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Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Beauty of Unstructured Play

Point To Take Away: Don't Work HARD. Work SMART! And have fun whilst you're at it! If you do ONE piece of high quality, you'll learn more than doing 10 pieces of poor quality. The rest of the time, you can PLAY!

Point to Take Away: "So I wonder why Singaporeans are arguing over scores or bands. Shouldn't the debate be about whether the exams are appropriate for children at such a young age?

Point to Take Away: "He also defends the use of more free play as opposed to purposeful play."

In Dr Pet's Enrichment there are no tables and no chairs. The children sprawl on the floor and wander about the room as and when they so wish. The Husband said that it isn't professional to run a classroom with no little tables and little chairs. However, that's not how the kids view it. The kids don't want to be reminded of school. The kids can't care less how PRO you LOOK as long as your PRO looks like a version of school where Teachers yell at them. When they come here, they want to play. So, we disguise the environment to look like play... and we weave HARD WORK into a series of learning activities that LOOK like play.

Our facilitators need to have a sense of fun and a high tolerance for noise. This is because, the kids are yelling at each other. As long as we observe that everyone is ON Task and not quarrelling, they can yell as much as they want. Our worst discipline problems come when the girls get bitchy with each other and the boys get aggressive. We want the kids to learn social skills and these interpersonal aggressive behaviours are dealt with immediately and firmly.

Children in Dr Pet's Enrichment working hard at highly difficult inference questions in a play set-up and environment.

End-of-Class Structured Play

I must say that I was very proud of myself for having succeeded more or less at achieving this UNTIL I read the words above "We believe strongly that free play nurtures creativity and independence." Those words gave me pause and punctured a hole in my own inflated sense of pride. This was even more so since I completely agreed with "He also defends the use of more free play as opposed to purposeful play."

The Yaya Papaya Dr Pet didn't quite feel so Yaya Papaya anymore.

The problem with Dr Pet's Enrichment is that all the play is STRUCTURED. There is no time for free play. Even the play session at the last 15 minutes of class is structured and controlled. It is rather scary for me to effectuate unstructured play in my classes. How will I control the class? How will I deliver results? How can I trust the children to make progress if I don't lead them through with a structure? How am I going to achieve this?

I need to think. I wanna build in UNstructured play too. But how?

I think Dr Pet's Mommies and Daddies are already very very very forgiving of the weird things they see about our classes. Part of them must wonder whether their children learn anything at all in an environment where facilitators NEVER lecture not teach. Part of them must wonder if we are wasting time at all when we allow the children to laugh and giggle and yell. Part of them must wonder at their children's bad behaviour in class. And oh boy... what must they think when they see their children sprawling on the floor on their bellies... or lying flat on the floor reading comprehension passages. Last Saturday, our puppy even peepee-ed on a child's book. Yikes!

I wonder if parents can take it if they observe UNstructured play in Dr Pet's classes. Hmmmmm?

The words "It cannot be done." is like a red rag to a bull for me. So, I'm gonna go ahead and try to see if I can build a lesson with UNstructured play and still ensure that children learn something. Please Mommies and Daddies... bear with me. I'll do it once and we'll see how. Ok? It may take months but I'm gonna go ahead and develop something. I'll think it through carefully. It may take months for me to develop something I am reasonably sure won't hurt the children. I won't run it unless I've thought it through PROPERLY. Promise!

The thing is this. The UNstructured play environment does really teach many lessons. See how much Little Boy learnt from unstructured play HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dr Pet's English Compo Workshop

This is a very old post. I have decided to discontinue holiday workshops in 2014 and 2015 so that I can focus on my English Enrichment students and look after those well.

Dr Pet's English Compo Workshop is open for public registration HERE.

The workshops are full. Thank you very much for signing up.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Research Study: Tuition Not Effective

In The Straits Times today, 25th September 2013, there is a report on a study on the effectiveness of tuition by Euston Quah. The author writes "that the potentially positive influence of a private tutor over one or a few subjects' grades does not seem to lead to improvements in the grades of the remaining subjects. Instead, the time taken away from studying those other subjects may lead to a decline in the overall academic performance of the student."

Study Shows That Tuition DOES Help
In layman speak, the above words mean the following...
(1) the subjects where the child has tuition DO improve
(2) the subjects where the child has no tuition DO NOT

Now, why in the world would you expect your child's Math tuition to improve his/her English exam scores?

Logical Argumentation Shows That Tuition Can Be Damaging
The rest of the article written addresses the points as follows:
(1) Private tutors are not regulated. Their quality can be poor.
(2) Children learn that they have a recourse at home, and don't have to pay attention in class.
(3) Teachers know that kids have tuition, so they don't bother to teach properly.
(4) Too much tuition has opportunity costs. Kids have no time to play.

Whilst I agree with all of these points, Euston Quah's numbers do not model these arguments. These arguments are just that... logical arguments. Parents with children in school have been highlighting these logical arguments on the basis of personal opinion. So, this is Euston's Quah personal opinion? Well and good!

Parents Still Have Confidence in MOE. Really?
Next, Euston Quah writes...
The prevalence of tuition per se does not say anything about the confidence level in the Singapore education system. It could simply be the consequence of an increased climate of competition, which results in parents over investing in education, private or public.

This is the part that made me laugh. Heeheeheeheehee! After the year long Singapore Conversation, letters to the forum pages, messages on MOE's Facebook pages, emails to politicians... where parents tell MOE  in-its-face that they think the schools TEACH LESS TEST MORE, he still believes that "the prevalence of tuition does not say anything about the confidence level in the Singapore education system."

