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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Education System UNABLE TO DELIVER the Results It Expects From Our Kids?

"The [Education] minister, however, acknowledged that "we expect much more of the education system than it can deliver". It is thus important for parents, teachers, and the broader society to play a role in the education system, he stressed. (Today Online, 1st February 2012)

Post-script: SPS Sim Ann has since clarified on the Minister's behalf (and in response to the blogpost herein below) that the role of broader society is in values and character education. There was also an acknowledgment that the tuition/enrichment phenomena is of concern, as well as the gap between teaching and testing.

I know it is unfair to take a sound bite out of context but I am intrigued enough to want to seek clarification of what the above sound bite means. What is the role of broader society in the education system? Does  broader society refer to the after school homeschooling parents, the private tutors and the enrichment centres? Is the above sound bite an acknowledgement that MOE cannot, by itself, deliver the results it expects from our children?

Parents expect a lot from the education system because the education system expects a lot from our children. Exams test beyond what is taught... way beyond. Exams test beyond the textbook... way beyond. So does the above soundbite mean that Singaporeans are being urged to accept that the MOE ensures the basics of education, and the enrichment centres (and after school homeschooling parents) will take care of the extra teaching to help the child get to the top? Hence, rich kids with rich parents who can pay the extra fees (or the time to engage in parent coaching) will consistently be at the top of the education heap?

If the system expects less of our children (i.e., tests don't assume that the bright ones will naturally know) then parents will expect less of the system (because no baby is born knowing, and hence we expect MOE to teach to the standards they test to). There is one easy way to reduce parental expectations of MOE. It is for MOE to take testing pressures off parents' children so that the children have time to explore the non-academic and non-competitive aspects of their development. And perhaps, in so doing, become less risk averse... more adaptable... more flexible.

Meanwhile, the MOE can get away with providing textbooks that are full of glossy pictures but thin on content (on the pretext that experiential learning happens in class). If experiential learning there is, why is nothing documented in new media like so... Or do we expect ALL students to retain a lesson after watching a Science experiment in class once? What are textbooks for if they don't even provide sufficient notes for revision? 

Why are teachers all expected to write their own materials or risk having nothing to teach with? What about schools where Teachers don't produce notes or don't share their notes? How to make every school a good school when patches of quality written resources exist in some schools but not others, because such materials are not to be shared?

It is not enough to have good Teachers and good Teacher development. Teachers need educational resources to teach with. It's not enough to hire a good carpenter. He/she must have good tools to work with. If the tagline of Teach Less Learn More, which was in vogue for many years, is to be believed... independent learning on the part of primary school students is required. How to learn independently if textbooks have so little to read... and there are no additional handouts in some schools? What are children to learn independently from, when Teachers teach less in school?

Check out this link too...


eddie said...

Well,is that a surprise after all these years how messages are delivered with euphemistic, flowered vocabularies that keep listeners (or are the listeners already have grown numb to these speeches ?) second guessing, "Do they think I am a fool?", or "Why don't they speak their minds at all (?) ... if they have one."

Anonymous said...

There were many teachers in my family, primarily on my mother's side...I've heard this same discussion right here in the USA, in the middle of my family (albeit about 50 years ago). So apparently there are no answers, worldwide! And while all the discussions take place the actual learning by the child becomes lost in the shuffle!

Blur Ting said...

When my sons were in P5, I started them on tuition with a private tutor. Their PSLE results were dismal compared to the rest of the students taught by the same tutor. And the reason why the students did so well was because they started tuition the moment they entered P1.

How many parents can afford to pay for personal coaching by tutors?

Malar said...

This is scary.....

petunialee said...

Ting - I teach Little Boy myself. It is very obvious to me how much is not taught in school but still tested.

petunialee said...

Malar - It is scary isn't it?

petunialee said...

Eddie - Thanks for dropping by.

petunialee said...

Theanne - US schools also test beyond what is taught?

Rachel Tan said...

