a subject I do not care about (after all, how will it benefit my resume if it deals with an area I have no passion in?).

"Confusician Ethics"

This was laughable and especially so since it was race-based, never mind the extreme chauvinism of the subject. Appreciating the Old Sage? It is things like neo-Confucianism which prevented the capitalisation of Zheng He's exploits, and the repression of new insights in favour of a flawed examination system. This was a subject that we should never have offered.

"Literature in English is probably the only time most students would ever read Shakespeare in their entire life."

Methinks thou doth protest too much. I must absolutely dissent on such an assertion.

What is it with the older generation's treatment of us students, do you think?

"And I also noticed that many changes in cirriculum are usually made for the top schools with admission reserve for top students. That is something to think about."

This I definitively agree with in sentiment. Restricting a new subject to only a small pool of students will disadvantage the rest of students who genuinely have the passionate interest in anthropology, human sciences or otherwise, as opposed a bunch of muggers who happened to get 270 for their PSLE score.

John Riemann Soong said...

"but it is not so difficult for a particular school to aim to become good in 1 or 2 particular niche areas (and then students who are interested in those niche areas can start gravitating towards those schools)."

But what about those students who have interests in those niche areas but don't necessarily do well for their PSLE?

Why should they choose students that will study the history of humanity, or Philosophy of Disciplines, based on PSLE score? (You got 250 and not 251. Oops. I guess you don't qualify for the program.)

That said, diversification in subjects have to start from the primary school level in itself.

I find it unfair that only the GEP take social studies as a PSLE subject, for one.

chrischoo said...

I think it's fair to start diversifying subjects at the Secondary School level. Students need a reasonable level of proficiency in the least common denominators such as English and Mathematics in order to appreciate other subjects.

What good is Finance in Primary School when some students can't even grasp the concept of ratio and proportion? What good is Philosophy if students can't string words into proper sentences?

One of the problems with why schools face logistical problems if they have to teach too many subjects is simply because MOE doesn't offer those courses, thus deterring potential teachers from applying. For instance, Business graduates are normally assigned to teach Primary School students because their degrees are "not relevant" to what's offered at the Secondary School and JC level. The same goes for Computer Science graduates, who are assigned English, Science, and Mathematics in Primary Schools.

If you've spent 4 years at university on those subjects, and they assign you to teach young children how to read and write when you'd like to interact with more mature students, how'd you feel?

MOE certainly has the capability to offer more subjects in humanities. Logistically speaking, the number of unemployed Arts graduates speaks for itself.

It becomes a chicken-and-egg problem. Arts is unattractive because the job prospects are dim. The job prospects are dim because the education system doesn't allow the Arts to flourish... And the government wonders why nobody bothers about appreciating arty stuff and why the Arts in Singapore is not self-sustainable.

John Riemann Soong said...

"Students need a reasonable level of proficiency in the least common denominators such as English and Mathematics in order to appreciate other subjects."

This should have been attained by Primary Four. By the time one gets into P5 and P6, as I recall, it becomes all about mastery of the finer points (of a still elementary subject yes.)

"What good is Philosophy if students can't string words into proper sentences?"

But is it at all relevant to allocate people's chances of studying subjects based on their proficiency on very general PSLE subjects?

Mind you, they teach GEP primary students rhetoric, how to spot logical fallacies, the concept of "propaganda", the Socratic method along with some decent exposure to our classical Greek buddies.

Why just the GEP though? These are things any primary school student should be able to take.

"when you'd like to interact with more mature students, how'd you feel?"

Actually, in some cases the ability to teach kindergarteners effectively requires more advanced teaching skills than teaching secondary school students. The case in point is inspiring them for advanced subjects on an introductory yet poignant level.

And a sentence like "grasp the concept of ratio" is just oversimplified and demeaning. These do not represent the majority of students.

Finance should probably remain a secondary school subject, although basic laws of supply and demand can be found in elementary school books. I was more alluding to the anthropogenic subjects such as linguistics.

soulburnz said...

Ying:

Oh I see...thanks for enlightening us!

Santos:

No, I definitely don't want to be streamed into that class. I wanted to go to the class that offers D&T cos they have A maths too. My class had no A maths and I think it explained that I fare badly in my engineering maths during my poly days.

Anonymous:

*oink oink* Okie, guinea pigs don't sound like that =P

lau min-tsek said...

Dear John,

all valid points.

To clarify:

when I talk about "I must score an A in another subject", I was referring to the many negative points that comes with that statement. Yes, wanting to excel is to be encouraged (who wouldn't), but scoring "A"s carry a slightly different connotation in Singapore.

Almost all students who have gone through our education system knows that there is tremendous pressure at an early age to score multiple As. Learning then becomes a process of rote learning, cram tuition lessons, doing 10-year series assessment books, concentrating on topics that will come out in exams and neglecting any other topics that are not, etc etc etc.