Study Was Published in 2005
If a research study was published in 2005, then the data was collected somewhere between 1998 to 2003 (depending on the length of the peer review process that determines whether a research study is worth publishing). Today, we are on the cusp of 2014. The Teach Less Learn More initiative was unleashed upon our unsuspecting children circa 2005-2006.

Euston Quah's study is outdated. His results no longer reflect realities today, after the implementation of Teach Less Learn More. The man is living in the past. This is why he holds onto ridiculous notions like  "the prevalence of tuition does not say anything about the confidence level in the Singapore education system."

Today, there is a crisis of confidence in the schools' ability to teach effectively to the standards the PSLE tests.

Study Was Done On Secondary School Students
It is the primary schools that test beyond what they teach. Little Boy is in secondary school now and I am pleased to note that his Teachers do teach. Even those who teach poorly will point him to materials and resources for independent learning. Additionally, Little Boy is older now. He is truly more independent. He searches out materials on his own in the library.

He truly needs no external help.

You can't generalize a study done with a sample of secondary school students to a population of primary school students. It's like saying "Our study has found that students menstruate" done with a sample of 14 year old girls... and then saying that all school children menstruate. You can't generalize a study done in Year 2000 to 2014. It's like measuring global temperatures in Year 2000 and then saying in 2014 that there is no global warming.

Euston Quah Must Know These Limitations To His Study
Euston Quah must know the above limitations to his study. He must know that his article masquerades as reputable science to disguise personal opinion formed in an era now past.

If this is the state of R&D in MOE related intellectual capital generating institutions, then no wonder the whole country's parents (barring the minority wealthy and minority gifted) are groaning in pain.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Root of the Tuition Craze

Stage 1: Learning from Testing Experts in USA

It all started with some high calibre MOE officials attending a course in the USA which taught them that a good exam should be one that differentiates the A from the A*. Thenceforth, much effort then went into the PSLE to make it a good differentiating exam. There MUST always be 2 or 3 questions at the higher end of the difficulty spectrum to sieve out the A* from the hoi polloi.

Stage 2: Applying What Was Learnt Without Using Good Judgment (nor Critical Thinking)

When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Very soon, the school preliminary PSLE exams in Primary 6 followed suit. Not long after, schools began this practice of setting differentiating exams at every CA and SA from Primary 1 to Primary 5.

By right, Teachers should teach 100% of the material tested. The children would then differentiate themselves along the spectrum of questions based on...
(1) their ability to follow lessons
(2) their drive to excel
(3) their ability to work hard

The proportion of A* versus A needed to follow the bell curve, else, the exam is not properly differentiating. Indeed, at the very extreme of such reasoning, I've even been taught that if even 1 student scores 100% on an exam, then it isn't differentiating enough because the exam is unable to pinpoint with exactitude whether that 100% student's ability lies just above the 100% or way beyond the 100%.

The problem though is that the bell curve (or normal distribution curve) is a natural statistical feature of large populations. Issues arise when we decide to force smaller populations into the bell curve. School populations are quite small indeed, especially when you're looking at a single level at any one time for any one exam.

Stage 3: The Catalysts For Frenzy (Harder Exams and Wealthy Parents)

Soon, teachers began to realise that if they tested ONLY all that they had taught, the entire top class would get 100%. Teachers began to feel that they'd done something wrong. Principals and HODs well versed in the GOLDEN WAY OF DIFFERENTIATING EXAMS began to look askance at these Teachers who set such easy exams. Oh dear me... your exams are too easy. You can't be a very good Teacher since you can't set good differentiating exams. 

It didn't take long for some teachers to begin sliding into the exams that they devised, questions meant for later levels, in order to ensure that not too many students in the tested level can score 100%.

Now, enter the initially teeny weeny percentage of those wealthy parents who had been enriching their children since egg and sperm. THEIR kids had been taught stuff from later levels. These little kiddy biddies had been taught the stuff that Teachers did not teach. This small population of students became the A* students on these exams that tested material from later levels.

These A* students (who had been pre-taught) went to the top class.

In view of the many benefits inherent in being streamed into the A class, parents (like me) of other intelligent children began to analyze exam papers to figure out why our own intelligent children were scoring poorly in school (despite being conscientious and intelligent). Once we realized that the exams contained questions that Teachers had not taught, but that other children had learnt in enrichment, we began to ask...

"Hey... my child can score too if he had been given the same enrichment. The only reason why my child is not in the top class is that I denied him enrichment in order to grow his self-reliance. It's MY fault for failing to enrich him."

Stage 4: Less Wealthy Parents Jump On the Bandwagon

These less wealthy parents (like me) have now a Hobson's Choice -
(1) Save money on enrichment and watch their children languish (whilst they learn self-reliance)
(2) Spend money on enrichment to give their children a fair chance in the system (even though they never develop self-reliance thereby)

Of course, there are the few parents, like me, who know how to help their children study beyond what Teachers have taught, without resorting to enrichment. Thank God Little Boy learnt self-reliance (by self-studying material his Teacher didn't teach but did test) and didn't suffer too much academically at all.

Less wealthy people exist in far greater numbers than wealthy people.

Once the less wealthy people understand that wealthy people's children do well (and can get into the best funded top schools... and get into the best classes) because they learn (at enrichment) what the schools don't teach (but do test), it means hordes of people will sign their children up for enrichment in order to give their children a fighting chance. I mean HORDES. 

A Mastercard survey done in April shows that 50% of households pay for enrichment. The Asian Development Bank reports that 90% of students have enrichment/tuition of some sort. These figures come from Chua Mui Hoong's article in The Straits Times, 22nd September 2013. I have reproduced part of it HERE.

