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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pointing Fingers at The PAP Government

If people don't like you or refuse to acknowledge your leadership, you can't do anything right. Through these hazy days, there have been reports of pigeons falling out of the air (thanks to the haze)... people accused the government of lying about the PSI (to make a bad haze look better)... people accused the government of being ineffective (because they weren't prepared for the haze).

15 Years of Nut-sy Policies
I don't much like what PAP has done to our country in the past 15 years but even I pity this poor government whom people paint blacker than black when all it is... is a sickly shade of gray. My list of grouses against this government is there... (1) Vivian Balakrishnan's under-budgeted YOG, (2) unfettered immigration, (3) HDB policies that have forgotten what HDB was meant to be to Singaporeans, (4) no one thought that the fast-growing growing population would burden transport, healthcare and other public services (5) a badly researched population white paper (without a proper bibliography) (6) an MOE who expects more of its students than it can itself deliver.

15 Years of Educational Inequality
Indeed OECD numbers show that the richer the parent, the better the kids do in school.  You don't believe me? See the pictures herein below taken from this document found HERE.

This screenshot explains the graphs depicting the relationship between socio-economic background and educational attainment.

This screenshot shows that in Singapore, socio-economic status of parents has a greater effect on children's educational attainment, than in England. The opposite is true of Finland. Lest people say that this effect in Singapore is due to extraordinarily kiasu Chinese parents, let's also note that even in Hong Kong and Shanghai (FULL of kiasu Chinese parents) the influence of parental socio-economic status is much more temperate.

This screenshot shows Singapore in the quadrant where parental socio-economic background has a HIGH impact on educational attainment.

I only need to look at my own son to see the impact of socio-economic background on educational attainment. From P1 to P3, I stubbornly believed that I didn't have to get involved in his education. He went to school. Let the teachers teach him. He ended P3 close to the bottom of the class.

From P4 to P6, I got involved. I became so involved that I was practically homeschooling him. I planned curriculum. I sourced for textbooks to replace the lousy ones provided by MOE. I taught him how to study. I marked his compositions. I marked his exam practices. He went to school to take his tests. The more he skipped school, the better his results. In Primary 3, he attended school every day. He languished at the bottom of the class. In Primary 5, he skipped 4 months of school (to play and self-study) and finished 2nd in class and 16th in level.

Were I less well off (I could afford very expensive study materials)... less resourceful (I sourced study resources from all over the world)... less well educated (I have a PhD)... my son would STILL be languishing in the system. 

Happily enough, in secondary school, his school teaches actively and pays attention to the Whole Boy. At present, I have no complaints in the least. I leave HIM to study with his teachers. The teachers do their jobs. My boy does his job. I don't get actively involved anymore except to donate money at regular intervals. 

Betrayal of Founding Fathers
There have been moments where I have HATED this government with a vengeance. In my view, it had betrayed all that Goh Keng Swee and Lee Kuan Yew stood for. I STILL think the MOE is run like crap (errr... the Teachers aren't crap... but the they're certainly managed crappily by a system that expects too much of them and supports them not enough).

Yet, even I feel some sense of injustice at the accusations of late, leveled at a government who breathes the same dirty air as its accusers. Come on... pigeons fell out of the sky due to haze?! Surely, that was deliberate misinformation? Try as I might, I can't see that NEA is withholding information. It's all there on their website!! I myself check the PM2.5 numbers a few times a day.

Let's be fair. I want to hear opposition voices that make sense and appeal to reason, not to emotion using erroneous facts.

Winds of Change
Many PAP Ministers have been replaced. The previous generation of snooty and out of touch Ministers have been replaced by Tan Chuan Jin, Lui Tuck Yew and Khaw Boon Wan. Policies have now moved towards slightly left of centre. People like Kishore Mahbubani are leading thinking in new directions AWAY from an excess of Reagan-Thatcherism.

For some reason, MOE is still managed crappily... hmmmm...

Government Did Reasonably Well
I think the government rose well to the Haze occasion. It wasn't very prepared for the Haze. No one was. 

Were you?

I kicked myself for not having a contingency plan for my own family. I now have one. I will be constructing a Haze Kit for everyone in my home. Once this Haze is over, I will standby all the equipment needed to clean the air, with spares. We now have only the minimal. I will need more machines and much better face masks than the N95. I will buy them when this haze is over, in preparation for the next haze. I will assume that the PSI can potentially reach 700.

I, the housewife with a first-in-first-out inventory system for everything down to tomato sauce, was not prepared. I'm upset the government was caught somewhat UNprepared (after all, they're not housewives) but well... I can understand why they weren't quite prepared either.

