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1st March, 2013
Ms Indranee Rajah
Senior Minister of State (Education)
Dear Ms Rajah
I refer to your statement in Parliament on Monday, in response to a query by Nominated Member of Parliament Ms Janice Koh, that "the decline in the number of students taking pure literature at the 'O' levels is linked to the introduction of combined humanities, with its compulsory social studies component, as a subject." My profile is submitted in the fourth attachment for your own information.
2 My response to your assertion is contained in the first attachment "Are schools pressuring students on subject choices?" that was published in the STForum Online edition yesterday. The truth in this matter is the reality obtaining in schools where principals and teachers in a generic sense are actually programming some of their students into believing that they would fare badly in their exams should they offer such academically rigorous subjects like literature and additional mathematics in the 'O' level exams. As a corollary, principals and teachers have been programming their students into offering such easier options like principles of accounts. Recently, I had a case of my neighbour's grandson who did pretty well in his final semester Sec 2 exams (2012) in mathematics but was denied permission to offer additional mathematics in the upper secondary levels. Instead, the school had asked him to offer principles of accounts. I had been encouraging him and his parents to appeal to the good sense of his school to allow him to offer additional mathematics instead of being forced to offer the easier option principles of account. His teachers ridiculed him by asking him if he was aware that about 80% of students who offered principles of account scored the distinction grade! The school in question is St Gabriels Secondary. And the boy concerned is Timothy Wong who I was able to move from Sec 2 (Normal Academic) to Sec 3 Express. This boy has envisioned his goal of being a lawyer in future. And, I am sure, you, as an accomplished lawyer, will be the first to assert that the process of logic that is the hallmark of good mathematics will have a powerful bearing on legal training in the future.
3 Both my sons, Siva and Vivek, were also from St Gabriels Secondary and I had the unenviable task then of taking the same matter up when the former principal, Mr Adolphus Tan (currently principal of St Patricks Sec) was in charge. My reflections on this important matter of subject offerings are contained in the second attachment entitled "Allow students to decide with their parents on their long-term goals." Whilst my elder son is currently doing great as a computer whiz-kid in the UK, my second son completed his degree in Electrical, electronic & communications engineering at the University of Bristol and is currently Systems Analyst in an international bank. If I had not ventured on behalf of my sons against certain short-sighted unprofessional decisions of principals, they too would have suffered the misfortune of being 'tunnel-visioned' into unchallenging and unattractive pathways merely to satisfy the principals' short-term gratifications of school rankings via offering easier (softer) options. There is an urgent need to address the issue of subject offerings with principals of secondary schools in a generic sense so that our students are not being short-changed.
4 A few other schools are also forcing their students into offering easier options like principles of accounts even to their pure science students. Why principles of accounts that cannot be counted even for admission to accountancy courses in our universities is anybody's guess. An example is Compassvale Secondary School. I would venture to suggest that the subject principles of accounts ought to be removed from our curriculum altogether since it is of very limited use in the life of our students.
5 Submitted for your kind deliberation and consideration.
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22nd August, 2013
The Straits Times
Re: "PARENTS' mndset key to education change: Heng"
I refer to the report by your esteemed journalists, Janice Heng and Andrea Ong, in The Straits Times this morning (Page A6) entitled "Parents' mindset key to education change: Heng" as per the government feedback Reach held last night arising from the National Day Rally (NDR) by PM Lee last Sunday evening.
2 Whilst it is so convenient to simply dismiss parents' mindset as the problem, it behoves me to ask the Minister who created this supposed mindset in the first place. I still remember the early 1980s when the late Dr Tay Eng Soon took serious pains to explain via television about the statistical assumptions underpinning the rationale decided by the systems engineers then at the Ministry of Education (MOE) on the need to convert the raw scores into their T-score equivalent. The Chief Professional Officer then, Mr Chan Kai Yau, had to pay a heavy price due to his candid view that it was indeed a flawed concept. Despite his mathematics training, his view was not treated with much respect. Before laying the blame squarely on our parents, it would do the honourable Minister Heng a great favour if he were to check the records to ensure a greater sense of fairness and justice. I must advise Minister Heng that our parents in Singapore have always contributed in no small measure towards nurturing our students into responsible citizens, caring individuals and great academics of which we can always be truly proud of, despite the occasional slips due to political decision-making and some serious shortcomings in our school system. We ought not to treat our parents as mere punching bags who will not respond angrily out of a mere deference to political leaders.
3 PM Lee stated at NDR that he would take several years to execute the changes with the PSLE ranking system. Why should this be so? After all, when the changes were introduced in the early 1980s, it was executed speedily and without any reservations. And now that we are aware that it is indeed a flawed concept in the first place, surely the changes can be effected pretty speedily as well, and our government will indeed have the support of all our parents since the system was based on the wrong premise in educational measurement. This way we will not fester the supposed mindset any further.
4 Whilst we are on the subject of the PSLE ranking system, might I also suggest that the present Normal (Technical) stream be further tweaked and renamed by a more innovative stream to encapsulate this group of students TO REFLECT their purpose and mission within the ambit of our educational ETHOS. Additionally, I recommend that all teachers undertaking to take charge of this group of our students must be made to read the refreshingly insightful book "Transformed by The Mission: Stories of Hope and Change" published by the first Principal of Northlight School, Mrs Chua-Lim Yen Ching..
With Warm wishes
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