The Limitations of Tuition

Of course, children differ in motivation levels and attitude. 

In Dr Pet's English Enrichment, I have intelligent children who perform poorly for whatever the reason may be. Little J is one of them. Little C is another one. I am now collaborating with Little A's mommy to see if we can turn Little A's attitude around. All these children can perform at higher levels if not for their poor attitudes. Getting tuition is not enough to get good results. 

This is no different than in the past, when Teachers taught 100% of what they tested. Going to school was not enough. The children needed to work hard too.

That which is different now, is this. A hardworking and intelligent child who goes to school (but has no enrichment) will do as badly or worse than a lazy and intelligent child (whose days are filled with enrichment). 

Explaining MOE's Delusions
There are people at MOE who have spent their whole lives working there. To acknowledge the Tuition Craze as a real phenomenon whose roots lie in key MOE practices, is to shake their sense of professional self-worth to its very core. This is very very painful emotionally. Have you ever met people who refuse to believe that their spouse has died? For these people, to believe the reality of a spouse's death is just too emotionally painful. They delude themselves otherwise.

This happens to the most intelligent of people. The human capacity for self-delusion is not to be underestimated. It is a powerful psychological force. Even in the last days of his Arab Spring, Mubarak gave press interviews asserting that his countrymen loved him very much. He was not lying. He really believed what he was saying.

Either MOE is lying through its teeth when it says that schools are run on the basis that tuition is not needed... or it really is self-deluded. I am more inclined to believe that MOE is delusional instead of lacking in integrity. The first is understandable. The second is unlikely because the people who run the civil service do usually demonstrate high levels of integrity (barring the rare Ng Boon Gays and the Peter Lims, the Lee Lip Hongs with a fetish for underaged prostitutes and that CPIB Director who embezzled money).

Whether delusional or lacking in integrity, MOE's response to parent feedback for the past decade has been as Chua Mui Hoong writes (in her 22nd September Straits Times article Tuition Too Prevalent To Ignore) "... this rather ostrich-like way of tackling the issue: not needed, not an issue, go away."

No matter what parents raise to MOE (bad textbooks, too large classes, testing beyond what is taught) the response is "not needed, not an issue, go away." It really shouldn't be called Ministry of Education. It should be called Ministry of the Ostrich Endside, instead. See picture below.

The least Indranee Rajah could have done was to give what MOE told her some critical thought, before making a pronouncement that sounds a bit like "The world is flat" to the ears of Singaporean parents. Every time politicians make such ridiculous pronouncements, they destroy trust with the populace.

Credit: My Sketchbook.

Tackling the Root
Stop chasing student differentiation. Instead, set a reasonably high bar of performance at every level and strive to bring as many of the children up to that bar as possible. Ensure that Teachers are capable of and have the resources to teach up to that bar. In this scenario, only the very weak will need tuition help. The bright ones (like my son) can learn all they need from Teachers.

The wealthy parents who want to hot house their kids to enter university at age 12, can do so on their own money and their own time. Their kiasu behaviors should not be rewarded by having their kids gain entrance into top classes and top schools. Other parents whose kids wanna be stretched can stretch them on their own time and own money for no other gains but the sheer joy of learning and getting good at something. Those who are gifted at something thus practise their giftings for passion alone... not in order to get into top schools and gain top scholarships.

A Thoughtful Post By A Commenter

I received a thoughtful comment to one of last week's blogposts which I thought I would highlight in brown below... this blog has many silent readers. It says something when these silent readers feel strongly enough about the issue to actually crawl out of the woodwork and leave a comment.

The problem arises when people become over reliant on tuition. I know a few families for whom tuition has become the first port of call at the first sign of a 'problem' (and I use that term loosely). This is a generalisation, I know, but I feel that many students these days are no longer required to figure out different ways of studying or find their own information and 'help' themselves, because at the first sign of grades slipping, parents start to panic and immediately send them for tuition. And I'm not just talking about kids who are below average, either. Gone are the days when tuition was just for the academically weak students. Now all and sundry, GEP included, have tuition.

When does it end? Kids have tuition for primary school to do well in PSLE, and then continue in sec school to do well in O and A levels. But what happens when the child goes to university and finds it hard to cope with independent study because they've had the tuition safety net all their lives thus far? Would they need tutors to help them get their degrees? (I'm not even sure such services exist, but if this tuition craze continues, then I won't be surprised if it does in the near future!) 

The thing is, the Singapore education is often touted overseas as one of the best in the world, as the academic standard is often two or three years ahead of their peers in Western countries. But if you take away all the external help, will the standard remain as high? Can it? To me, that's not the mark of a good education system. What's the point of having such high academic standards if kids are not able to achieve on their own, based solely on what they learn at school?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Thank You Chua Mui Hoong!

Journalist Chua Mui Hoong penned the following words in brown HERE... in The Straits Times 22 September 2013. I have interspersed my own additions in black.

There was widespread incredulity last week when Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah declared that tuition is unnecessary.

Responding to a question in Parliament on the "shadow education system" and its impact, she said: "Our education system is run on the basis that tuition is not necessary. Some parents believe they can give their children an added advantage by sending them to tuition classes, even though their children are doing reasonably well. We cannot stop them from doing so."

MY THOUGHTS: After 4 years of observing MOE press releases and spokespersons, I get a sense that the MOE's best minds are incapable of thinking outside of the box they've grown up in. The visionary leadership of LKY is gone from the government. If the current MOE were sent back to the 1960s, they are likely to say "Singaporean parents are uneducated. They can't partner us in teaching the children. We cannot make them do so. Hence, we cannot train a skilled workforce." The NOTHING CAN BE DONE attitude is too prevalent in MOE.