Prepared or not, I do believe that in the past 15 years, the government has done a very good job at building external relations (at the expense of internal relations with its own people). If not for 15 years of relationship building with Indonesia, I doubt President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono would have apologised so graciously. President Bambang fears us not at all. President Bambang does esteem the years of warm ties our 2 countries have shared. He also feels for us. He is not a neighbour who does not care. He knows us as friend and so he cares. He cares and so he apologized.

I do believe that people like Tan Chuan Jin are trying their best to balance competing interests. Maybe we disagree with him. Maybe we don't like what he didn't do. Nonetheless, he's still an honest man with the moral courage to do as he believed to be right. Khaw Boon Wan has really made a difference at HDB, and even before the 2011 elections, under his watch, hospitals and polyclinics became more efficient.

Undoubtedly, some rapid decisive action could have been taken. Childcare centres closed. Guidelines for stopping work for a couple of hours... all that. But you know, we're such a planful country. We're REALLY bad at shooting from the hip. If we've planned for it, we move fast. We didn't plan for this you see. So everyone was a bit indecisive.

The only thing I didn't understand was Vivian Balakrishnan's initial sabre rattling. When I read his first Facebook post on the matter, I went "Uh oh!" in my head. Surely a Minister ought to have more poise? His sabre rattling almost started a media war that Lee Hsien Loong was wise enough to side step.


Chan1 said...

Good luck. I have friends who dare not post comments on the internet to support some PAP policies or point out errors made by social media sites. They are worried of being lynched.

Be mentally prepared to be swarmed and bashed by PAP haters. You've probably seen this rational response:

Chan1 said...

Sorry. I double-posted earlier. I thought my initial comments did not appear until i realised comments are under moderation. :)

Petunia Lee said...

Chan1 - Thank you for your comment. No worries about double posting. :-)

Unknown said...

Finally, a proper read! My 10mins well spent reading your comments. Made my night!

kang said...

why so.? this is a great article with well articulated points.

Dumb & dumber got sourcing from wiki, makes gross assumption and basically shamed all Singaporeans, ignoring the good deeds many have done.

Unknown said...

Haha, what did Vivian Bala say that PM had to step in? sorry I missed that part!

Elijah said...

Excellent insight. 果然是PhD. Keep it up!

YS said...

A rational perspective is always desired~ And, personally, I agree with you that education is a factor we should really look into, although in different ways. I hope I can provide you a different insights on the complexities of the educational system.

The inequalities of education are a huge concern for a country that is deeply embedded with the values of meritocracy. However, I think that we all have to agree that equal opportunities are almost impossible in a largely free capitalistic World. As "The Rise of Meritocracy" the original coinage of the term "meritocracy" itself, laments that "we have had to recognize that nearly all parents are going to try to gain unfair advantages for their offspring" (Young, M. 1958). The concern here then is to lessen the level of disparity between countries. The counteract, then, is at: what cost?

Look at Singapore in pg 28 of
Notice the score differences in the 90th percentile? Against the lower percentile? By our average score, it is likely that our top achievers are doing better than Finland's top achievers; and, a host of other top countries (with the exception of New Zealand who is even more unequal than us; and, Shanghai's population is questionable for their ease of ability to migrate social classes within China). So, what is the unintended consequences of adopting a more egalitarian system? Would it be wise to inhibit someone's full potential for the name of equality? I understand that I am hovering on borderline elitism, but the question is real: discriminating one chance against the other does not solve the moral issue.

To end it:
We have a higher percentage than Finland in resilient students despite socio-economic background.

Regardless, although OECD PISA helps us gauge our position, we should not narrow ourselves to the limited scope of PISA's standardized tests of a person's potential; someone who does not score well in reading tests, or math or science does not necessarily deny success personally or financially; although, correlation might be strong. The key point here then, is not just the education but also how we judge others and reward them in a traditional-education imperative culture.

In another of the criticism of OECD PISA is that a 15y/o grades hardly determine the future of their educational or working life. That while tuitions and workbooks could save you in your secondary studies, it requires a very different form of skill-set in tertiary education.

Lastly, Singapore's predicament does not place us in the same situation as other countries. While they have ample natural resources (like the Scandinavians) to fund for an egalitarian cost, we are severely limited by our options. Yes, we only have a "one-time magic" reserves which thank God that our Government isn't crazy enough to use it for populist reasons.