Hi Petunia,
While I agree with everything you've posted on the Singapore education system, (and I must commend you for how unselfish you have been with your views and information; it is a joy simply to read your English writing!) I would like to say that in the US, kids take standardized tests every year. There's the IOWA test, the COGAT test etc - probably similar to our GEP tests. All the tests test material way out of the syllabus, and the top kids are streamed to magnet schools. Even prior to the SATs, middle/high school kids take the PSATs for a couple of years, and the PSATs determine whether the kids can make it as a National Merit Scholar etc.

Many US parents do not look upon it as a failure if their kids do not qualify for the Gifted Program. Singaporean parents on the other hand, we despair if our kids cannot make it to top schools after the PSLE. There are systemic factors, no doubt, but there are cultural underpinnings too.

petunialee said...

Rachel - (1) The majority of Singaporean parents don't see failing GEP as a failure either. (2) Testing methodology is a big thing in USA, but these out-of-syllabus tests are not part and parcel of the school year 4 times a year. There is a difference between formative assessments and differentiating assessments. (3) There are cultural underpinnings no doubt, but these should not stop us from looking for systemic levers. (4) Systemic levers CAN and have in the past changed culture. We just need to find them. (5) Just because Singapore rains a lot (natural cultural feature) doesn't mean we should accept flooding passively.

petunialee said...

Rachel - Just because USA does testing does not mean that the same kind of testing is appropriate for our appropriate cultural situation. Mix 2 chemicals together and an explosion could happen. Perhaps there are elements of our culture that react poorly with the USA testing practices? USA culture + USA testing works. Singaporean culture + USA testing explodes? Perhaps.

I am not saying the testing methodology is wrong. I have no position as yet.

But these are intellectual paths we need to take before we factor USA testing out-of-syllabus testing style into our specific cultural environment... and then teach our Teachers to parrot excuses such as "The bright ones will naturally know". How naturally? Born knowing?

aimees_mom said...

Blur Ting,
Your observation is right.

I had the opportunity to live in Seoul for two years in 2000. I observed primary school kids going to 2 schools daily (1 govt and 1 private, same lessons but taught in English), then enrichment and ending it with some other sport-related ones. They have very long days. This seemed the norm and as an accepted norm, the kids appeared to be able to take it in their stride.
Most kids are aware from very young, the life-long journey that awaits - the importance of achieving great education and hence their accepting attitude as opposed to resistence.

This got me thinking... back then, most kids were still getting tuition to keep up rather than to keep abreast/ahead (as in Korea). Hence why I decided that I wanted my daughter to do it the Korean way, and to balance that with "playing" as hard.

Hence she started "enrichments" way before P1 and our we kept our strategy to "keep ahead" when I saw how happy and confident this made her. We balanced this out by asking her to help her weaker classmates in class. All was good until she experienced the "streaming" and was placed in the "best" class.
Yes, she is still ahead. But her empathetic side could not take that some classes were not given the opportunity to do well (how to when some "higher order" materials were deemed too tough for them).
I read somewhere that you start preparing for PSLE from P1. That's true.

But to be "fair". PSLE is still just one exam. A few who do not do well (even from Normal stream)do go on to become scholars just as some who go the IP route end up with only their sterling PSLE certs after they fail A levels.

A good teacher goes a long way and if you don't get one, who picks up the slack?

Rachel Tan said...

Hi Petunia,

I do not think it is appropriate to plonk the US tests on S'porean kids. It was in response to your single-line question as to whether US kids have to take out of syllabi tests - and to me, the answer is yes.

The US tests are both formative and for differentiation. Typically, one will obtain a detailed assessment report on how one has fared in each section (i.e. grammar, analogies etc) and one can also compare one's score over time (i.e. how one fared last year, vs this year).

Like you, I am horrified at the proliferation of tuition centres and out of school programs that parents are shelling out tons of money for. My son is in Primary 1 (and I have a daughter in K2). I am also concerned and have many qualms about how the Singapore education system is run.