Parents: Textbooks are poor.
MOE: It won't be easy to change textbooks.

Parents: Classes are too large.
MOE: It won't be easy to have smaller classes. There are costs.

Parents: There is a gap between what is taught in class and testing standards.
MOE: It's parents' fault. MOE is forced to test hard because parents enrich their kids, and hence we need to set more difficult exams to differentiate the A from the A*. There is nothing we can do.

The parents who spend US$680 million (S$848 million) each year (according to a 2012 Asian Development Bank report on tuition) on private tuition for their children here clearly think that tuition isn't unnecessary. Various polls suggest tuition prevalence here as anything from nearly half of households (a MasterCard survey on spending in April) to over 90 per cent of students (the Asian Development Bank report).

But in a way, Ms Indranee's view is internally consistent: the Ministry of Education (MOE) does not consider tuition necessary, so it designs its curriculum accordingly, and its teachers are expected to teach like there is no such thing as private tuition. Thinking within the box that says tuition is unnecessary leads to this rather ostrich-like way of tackling the issue: not needed, not an issue, go away.

I completely agree with Chua Mui Hoong. Important issues are swept away and ignored. Perhaps this protects some individuals' egos,  careers and livelihoods. Meanwhile, the issues continue to hurt masses of families. Here are some examples of "not needed, not an issue, go away".

Parents: Textbooks are poor.
MOE: There is no need to improve textbooks because kids are supposed to engage in external learning via iPADS and trips to the library.

Parents: Classes are too large.
MOE: There is no need to have smaller classes because it's not class size that is important. It's the quality of the teachers.

Parents: There is a gap between what is taught in class and testing standards.
MOE: There is no need to bridge this gap because we need to differentiate A from A*. If teachers taught everything, then the children would all know everything. We need to test things that we've not taught so we can tell the A from the A*. The A* students will naturally know.

How different it would be if the ministry could get out of its self-imposed box to contemplate: What is it about the education system that is making so many parents send their children for private tuition? In fact, this was precisely what Nominated MP Janice Koh asked in Parliament: Whether more should be done to make tuition "less necessary and desirable" in Singapore, and if the ministry had data on tuition.  

If the ministry took the issue of tuition seriously, its thinking might go this way: "We think it's unnecessary, but many parents and students clearly think otherwise. 
(1) Is there something we're missing? 
(2) In fact, how prevalent is tuition? 
(3) Maybe we should study this, and see what students have tuition in, how much is spent, and if tutors are qualified. 
(4) "Better still, let's study if tuition is effective, for different groups of students: the weak, the average and the academically strong. 
(5) "Do some of MOE's existing policies create conditions that fuel demand for tuition? 
(6) Could large class sizes result in weaker students needing personalised attention from tutors?
(7) Could our move to grade exams on raw scores rather than in broad bands compel students to get extra coaching to chase up every extra mark to get ahead of others? 
(8) "Could our marking and grading system fuel hyper-competitive behaviour and lead to an arms race in grades and tuition? 
(9) What can we do to reduce these effects?" 

What lovely questions Ms Chua Mui Hoong!

As Singapore undergoes significant shifts in policy, and its leaders try to recalibrate a new bond with the people, it is vital that the Government discard the old mode of responding to criticisms - or questioning of its policies - by ignoring them out of existence

What an apt way of describing what MOE officials have been doing for the past 10 years in the face of parental feedback.

I have interviewed and spoken with many senior civil servants in both formal and informal settings and know most of them for a thoughtful, serious-minded bunch. I would be extremely disappointed if the questions on tuition I can think of, off the top of my head as I write this article, have not occurred to them in the course of their work. I am sure ministry officials, and educationists, have studied these issues and come to some conclusions. But when the discussion is kept behind closed doors, out of sight and hearing of the public, it might as well not have taken place. 

When all the public sees are pronouncements that defend the status quo and ignore the shadow system beneath, it begins to think that either the Government doesn't know what's going on, or doesn't care, or is powerless. It can erode the Government's credibility. Start with the shadow education system. 

Exactly! It is this issue with the shadow education system that is causing many parents, previously supportive of the PAP to question whether this government knows, cares... and whether it leads the civil service or are civil servants the true leaders and our politicians are figureheads?

The best way to remove a shadow is to bring it into the light, not dismiss its utility.

Many have applauded Lee Kuan Yew for his ability to face tough problems. Within MOE, I don't see that at all. I see the spirit of denial, self-congratulation (The No Need To Do Spirit) and an attitude of helplessness (The No Can Do Attitude). Thank God the MOE spirit (or lack thereof) and attitude was not prevalent in government under Lee Kuan Yew. If that had been so, I doubt the Singapore miracle would have happened. We would still be a mosquito people living under zinc roofs today.

Sometimes people will respect you more if you emerge steely eyed, admit there is a problem, define the problem and lay out steps to do something about it. Deny problems long enough and one day, you won't be in a position to solve them. Someone else, with a more can-do attitude who cares more than you do will step into the void of your helplessness.

Simply test to the levels you can comfortably teach to and parents of good students will have no reason to buy tuition.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Even Teachers Think School Is Not Enough (and who can blame them?)

Please see related posts HERE (Private Tuition Is Not Necessary In Singapore) and HERE (Scientific English Requires No Commas). The Independent Singapore has also written an excellent piece HERE.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Scientific English Requires No Commas

I saw this on Facebook today HERE.

