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Education In Singapore: What We Can Agree On

Member of Parliament Hri Kumar penned a Facebook note about the Government’s role in education, and TODAY decided to publish his perspective in its entirety. He was writing in response to the backlash received by Senior Minister of State (Education) Indranee Rajah, after she had asserted that “our education system is run on the basis that tuition is not necessary”. While this publication is not exactly an issue of “how does this qualify as news”, I thought it was curious – and probably lazy on the part of the editors – to conveniently reproduce Mr. Kumar’s post without additional value or commentary.

Mr. Kumar’s viewpoints are not particularly enlightening. Yet, with the perpetual debate on tuition still going strong (here and here), and sustained demands for a more holistic education (here), it is worth summarising some points that we can agree on.

Any proclamations for the tuition industry to be removed or regulated are bound to be futile.

1. Examinations and assessments are necessary evils (how they are presently executed is another question altogether). Well-crafted response papers and tests will ascertain a student’s comprehension of a subject-matter, like how sporting contests or artistic grades determine a person’s mastery of his or her skills and craft. Everyone needs something to show for, objectively.

2. Competitions are inevitable, but the levels of associated stress are premised upon expectations. If one aspires to be the cream of the crop, then he or she has to establish benchmarks against the very best in the same domain. Yet, excellence can also be about bettering oneself (horribly clichéd, I know), and these dissimilar mindsets have implications on the discourse surrounding tuition.

Any proclamations for the tuition industry to be removed or regulated are bound to be futile. First, parents want the best for their child, and they will grab any opportunity to reassure themselves, or to empower the young ones (the actual success rates notwithstanding). This demand inevitably creates the supply. Second, tuition services are engaged for different purposes, and it is hard to say no if a kid can only absorb knowledge in a one-on-one setting (after all, Mr. Kumar has conceded that “a teacher cannot give each child individual attention ‘all the time’ unless the reduction is ‘drastic’, which is ‘unrealistic'”).

The government, if worried about growing socio-economic inequalities, can extend services to those from the less well-to-do households. But even that has limits.

3. This pedantic fixation upon scholastic accomplishments is disproportionate and antiquated. The recent messages from the government seems to imply a recognition that individuals, beyond the need for fundamental instruction, have unique talents. Changing these mindsets is certainly within the ability of the government, and I was under the impression that we have already been moving in that direction

4. Good educators matter. And if they think it is more worthwhile or pragmatic to be a tuition teacher than a school teacher, then a review of the incentives and disincentives should be in order. For instance, with the latter, some have proposed administrative bureaucracy as a possible deterrent.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


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