Anyway, I guess that the Government finally acknowledged that, and lets hope they work on this:
“We've had a working meritocracy, it has brought us quite far, it's allowed for a tremendous amount of social mobility in our first 40 years but I think it has to evolve.” - Shanmugaratnam, T. (2013, April 20). Opinion: Towards a broader meritocracy. Strait Times.

Petunia Lee said...

YS - Premising your argumentation upon the notion that equal opportunities are largely IMPOSSIBLE is admitting defeat from the start. If you were part of MOE, then I would be most worried that IMPOSSIBILITY is already modeled and fixated upon at the outset, premised on a reference that dates from 1958. It is a VERY ancient reference and surely political and social thought has advanced in later years?

No one is asking for a horizontal slope (i.e., a gradient of zero). The average OECD slope modeling educational attainment on socio-economic status is 38. Singapore's gradient is a whopping 47. It may be impossible to achieve zero gradient but surely 38 is possible since other countries have done much better.

The fact that our top performers perform better than Finland's is something the MOE has not ceased to crow about. The rich and influential parents of the top performers vigorously defend their children's right to MAXIMISING their potential via tuition and enrichment.

My question is - so what if parent wealth and resources give us our top performers who perform better than Finland? Our whole country will thrive on the backs of a FEW top performers? The country's social fabric will stay cohesive because of these top performers alone?

We're not looking at INDIVIDUALS here. The focus should not be on INDIVIDUAL potential but SOCIETAL potential. The MOE is responsible for the development of the whole society that is Singapore and must balance all dimensions and not just crow about its top performers.. whilst sighing to say that complete equality is impossible.

It would take an idiot to ask for complete equality... and most Singaporeans aren't that dumb. So, please don't assume that we are by projecting that request on us.

I seriously think it's a cop out to state an impossibility, and attribute it to a post that did not ask for an impossibility.

A gradient of 38 is the OECD average. That is not impossible.

mylilbookworm said...

I like that statement 'The more he skipped school, the better his results.' Something that I cant agree more with. I cant homeschool my child as he loves going to school, but I am certainly not leaving teaching him in the hands of the teachers. Home learning is the journey we embark. I forsee in the next 2-3 years or so, I will be sending him to yr class, if you are still coaching.

Petunia Lee said...

L'il Bookworm. .. if health permits I will try. Hmmm... do I know you L'il Bookworm?

Petunia Lee said...

YS - "We should not narrow ourselves to the limited scope of PISA's standardized tests of a person's potential."

The above statement is another that skirts the issue. It's as bad as talking about impossible things no one asked for. Whether or not society views the PISA standardized tests as a gauge of a person's potential is irrelevant to the discussion on Kids With Rich Parents Do Better in School.

The fact still is that our top scores are the result of parental wealth and time NOT a result of good teaching in schools. If schools taught sufficiently, then it wouldn't matter whether a parent is rich or not.

My son's sports coach is a PRC. She sends her P4 son back to China during the school holidays and part of the school term to GET TAUGHT in Math and in Chinese, because she too reckons that Singapore schools don't teach what he needs to know.

I recruit staff, and I can say this for a fact. Poor marking practices are so endemic in MOE schools that my staff with MOE experience take twice as long to learn how to properly and informatively mark student work.

It's not a difficult problem to fix but it will NEVER get fixed as long as...

(1) we're fixated on an impossibility at the outset (that no one asked for, by the way),

(2) we're crowing about a few top performers and lamenting that these few will never reach their potential if we were more egalitarian. What's wrong with performing a LEEEEEETLE less top and being a BIT more egalitarian?

(3) we state that since PISA scores aren't an accurate gauge of potential anyway, there is no problem to fix.

We're still the best you see... despite the encouraging statement by Shanmuguratnam... which has yet to translate itself into concrete action, on the ground by MOE.

samson said...

excellent write. many share your feelings. not many can write as well.

mylilbookworm said...

Ya, I attended yr HOT skills for parents :)

Petunia Lee said...

OIC... hello! ***wave***

Melodies said...

Are we contented with what our top achievers have fetched in this OECD PISA survey on reading test? and thus stop working altogether to improve the existing education system?

What is the point of leading in academics at the starting point? It only matters what we can achieve in our lives later on!

Cover too much of academic stuffs in primary school may do more harm than good. Here is a great article about this:

Cover less academic stuffs in primary schools does not mean that we call to inhibit someone's full potential! As you cover less academics stuffs now, you can cover more other lifelong learning stuffs, etc.. like what have suggested in the article.

Germany gov has legislated to prohibit anyone to administer any form of rigorous academic education for young children. To them, it is considered child abuse.