But, my views are quite contrarian in regard to some of the systemic problems. (Perhaps I need to draw out a mind map to express this better.) First, the way schools are assessed and incentivised is rather unhealthy ways. And schools are not made accountable for things that matter - i.e. how well they teach. Unlike in the US (not that the US system is superior in every way, it fails miserably too, but there are the positive aspects we can learn from), there aren't sufficient data points to make useful assessments. Students only take ONE common exam, that is, the PSLE. If you have good data using standardized state level or national level tests, and kids are measured on their math and reading abilities annually or once every two years, it provides the Education Ministry with much better data to assess how schools and teachers are faring. We have none of these. We do not know whether the premier primary schools are doing well because they have a relatively better crop of students to start with. And so, we start to develop these awards that schools are clamouring for, in the name of broad and holistic education. Competitions is the name of the game. And there's no way you can get admitted to a premier secondary school strings ensemble or band without prior training, as with most school sports teams. Schools are competing on a strange matrix; but what about teaching and education? How are schools accountable on that front?

Sorry this is getting long. Let me post this first.

petunialee said...

Rachel - Post away!!!! Would you like me to collate all you've written and publish your thoughts on my blog?

Typically, formative assessments test within material taught. At least, that is MY habit. People lack drive in Singapore because all their lives tests beat them down all their lives. Only the top 5 in the top 2 classes feel good. Everyone learns to be losers, afraid and with no drive. They learn to make small dreams.

Formative assessments don't have to differentiate. They can test to the material and when kids work to master the material taught, they should be able to score well.

petunialee said...

aimees_mom - My son has had no enrichment at all since forever. I regret. He doesn't. Haha! I feel for how hard he is working now. He is relieved that he got at least P1 to P4 to play. But then, not everyone has a Mommy who can teach.

Rachel Tan said...

I have not developed a position as regards to exams and CAs, in spite of having lived through the US and the UK systems (grad school and college respectively)for which in the UK, it tends to be a one-final-exam type of system, whereas in the US, GPAs are cumulative and are continual assessment style.

In the S'pore education system, I loved it (not the content, nor how I was taught. I hated having to memorize copious amounts of info; I didn't like how exams were so structured and had no room for creativity etc), but what I liked (though it doesn't mean it is good) was that only the final exam mattered!! And because only the A levels or PSLE or O levels mattered, I didn't have to necessarily do well all throughout the term. I had a ton of time to daydream, go dating etc - there was sufficient time to breathe. Maybe because I was strong enough not to be overly discouraged with the AWFUL CA grades. And I do mean AWFUL. And I am grateful I didn't have to live through High School in the US.

In the US, High School GPAs matter FIRST before the SATs in college applications. And GPA is cumulative over the 3 years in High School. This system favours the consistent (and I am not one of those). But it has its merits - it teases out those who are consistent and steady.

During grad school in the US, I found it almost tiresome that every assignment mattered in grading. I did okay, but I felt that the rigour of exams, ironically, was lost.

The S'pore education system seems to have inherited the stresses of both the continual assessment and the exams-driven system though!

petunialee said...

Rachel - Sure! I will email you.

aimees_mom said...

oops... forgot to sign off as Peony.

When she had multiple enrichments - reading, maths, ballet, piano plus her roller-blading classes... - my mum kept pressuring me to stop.

I observed my child and saw that my only child was having fun and loving her lessons hence I did not.

At P1, once again the pressure to stop came again. But because she was ahead, Aimee saw school as "play and play" and her home (me) as study. That's how it has been until recently - she has good teachers this year!

And my mum has stopped pressuring me when she sees how happy/balanced Aimee is and how her other grandkids are the ones feeling stressed by the system.

While I am very thankful for how things are for us, am still troubled for those who simply study hard (without the support she's had)... coz the system is such that study hard may not get you the results you want now.

Hopefully they will reap the succes that such attitude will bring, when they become adults.
For now, they may feel dejected as it's not studying hard that reaps great PSLE results.

As you've pointed out Petunia, it's also access to the appropriate materials/information too.


petunialee said...

Peony - Thanks for dropping by!!

petunialee said...

Peony - I must say that Little Boy and I have to make up for lost time. I didn't know all this was happening in education and so I didn't give him any enrichment at all. This means we need to work harder and smarter than all those who've been preparing for PSLE since P1.

No wonder we're feeling the heat!! And it is REALLY very hot. Thank God Little Boy is motivated to do well and very driven.