Will a Singapore teacher be allowed to have this kind of “sabbatical?”

I chanced upon this Travelling teacher blog on National Geographic Traveller magazine. The article shared about an educator, Diana Gross, from Garrison Forest School who decided to embark on a year long leave of absence with a “globe-spanning goal of digitally connecting students and teachers by bringing technology education and mobile video training to undeserved communities.” – Source: National Geographic Traveller magazine, Dec 2012/Jan2013.

Wow. I was intrigued. I googled her name and found several you-tubes and her blog where she shared how she used an “An iPad2 and tripod adaptor, a Canon Powershot, a Canon T3i camera, a Sennheiser lavalier mic, and a MacBook Air. This studio became a focal point of her work that year. “(Source: http://travelingteacherblog.com/about/)

She is the “Global Educational Correspondent” for Garrison Forest School, and is currently living in Cambodia.

Now I wonder, will any teacher in a Singapore school be allowed to have a sabbatical like hers?

I have worked for more than 20 years in various schools and am still contributing to education through OURF. I am also as a Academic Associate in local polytechnic 🙂
I left the Dean role in a local school in 2007 for a dream to help poor kids.

As a senior educator, I was entitled to be on “sabbatical” to study something. But I was not interested in doing another course or a phD.
I wonder if I have been brave enough to suggest what Diana Gross embarks to do. Actually I have no idea how I was to help poor kids when I left the teaching post to pursue my dream. I just wanted to use technology to help them. I simply felt that we in Singapore are so privileged. Our schools are well equipped with the latest technology tools.

So I did some work with Oracle Education Consultancy to use their platform for an Online High School project to help Vietnamese scholars learn English.
However, that was over in a year, and seriously I do not think I have that kind of impact that Diana has.

Perhaps the iPad wasn’t invented then so the technology was not right. Also internet was scarce in developing countries then. It was in Jan 2008 that I started OURF.
That aside, maybe I just needed time to fumble around, make some mistakes, help various NGOs and learn from them. In the few years, I helped Lions Gift of Sight, World Vision, Kampung Temasek and Singapore Bhutan Foundation. Some are worth my time, some really wasted my time and money. But I learn 🙂

In Feb 2013, I read this story about this real teacher, who is given a designation “Global Educational Correspondent” with her own local(home) school.

I read through her blog briefly and was amazed at how her simple gadgets helped to reach these poor communities.
She took the plunge in the first year and “The Traveling Teacher Project was funded during the first year from personal savings and a small sabbatical grant.” (Source: http://travelingteacherblog.com/support/)

Here is a sample youtube that she did with kids:
“Students from the Chey School in Siem Reap Province, Cambodia tell a brief history of their school. This video was recorded and edited entirely by students on an iPad2 as part of a ‘Tell Your Own Story’ project. To learn more about the Chey School, visit http://www.theplf.org. To involve your school or community in a video project, visit http://www.TellYourOwnStoryProject.org. To learn more about the WOWi team, visit http://www.WOWi-Austin.org”

Now, I wonder aloud, would a Singapore teacher be allowed to have this kind of “sabbatical”? Must sabbaticals always involve going to a reputed university for a course?
and what is my role in this?

Useful links:
The Travelling Teacher

Art for Love and Love for Art – our new gallery is up!

After months and years of evolving, yep since I started OURF, learnt Chinese painting in 2008 and realised that people do want to buy these stuff, we are happy to launch this website as a social effort under OURF.

We are a group of amateur artists who dabble in art for the Love of Art and we do it to help children and communities from World Vision Singapore.
Art for Love is founded on the premise that we can use art to help children.
OURF is an education consultancy that believes in ploughing a portion of our profits and time into worthwhile causes.
Meet our contributors and browse through their gallery. If you feel inspired to draw for a good cause, join us. If you want to commission us to draw for you and raise funds for a good cause, do drop us an email: pinlay@ourf.sg

Enjoy 🙂Art for Love

A gallery to showcase art pieces by our contributors

The gift of education – keeping 20% for the poor

A boy who benefits from the programme
A boy who benefits from the programme – screen shot courtesy of Akaraka video clip

I chanced upon this while reading a facebook update by an ex-student from St. Joseph’s Institution. Bro Michael Broughton is the Associate Vice Chancellor for Lasallian Mission, Manila, Philippines. I have always known him to be a witty and humourous brother, knowledgeable yet humble. I enjoyed listening to his assembly talks. He is an intelligent person yet he comes across as a person who treats others with dignity.