According to MOE Science Teachers, the rules of English punctuation are different in Scientific English. Can MOE provide citations to manuals of Scientific English that state the rule as follows: In scientific english, commas are not required to indicate a pause in reading? I have heard of scientific jargon but I have never heard of scientific grammar rules. In their effort to differentiate students... the A from the A*, teachers have gone beyond testing what was never taught. They're now testing wrong grammar that was never taught.

This would be funny if PSLE stakes weren't so high... if our children didn't get hurt (and not understand what they had done wrong)... if children who write perfectly good English weren't branded merely "A calibre" and not "A* calibre... and thenceforth shunted to a lower class (just because they didn't know wrong grammar). Seriously, if you're gonna use a particular question as a DIFFERENTIATING QUESTION, you should make sure that it's a GOOD item. It's not funny. It's a national tragedy because these things happen in schools right across the nation.

Coming on the heels of a parliamentary pronouncement by the Senior Minister of State, Indranee Rajah, that tuition adds no value to students, this only shows MOE's capacity for denial - which I wrote about HERE. This capacity is so great that MOE actually denies the rules of English Grammar and makes up their own.

(1) Imagine the scenario of a first man telling a second man as they both get slowly dehydrated in the hot desert, "It's not hot. It's all in your mind. It's actually freezing cold." Clearly, the first man is delusional. The freezing cold is all in HIS mind.

(2) Similarly, MOE (through Indranee Rajah) tells us, "Tuition is unnecessary. It's all in your mind." Clearly, MOE is delusional. The "unnecessary" is all in THEIR mind.

(3) Similarly, MOE is telling this parent of a child in a brand name primary school, "The need for a comma to indicate a pause is unnecessary. It's all in your mind." Clearly, MOE is delusional. That commas are unnecessary in scientific speak, is all in THEIR mind.

For the record, my kids had no tuition. However, Little Boy wasn't taught what he needed to know to tackle PSLE. He self-studied using materials I imported from all over the world. The materials and the teaching given by his teachers were not enough.

It is IMPOSSIBLE for teachers to teach the new PSLE syllabus effectively in classes of 40 using crappy textbooks. We ask TOO MUCH of our teachers. Many cannot THEMSELVES cope with the Higher Order Thinking questions. This stresses teachers too. Why expect teachers to teach what they do not master? Why expect our kids to do what the teachers cannot do? I would like to see every primary school teacher take the PSLE every 3 years to see if they can score A* too.

If you can't read the post above, I have magnified the question and reproduced the text below in large font.

This P6 science question is taken from a paper that is set by a local brand name primary school. The majority of the students who took this test gave the answer as (4). The science teacher insisted that the answer is (2). The reason given was that sentence D should be interpreted to mean that only light energy is given off when an electric current passes through it. 

The children, as well as many other adults who are well versed in the English language, unanimously agreed that the students were correct to interpret the sentence as meaning that the bulb will give off light energy (though it does not rule out other forms of energy) only if an electric current passes through it (so if there is no electric current, the bulb will not give off light energy. 

 The HOD called to clarify that her teacher (and therefore the dept) is correct. She apparently said that there is nothing wrong with the statement, and that it is not meant to be read in an 'English' way, but rather in a 'scientific' way. She then proceeded to read the sentence aloud, pausing after the word 'only'. When it was pointed out to her that there is a need for a comma after 'only' if it is to be read with a pause, she insisted that that was the 'scientific' way of reading the sentence, and went on to qualify that laymen would not be able to distinguish between the scientific reading and the English reading, but that the students, having studied the subject for four years, were expected to tell the difference. According to her, this would set the A* students apart from the A students. 

Since when has our English language developed a 'scientific' dialect?! And if you cannot apply standard English language rules to reading the questions of a paper set in English, then perhaps we need to clarify that the paper is written in Scientific-English instead? What kind of nonsense is this?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Private Tuition Not Necessary in Singapore

It appears that Miss Indranee Rajah has asserted that...

(1) private tuition is not necessary in Singapore in order to pass exams

(2) exit interviews done by MOE of teachers who leave the teaching service show no evidence of teachers leaving to join the private tuition industry.

Some People Join The Teaching Service With the Intent to Leave
I'll tell you this. My neighbour is an NIE trained Math tuition teacher who runs a thriving tuition practice. She explained to me 2 years ago that she had encouraged her daughter to join the teaching service, work for a few years and then quit to become a private tutor like herself. "There is good work-life balance, classes are smaller... and the money is good." she explained. Hence, her daughter JOINED the teaching service with the express intention to serve out her time and THEN become a tuition teacher.

Of course, I doubt her daughter will reveal this at her exit interview when she leaves the teaching service sometime in the next 2 years. Why would people tell you the truth about why they're leaving?

What Happened to Grooming Each Child to His/Her Potential?
When it comes to crowing about Singaporean students' results at the PISA rankings, MOE professes that it has done a good job bringing every child to his/her full potential. Indeed, on THIS PAGE, under the heading "The Basis of Survival and Success", the MOE states that through education, every individual should reach his/her full potential.

So what happened? Now the schools teach only to a pass? 


Private tuition may not be necessary for our smartest children to pass exams... but it IS necessary to bring them to their full potential. Where do these children access the learning and the materials they need to excel in school? Aiyo... tuition lah!! High quality and expensive tuition lor! 

The OECD PISA report does show that Singaporean children with richer parents do better in school. See HERE for more details on what the report showed in terms of how the playing field gives advantages to those children with rich parents. Where do these children access the learning and the materials they need to excel in school? Aiyo... tuition lah...!! High quality and expensive tuition lor...!

