A chat with Ms Sim Ann about the education system

I met with Minister of State Ms Sim Ann and took the opportunity to voice out my concerns about our education system. I shared with her that as a parent, I was disappointed in the new policy changes and that what we desperately need is real change. I was rather baffled as I have been following our Education Minister, Mr Heng Swee Keat’s, comments on the newspapers over the past year and I feel that he has got the fundamentals right, but why are we not seeing that filtered down to the policies?

I highlighted to her the problems and some suggestions from a parent’s point of view. 

1. Students – They are getting so stressed that mental health issues like depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and self mutilation are all on the rise and it is very alarming.

Suggestion: Every time I speak to a child from an International School, be it a 6 year old or a 16 year old, they tell me that they love school. Why don’t our children feel the same way about our schools? I found out that the way lessons are conducted there are vastly different from ours. We should perhaps study their system more closely and adopt those that would work for our framework. I know that the Ministry has previously sent teachers into International Schools. However, when they come back to their own schools and try to implement what they have witnessed, they are constrained by resources, time and support. To make anything work, the entire system has to follow through. 

2. Teachers – They are tremendously overworked with additional duties so much so that they can hardly cope with completing the syllabus, much less deliver inspiring lessons. The Enhanced Performance Management System (EPMS) has also been manipulated. Teachers realise that to get a better performance grade and hence a better bonus, they need to take on more initiatives and be more visible. This leaves them less time for their main role – teaching. Many good teachers end up leaving the service due to burn out or lack of work life balance, which leaves our children with new and inexperienced teachers. Sadly, many teachers start off very passionate, but the burden of the system leaves them drained and disenchanted.

Suggestion: We do not expect great chefs to do the administrative work and organise the parties. We let them concentrate on what they do best – cook. Can we do the same for our teachers? Let them have enough time and resources to come up with creative ideas to bring the lessons alive to the students. Let other people organise the fun fairs and sports festivals. Let CCAs be 100% outsourced to professionals. Instead, experienced teachers should mentor the new teachers, especially in the areas of keeping the class in order and handling difficult students. If the teacher can’t even manage to get the students to sit attentively and listen, how can they teach effectively?


3. Tuition – Too much time and money are spent on tuition. I know of children who have back to back tuition on the weekends. There is practically no more time left for family bonding. Some teachers even blatantly tell their students to get tuition. 

Solution: We have to re-look our syllabus such that tuition should not be needed for the majority of students. It is unfortunate if new parents decide to stop at 1 or 2 children due to the high cost of raising kids these days, especially if much of the cost is contributed by tuition.

4. The ‘teach less learn more’ policy – it has not been implemented properly and now it seems to be a ‘schools teach less, tutors teach more’ reality.

Coincidentally, #3 had some homework on ‘Our MP’

5. Parents – Because of the hierarchical system, whereby they are streamed from top down: IP, Express, Normal (academic), Normal (technical), ITE, etc, parents being parents will try to push their children to do as well as possible to go to the ‘best’ schools or to ensure they don’t end up in the ‘neighbourhood’ schools, which leads to much of the stress faced by the children. I agree that there are now many pathways open to students. However, this top down system seems to suggest that “If you are not so smart, nevermind, you can go down this other path”. How many parents would feel proud if their child went to ‘Normal’ stream or ITE? It is very hard to rid this ‘labelling’ mindset, so perhaps we should revamp the whole secondary education scene, into a horizontal system, recognising the different intelligences and the different ways children learn, and catering to them. 

Solution: Let us use the Primary years to sort them out. We can then stream them into different Talent schools in their Secondary years. We need to re-brand them, such that none of it is a ‘second choice’ school, but each a more suitable fit for the individual child. Examples could be:

1. Academia School
2. Entrepreneur School
3. Engineering School
4. Artistic School
5. Education School
6. Trades School
7. Culinary School
8. Design School
9. Technology School
10. Journalistic School

The core subjects such as English, Mother Tongue, Math, Sciences and Humanities should all be taught, but using different modalities and with different focuses. For example in the Design school, they can first study a product, research into the history of such products and various competitor’s products, find out about the creators, learn about their countries of origin, and attempt to build a better design. We can easily incorporate all the elements of the different subjects into one project. When a child is motivated by his area of interest, learning is quicker and more dynamic. 

We have to challenge this basic assumption: Is academic intelligence the most superior of all intelligences? Will it get the child furthest in life? If we pursue this at all cost, will he have the happiest future? A career he loves? A family whom he cares about and who cares about him? Friends who will support him in times of need? One very worrying trend I am hearing from teachers is that students now have a ‘each man for himself’ mentality. They think that is the only way they can advance themselves and score higher marks than their peers. What has this system, and the parents’ response, inadvertently done to our children?

We do not need mere robots which our system has been so successful in producing thus far. We need to prepare our next generation for the demands of our ever changing economic landscape. We need entrepreneurs, visionaries, innovators, leaders. We also need to realise that not everyone is academically inclined, and that there are multiple intelligences. And we need these different intelligences to shine if we are to push Singapore forward dynamically in this new era.


As it turned out, she was the right person I was speaking to as her portfolio is in the Ministry of Comms and Info, and Education. She briefed me on the direction they were heading towards and explained to me what a mammoth task it was, not only to craft the right policies but to move the whole system to align with their new direction. She said that the Ministry valued the opinion of parents and is trying to reach out more effectively. She also mentioned that the Ministry is serious about equipping teachers and schools to bring out the best in different students. However, it is a long journey and parents’ feedback is most welcome.