It is not uncommon to hear that students (and parents) get tremendously upset (and a sad few even commit suicide) when they don't score As. Hell, they get upset with Bs! Their future is ruined! No more overseas PSC scholarship!

Under this sort of mind set, it is difficult to see how introducing more subjects will improve the education system. To the students, it is just another subject to try to score an A. This is of course a generalisation, but I bet many people instinctively knows what I mean.

Now I did Confusian Ethics under the elective topic of Religious Studies (don't ask why there is such a classification). EVERYONE in class knows that if you MEMORISE every word in the text including the punctuation marks and spit it all out during the exams, you will get an A. DO NOT try to answer in your words. It is difficult to get an A. You also have to agree with the text. Any disagreement is..... well..... you won't get an A in your exam paper.

I also did Literature in English as a humanities elective. Now this subject has a reputation of being difficult to get an A. The exam format requires you to write essays, and most questions require a little original thinking.

Chinese Literature is a different matter. It is an EASY subject to get an A. Just MEMORISE everything including the punctation marks. As a matter of fact, my classmates consider it a "waste" to get anything less than an A.

Now, considering what I have just said, guess which subject attracts more students - Literature in English, or Chinese Literature? Having an interest or passion is a motivating point, but trust me that the biggest motivation is how easy to score an A.


Now, Mr Wang has suggested that if we introduce such things like business studies, maybe we can increase entreprenialship amongst our students, etc etc etc. (in a way, kind of like value added education).

It is VERY HARD for me to disagree. And I WANT to believe that it is true.

BUT for those of us who have gone through the Singapore education system, there is always a lingering sense of resignation, and perhaps even a quiet sense of despair, that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

It is hence DIFFICULT for me to believe that if student (and school and teacher and parents and MOE) mentality remains the same, there would be any significant impact by diversifying our cirriculum.

Oh, in case anyone wonders, I got a C for Literature in English and an A for Confuscian Ethics. But I don't recall learning anything of significance in Confuscian Ethics. On the other hand, I was very grateful for the one and only time I have ever read Shakespeare in class.

Anonymous said...

Ahem.

I hate all of you who lament about schools not giving this subject, we don't get to do this in Singapore, why should people do this subject when it has no relevance to this field of study, why Singapore fancy science more than art, why the education system here is bad compared to other countries.

And then this hype about "all-rounded education" where "more subjects" is better and complaints about "limiting subjects to higher tiered students".

Really. Hate.

What is "education" to you? It is a lot of things to different people at different points in their lives. Right now, "education" to me is a process where I go through, find something that I quite like, specialize in it, hopefully, get certified as 'good' in it and then get a job, make some money. See, practical Singaporean. But it doesn't mean I cannot pursue other interests like music, cooking, dancing, art even if it is NOT offered as a subject in my school/university. No?

Why should it stop a student in say neighbourhood school from taking art or advanced mathematics outside of school, if they really like that subject? It is when individuals perceive "education" to be so narrow-minded as "what I can only do in school" that's stopping the student.

Please don't blame the "education system" for failing or not providing for you when you don't try to "educate" yourself.

If you don't like the syllabus here, why not pack up your textbooks, burn them and then go to your nearest library or look around for teachers in the field that you like?

Yes, if you want to study being a bum, I'm not stopping you but I'm going to lecture you about peer pressure. Of course, you can happily ignore me.

Mr Wang Says So said...

I think actually we're thinking about how the system can be improved for the benefit of Singaporeans as a whole .... not so much lamenting about our individual sad fates.

Do go and pursue your own hobbies, though. That's nice.

Anonymous said...

Another difficulty is that most of the subjects in your list, Mr Wang, have a heavy if not dominant practical component, which means physical objects or other 'works' are produced (such as a performance in music). Even if the subjects are marked in Singapore and not Cambridge, examiners must to go to each school to see candidates' art and design pieces.

The pains the schools take to emphasise the academic requirements in explaining their decisions to offer PE perhaps reflects a particular difficulty Singapore has in grading performance in these subjects.

How do you grade a work of art? Different examiners will have higher or lower standards or simply different tastes. Far easier to test theoretical knowledge.

The stress on regurgitating facts raises the question: what kind of young artists and crafts people is the system turning out? And what careers will their O (and A?) levels lead to? Some will inevitably become teachers (and dare I say, the good ones quitters).

Does this risk leading to a cycle of mediocrity? If Singapore wants to produce world class athletes and artists, it needs to change its mindset about emphasising academic aspects in otherwise practical subjects.

It should also rethink what constitutes a good secondary and pre-U education. Leave vocational training to post-secondary levels.

