Thursday, May 26, 2011

Questions For The Education Minister

Freshly minted Minister for Education Heng Swee Keat has reportedly received feedback directly from parents through his Facebook account and via e-mail. One wonders how many of the queries border on the mundane ("why my son so stressed, hah?"), and how many will touch on issues that have been buried under opaque layers of bureaucracy. We were never really told why the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme was introduced except that Teo Chee Hean visited some American schools and liked what he saw. Local universities struggled to weigh the parity of the first batch of IBs with A level applicants.

In last year's Chemistry paper for the A levels, there was one question that was out of syllabus. However, one school did provide the required text material for its own students, and the raw score was adjusted upwards for the whole 2010 batch of students to address the anomaly. Some "B" grade students happily earned an "A" score, thanks to the "upgrading" exercise. Not all "A"s are created equal.

The incongruity happened because, for reasons best known to the Mandarins at MOE, junior colleges do not use textbooks. Instead, teachers produce notes which are culled from the recommended textbooks included in MOE's official syllabus for each subject. Although the same list of recommended books are used by the teachers to prepare the study notes, the students end up with study material content that depend on the varying industry and competence of the relevant subject teachers. Teachers are not textbook writers. Despite the differing sets of input material, all students sit for a common test paper to evaluate their scholastic output.

One teacher acknowledged and recognised the inequality of the system, but could offer no explanation. She had her own frustrations with the top-down dictates from MOE. "Do you know we are not supposed to teach Kirchhoff's Law?" she volunteered, referring to the most fundamental and important rules in electronics. If Mr Kirchhoff fell out of favour with the powers that be, perhaps one day Issac Newton will also face the same fate. Maybe our schools will soon explain away all physical phenomena as acts of god. That would be so convenient for the Minister for Floods.

Although better recognised for his experience at MAS, Heng was supposed to have spent time at the Education Ministry, the esteemed halls of which have been paced by many high flying scholars. Time will tell if he is the right man for the job. One thing's for sure, it has to be better than tasking Tharman Shanmugaratnam to spearhead the learning of Mandarin, as he was once assigned.

9 comments:

  1. Numerous well paid scholars have headed the Ministry of Education with little success.

    Maybe it's time to get a successful entrepreneur who was a lousy student to head the Ministry of Education.

    Or maybe ... a person who actually has a degree and professional training in education.

    I fear Heng Swee Keat will just join another long line of high flyers who use the Education Ministry as a stepping stone.

    Tharman gets promoted to Prime Minister.
    Heng Swee Keat takes over Tharman's portfolio.

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  2. RE: "We were never really told why the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme was introduced except that Teo Chee Hean visited some American schools and liked what he saw. Local universities struggled to weigh the parity of the first batch of IBs with A level applicants."

    All the answers can be found by looking through MOE's media archive, where you will find the speeches given since 1997. You will also find the reports made by the Committee on Review of JCUS Education and other such items that will clarify the picture for you.

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  3. The full story of Goh Keng Swee's attempts at using systems engineers at the MOE has yet to be told. Was it beneficial for education to have these system engineers run MOE?

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  4. The primary focus of the Sin Education System seems to be 'how to indoctrinate the students to be obedient citizens'. In so doing, history of Sin is compiled to reflect the 'sacrifices' of the local leaders and their so called 'excellent and brilliant' leaderships, how they 'struggled' for the people.
    As long as the FOCUS is maintained, Sin is going to nurture bunch and bunch of unthinking sycophants who will be as conventional as one another.
    The whole education system has been made into a social engineering facility.

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  5. The formula to calculate the ministers' salaries, and the sample of private individuals used for the 6 chosen professions must be in the MOF archives somewhere. Anyone happen to know what is the url? Or is it buried in the opaque layers of bureaucracy?

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  6. "The whole education system has been made into a social engineering facility"

    There is some truth in the comment above from Anon 16:42. This social engineering policy probably began when Goh Keng Swee sent his systems engineers in the MOE in the 70's (or was it the 80's?). The seeds of the problem were sown, with good intentions, by the first generation PAP leaders. Good intentions however are subject to the person's individual perceptions, which may be flawed. We shouuld NOT draw a distinction between old PAP and new PAP as many are doing these days. Having a brain-dead MSM which provides space to points of view which oppose top down doctrines have bought us where we are now.

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  7. It should be: "..which provides NO space to points of view which oppose top down doctrines have bought us where we are now...

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  8. They removed Kirchoff's Law from the Physics syllabus? Oh man...

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