Dialogue session at the Ministry of Education

A few bloggers and myself were invited to a dialogue session at the Ministry of Education. Before I attended the session, I was like most other parents. We had our opinions on what was wrong with the education system. The problems were crystal clear to us – Teachers are overworked. They are not doing a good job teaching our kids. The tuition problem is getting out of hand. The pressure is way too much for the kids to handle. They don’t have time for a decent childhood. Family life has taken a back seat due to the demands of the education system. Yet, why is the MOE not listening and not doing anything about it?

Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education, had just delivered the Work Plan Seminar 2013 (Full Keynote Address) and we were there to discuss the new initiatives. To begin with, I was heartened to see that they were listening and jotting down notes more than they were speaking (or maybe it was because we bloggers have so much to say that they couldn’t get a word in edgewise!) They were not there to explain their stand for us to propagate. It was truly a roundtable discussion. That I think, is a very positive signal that they are sincerely interested to ascertain the differing points of views from various individuals, and to try and fix the problems. I did write an article 3 years ago, and I suggested that the MOE needed to engage the stakeholders to analyse the situation on the ground. And engage they did. They spent the last one year hearing the voices of 22,000 students, parents and teachers!

From there, they have crafted a very comprehensive strategy to drive our education forward for the next decade. They are going to move towards a student-centric and values-driven education model, recognising that every student is different. They are keen to provide opportunities for every student to pursue their various interests and to stretch them to their fullest potential. They are working toward providing a multi-dimensional education, beyond just academics. These directives are what I have wished for, but never dared to hold any hope for, to be accomplished in my children’s time.

The Ministry is aiming to create a colourful landscape of distinctive secondary schools with their own niches in every neighbourhood. More and more secondary schools are starting to be established in their niche programs, however, it does not seem to be provided across the board. If that becomes a reality for the entire school population, not just a select few, and if all schools manage to mitigate the behavioural problems by channeling students’ energies into their specific interests, then it will go a long way in lessening the competition to fight for the very last mark at PSLE to enter the ‘reputable’ schools. 

Mr Heng has indeed painted a very bold vision, worthy of even the harshest critic’s commendation. However, for the 3 of us parent bloggers, who are near to being permanently disillusioned with the system, our only scepticism lies in the implementation. Mr Heng himself foresees the challenges ahead in the implementation. He urges parents to change their mindsets in this partnership of educating our children.

As the discussion went on, I started to see how in many areas, their hands are tied. For example, we know that many teachers are scrambling to complete the syllabus before the exams. One obvious solution to us is to reduce the curriculum. However, MOE has to balance that with providing students with a proper foundation in all the subjects so that they are equipped to pursue whichever course in the higher institutions which they so choose in future.

Although I knew that it is not going to be an easy problem to fix, but I am now only beginning to grasp the enormity of the challenges facing them. Not only do they have to ensure that their vision filters down through every single educator, but they have to ensure that each and every teacher is on the same page, and that they all embody this holistic perspective of learning. Because if some educators are still hanging on to the old system, or to their own models of success, this will not work. And to implement such initiatives which are going to cater more specifically to each individual student, it will take a lot more time and effort as compared to traditional methods of teaching. How are they going to carve out more time when teachers are already pressed for time? What are they going to take out to enable these to be put in? And the other huge part of the equation is the parents. Perhaps surprising, but it seems that for every parent who wants to make education more meaningful, there are other parents who unfortunately still believe that pushing the child forward unrelentingly is the only way ahead.

Well, I am very excited about this new direction, to see the day the Ministry’s aim to give our students a broad and deep foundation for their lifelong journey is achieved. But being the ever pragmatic mom, as they are working towards attaining that, here is what I hope to see when my 6th child, Kate, enters Primary 1 in 5 years time: 

An education system

  • Where teachers are highly qualified and passionate about teaching, and spend most of their time involved in teaching.
  • Where class size is reduced to 30 students.
  • Where tuition is needed only for the minority of students who genuinely need the extra help to cope.
  • Where different modalities are used to teach, and lessons come alive and are made more relevant to the students.
  • Where no school bus pick the kids up before 7.30 am, so that kids can spend time with their parents in the evenings and still be well-rested for school the next day.
  • Where CCAs are conducted for the real purpose of learning team-work, building character and instilling values, not for the sake of competition.
And above all, where children come home and say they LOVE school!

If 80% of their plan can bear fruit by the time Kate enters Primary 1, I will be an extremely happy parent. Let us all take the first step by reading Mr Heng’s Keynote Speech, and aligning ourselves with his vision. We can then work together in whatever ways we can, whether it be a mindset change or in contributing our ideas or expertise, to propel it forward as quickly as possible. Every single one of our children will stand to benefit. With synergy we can see the changes we want to see. Let’s stop complaining and pointing fingers. Let’s work with the Ministry to get the ball rolling. Every cog has to move in sync with the entire system for this to succeed.

Feel free to paint your picture of the education system you envisage for your child in the comment box below. I’m sure the MOE is willing to hear our suggestions if we give them constructive ones.