After all, if males student can defer their studies/careers for two whole years in NS, then they should be allowed to be more relaxed about choice of subjects in schools.

Jamie said...

This is weird, but ".. what about those students who have interests in those niche areas but don't necessarily do well for their PSLE?" reminded me of the 9/11 guys who only wanted to learn how to steer the boeing jets, but not the take-offs and landings. IMHO school education (primary and secondary) is meant to provide a general foundation. Specialisation comes about only at the university level, by which time potential Rembrandts, Ensteins or Louis Pasteurs hopefully have decided on what to do for their working life. Heck, some may even ditch the college education altogether and go straight into business, like Bill Gates and Michael Dell.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, what irks me is we are still doing this, "let's blame the education system as being imperfect and try to improve it".

It's like that whole incident with making Chinese no longer relevant as a University entrance requirement not too long ago.

Again.

Why don't we champion for,

Teaching our children to chase their dreams, regardless of academic excellence?

Exposing our children without the help of school to the various career options available? Trade fairs?

Teaching parents and teachers to stop thinking that academic excellence is an indicator of success?

Teaching children that we value their individualism more?

Teaching our children, education is what THEY make of it?

(Oh yeah, please stop having those school grading things. It's really annoying.)

Like I said jokingly towards the end, if it ever comes to,

"I want to study as a bum and there's really nothing you can do about it"

Sweet.

Mr Wang Says So said...

I would have thought that creating a wider range of subjects for students to choose from would be consistent at least with:

"Teaching our children to chase their dreams, regardless of academic excellence"

"Teaching parents and teachers to stop thinking that academic excellence is an indicator of success"

"Teaching children that we value their individualism more"

"Teaching our children, education is what THEY make of it"

That's because when you widen the range of subjects to choose from, you increase the chances that each individual can have the opportunity to study what he or she, as an individual, is particularly interested in.

JoE said...

how lucky our kids are these days. i'm quite certain my life would have turned out differently if there were so many choices for me when i was a student. i just hope these kids don't take things for granted.

John Riemann Soong said...

but JoE: but now with even more courses one might "lose out" even more. People with secondary school paper qualifications in these subjects will beat into university those (perhaps just one or two years older, or perhaps peers who never got to attend their school) who have passion for those subjects but never got a chance to take it up as an academic subject at all.

That is what I lament.

"It is not uncommon to hear that students (and parents) get tremendously upset (and a sad few even commit suicide) when they don't score As. Hell, they get upset with Bs! Their future is ruined! No more overseas PSC scholarship!"

It's not so much as the PSC scholarship here than "degenerating to the level of the Americans". There are people here who aim for B's. Well, that's just disheartening.

"Ruined future" is hyperbole - just that one doesn't get into a high honor roll until it's all A's.

"I also did Literature in English as a humanities elective. Now this subject has a reputation of being difficult to get an A. The exam format requires you to write essays, and most questions require a little original thinking."

This subject is actually a tad rigid in my opinion. It's also partially based on the American standard, but I write the same type of essays with the same philosophy and workload here as in Singapore. Here I can expect 99-100, but in Singapore I can expect 65-75 for writing more or less the same thing.

The issue I have is that the markers tell you it's "cogent", "developed" or whatever, but they didn't tell me what exactly I did wrong that they deducted 20 to 25 points from my paper?

"Specialisation comes about only at the university level, by which time potential Rembrandts, Ensteins or Louis Pasteurs hopefully have decided on what to do for their working life."

Methinks not. By the time one hits secondary school, many students will be able (especially since exposure to internet resources is now easily available) to acquire an intense passion for certain things, and not just this generic subject called "science". Trust us to be arrogant and overly assertive, but it isn't that uncommon to find secondary one students marking their fields of political science, linguistics, philosophy, whatever, so I heavily disagree.

"That's because when you widen the range of subjects to choose from, you increase the chances that each individual can have the opportunity to study what he or she, as an individual, is particularly interested in."

But if you only introduce them for a limited batch, then you create unfair advantages for those people who are purely interested in the subject but didn't have the PSLE score to get into the school.

"How do you grade a work of art? Different examiners will have higher or lower standards or simply different tastes."

It's not as subjective. There's appreciation on one hand (and I trust there are several markers), but if the art is good, it will be universally poignant.

A good art piece is not something that only 0.1% of the population can appreciate through their bourgeois knowledge of finesse. No, then you've only defeated yout purpose of expressing yourself to such a small audience.

"But it doesn't mean I cannot pursue other interests like music, cooking, dancing, art even if it is NOT offered as a subject in my school/university. No?"

The issue tends to be that they are already talented or knowledgeable in that subject, but need to be nurtured or recognised.

In this case, the person might have already exhausted the library for his or her passion.

