Those who are not religious will be made uncomfortable by this post. Those who are religious (but do not share my religion) feel free to interpret this post through the lenses of your own religion. Whatever religion we don't share, at least you and I share a belief in the existence of a God. So, let that draw us closer together.
In 2011, I was in my car, hands on steering wheel when an urge came upon me to pray. It was a prayer of such monumental proportions that I almost laughed out loud. I prayed "Dear God, please use me as an instrument of your will to influence the direction of Singapore's educational environment."
The sheer audacity of the prayer was such that I remember thinking "This is an impossible prayer. If anything comes out of it, it is testimony to God's power at work." Back in 2011, Petunia's daily routine comprised baking, roasting, cleaning, gardening, groceries, driving and Little Boy. Yes... I did do some enjoyable part-time work, but nothing of especial note. It was just some hours a week to keep me current and ready to join the workforce again in some way, when Little Boy was grown... as Little Boys are wont to do. There really was NOTHING in my housewife's life to give me even the slightest suspicion of any hope that such a prayer would one day come to be.
So, on Monday 30th September 2013, when I waited in the conference room (along with 6 other invited guests) for the arrival of the Minister of State for Education, Sim Ann, the whole situation seemed surreal. I felt like I had walked into the middle of Salvador Dali's hallucination. Of course, it didn't help that I was in the grip of one of those awful fatigues. My body temperature was half a degree lower than everyone else. The tips of my fingers and toes were freezing cold. When I left the house, I wasn't even sure if I wouldn't suddenly collapse on the floor.
How one thing lead to another that I found myself in that room, I think only God knows. How my foggy brain suddenly turned sharp as the discussion progressed, I think only God knows.
For the MOE staff present, it was probably all in a day's work. Nothing miraculous. For Ms Sim Ann, it was probably 2 hours of her very packed schedule. Also, nothing miraculous. For me though, it was something of a miracle that resulted from an impetuous impossible prayer said half laughing to God in March 2011.
I felt some sense of awe, until Ms Sim Ann walked in. You know, she has this presence that instantly warms you and makes you feel at home.
I'm not sure how much influence I've had on MOE policy. Perhaps nothing... perhaps a little... perhaps more. MOE didn't say. Besides, plenty of other people have commented on education via the Singapore Conversation and letters to the press. It has not just been me. It's been a groundswell of voices articulating our children's pain, and this country's loss. Besides, people like Heng Swee Keat and Sim Ann have brains (excellent ones) and strong personal convictions too. However, if God is involved, there would have been SOME influence.
Me, I only know that I agreed with much that Ms Sim Ann said as she balanced the needs of the MOE (need to encourage her Ministry and prevent it from sinking into depression... after all, it's not an entirely broken Ministry is it?)... cautioned against over hasty policy decisions... but at the same time taking a clear position on the need to temper our national enthousiasm for DIFFERENTIATING our children too MUCH and too EARLY. More about this in a later post.
Ms Sim Ann did not try to defend the indefensible and in view of the stark progress the MOE has made towards a more equitable and holistic educational system in the 2013 MOE Work Plan, one could understand that not everything parents wish for, can be achieved in so short a time. The way is long still but at least there is a definite and concerted effort in a direction I can wholeheartedly support... even if I am sceptical that the MOE can implement it well. You see, MOE HQ doesn't seem capable of exerting control over the Cowboy Towns (i.e., the schools where all sorts of excesses can happen without MOE control). This apparently weak leadership is worrisome because plans stay on paper unless there is a strong leadership to carry them through. Think Lee Kuan Yew and how he carried along with him the rich and the poor alike... and ensured that even the smallest light switch in every government chalet was operational ... and ensured that even the tiniest drain pipe in the deep of the kampongs stayed clean... and ensured that the different types of Indian, Chinese, Malay and British run schools followed a national syllabus.
We need that. God willing, we will have that.
In this post, I just want to give glory to a powerful God who can make miracles happen. I do hope that it is just the start of many more miracles he will wreak on behalf of Singaporean children and parents.