The fact is this... our excellent PISA rankings are due largely to difficult exams that light bonfires under the butts of parents who then scramble for the best tuition they can afford... or they quit their jobs to personally teach their children what they can figure out. Those who are richer can afford better quality tuition. The better educated ones can figure out better and teach their own kids better.

Enough said.

Please Don't Deny The Problem Exists
Compared to many netizens, Petunia takes a relatively moderate position. I am contented to know that the government acknowledges that a problem exists and seeks actively to resolve it. See HERE how moderate and supportive of this government I am...

I get worried however, when pronouncements by Ministers and Ministers of State (in this case a SENIOR Minister of State) seek to re-craft real life with words. If you don't acknowledge there is a problem, it is worrisome. It means no one in government is working to solve it.

On what basis does Indranee Rajah claim that the tuition industry is negligeable/harmful in its impact? She has children in the system? Is she aware that certain Ministers send their children for tuition too? Or did she merely repeat a response crafted by MOE civil servants who have every reason to justify what they have done or failed to do?

Has our National Conversation become a tussle between MOE civil servants and the populace via the intermediary of the politicians?

Real Parents With Real Experiences
I spoke to 5 parents today. They have no blogs. They have no bandwidth to speak up. It's all they can do to muster enough time and energy resources to make a living and help their children thrive and in some cases, survive. These people don't want trouble. They try their best to work within the system, spending $500+ to $1200 a month on tuition for ONE child alone. NONE of them believe that Every School is a Good School. None of them believe that tuition is unnecessary because they have personally seen their children's grades go to the top AFTER administering expensive tuition to their children.

One of them told me... "Don't hope. I believe it is impossible for this lot of government servants and politicians to change policy very much."... and I was myself embarrassed because I was just only telling her that "Nothing is impossible. We must always hope for the better."

I begin to lose hope too. Maybe it IS impossible for the PAP to change. It cannot SEE the problem so it cannot solve it.

I am guilty of writing posts that are critical of the education system in Singapore as in HERE. Such posts get shared and re-shared on Facebook and get thousands of hits. I am as guilty of writing posts that support MOE's initiatives as in HERE. This one achieved only 800 hits. From these numbers, I am getting a sense of where the silent majority is swinging to on matters of education.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


I love French food but very rarely indulge in French restaurants. Till now, I've found French restaurants largely overpriced, selling food that one can easily make at home for a fraction of the cost.

Enter Saveur, where one can get good French fare for under $20 per pax.

Garden salad with quail's eggs.

Cod fish.

Pork Belly with Melt in the Mouth Runny Yolk.

Duck Confit (a leeeeetle bit dry but still good)

Chocolate mousse

Pistachio Panna Cotta (my favorite)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Teeny Tiny Puppy

3 Weeks Old Puppy.

Puppy On Puppy Mat.

The Children's Teachers' Day Donations.

The SPCA called up yesterday and gave me a puppy to foster for 2 months.

It really is the cutest little thing. It can't even walk properly and I'm not sure it can see very well. It likes to crawl on my lap and fall asleep there. The vet said that it can actually lap meals from a bowl. I've found that it really doesn't eat much that way. It has to be bottle fed.

Teachers' Day has just gone past. I didn't think there was much meaning in receiving a whole lot of Teachers' Day gifts so I adapted an idea from The Husband. In the past, he didn't much like receiving personal corporate gifts either so he made clear to all the organisations that had dealings with HIS organisation that there was such-and-such a charity they could donate some money to... and be given a Letter of Acknowledgement that they could then mail to him, as his personal corporate gift.

Imagine all the money that could go to charity if corporations donated money (instead of buying tea sets or gold ornaments of hundreds of dollars) to show their appreciation for such and such an individual or another? Over the years, we've collected all manner of gifts (tea sets, jewelry, Balmain handbags, large golden sculptures, small gold sculptures, pendants, hampers of abalone and towers of moon cakes). The Husband and I looked upon all that as a waste of money except for the obvious sincerity that came with the gift. The money could thus go to charity and the sincere gesture of friendship could still come to us.

Perfect use of resources!

I told the kids to bring a little bit of their pocket money. Then, we passed around a collection bag. The children donated a LOT MORE than I thought they would, given that they're only children. I'm very proud of their generosity indeed!! Well done children!! You've just made a lovely donation to the SPCA Building Fund!

Animals have a place in God's world too.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Home Made Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

The Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Churning Inside the Ice Cream Maker

The Melted Concoction

Melting Dark Chocolate, Milk, Whipping Cream and Condensed Milk in a Bain-Marie

The Ingredients from NTUC

300ml can of evaporated milk
600ml of whipped cream
300ml of whole fat milk
110g of chocolate
2 tablespoons on mini chocolate chips

(1) Boil a large pot of water. Insert a smaller pot inside the boiling water. Place 110g of chocolate in the smaller pot. The chocolate will slowly melt.

(2) Dribble whole fat milk into the chocolate slowly. Stir constantly with a fork.

(3) Dribble the whipped cream into the chocolate + milk mixture. Stir constantly with a fork.

(4) Refrigerate the mixture overnight.

(5) Pop it into the ice cream churner.  Churn 20 minutes. Please follow your own ice-cream maker's instructions.

Funny Egg-Shaped Machine from Kenwood - $108.
It has and internal COLD POT that you need to freeze for 24 hours before you put The Cream Mix inside to churn. Please don't go and touch the inside of the COLD POT with your fingers. I went and did that and suffered a cold burn.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Clan Restaurant

Lovely Décor and Ambiance.

Chef's Platter: Duck Rillettes.