Yet, this person doesn't have the paper qualifications for this passion. Meanwhile the person who scored 270 for his or her PSLE and doesn't really have that passion for the other subjects at all happens to take our protagonist's place in a tertiary institution because of a diverse range of subjects our dear protagonist didn't get to qualify for.

chrischoo said...

John I've to disagree with you on your idea that it's feasible to get students to specialize at such a tender age. Despite your mention of GEP students taking Social Studies, I fail to see how the PSLE is vastly different for them. It's merely an additional subject that doesn't even factor into the PSLE grade. They still take the same exams, so what's the difference there? The most you can claim is that more resources are poured into that programme and that GEP students get some preferential treatment, which is true.

Also, I think it's important to examine the level of proficiency in English and Mathematics of children in Upper Primary. It's grossly insufficient for them to pursue a wide variety of subjects at such a tender age. It might be different for people like yourself - after all, nobody develops at an identical pace. But at a general level, the level of maturity required is not fully developed. For instance, my sister was apprehensive about the increased number of subjects she had to take when she went from Primary 6 to Secondary 1. I've also given tuition to weaker P5/6 students, and just explaining simple concepts like estimating the amount a cashier earns at McDonald's was a bit of a nightmare.

Ultimately I believe that Singapore needs more diversity to succeed, and that diversity has to come at the Secondary School level. I agree with you that the way students are streamed based on their PSLE score is flawed, and that should change, but some schools are already allowing direct admissions so in a sense they are addressing that.

What remains is that MOE should offer more courses to students so that it can develop their potential instead of stifle it.

Piper said...

Just wanted to say that the following subjects are offered in my school:

1. Art
2. Design & Technology
3. Food & Nutrition
4. Principal of Accounting

One problem is many students see subjects like the above as being "second-rated" subjects. As in, only the weaker classes take the above subjects.

Take for example POA, students take that only if they fail to get into the A Maths class. The top classes, more often than not, take traditional subjects like A Maths, Pure Sciences etc.

I personally would love it if students were given a greater selection to choose from and if schools could cater to their interests. However, in reality this is difficult. Offering new subjects, especially if you are neighbourhood school, is difficult. It means you need teachers who are specialised in those areas, physical space to conduct the lessons and the more subjects you offer, the more complicating time-tabling and class allocation becomes.

JoE said...

piper, this was what happened when i was a student in the early 80s. nobody wanted to go to the art or technical stream because they were perceived to be second-grade. i myself opted for the technical class even though it was clear that my interest was in the arts. it was only later (when i was about to do my 'o' level that i realised how foolish i was, so i registered 'art' as an additional subject though i never took a single lesson in art in school.

i'm not surprised this mentality is still around today. i wonder if this is a singaporean 'thing'.

anyway, i did went to a private art school after spending a year of wilderness in the polytechnic. sometimes you just have to follow your own heart without worrying too much about what society think.

John Riemann Soong said...

"Despite your mention of GEP students taking Social Studies, I fail to see how the PSLE is vastly different for them. It's merely an additional subject that doesn't even factor into the PSLE grade"

Eh, we all took social studies. I thought the difference was that the GEP students actually took the PSLE for it.

As I recall, that was the difference. I thought it was unjust because they got to take a subject in the general area I was passionate about (human social sciences).

"But at a general level, the level of maturity required is not fully developed. "

Perhaps we shouldn't ask for entire specialised subjects, but the judge on the four given isn't really satisfactory either.

Children with a perhaps unhealthy appetite for guns, war and other violent stuff (something that will probably turn into military history or something) might know how an atomic bomb works by primary two or three, or even the (highly theoretical) techniques for making one.

Then you have the musicians, the computer-minded, among other things.
And is a good musician someone with good playing technique - or someone who creates?

(If you talk to primary school children about these subjects they are passionate about it seems they have an absolute wealth of information about them.)

Some might seem like trivial knowledge, but then calculating the salary of a McDonalds' worker is so passionless and uninspiring.

"but some schools are already allowing direct admissions so in a sense they are addressing that."

Yes, but often the method of judgment does not change drastically.

"Offering new subjects, especially if you are neighbourhood school, is difficult. It means you need teachers who are specialised in those areas, physical space to conduct the lessons and the more subjects you offer, the more complicating time-tabling and class allocation becomes."

Time-tabling should be trivial compared to the other aspects of education. As for specialised teachers, this is precisely the problem. The neighbourhood schools are caught in a catch-22, because unexciting reputation means all the good teachers might go to the top-tiered schools. Physical space is another issue, but accomodations can be made.

And is Art perceived as a "second-class" subject? I recall quite distinctly that in ACSI it was the opposite. It required lots of passion (but our teachers inspired our passion anyway) to the extent those taking it may inspire cries of "wah! so haute couture!", to capture the sentiment. A friend of mine regretted not taking Art after seeing all the nifty things that were being done in that syllabus.

