Thursday, September 08, 2011

Problems and Solutions to Singapore’s Education System – Part 2

So, what is the solution?

As I have alluded to in the last post, it is the elimination of scarcity value. This means eliminating our branded schools, or creating more schools that are as good. It will also incorporate changes to the grading system to make it more holistic, encompassing many more subjects, making the system less granular and qualitative assessments from form teachers. It will also involve redistributing resources from elite schools to the entire system and upping the Education budget, making it bigger than Defence.

There are a few ways to create more good schools, mostly involving hard measures but for the greater good. We can redeploy the best teachers to other places and rotate these best teachers and principals so that they spread the best practices. We can nurture promising schools so as they can rival the top schools. These are tough choices. There will be a lot of unhappiness and resistance and it will take a decade if not more to achieve but our children and the future generations will benefit.

Think about the day where parents no longer need to scramble to get their kids into branded schools, because they know that most schools in Singapore are as good. There will be no volunteering for mundane tasks, no fighting to be a grassroots leader, or buying properties for the sake of getting 1km from the school etc. Students receive equal opportunities no matter which school they go. They get a chance to learn from the best teachers and more importantly to learn more holistically.

These are not simple changes. We need to attract talented people and convince them teaching is again a good, noble, highly sought after profession, like in the old days. We might need to double the salaries of teachers, and pay the better ones even more. We need to put money into nurturing promising schools. It is not an impossible task. A good example would be Rulang Primary, which was never highly regarded just perhaps 10 years ago but is today one of the most coveted schools in Jurong. We need a lot more Rulangs and the people who made that possible.

The strength of a good system is to make the best the lowest denominator. In basketball, if we pit Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan against and All Star Team, which team is likely to win? It’s Chicago Bulls, bcos in the good team, Michael Jordan in the lowest denominator, while in an All Star Team, the weakest Star is the lowest denominator, and the weakest All Star is inferior to Michael Jordan. Currently Singapore’s primary school system has the worse schools as the lowest denominator. And in the schools, the worse students are the lowest denominator, dragging down the class, or even the school. Hence the parents scramble to put their children into the best schools, not wanting to be dragged down.

On changes to the grading system, by making it more holistic means more manpower as well. The current PSLE is efficient and achieve its purpose of sorting out the best students. The new system wants to put the child at the centre of the equation. It means form teachers making qualitative assessments, ie smaller classes. Emphasizing other subjects, more specialized teachers. Infrastructure changes would likely be needed as well: a science garden, history and geography rooms, music rooms, sports facilities, like swimming pools in every school etc.

Again, such changes are not easy, but would be for the greater good and the benefit for the children of Singapore.

Next post, we talk about kiasu parents!

See all posts!
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4


  1. 8percentpa,

    I can feel the passion of your posts on this subject of education.

    I would like to share my views from the perspective of someone who left school at 16.

    I am glad that in Singapore, we now have more options beside the traditional academic route.

    1) We have a great technical education alternative in ITE for those we are more "hands-on".

    2) We also have Laselle and NAFA for those who are more artistically inclined.

    3) We also have private musical and talent enchanement schools for those who dare to dream to be stars!

    4) We have Shatec for those who aspire to be chefs and be in the F&B industry.

    5) We even now have EPC to encourage entrepreneurship in Singapore!

    For me, it's about offering more alternatives than the traditional academic route. And for parents to accept and embrace diversity and be less uptight about academic "success".

    It's parents that provide the pressure - not the system.

    Cheers to parents who practice home schooling. The road less travelled is lonely...

  2. A top school is at the top because of both its staff and students. Even if its staff is only as good as the staff of any other school, it will still be top as parents scramble to put their children into the best schools.
    Each child is unique, with different academic abilities. An academically bright child will excel as long as his teacher does the minimum. An academically weak child will not improve much under a top teacher.
    A solution would be to come up with a system to identify each child's talents and offer more alternatives to nurture these talents. Academic ability is not the only talent we should value.

  3. Hi 8percentpa, your concept of using the best as the lowest denominator intrigues me. I never thought about it that way. You are right. This elitism and meritocratic system is so deeply ingrained. Very difficult to change indeed!