Chef's Platter: Grilled Scallop.

Chef's Platter: Sesame Prawn Rice Salad.

Chef's Platter with all 3 of the Above

Alaskan King Crab Cold Dish.

Soft Shell Crab Starter.

Kurobuta Pork Belly Starter.

Mushroom Soup and Miso Soup.

Marbled Beef Slices on a Hot Stone.

Duck Confit.

Panna Cotta.

Chocolate Lava Cake with Almond Gelato.

I highly recommend this restaurant. It's $65.80 for the 6 course meal. We were there at lunch, but we ordered the 6 course dinner meal instead. The 5 course meal costs $45.80. Check out the rest of their menu HERE.

Each bite was a delight. We didn't order anything that we hadn't eaten elsewhere before. Every course compared very favorably with similar dishes elsewhere. There are restaurants that charge twice this price for food that is less well made and not so well presented.

I almost asked to see The Chef. The next time I go, I will ask to see The Chef, just so that I can actually TALK to the person who makes magic happen on my tongue. The grilled scallop was done just right, moist and warm with a burst of flavour from the tiny grains of sea salt. The prawn rice salad was just the right combination of sticky, sweet, savory and creamy... with interest lent to it by black and white sesame seeds.

I didn't much like the looks of the soft shell crab. It looked a lot like a fritter and I don't like fritters. The Husband raved about it though. The Husband almost never raves about anything. 

I've never even heard him rave about me.

The Kurobuta Pork Belly was tastiness in every bite. I was quite sorry when I had eaten all of it. Oh boy! The mushroom soup! Cacio e Pepe served great mushroom soup. This one was better if that's even possible. The Husband liked his miso soup too. According to him "It's different from most miso soups." I tasted a bit and I think they've used salmon in the soup stock.

Then came the pièce de résistance. Mine was perfectly marbled beef on an autumn leaf, laid atop a hot stone. This made me think of the Hakone ryokan kaiseki dinners. Anyway, the meat was melt in your mouth tender. The Husband looked up from his Duck Confit and asked to trade a bit of duck for a bit of marbled beef.

Oooooooh... the duck was good too. Halfway through those 2 main courses I decided that I had died and gone to heaven. Then, came dessert. Panna cotta - best I've EVER had ANYWHERE. Chocolate lava cake - just LOOK at the photo! The lava oozed out so seductively that The Husband looked at my face and lovingly said, "You can have all of it."

I gave him a leeeeeeeetle of it.

In the car, The Husband said, "The next time we go back there...." I didn't hear the 2nd half of the sentence because I was focusing on the words "The next time we go back there..."

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Child & Youth Suicides

15 year old NUS High Student Commits Suicide

From the Institute of Mental Health, Dr Daniel Fung, Carolyn Kee and Dr Rebecca Ang, share that there is a “worrying trend of extremely young suicides which has become more apparent in the past 10 years.” (Information taken from HERE.)

Case 1
A month or 2 ago, a young student living in the same block of university apartments as The Daughter, hanged himself. Another young man looked across the space between the 2 blocks of flats and saw him hanging by the neck on a rope. The university broke into the apartment and took down the lifeless body. The young man was a top student in a top junior college. It seemed to all that he was destined for the best scholarship and the best university in the world.

In . The . World.

On the day of his A level exam, he walked into the hall with an mp3 player. The penalty was heavy indeed. His entire paper was voided. He left his top junior college with a marred A level certificate. He also left with a record of having attempted to "cheat".

Case 2
This weekend, a Mommy emailed me something that weighed upon her heart. She told me of her good friend's daughter, who had committed suicide because she had failed her first year at a local university.

Case 3
It's bad enough to hear of 2 cases in 3 months but today, I saw the news of the 15 year old NUS High student who committed suicide.

What is going on?

Note that these are children who may be considered the cream of our youths. The first was from a top school... in a top program... at the top of his cohort. The second was a university undergrad in a good local university. The 3rd is from NUS High... a school that takes in the top science and math talent in the nation.

I'm not going to say much about the educational system. I do think that the past 15 years of ranking schools, and teachers and driving for KPIs have frightened parents into a vortex of uncontrollable anxiety and disappointment. However, MOE is changing. Slowly. That's good enough for me.

Parents' Role
Meanwhile, I would like to send an appeal to parents who have just received their children's CA2 results. Some of your children may have done very badly, in the same way that Little Boy did very badly for Chinese (last in class). Please don't dump your anger and frustration on your child. That's like kicking a man when he's down. Pick up your child. Put him on your knee and examine the process of studying that had lead to poor results.

Please focus on process, not on results.

I KNOW for a fact that all children want to please their parents. No child enjoys disappointing his/her parents. Gee... when I teach the children in Dr Pet's Enrichment, all the children fall over themselves to please ME, and I am not even their parent!! Often times, our children do poorly in school NOT because they were lazy or they did not care. The children often don't access the learning they need to do well. If parents have not known how to help their child, nor had the money to help their child... then please, the least you can do is to comfort your child in his/her hour of need.

It's just too bad that you didn't have the money nor the knowledge to help your child. Take your anger out somewhere else but NOT on your child. Your anger stays in the child. It festers and it grows. It poisons your child... sometimes to death.

Whatever the MOE has done or failed to do is beside the point. As parents we can make a difference to whether our children grow up emotionally crippled or not.