Piper said...

When I talked about time-tabling, I was refering to the realities that schools face. I was not trying to say that time-tabling should take precedence over other considerations. It would be wonderful if all the constraints neighbourhood schools face could be "accomodated" but sadly that's not always the case. Everything has an opportunity cost - if we decide to extend our physical space, then money will have to be diverted to doing that.

Perhaps in ACSI art was considered a prestige subject. I guess it really depends on the culture of the school. What I was trying to put across was that such subjects are often seen as secondary to subjects like English, Maths and Science.

Lastly (and this has nothing to do with the issue at hand), I'm not sure what is meant by "unexciting reputation" but I wouldn't say that all the good teachers are in the top schools.

feeblechicken said...

I think its definitely beneficial for young people to get an early headstart in trying out the fields that they are interested in. At least they would have less of a struggle deciding what they want to do when they are entering into tertiary education. I had great O level grades but I freaked out during my first year of JC cos i was changing the subjects I took during my first 3 months from sciences to commerce which i had no experience of. In my head there was only one path that seemed the brightest and feasible to me - Art. So after my 6 months stint in JC I signed up for a design course in Poly the following year and have pursued a design career ever since. While doing college in the states, I noticed that the americans are all about trying out the courses that they want and switching majors if they felt one wasn't suitable for them.

singaporean said...

I am all for choice, but do recognise that there is a logistic problem - not all schools can have a teacher competent enough to teach every single subject under the sun. As it is, many of the PE, Art and Music teachers are barely competent. (Newsflash: MOE has a teacher retention problem, if dont already know). Even among a school cluster, I doubt it will have the resources to cater to more diversity. And then consider the massive timetabling headaches. (Timetabling is trivial? Wahahaha.... you gotta look at the problem from a school's point of view, not any one student's.)

What I find more important, is that the schools market themselves appropriately. For me, I didnt know I signed up for an "engineering" secondary school; there was no arts or commerce or technical stream, only science, and pure science at that. Everybody have to take A Maths, Physics and Chemistry. It was fine for me, plenty who suffered could have been spared the pain if they know better. Even then, we had restrictions over our humanities combination, like no E Lit+C Lit. Then again, there isnt that many hardcore bilingual people around, even in my SAP school. We could take subjects offered in other schools, like Buddhism in Chinese or, in my case Japanese as 3rd language, but the hassle of travelling round the island takes its toll. Heck, we all had to take Technical in low secondary but my school had no workshop and we had to travel to another school, and that meant skipping lunch if we couldnt squeeze into the one and only one 40 pax school bus bringing all 200 of us there.

I suppose Tharman is on the right track in this aspect, encouraging schools to develop their specialties and market themselves appropriately, although the presence of banners selling their award winning students doesnt rest terribly well with me yet.

Lau Min-tsek said...

Yawning bread has an article that gives some insight into some of the commentaries here.

www.yawningbread.org/guest_2006/guw-112.htm

Sorry. I don't know how to do hyperlinks.

John Riemann Soong said...

"(Timetabling is trivial? Wahahaha.... you gotta look at the problem from a school's point of view, not any one student's.)"

Here I can even change courses quite easily, almost at a tip of a hat (though your grades will suffer), although that's module-based. I don't advocate implementing that to any dominant extent, but almost all the time-tabling is computer-generated.

"Even then, we had restrictions over our humanities combination, like no E Lit+C Lit. "

That really has to go. In sec 2 I had the decision of whether I wanted to choose history, geography or literature - I liked all three. In the end I ended up coming here to the US temporarily anyway. Why the humanities restriction? Do they worry about our workload?

"encouraging schools to develop their specialties and market themselves appropriately,"

I think actually more interschool travel would be beneficial, if it occurred in a convenient manner (ie. some form of official and professional arrangement.)

It seems that many of our academic communities are isolated from each other, as well.

"What I was trying to put across was that such subjects are often seen as secondary to subjects like English, Maths and Science. "

But language *is* a form of art. As I recall, Art was one of the judgment criteria for entry to the IP/IB, because it was a distinguishing mark from the rest. Anyhow, the existence of IB Art raises the prestige even more.

Of course, the "high culture" sentiment can be detrimental if it makes the subject seem inaccessible. What needs to be conveyed is that the subject can create powerful mediums for expression - especially when making analogies to local politics.

"switching majors if they felt one wasn't suitable for them."

Yes - such a thing should be encouraged. People switch major as late as the end of their second year - it all adds up to a great resume anyway.

" but the hassle of travelling round the island takes its toll."

