Tuesday, March 27, 2012

2nd Level Thinking in Real Life

2nd Level Thinking works in real life as well. We should not be thinking superficially and derive simplistic answers to some of the problems we face. Again in most cases, consensus would be right, and it's tempting to just follow the crowd. Sometimes, maybe average is good enough. But in other important issues, we might need to strive to be one level up.

Take my favourite topic: our kids' education. All the parents in Singapore are stuck in this crazy competition of getting into branded schools, tuition marathons and fighting to be one up against the rest. But the since every parent is doing that, no child stands out. To make things worse, parents waste money on tuition, waste time at volunteer work and every child actually has less free time, are more stressed and become less proficient in other non-academic areas: such as learning to iron, cook or fix a light bulb.

One solution to this issue is for authorities to step in as mentioned in previous posts. The nature of the game has evolved such that it is impossible for the participants (ie parents) to resolve the issue, even though everyone is just simply working in their own best interest. This is akin to asking all women to stop wearing high heels. (See this post if you don't get this.)

Well that's topic for another day.

The idea here today is to apply Second Level Thinking. Different but better. Needless to say, it cannot be just different. Some might say don't go for tuition lah, don't succumb to doing parent volunteer and support this elitist system. But then the kid loses out. So it has to be more innovative than that.

Again we ask questions such as:

1. What are the viable alternatives?
2. How can we invert and think out of the box?
3. Where are the kids today lacking?
4. What are other parents not doing enough?
5. Does my kid have a talent?

When we think through some of these answers we are effectively applying Second Level Thinking and some solutions might well be different and better.

Take question 3, what are kids today lacking? There are plenty! As alluded to above, they cannot do simple chores (Blame the Maids!). They speak less mother tongue (60% of homes are English speaking). They are exam smart not street smart. They don't see as well (a lot of kids are short-sighted).

A lot of the issues have no relevance in academics but still something to think about. The one key here: kids today speak much more English and are bad at their mother tongue.

20 years ago, English was a problem, bcos 60% of Chinese homes speak Mandarin at home. Today it is the opposite. Our Chinese kids are becoming bananas fast. Yellow on the outside, all white inside. Their command of the Chinese language is poor, and they and their parents either have no intention to do anything about it or are incapable of doing anything bcos the parents themselves don't speak good Mandarin. In fact, MOE wanted to lower the bar to satisfy some parents, only to get lambasted by the Chinese elites.

So the 2nd Level Thinking here would be to let our kids become proficient in at least 2 languages. In fact, we should let them be exposed to more if possible. Research have shown that kids can learn languages better than adults. So while we are at it, we can definitely throw in important languages like Malay, Japanese or even Spanish.

Of course language needs the environment, so if the parents cannot speak Spanish, it is hard for the child to pick it up out of the blue. But for some parents who are bilingual and speak dialects, or Malay or other 3rd languages, it might be useful to impart these to your kids.

Alas, as in stock market, people catch up to 2nd Level Thinking fast. What worked yesterday might not work today. Some parents prepared their children for Primary 1 when the kids were in K1, K2 many many years ago and those kids gained the one up against their peers during that time. But today, all parents do this and the bar is raised, to the detriment of those who cannot keep up.

Similarly, I won't be surprised that a lot of parents are making sure their kids are effectively trilingual and in the near future, we need to apply 3rd Level Thinking to gain that one up again.


  1. There is no end to the raising of the bars. Future generations will face greater pressure and difficulties. Will these pressure enable them to be better? Maybe to some is yes. The ones not able to make it will suffer a lot. Come to think of it. We are the generation that creates such difficulties for future ones. Thanks for your sharing.

  2. I hear and feel your passion ;)

    I've no children; but from what I've seen on my more "street smart" married colleagues with children, I would do either of these, if I had children:

    1) If I more well to do, I would send my kids to international schools. Expose them to various cultures and have an international outlook.

    Chinese I will have my own private tuition if it's not offered by the school.

    I am always so impressed with the children of my European colleagues when I was in Shanghai. They speak at least 2 European languages, speak Mandarin, and some even know Japanese! Yes, children do pick up languages easy from their classmates! (Like we know a bit of Malay from our neighbours and classmates - OK, not today's kids)

    2) If I not so well to do (like now), I would send my kids to neighbourhood schools, no tuition, but use the spare time to encourage them to participate in activities (sports, arts, etc) where we can mingle with other nationalities.

    Singapore is a cosmopolitan city in a global village. The quicker we move away from a parochial outlook, the better!

  3. Extraordinary post - I believe you put in a lot of time and effort into this post, kudos! It's better than excellent.. I enjoy reading it very much.

    I kinda admire your persistent and passion. All the way:) CheerS!