“Students today who apply for scholarships, however, are not very active beyond the classroom, he said. Back then, he recounted, ‘a lot of us were more involved in uniform groups’” (Students Need To ‘Tinker’ Around To Be Creative, Miss Alicia Wong).
It is interesting to hear Mr. Philip Yeo share about his personal anecdotal experiences when he was a student, as well as his opinions on the pertinent issues of competition and creativity that are extremely important to Singapore’s education landscape. In the report, “Students Need To ‘Tinker’ Around To Be Creative” (May 7, 2010) by Miss Alicia Wong, Mr. Yeo also commented briefly on students who are currently applying for scholarships, encouraging them to endeavour vastly beyond academics per se.
There is almost a unanimous consensus that Singaporean students lack significant degrees of creativity; and that our students are comparatively more book-smart than street-smart. Much has been done by parents and teachers – key drivers of education – to expose their children and students to a diversity of co-curricular activities and competitions; but it is our teaching-learning pedagogy that demands tinkering. Together with the institutions, the Ministry of Education (MOE) – whilst remaining cognisant of basic academic requirements and standards – must push educators to be more flexible and innovative in their approaches. The proliferation of the Internet means that the mere transfer of knowledge and information is insufficient; classrooms must be platforms for interactive discussions, exchanges and active flow of idea-concepts.
Beyond the classroom, equilibrium has to be struck between pragmatism and ambition. While it is unfortunate and negative that some students choose to remain buried in their textbooks and examinations, there is also the tendency for others to venture to the other extreme: endeavouring in programmes, activities and projects for the mere sake of boosting their curriculum vitae and portfolios.
They astutely see that it is in their interest to blindly engage in the aforementioned, and eventually see pre-college education as an extended application process for scholarships and university admission. They burden themselves with a plethora of competitions and commitments, and struggle with their counterparts to emerge as the crème de la crème. Rather than lending a helping hand to those who might be weaker in other aspects, the individualistic and pragmatic attitudes drive them away. Indeed, a balance needs to be desperately achieved to prevent such students from sinking deeper into the quagmire.
Mr. Yeo is right to finally contend that the advent of globalisation naturally means that competition from all parts of the world is inevitable. As we remain steadfast in our policy of meritocracy, and preparing our students to meet an assortment of challenges, there should also be a fundamental baseline to maintain that sense of belonging amongst Singaporeans. After all, the welfare of our students must always come first.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.