Like the MOELC? I was required to do that, given that I was exempted from Chinese and had to take either French or German to replace it (I end up choosing the former.)

Now that I look back upon it, if there was the oppurtunity to take French in my own school, I probably would still choose the MOELC.

Yes, I spent four hours a week on travelling, but there was quite some insightful interaction. It's divine compensation I suppose for living so close to my school, and being so complacent about waking up.

Piper said...

When you do not have enough teachers, time tabling is a massive headache.

My sister did the IB in an International School overseas and I agree she had a lot more flexibility in her subject choices - possibly because the school used a homeroom system where students move instead of the teachers. Also, there is less emphasis on a class unlike Singapore where as far as possible everyone in a class should be taking the same subjects.

Just to clarify, while teachers (and yes it is teachers who have to do the time tabling) use the computer to do time tables, it is not a simple matter of keying in a few variables and voila! Here's a workable time-table. Sometimes things just don't fit, then you need to negotiate with the HOD to change deployment or you need to have single periods (which many teachers do not really like). Many problems can arise, which is why time tabling can take weeks and is incredibly stressful.

"But language *is* a form of art. As I recall, Art was one of the judgment criteria for entry to the IP/IB, because it was a distinguishing mark from the rest. Anyhow, the existence of IB Art raises the prestige even more."

Well, yes but I was talking about visual art and not art in the general sense. The above is true only if you are student of a top school. Students in a neighbourhood school are unlikely to even have the opportunity to do the IB or IP so the value of art is not there.

the murderous children said...

to anon Friday, July 21, 2006 10:49:02 AM:

in my neighbourhood school's express stream during the 1998/'99 period, home economics and design and tech (D&T) were compulsory lower secondary subjects for both genders.

but later in sec 3 it became a see-how case. the better express classes got pure science, while the lesser ones were given the choice between D&T and art. home economics was only offered as an o-level subject to the normal academic students. but D&T kicked ass!

- mathilda

chrischoo said...

Just to clarify the point about Social Studies for GEP students - It is like doing an additional subject. The result of the Social Studies PSLE paper is not factored into the overall aggregate. Students merely get a grade like "Merit" or "Distinction" written on their PSLE certificate. I wouldn't even liken it to taken an 'S' paper at the 'A' Levels, since the result has no bearing on the secondary school the GEP student goes to.

I like the idea raised about the homeroom system though. That could make it possible for students to take a wider variety of subjects. The only issue is that they wouldn't have a "fixed" class and experience the bonding that comes with it. I think it's a fair tradeoff considering that it works at the JC and University level anyway.

lii said...

to be fair, i think sec schools should make known what they offer and what they don't before p6 kids make their choices. or at least loosen up school transfers at sec3. i didn't know i had a choice of a whole array of subjects- and in the most ironic way too.

in sec2, we were briefed on subject combi, and we were told that we didn't have much of a choice anyway.it was all majorly science.2 of/all the 3 pure sci, 2 of 3 of the humanities, compulsory langauges and math subjects- plus other subjects like 3rd lang, music, art, f and n-- if you've shown aptitude for it. my sec sch imposed compulsory lit under the humanities option too.we could take it as full c lit, e lit or half e lit (other half being social studies)

so if we had more options than that, i didn't know then.

at sec school level, i still believe in broad based education. well yes, i was ignorant of my rightful full range of options, but on hindsight, fundamental knowledge for sci,arts,math and languages only reaches sufficiency at O levels.and i think these four aspects make up 'general knowledge'. the syllabus seems fair,and i don't think the O levels syllabus are as rigorous as to put one on track for a certain path in life. and those who took the additional subject are really those who prove themselves to be truly passionate about those subjects- they opt in, in lieu of the third science.

i think what we need at o levels is to bridge the information gap. Now at A levels, there are endless fairs for unis, uni courses, uni talks, scholarship fairs, etcetc.

at o levels, we only knew that our path had to link to- not even just a JC, but- to a specific few JCs. It's not hyperbolic when someone says that they'll "totally die if I (they) don't get" whatever their school/social influence has them believe they should aim for. the sense of aimlessness, despair and failure is really very great, even before the battle begins.

but back to my point. yes. there is a perpetuating belief in each school of what ppl should get, gun for and go to. maybe some will get enticed by the brochures the polys send us, but hardly. the information bridge in the form of posters and brochures is weak. ppl throw such stuff into bins and no one goes down to poly open houses- not in my sphere of influence anyway. perpetuating beliefs and peer pressure weigh a lot more.

since i think specialising should take place only after O levels, i think the only way to save guileless impressionable 16 year olds from going to JCs and totally regretting taking something so academic and unvocational is to actively go out to the sec schools to plug the information gap.cos the gap was seriously gaping and it swallowed me whole too!!

lii said...