Curious about what he is doing, I clicked on the youtube link.

I was inspired by what he shared. Through the clip, he shared how De La Salle university has become one of the top and most expensive university in Manila, Philippines. He shared how many of the prominent businessmen in Philippines comes from De La Salle’s School of business.

As a Christian brother school, the leaders wanted to ensure that the school remains a school of the poor and for the poor. De La Salle university is in a privilege position to help change the economics of Philippines. He then went on to share how the school is partnering Akaraka to help the poor students. In order to make a difference in the culture of the school, they have set  a target of 20% of the population to be for the poor students. The video clip showed pictures of boys who have benefitted from the scholarships. Students with their parents and families in the villages.

It is such a beautiful story.

Yesterday I was at second meeting of Joy Ambassadors at World Vision Singapore. A group of us volunteers were asked if we wanted to share the joy of being involved in child sponsorship. Though it was a small group, the sharing by the various people present made a deep impact on me. A friend, Joanne, felt led to help after she saw a video clip on Channel 8 about how the children were living in Mongolia. She felt that no one should live like that. It is below human dignity. Her heart was broken by what she saw. Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision said “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”

Another shared that she wanted to build a school in Africa, ever since she was in Secondary school.

One by one, the volunteers present and World Vision staff shared about how they got involved with World Vision. For me, it was an accidental journey. But I was glad I started. I am learning to put aside my assumptions about NGOs and what I can do. Instead, I asked myself, “What is needed to help them?”. Time and again I have learnt that what I assume may not be what the locals need. To partner, I need to set aside time, be committed and be available. It has been 3.5 years.

The journey partnering with World Vision has been transformational. When I saw the humility of the weak, the poor and the joy they get when they receive help, I know that the things I prided myself in is nothing compared to the many sufferings these villagers go through just to get a decent meal or even to go to school. When I met the many children orphaned by Aids, I know that being looked down or misunderstood by the community is something they face daily. Suffering is real.

There was a village school that I remember distinctly. The teachers were all rice farmers. They are part-time teachers, yet fully dedicated to helping the children in the only school in that village. Yet they serve with such great joy.

I am excited about this new partnership with World Vision. Being part of the team of Joy Ambassadors, I want to be useful and to let my gifts and talents make a difference to the poor. The under privileged. In my small ways. With the team.

Thank you Bro for always being inspirational. It is through clips like these that we know that there are many out who do more than token giving.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” – Luke 12:48

And we in Singapore has been blessed by a good government and good education. Happy 47th Birthday Singapore!

Do join me in this journey of helping the poor and underprivileged. Trust me, you will become a more beautiful person:)

Useful links

Bob Pierce, Founder of World Vision

National Day Celebrations 2012

Brother Michael Broughton – De La Salle University

Visiting my goats at Kampung Temasek – a lesson learnt

The day was set. The date was set. The only thing that was left was to decide on the time to set off. A month or so ago, my ex-colleague WL, having heard me talked about the Kampung for the longest time,  decided to plan way in advance  and “book” me so that we can drive up to the Kampung in Ulu Tiriam, Johor. She took leave and her 5 year old boy was looking forward to it.

The day came. It was on a Thursday morning that I was going to drive them up. Along the way, I managed to gather a few more people. The former Kampung manager, JH, an ex-student Cindy, who runs her own eco-company plus a friend of hers, Min.

The boy woke up very early in great anticipation. He was up at 7am and they arrived way before our time of driving up at 8.3oam.

The group piled into the car. I got my tank filled up and then left happily. The weather was really good considering that it was raining very heavily the past few days.

So we are finally going to see the one goat that was left. On 19th Jan 2012, I got an sms from JH. It says “Sorry to inform you. The male goat passed away just now because they ate the wrong grass. The female goat took some medicine and is getting better now. Will inform you if any updates.” Whoa…so soon???

What happened to the original plan of using the goats to eat grass? So how to produce more baby goats now? A couple of sms later, I told him I am fine if they want to “makan” the goat and make kambing soup or the bury the goat. C’est la vie.

