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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.