The role of Education

Alvin Ong

Education is the essential stepping stone to increased productivity, jobs and economic growth. A proper education brings about a proper workforce. The absence of proper knowledge and skills is directly correlated with poverty and unemployment.

In today’s ever-changing world, we must accept the fact that higher education alone no longer creates opportunity and prosperity. If our current education system continues to create ‘workers’ and not ‘entrepreneurs’, sooner or later there wouldn’t be enough opportunities to go around as our young ones are only taught how to look for jobs, not create jobs.

Education should not be viewed as a money-making industry, but as a long-term investment to stay with the tempo of economical and technological growth. The government should demolish the mindset of ‘study for the sake of studying’ and encourage more quality education and research. And most importantly, the objective of education is not to make money out of parents, but to equip their children with the necessary skills so that they can contribute to our society’s growth in the future.

Our education system should aim at giving students more choices and channels to generate ideas, and giving universities more freedom and flexibility to respond to changing circumstances.

Reforms of the education system include:

  • Review and abolish unnecessary modules that are either irrelevant or out of sync with the market. Discourage the mindset of putting modules together for the sake of prolonging the student’s stay in the education system.

  • The government should put more effort into supporting the goal of increasing participation by students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in higher education. This can be achieved via more flexible student bursaries.

  • Minimise government intervention at the school level with regard to adapting and implementing educational content and/or allocating and managing resources. The more independent the school, the more the school is focused on the school community, the more parents are engaged, the more autonomy the principal has to determine the direction that the school takes, and the better the outcome for the school.

  • Encourage earlier industrial training options like vocational education, school-based or industry-based apprenticeships, company internships and industrial attachments as pathways for all post-school education, training and employment options. Letting our young ones get their hands-on early in a protected environment not only better prepares them mentally but also provides them with a cushion should they fall halfway.

  • Scholarship programs are essentially supported by taxpayers, and it has become increasingly difficult to authenticate the qualifications and assess the performance of an individual. As a result, these programs may sometimes be viewed as a “white horse” scheme or even a backdoor policy for immigrants to study in Singapore. This is especially true for arts-related subjects, where results and assessments are often influenced by the elements of interpersonal relations and subjective opinion. The absence of accurate and standardised ways of gauging one’s abilities will only result in misuse of resources and corruption. Evidently, although the government spends millions of dollars each year on scholarship programs, the increase in productivity, growth, new ideas and the number of entrepreneurs creating new jobs remains rather insignificant, thus giving weight to the argument that the scholarship scheme should be abolished.

  • With the removal of the scholarship scheme, funds recovered could be better used to subsidise primary schools and perhaps even pre-school education. In addition, these funds could be used to introduce programs that promote interest in learning and innovative thinking. Establishing the foundation of a child’s development should start young, move away from spoon-feeding, focus on developing his ability to question, learn and build interest, and provide everyone the opportunity to be an innovator. This will ultimately lead to the growth of innovation and job creation in the future, and the economic autonomy they bring.

  • Learning is not competition; rather, competition with regard to academic test scores and graduation rates between schools will only result in students (and parents) selecting schools in a way that would impair the educational prospects of some of these students. Schools should only be categorised based on teachers’ specialisations, teaching technologies, expenditures, efficiencies, and personal traits. This provides more choice to better match children to schools according to their preferences and pedagogical needs. For instance, a disabled child may be able to attend a school that has specialised programs for disabled children. Parents are also free to choose between different teaching technologies or teaching methods which will then indirectly drive the school to be more innovative.

  • Research made by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that dividing pupils into ability groups at an early age tends to result in higher numbers of school drop-outs and lower levels of achievement. Thus, the system of streaming primary school pupils should be abolished. During their primary school education, pupils of different abilities should be in the same class throughout, even as they are promoted year to year from Primary One to Six. This will better prepare the pupils for future working life in a society which is made up of people from all walks of life.

  • We will also introduce the Single Guardian System, where both the form teacher and subject teacher will be assigned to the same class throughout the students’ six years of primary school education. This will not only allow the students to build up better bonding with the teacher and their classmates, but also enable students with better results to provide encouragement and positive peer influence to the weaker ones. Through this system, teachers will also have more time to understand their students; and a sense of achievement will be fostered when their students improve, thus bringing about the synergy of ownership and motivation. The bonding does not stop here; it extends to parents as well. Having the same teacher teach the class throughout a child’s primary education provides more time to build trust and cooperation between parents and teachers. After all, it is the combined effort of both the teachers and the parents that will help in the child’s development.

  • The Single Guardian System will also create a much more accurate way to assess the teachers. The teacher will be graded according to the students’ academic progress and feedback throughout the students’ six years of education. Ranking by heads of departments and principals should be discouraged. This is because the head of department and principal fundamentally share a collegial relationship with the teachers, and conflicts of interest and office politics may mar the objectivity of a teacher’s grading exercise. Similarly, parents’ feedback should not be a key factor in grading a teacher, but should rather be used as a general guide to assess and improve the teacher’s skills to the benefit of the pupils.

  • Re-emphasise the key priorities in learning a language: relevance, pertinence and the commonsensical.  The chief aim of language is to provide a means of communication, and the overuse of flowery language and complicated phrases should hence be discouraged. Basic written and oral skills like letter writing, formal writing, business writing, résumé writing, research writing, interview skills, public speaking, business negotiation skills, debating skills, etc should be introduced at a younger age. These are the essential practical skills that the pupil needs when he eventually goes out into the working world. The child may later be self-motivated to pursue other subjects of personal interest such as literature, story writing and creative writing. One major change to promote the practical learning of language is to replace the learning of British (UK) English with American (US) English.

  • Tightening of Education Partnership should be in place to ensure that enrichment programs/activities introduced by the school are truly pertinent, relevant and enriching for the pupils. Since most enrichment programs are funded by the Edusave scheme, a well-regulated system of tight supervision and enforcement must be in place to prevent misuse of funds, corruption and collusive marketing between schools and public agencies. Inspecting and auditing an enrichment program as regards its necessity, price and quality as well as whether its possible compromise of the day-to-day operations of the school must be carried out before consulting the parents. Following that, approval must be given by both the parents and the respective inspection panel before the program can be introduced. This will prevent the recurrence of past cases where parents were forced to pay for enrichment programs that they disagreed with.

  • Charity events such as donation drives should be removed from the Community Involvement Programme (CIP). The purpose of CIP is to nurture our students to become socially responsible and to develop their sense of belonging to society. Through participating in community work, students will also be able to learn the value of service and develop lasting friendship with one another. However, when we assign students donation cans to ask for donations in public, apart from making them an easy target for criminals, more often than not these students simply go through the motions without knowing where the collected money goes to, who are the ones benefiting from it, or if the money might be misused. The issue of misuse of public funds is especially pertinent in the wake of the NKF saga, and it directly contradicts the objective of promoting social responsibility.

Alvin Ong is a member of the Young Democrats and coordinates the Technical Communications of the SDP’s communications Unit. 

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