oh. actually, even as i prepare for a levels now, i have a lot of friends who have no idea what they wanna do in life still- i'm not too sure we can make our case for our passions and choices for specialisation anytime younger than 16. when i was 14, if i had a choice, i would tell you that i wanna give up math...not wise. i will have difficulty studying economics even because i will not have had the mathematical training to internalise graphs etc quickly...

and to internalise info quickly is something so impt at A levels, i just realised. i'm ok with the O level scope. but A levels is...seriously rigourous and i can see how these two years could have been a more efficiently utilised (counting in personal satisfaction too) if i had embarked on something that i think i might have enjoyed at poly

it's quite a bad mismatch. my friends in jc mentioned abt wanting to do aeronautical-but unis here offer courses that are so skewed towards economy-building; only polys offer the more 'funky' stuff. yet polys don't offer any broadness to manourvre around a bit- it can be too big a jump right into a rut.

haiz, dunno. am sinking into rambling. education is more than just the subjects. i say, change the way we learn/are taught in school. school is one big factory. teachers provide constant output, for their student's constant input. i don't feel like there's enough time to muse abt what i learn to gain inspiration from it. with two major exams in 3 years, a lot of time is spent on being exam-smart like learning and perfecting exam format-writing etc. on top of the weekly topical churn of the knowledge machine in jc, that is. so by principle, i think IP makes a good lot of real sense, since knowledge from different areas are being put together, and time is spent musing abt the knowledge you learn. they don't rush syllabus and then rush to fit them all into set modes, do they? sounds more like education and pedagogy.

tee said...

oei...music is fairly common la..

But to be frank, this subject is more limited to the top schools, whereas subjects like D&T(basically, this is technical studies), F&N(the home economics equivalent), POA are more catered towards the 'lower-performance' students. They are generally considered as easier-to-score subjects.

Art is pretty common too... I'd say English literature is probably even more unpopular among the students than all the subjects stated above...

tee said...

Being a JC student, I'd just say that it's a pretty waste of time. Basically, it's entirely possible for one to do next to nothing for their initial 1.5 years and use the remaining months to buck up and still get a good result. Basically, if one compares to U, 6 months period is a pretty reasonable timeframe to clear the 3 or 4 A level subjects.

Instead, lots of time is wasted on draggy lectures and tutorials (like copying answers on the board or OHP), where few people take them seriously anyway. Both teachers and students are going thru questions for the sake of going thru questions...

tee said...

but then, the top 25% of the cohort generally still go to JC anyway, because of the faster route it offers, compared to Poly where u take an extra year, and still risk not having the one-year cut if the local university course offered doesn't 'match' your diploma type.

If the poly+uni formula gaurantees the same time span towards graduation as the JC+Uni route, i bet a lot more people would have chosen Poly...

singaporean said...

By the time you spend a few years as a working adult, you will realise that easily 90% of what you learn past PSLE is useless. The trouble is, you cannot predict in advance what 10% you need. Ironically, some of the most useless stuff you needed to memorise may have the greatest impact in your life.

Steve Jobs in his famous speech "Stay hungry always" pointed out that it was only after he dropped out from college and re-enrolled as a non-graduating student that he found the freedom to take up "useless" subjects like calligraphy, which was to have a profound impact on his vision of fonts on the Macintosh.

If education is a journey and you only focus on the destination - the exam, then the final destination of life is really death. While you are alive, learn to smell the roses. You never appreciate what you have till they are gone.

tee said...

basically i'm not saying the contents learned in JC is useless. What i'm saying is that JC education (outside the top 5 JCs) lack content altogether.

Everybody in the school admin is so rigid and exam-centric. Answers to problems are so templated... (even for subjects like GP, Project work or econs).

CCA's are tightly controlled. One of the most laughable rule was that playing of bridge is banned, because poker cards = gambling. What kind of logical thinking process is that?

wert said...

In my time, I remember there is a bridge club in school. But then hor, still cannot play in the public, can only play in the clubroom.

singaporean said...

Does the top 5 JCs teach anything not tested in the exams? Maybe it is different today, I dont know, but you certainly described my JC education in a top 5 JC over a decade ago.

But I can tell you in restropect that JC was the best two years of my schooling life - and I am not talking about the lectures and tutorials. At this age, the community still retain enough innocence to feel warm and enthusiastic about life, the school maintains just enough control for the environment to be cohesive. By the time you hit university, you will be surrounded by cold and cynical strangers. There will no time or space for bonding - you will need to put in considerable effort just to get to know people. Most CCAs will be about winning awards, medals or scoring hall residence points. Indeed, unbridled freedom means most undergrads are nothing more than nameless faceless zombies who come together when classes start and disperse as soon as classes end.

