Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Translation of Zaobao article

As promised, here's a translation of the Zaobao article in the previous post. It's pretty long so my friend only translated the left column portion which refers to the letter.

Parent’s letter to Heng Swee Keat on Facebook receives overwhelming response

On 24 May, following the swearing in of Ministers to the Cabinet, Ms Monica Lim posted a letter to Education Minister Heng Swee Keat on her Facebook page.

The 2000-word letter outlined the concerns of a parent regarding the current education system. The letter went viral, receiving more than 3,000 ‘likes’ and close to 600 comments on Facebook.

During an interview, Ms Monica Lim said, “What surprised me was that there are actually so many people out there who felt like me. Many young parents have communicated to me through Facebook and email, expressing concerns over the education their kids are receiving”.

Parents like Monica Lim feel that the Singapore education system is flawed. The system is currently too obsessed with results. There is a need for a total reform or we risk producing generations of “robots without souls”.

Monica Lim is a mother of two. Her daughter and son are in secondary 2 and primary 5 respectively. In her letter to Mr Heng Swee Keat, she said that over the years, through the learning experiences of her children, she has become increasingly frustrated by this education system that does not edify the development of children.

In her opinion, the problem lies with the fact that schools are increasingly run like businesses. Teachers are assessed and ranked according to quantifiable results (KPIs). Inevitably, parents and students too, become obsessed with getting good results in both school-based and national examinations, leading to indiscriminate tuition, favouring of branded schools, and schools raising their standard of examinations year after year. As such, students experience lower self-confidence and very high levels of stress.

Monica Lim said, “The backlash is that our children’s self-worth and perception have become intrinsically linked to their academic grades. They are judged according to their academic ability.
Because of this, students may fall prey to the “entitled mentality”, thinking that they are better than others simply because they are smarter”.

No progress if current view of success remains

According to a head of department at a secondary school, since the promotion of the “teach less learn more” philosophy by MOE in 2004, the education policy for local primary and secondary schools has seen some subtle changes. Despite the idea of a holistic education being widely accepted, not all teachers can, in this short period of time, stop their “spoon-feeding” method of teaching. The PERI report, which was released two years ago, is the best proof.

According to her, although currently, the main KPI for teachers is students’ examination results, other factors like how teachers impart character education, social emotional learning, 21st century analysis and creative thinking skills, and their communication skills are equally valued.

Schools are unable to adopt a more relaxed attitude towards results because they need to be answerable to parents. For example, even if students perform very well in CCAs but do badly in the examinations, most parents will still be dissatisfied and may blame the examination system. However, abolishing the national examination system will not solve the problem. Instead, people will lose confidence in Singapore’s education system. This will impede students’ chances when applying to further their studies at overseas universities in the future.

Do not make policies based on superficial thinking

Using the “teach less learn more” motto as an example, another teacher, who is the head of his school’s Chinese language department, further explained difficulties faced by schools. According to him, the underlying concept of “teach less learn more” is to encourage self-learning through different teaching methods, which is good. Some schools have increased depth in the Chinese language curriculum through the introduction of activities such as Chinese painting, Chinese opera, etc. But some parents have criticised that these activities will not help improve students’ grades in the short term. Instead, the “teach less” component will result in their spending more money on tuition.

This teacher further explained, “The crux lies with both parents’ and educators’ mentality. If they continue to embrace the view that academic qualification is utmost important, the current system will remain”.

Generally, teachers believe that the MOE’s education policy in recent years is basically sound. The problem lies with the fact that insufficient thought was put into the execution. They hope that in the coming months, other than “listening” to parent’s opinion, the ministry should communicate more with teachers to understand the actual problems on the ground.

A teacher said, “The MOE should maintain closer ties with teachers. Otherwise, policies will simply be crafted from the ivory tower. Many policy makers lack practical experience, thus they have one-sided understanding of educational issues”.

In addition, education is a long drawn-process. Effects of changes made will not show overnight. Thus, some teachers believe that as heads of schools, principals should not be rotated every 5 to 6 years. If the principals are allowed to serve in the same school for a longer period of time, there will be more stability. Teachers will not have to adapt to changes brought forth by new principals so frequently. More efforts can then be put into carrying out and assessing the benefits of educational plans implemented.

Monica Lim hopes that the MOE can be swift in its reform of the education system. Apart from reviewing teachers’ assessment, related issues such as the national examinations framework needs to be changed. She feels that the PSLE should be abolished as it is unfair to decide a child’s future simply on an examination taken at 12 years old.

This is not the first time that Monica Lim has written to the MOE. The difference is that this letter to the Minister was made public and she has received a reply from him. In his reply, the Minister thanked Monica Lim for her suggestions but being new, he indicated that he would need time to study the observations and suggestions he had received.

Although it is short, Monica Lim was heartened by the reply. She said, “He is a new Minister so it is natural that he cannot make any promises in the short term. But his response seems genuine and I hope to see changes in the education policies in the future”.

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