I am illiterate in Chinese. I refused to give Little Boy tuition in Chinese. When Little Boy came home last in class for Chinese, I smiled at him. When he next came home 2nd last in Chinese, I celebrated his improvement. I could not be angry at my Little Boy. He had tried his best. It was not his failure to bear alone. It was mine too. If only I could write Chinese at the level that I could write English. Unfortunately, I could not and cannot. If only I had sent him to enrichment since he was 3 years old. Unfortunately, I did not. Whose fault is it? Mine.

Of course, if every school is a good school and teaches everything the child needs to tackle exams, then there is no need for parents to teach at home... nor buy enrichment for their kids. However, Little Boy's school taught Chinese strictly from the textbook (which we all know is insufficient to pass exams). Whose fault is it? The MOE.

Do not make your child shoulder YOUR failure as a parent to bridge the gap that primary schools should not have left there. It is YOUR failure that you could not bridge the gap. It is the failure of the educational system to have left that gap unfilled.

It is NOT the failure of your child. Alone.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Gymnema Leaf Tea

"The atomic arrangement of gymnemic acid molecules is similar to that of glucose molecules. These molecules fill the receptor locations on the taste buds thereby preventing its activation by sugar molecules present in the food, thereby curbing the sugar craving. Similarly, Gymnemic acid molecules fill the receptor location in the absorptive external layers of the intestine thereby preventing the sugar molecules absorption by the intestine, which results in low blood sugar level."

- Text taken from HERE -

Foods with high glycemic index send me straight to sleep. One morning, I ingested a bowl of pork rice porridge at 9 am (the sort of rice porridge that is so mushed up you can't see the individual grains anymore). Within half an hour, I crawled into the covers of my bed and floated all over dream land until 1pm. Wow! Who needs sedatives when all you need is porridge to drop like a ton of bricks?! The downsides are these...
(1) as I sleep, the sugar goes straight into my fat cells (and so I put on weight but cannot take it off)
(2) one can't enjoy life perpetually asleep

If rice porridge floats me off to dreamland then assuredly, all manner of sweet desserts such as ice cream, cakes, tarts... all sing inveiglingly sweet lullabies to my tummy. That's not a good way to live. One minute, I'm there chatting over cake and tea. The next minute I'm prostrate, under the table or wherever it may be where I can curl up and sleep.

I tried all manner of artificial sweeteners and gave up. Almost all artificial sweeteners have side effects - stevia or sucralose or aspartame. Besides, they all taste awful. I would rather have my stuff unsweetened than eat artificial sweeteners.

So, I'm thrilled to discover gymnema tea. I first blogged about gymnema tea HERE. After a judicious half scoop of ice cream, I down one mug of gymnema tea to prevent my body from absorbing sugar. This prevents further weight gain from newly absorbed sugar. It also helps weight loss because I stay awake and active enough to burn fat. One must remember to drink the tea AFTER eating the yummy dessert because the gynmemic acid molecules fill the receptor locations on the tastebuds. If you drink the tea BEFORE eating the yummy dessert, then your dessert is going to taste half as sweet as it really is.

For those of you who have the same problem as I, may this tea bless you as much as it has blessed me. I buy my gymnema tea from Herbal Sense Life.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Mid-Autumn Festival Lanterns

I love the mid-autumn festival. It's that one time in the year where we all get together and play with fire. Last year, I bought 12 lanterns and when they were all hung out in the garden, they were so very pretty that I bought 36 lanterns this year. The whole family got together to light them and hang them out. I wish I had a bigger family, then I would bedeck my garden with 100 lanterns and more.

It's a bewitching sight, all these brightly coloured lanterns flickering in the dark. I wish I had night classes in Dr Pet's Enrichment. Think of all the fun the kids would have lighting candles in the dark after class.

It's a pity though, that the candles burn out so quickly. Next year, I'll source for longer (and thicker) candles.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Lair of the Sabre-Toothed Tiger

I can't quite remember what names I gave the 2 groups of children. There was a Clan of the Cave Bear... and Lair of the Sabre-Toothed Tiger... and something about a lion or something. Anyway, it was funny that the mere act of naming them after a fierce and strong animal got the kids all excited. All manner of grunts and growls could be heard... in as far as their little squeaky voices could manage.

I think God knew what He was doing when He made grass... because on grass, the children can run about and not fall. Even if they fall, the soft grass cushions their fall. So, I walked them a little ways down to a small patch of green grass with a large tree. In the shade of that huge tree, the children slugged it out with my Kick Ass Water Guns.

There is something magical about children playing with wild abandon in the sun. Waves of joy pulsed off them and lapped gently at the edges of my heart. Every adult in the vicinity was attracted to come look, mesmerized. For the first time, the parents were able to witness the last 10 minutes of Dr Pet's class. Curious other adults came too, attracted to the spectacle of a group of yelling happy children. They all stood there smiling in the sunlight. Something in the children's happiness played chords of beautiful music in the adults' hearts. Mommies and daddies took videos and pictures with their smart phones. A very very kind mother sent me her set of 9 pictures. If any of the other Moms or Dads also took pictures/videos, please do email them to me? I will not upload videos into my blog (in order to protect the children), and if I do upload pictures, I will ensure the children's faces cannot be seen (as above). 

I am training a new facilitator. For 5 weeks, she was serious and professional. She spoke softly and didn't smile. I had to intervene often in her class to soften the mood. She had had some experience working in some other tuition agencies where she was given classes to teach. She thought she knew what a Teacher should be like. Unfortunately, her definition of what  a Teacher was, did not gel with my definition. I had to teach her my definition. This new facilitator too stood wonderingly and marveled at this strange phenomenon of children playing with abandon, in the sun. Then, she smiled at me and said, "Thank you Dr Pet, for teaching me how to love children."

And that, my friends, is praise indeed. No?