As for the poker cards, do understand it is national policy to control gambling. Just as it is illegal to play mahjong tiles in public, poker cards are considered a gambling tool and placed under the same restriction. Technically I believe, as long as you are caught with the gambling tool, you are guilty of operating a gambling den; the police is not obliged to show the cards were arranged for bridge or poker.

Mr Wang Says So said...

I have to say that my own university experience (at NUS) was quite different. I made many good friends and my best friends today are still friends from those days.

As for this:

"By the time you spend a few years as a working adult, you will realise that easily 90% of what you learn past PSLE is useless. The trouble is, you cannot predict in advance what 10% you need."

... I agree. But there are a couple of other ways of looking at it. One is this: based on the 100% you learn past PSLE, you identify what you have aptitude for or interest in (which is about 10% of your 100%); and that guides you in your choice of future endeavours. Consequently the remaining 90% becomes useless.

For example, from your secondary school/JC, you may realise that maths & science interests you, and you suck at pretty much everything else. So you gravitate towards becoming a mechanical engineer, and later you realise that a huge amount of what you studied in secondary school (History, Art, English Literature, Geography, Biology, Higher Chinese etc etc) is essentially irrelevant to you.

This is why I frown on the heavy emphasis placed on rote learning and memory work in our schools. Essentially students spend huge amounts of time memorising huge chunks of information most of which will be perfectly useless to them in future.

Granted, 10% of this will come in handy, and you cannot tell which 10% that will be - but what that means is while you should expose students to different disciplines and subjects, there shouldn't be so much emphasis on memory work - but more on understanding principles, doing projects, or basically just doing homework where you ARE allowed to look at a textbook rather than being forced to try to visualise what it was that was printed on the left-hand side of page 73 of your textbook.

Reality is that working life depends very little on how much you've memorised. If you cannot recall some technical bit of information, you wouldn't sit at your desk desperately trying to pluck it out from your memory as if you were sitting in an exam hall facing an exam question.

No, in real life, you'd simply check a textbook, or your reference materials, or your office Intranet resources, or google for info.

John Riemann Soong said...

I disagree with the "90% useless" part. Firstly, one is unlikely to stay in one career for his or her whole life. Even a teacher with forty years experience in the same school will likely have taught widely different subjects.

The entire "I'm an engineer, I don't need history" is really a bad attitude. Mind you, careers are a really recent invention. Most people at the time of Renaissance didn't draw a distinction between inventing and painting. There was likely there were a fair lot of farmer-craftsman-builder-soldiers, even if they never really went more than two miles from their place of birth, except for the last occupation.

It's in fact because of the conception of "career" all this complacency takes place. There is all this government rubbish about how Singaporeans should be less ambitious and retrain for lower jobs if they are retrenched. There is an element of truth to it - don't expect to stay in one career. Just throw out everything else about being satisfied with less.

Singapore's education system is often paradoxical because it can be so rote-like and un-rote-like at the same time. Why must it do everything right, yet do everything wrong?

For example, PSLE mathematics questions are probably some of the most innovative and thought-provoking questions in the world (compare this to the US syllabus for Chicago Mathematics for 12-year-olds and you will know what I mean) but it can degenerate into rote.

It is true, you say that most 14 to 16 year olds don't really have a set plan on what they want to do. But they already know where their aptitudes lie. It's stupid to say, "oh I'm going to make engineering my whole career", because that's not how you specialise. Specialisation isn't concentrating on a narrow subject and discarding everything else. That's why such subjects can work for primary or secondary levels.

It's not, "I'm taking economics because I'm going to be a stock market analyst", not even "I'm taking economics because I *might* have a career" in that area. Why not, "I'm taking economics because it's a crucial knowledge area into how the world works" period? Ignorance in any area is generally a bad thing. This is why people get cheated by slimming ads, the Straits Times and other con-men, you know.

If you take biology you know that whenever the slimming or "health" companies say their products "rejuvenates your skin by metaoxgenating it" you know it's outright rubbish. You would know that oxygen is generally not the issue for slow metabolism and in fact excess is generally a problem. See? You just saved thousands of dollars on a scam *ka-ching*.

If you take economics you will know that the latest statistics printed by the government are laughable, fallacious or plain outright lies, never mind that your current occupation is a professional photographer.

Ignorance in any area is a bad thing. Why is it just about careers? Of course, slimming programmes and government propaganda is easy to spot enough, but it was a convenient example. (And you still wonder how people buy into those scams anyway.)

Mr Wang Says So said...

"Useless" may not be the best choice of word here. You can substitute with "irrelevant to choice of career".

My grouse is not with learning, or learning widely, but with the abnormal degree of emphasis that our education system traditionally placed on the need to memorise.

Rahul_Agrawal said...

http://educationandworkexptips.blogspot.com/