After 9 years of being disappointed in our education system, I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. (Although I can foresee it to be a very, very long tunnel) I will give Mr Heng and his team my full support and hopefully, all of us – ministers, principals, teachers, students, and especially parents do our part in forging the next chapter in our education landscape. I have been invited to a dialogue session on education with Minister of State Sim Ann. I am looking forward to it and I hope that we can all have open minds and do our part to craft a truly world class education system. If we can transform Singapore into a first world country in one generation, I don’t see why we can’t transform our education system in one decade. Let us all rally together to move this mountain.


~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

So who’s smarter?

In the recent announcement on education changes, they are going to replace T-scores with grades in a bid to reduce stress. (I seriously doubt their goal will be achieved).

Let’s see what the implications are:

#1 had an aggregate of 240.
#2 had an aggregate of 230.

As a result, we all felt that #1 is smarter.

I even told #2 that as she did worse than her sister, she has to end up in a “lousier” school. (I can’t believe I seriously said that.. worse, I can’t believe I felt that way!)


With the new changes, the PSLE will be based on a grade system, much like the ‘O’ levels. Let’s look at their grades.

#1 had 4 As.
#2 had 3 As and 1 A*.

Just by a policy shift, #2 is now smarter!
She would have been able to enter the ‘better’ school.

#1’s aggregate was 10 marks higher than #2, which is significant. And yet, under the new system, she would have fared poorer. Honestly, I don’t think this move will reduce any stress in the children. The parents will just end up figuring out how to beat the new system and how to find strategies to give their kids the best grades.

This really got me thinking.

1) So who actually IS smarter?

2) Why are we even labelling our children as ‘smart’ or ‘not so smart’ based on some written/oral exams.

3) Are the ‘smart’ children good in other areas? Are they better at problem solving? Better at thinking out of the box and coming up with new ideas? Better at communicating and selling their ideas to other people? Better at designing functional and aesthetically pleasing structures? Or are they merely better at memorising the required answers and reproducing them?

There are so many other smarts. Some pre-schools are based on the philosophy of multiple intelligences. Maybe it’s time our schools adopt this multi-faceted approach towards teaching and testing our children.

We got it all wrong. Education should not be about competition, to squeeze the child to get the best scores to enter the best institutions. It should be about instructing and stretching the child to their fullest potential in the areas of their interests and natural talents so that they are equipped to perform work in an area which they are gifted at. Look at those extremely successful people in any field. Why are they so successful? They have been guided and encouraged in what they are good at and interested in thus they excel in doing their life’s work. They are doing what they are meant to do. That, as parents, is our job. To look for the gifts in our children and to let it bloom. Instead of looking for the best tuition centres to get the best marks for PSLE.

I have never put much emphasis on the PSLE as I have long realised that our Singapore education system is only single-faceted. I think these questions are food for thought. If all parents stop to ponder these questions and groom their children in areas they are naturally smart in, maybe it will be a collective step towards a less stressful and more fulfilling life.

Sane tip: Knowing your child’s strengths and weaknesses and styles of learning will reduce a lot of stress for you. You cannot expect a square peg to fit into a round hole. I give you an example. #3 is a brilliant child, able to think out of the box and is highly logical. However, she does not do well academically. Do I get stressed? No. I lower my expectations in the academic arena but I have high expectations for her in life. She has high EQ, thinks very quickly on her feet, and is very resourceful. I am not stressed, and neither is she.

Save tip: I have saved a lot of money by not sending them to tuition. The extra money saved from 3 kids can easily raise the other 3 kids!

~ mummy wee – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Education changes? Please, we need real change

If anyone did catch my comments on 93.8Live yesterday on the new DSA admission criteria, it was only a snippet of what I shared with the interviewer. We have to seriously consider this new admission criteria from the child’s point of view. Imagine the child enters an elite school based on qualities such as resilience, drive and leadership. Will he be able to cope academically? How will his self-esteem be affected if he is surrounded by peers who learn at a pace much faster than himself? If he is not able to cope, will he be able to afford tuition to catch up? Also, will he be able to fit in socially? And if after a year he does not fare well, will the teachers take kindly to him? After all, he is not contributing to the school like the others who enter through a sports DSA.

To be honest, I was sorely disappointed in the changes announced. Yes, I agree they are a step in the right direction. But after dialoguing with hundreds of parents and educators over the past few months, surely they can do better than this? They seem to be implementing a Band-Aid solution to immediate problems and pressures from parents. Not fair for those without links? 40 definite places. Top schools only for the elite? Admit some with character. T-scoring too stressful? Broaden the grading.

We need to go back to the basics.

1) In today’s climate, what should our education strive to achieve?

2) Are they achieving it?

3) Are there any serious problems as a result of our current education system?

1) There is no doubt that our education system worked well in the past, to get a whole generation of people educated to build up our country. However, now that things are in place, what is the next step? We need innovators. We need thinkers. We need our children to develop a questioning mind. We need them to be able to work as a team, to learn to communicate their ideas, to be problem-solvers, to have an entrepreneur spirit, to be visionaries. To build their character, to learn to take risks, to dare to be different. To build on their strengths, to follow their dreams. These should be the goals of our education.

2) If we continue to drill our students, get them to memorise chunks of texts and to churn out model answers, how will they be prepared for the future? How will they achieve the desired goals of our education system?

3) Our children are way too stressed. Too much is being tested and too little is being taught. Too much tuition is needed to plug the gaps. Too many passionate and experienced teachers are leaving the service due to burn out. Too many parents are giving their children undue stress, usually not by choice.

None of the changes proposed will solve any of these real problems. We also need a mindset change amongst the parents.

What is happening to our children? The PSLE year is just ‘so stressful’. Their minds go blank during PSLE due to the extreme pressure to perform. The number of children seeking help at IMH for anxiety and stress related illnesses is climbing. There are children contemplating suicide before major exams. Even if 1 child commits suicide due to academic pressure, that is 1 child too many. What are we waiting for?

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~