“LIM” schools

Following the recent blog on Social Mobility by JJ, he posted another one written by a reader based in Finland about the two systems – Singapore and Finland.”

In my more than two decades of associating with parents, students and fellow educators, and even recently when I did the education talks for property agents, I have always stoutly defend our education system. It works and it has brought many many people out of our poverty cycle. It is meritocratic and recognised talents. My family is one such example.

Yet our K12 education system, like a dear friend when interacted up close, does begin to show me some areas that can be improved on. Times have changed. We are now in the 21st Century. Mobile learning, social media are the new waves. Do we still teach in the same way? Do we still measure an educated person in the same way as the 20th Century?

I have taught in a neighbourhood school (Yishun Sec) for a brief period, St Thomas Sec (my first school which has closed down since), St Joseph’s Institution and Nanyang Girls’ High. I have travelled extensively to give talks to primary schools, visited many education institutions in USA, UK, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan etc and interacted with educators from many many parts of the world, the recent one being from Bhutan.
Which system is good for us?

I quite like the model where the students are not streamed until they are older, ie 15 and above. Many boys do not mature as fast as the girls. I used to have boys who entered with very low PSLE to SJI but yet were excellent top students when they finished Sec 4. I recently met up with an ex-student from GE scheme and she seem to have difficulty in adjusting to the work environment.

In Crescent Girls’ where I was a student, the day-to-day rubbing of shoulders with different races in a classroom has helped me adopt a more open view. In church, I get to mix with another lot of students from other schools – some from co-ed and others from all boys or all girls school.
On hind sight, these day-to-day peer interaction taught me about being open and accepting people from different backgrounds. When I first taught in Yishun Sec, I was again exposed to a different strata of students – people who are very different from the circle of friends I usually mix around with.

What is needed for our education system is to recognise that students need opportunities to mix around with different types of people. Mixing around only with similar types of people leads to group think.

My nephew studied in a neighbourhood school, Northland Pri which did a great work in grooming him. He graduated as one of the top students and entered Catholic High as the top student for his Sec 1 cohort, with a score of 274. He could easily qualify for RI but my dad’s idea was that since our PM comes from Catholic High, it must be good enough for him!

Recently, I was giving a presentation workshop on NE Mation – this year’s theme being “From Fathers to Sons”. NE Mation is an initiative with Nexus and organised by 3 young entrepeneurs who started Animagine. They are all graduates from Nanyang Polytechnic. Wei Xiong, one of the founders, is personable, hardworking and visionary in his approach.

While submitting a paper proposal for the upcoming iCTLT, it may seem that I have all the paper requirements. Yet, what he and his partners contributed to the nation through their company are significant to our nation’s growth!

I like the Finnish model where Polytechnics are put on an equal footing with Universities. In many developed countries, skill-based education is just as valued as academics. The good old days of masters and apprentices may be one model for us to consider!

We need to embrace a more diverse kind of education system. Streaming at a later stage and allocating good resources (teachers, hardware etc) to all schools until secondary level will enable a more level playing ground for all students.

It is no exaggeration that many teachers, parents, students are stressed by the current system. Is it time to re-look and really make “LIM – less is more” a reality for our schools? My friends and I like to tease one another about work, ‘let’s be creative, use LIM in our approach so that we have more time to “LIM” kopi and tea!’ (NB: “LIM” in hokkien means to “drink”, “kopi” is coffee in the local kopitiam)

Useful links:
Northland Primary School
Yishun Secondary School
St Joseph’s Institution
Nanyang Girls’ High School
Nanyang Polytechnic

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