To read another parent’s opinion on our education system, click this link: LittleBlueBottle-Tutored to Death

~   mummywee – parenting 6 kids in Singapore without going mad or broke  ~

11 Replies to “Dialogue session at the Ministry of Education”

  1. Thanks for sharing this!

    Personally, I think that continuity in leadership is key, for lasting change to be effected. Your bullet points (and more) on your dream for our education system echoes my longings.

    Fundamentally, I believe that change in a) how teachers are assessed, b) the scope of their work and c) class size, are the most important issues to address.

  2. Glad that the Ministry is taking all these feedback seriously from the ground. As a mum with a 4 year old, I'm really worried that my girl is unable to cope and feels lousy about herself, affecting her self esteem. The tuition situation is one that really boggles me and I do hope that they do something about schools not setting a standard that is much higher than the said standard. Why should they know things that are of a higher level and made to feel inferior when they don't understand.

  3. Susan, you have raised a very important point. I have been standing firm and trying my best not to get sucked into this crazy race, but it's true, #1's self-esteem was affected as she was always at the bottom of her class. It was only in her P6 year when I had no choice but to give her tuition for all 4 subjects that she rose swiftly to the top of the class that she regained her self-esteem. I have also been questioning why they are setting standards beyond what is taught, and teachers tell me that if they set what is in the syllabus, many students will get full marks and they can't be differentiated. Hence they have to throw in some very challenging questions. This is the result of the 'kiasu' mentality of some parents, which results in a vicious cycle.

  4. Build more schools, recruit more teachers, class size smaller, start school at 9am, curriculum, school works, additional classes should be at school. No school works at home. Home is home.

  5. Why is it bad that many students get full marks? If the principal and parents dun view this as negative then we dun need difficult question. Is this necessary just that they will get use to it during psle?

  6. Hi Mummy Wee

    Very excited for these changes. MOE has insisted that the kind of education we had was holistic, which I disagreed. I told them about Albert Einstein. A school dropout who chooses to pursue his interest, be excellent in it, and then contribute to the society after he made a discovery. What we have experienced is still a lot of emphasis on academics, and pressuring students unnecessarily in areas they have no interest in.

    If the above changes are implemented, I foresee more support and participation by parents in the students' projects. This will call for more flexible work arrangement, so that more parents can be involved in their kids' learning. Since school gets more exciting, I am sure more parents will want to join in the fun with the kids. .

  7. Hi Aizan, yes, the day school becomes fun and exciting for the kids, that is the day the MOE has succeeded in providing a real Education! Let's all get involved and make that day happen, instead of pushing the kids to get the best marks for the exams.

  8. I like your vision of the ideal educations system.. But I have some comments on these points…

    "Where teachers are highly qualified and passionate about teaching, and spend most of their time involved in teaching."
    – The niche programs in Sec schools are sapping the teachers' time from teaching. Not to mention passion for teaching. In schools where the academic results are not stellar, it is not difficult to understand why the focus shifts to carving out a niche program(s) for the school.. Cos in doing so, the school leaders are carving out their path upwards. This trickles down to middle management, and affects every teacher. Teachers have to have stellar programs, projects involving students, colleagues from other dept, colleagues from other schools, other colleges blah blah blah and so on.. The larger the scale of the 'wayang' the better your performance ranking.

    "Where class size is reduced to 30 students."
    – MOE will proudly tell you that P1 class size is 30. Our NIE lecturers told us no way this will happen for Sec schools. This is based on a study that shows that there is no significant difference in classroom performance of class size 25 vs class size 40. And cos of cos the reason that the ministry cannot train enough teachers to replace the outgoing to make this happen. And of cos the physical constraints like availability of classrooms. Nope, no teacher believes there is no significant difference.. And oops.. the ministry did not think about they can retain teachers?

  9. Thank you very much for your comments. You have raised some very important points.
    1) It's all about their performance ranking. (I've raised this in the post on Principals, that while we wait for the Ministry to align it with REAL teaching, the Principals can do their part not to play along with the game, even at the expense of lower salaries). The only way to change all these is for the Ministry to align the performance ranking to how well the teachers are teaching, not on all these other 'wayang' like you mentioned. It's exactly this problem, I've heard time and time again, where the 'skilled' teachers who know how to play the game will waste all their time and efforts doing all these other things, and get their fat bonuses and keep getting promoted, while those other teachers shake their heads and just teach. Then those poor dear teachers who are so passionate about teaching get threatened with a 'D' ranking. Sigh.
    I wish they can put a few ex-teachers on the board, if they really want things to be changed.

    2) If the system was sound, the EPMS was aligned to the right goals and values, and the Principals look after their teachers, support them, provide them with resources, don't over-burden them with all sorts of other duties, then, the attrition rate will be low. Then, we can have smaller class sizes. And the NIE lecturer should let us study that research- sample size, control group, accuracy, etc.

    3) There will definitely be schools where the results are not stellar. The teachers should instead be allowed more time to think of creative ways to engage these students, to see what interests them and tailor their lessons to suit these students. Usually these students may be kinaesthetic, visual or analytic learners, and they require different ways of presenting the material to them.

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