Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Educating the Whole Person

I share Dr Huang's sentiments & hopes on the recent initiatives announced by the MOE.

Educating our young is something I feel very strongly about. My gripe about the local system is the narrowness of its curriculum & its emphasis on getting good grades in tests & exams.

When we moved back here, my older son went directly into Primary 1. He was in the 1st grade in the US system. What a culture shock it was! So unsurprisingly, my son took about a month of tears & stomach aches before he adapted to the local classroom, crowded with 40 boys & one very harrassed teacher!

Coming from a Pennsylvanian suburb, where tuition classes for preschoolers/kindergarteners are unheard of & where the only enrichment "classes" I'd heard of were Kindermuzik & Gymboree, I was flummoxed to see such classes being advertised in newspapers, community centers, etc etc catering to children as young as 3 or 4 years old! As a matter fact, I refused to have my son take Chinese tuition lessons at the tender age of 7, as I expected his school to be able to teach him what he should know. Alas, 6 months into the school year, I received a call from his Chinese teacher asking if he had any supplementary help from a tutor at home. Upon finding out that he had none, she "gently encouraged" me to find one for him. In my heart, I thought that something was very wrong with a system which requires its students to spend additional time OUTSIDE the classroom with external tutors in order to achieve what they are expected to achieve IN school. Time spent outside of school should be reserved for recreation, leisure or relaxation. Or so I thought.

After 5 years of enduring this (during which my second boy started in Pr 1), my husband & I made the decision to transfer them into an international system, where we hoped that our childrens' potential could be explored more fully. Yes, Math & Science are important but are other areas which are similarly important like the Arts & Music. And the standard of English being taught...don't get me started on that!

We didn't want our kids to become automatons churned out at the end of their primary/secondary education, excelling only in passing exams from rote learning, but not daring to/not knowing how to form their own opinions about the world around them.

What a turnaround it has been over the last 3 years! My kids' minds have been challenged to think deeply & to analyse what they are reading instead of wholesale remembering/regurgitating the contents of a text book. In English, they actually read literature books & learn how the authors have used the language to tell a story & express themselves. My older son actually had some problem "re-aligning" his neurons to think this way in the initial few months, as he was so used to just filling in the blanks & choosing answers for multiple choice questions!

In addition to the quality education they receive, they also get to 'hang out' with children of other races & nationalities, an opportunity they would never have been able to get if they had stayed local. This is especially important in a world that is ever growing smaller with globalisation. Despite what they say about greater integration of races in schools with organised events, together with the media hype focussing on the few who actually DO mix with other races, I still notice that in real situations, like still clique with like.

So yes, there has been some sacrifice on our parts, in order for our children to get the education which my hubby & I feel they should get. The formative years are sooo important to how they will turn out as adults.

My hope is that our current Education Minister's visions will be realised (hopefully sooner than later). The incentives & gratuity payouts to the teachers are commendable indeed; what needs to be fixed next is the way that students are taught, & the system that places emphasis on test/exam results. We have to remember that we are shaping a whole being, & not just that area of the brain reserved for memorising texts & formulae.

As the slogan for the United Negro College Fund goes: "The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste"


igakunogakusei said...

To be fair, I do think our education system is not all bad. The emphasis on getting good grades is not erroneous in itself. What is wrong is if it is the only emphasis.

Pursuing my tertiary education overseas has opened my eyes to a lot more, and I have perhaps developed a sense of maturity to appreciate the value of more things, which ideallyl I should have gleaned from my education much earlier on. I now see that acing exams is merely the easy bit - it's all the rest that makes me a better and more interesting person. Back then, acing exams were made out to be insurmountable and were the only goal worth pursuing, which is a load of bull.

But thanks to my Singaporean education, acing exams have never been easier. Now I can focus on the rest!

aliendoc said...

No, I don't think that the education system here is all bad. For the bright students like you & I (not bragging here, just facing the reality that if we weren't good at getting good grades, we wouldn't have made it to medical school!), they would do well.

But for the average student (or even those who are above average, but for whatever reason are just not the exam-taking type) they could likely languish in the current system, with their self-esteem beaten down. It would be hard for them to explore other areas (other than science/technology) where they may excel - the fact that an Arts School & a Music school is being established is a great sign. And the Sports school also looks to be promising so far.

nofearSingapore said...

Thanks for the mention and link.
I am still mulling about what's right for my younger one.
Options are limited as we have already discussed in my blog ( comments).
Where there is life, there is hope.
I am still scheming ( for my son)


aliendoc said...

Dr H: good luck! What travails we go through for our kids, eh?