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.
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 ~