That was on 19th Jan. On 15th Mar I found that the female goat, Joy has also died some time ago. This time round I was not informed. Or I did not receive any sms or news about it. So it was with a great shock I learnt it on the way driving up. The poor boy cried. He was looking forward to seeing the goat.

I felt so bad but it was too late for anything. We were already driving in and JH remarked to me that “Isn’t this part and parcel of life?” Life. Death. Learning to deal with Death. Even in animals.

We arrived at KT and the place seems quite like the last time I was there, except that the grass was taller and there was someone trying to cut off the grass. No more goats to graze the grass.

Instead what greeted us at the Kambing Hut was an empty space, some rabbits and a rooster and mother hen. Pieces of planks were lying around.

Meanwhile there was a path laid for the fish pond. But no pond yet.

A little boy at the square foot garden

There were 3 plots of square foot gardening and the plants were growing well…the concept works as it is about diversity and different plants need different NPK (Nitgroen, Phosphorus and Potassium).

At the pond
At the pond

While the boy was very upset and cried when he found the goats died, he was soon happily exploring the natural surroundings, enjoying playing with the sand, looking at the tree house and trying his very best to cross the floating boards on the little pond.

Yes, the School of Doing is indeed full of twists and turns. I wished the process to feed the goats, get the vets were done in a better manner. I wished the fish pond was built. What happened?

When I asked the two ladies present how they felt as it was the first time they visited the Kampung, Min said that it was quite different from what she saw on the concept map. She was keen to see the final product after all the houses and amenities are done up. WL replied that she saw more kampung along the way than at Kampung Temasek. She finds KT not quite kampung and yet not quite modern. Hmm interesting observation. Isn’t is true that sometimes we try to contrive up situations when all along the real McCoy is there? Perhaps there was never a need to build any Kampung at all! The M’sians may have done it a lot better than us. (ie Singaporeans)

Well, life is never as planned. Especially when KT sets out to be a community project built by volunteers.

The challenge is to get funding, get people to see the vision and have enough passionate people to keep it going. Somehow, I feel that passion alone is not enough to build this community. I have seen too many NGOs happy to be in the limelight and be photographed. Yet, the behind the scene day to day hard work is sadly ignored.

Recently I was helping to lead a school trip for River Valley High students on an overseas learning journey. The community group they were helping, The Green Ribbon Project, was started by a local guy. He was very passionate and enthusiastic. To do the job he is doing is not easy as many of the tasks depended on volunteers. There were many kind people who donated things to his organisation. Yet the challenge remained after 20 years…to find people to help to sort out the donated items. Some items could have expired and yet were donated to the home. Some could not be used. He showed us a roomful of donated items strewn and stacked haphazardly inside the room. These were work that will be assigned to the students. And yes, the good news is, after such a long period, they finally managed to get to build the Home of Love.

The Home of Love
The Home of Love

Laying the bricks

Well perhaps the best way forward when being involved with NGOs is to adopt a gracious spirit. Starting a volunteer movement, getting people involved, running the programmes involved a lot of time, energy and patience. There is no instant formula for success.

We may all do well to remind ourselves, myself included, that even Superman cannot create an ant or a tiny leaf. Let us learn to embrace diversity in processes and be humble and gracious when we look at the gaps and faults in NGOs. As long as we do our tiny bit to help, we become one step closer to being happy and one step further from a complaining spirit.

It is this can-do spirit that brings our forefathers to Singapore in search of a better land.

Perhaps Kampung Temasek could be the spark for this little boy. He has not yet started school and his curiosity level is high. At the end, he thanked everyone and told JH, our enthusiastic Kampung Manager (who was with the project when it first started), that “he was feeling like an explorer under JH’s guidance!”

Yes, the 21st Century education is about exploring new grounds.

Enjoy the clip:

Useful links:

River Valley High School

The School of Doing

The Green Ribbon Project Kuching

Are we too structured for our own good?

Recently a good friend of mine did a blog on Social mobility via education.

Like him, my family has benefitted from the good education we received. We have all moved up the social ladder to own our homes and also having good jobs. When I was primary 6 at a typical neighbourhood school (in the footsteps of my sisters), Stamford Primary, being in 6A, my form teacher asked me to choose Raffles Girls’. However, I did not take her advice. My choice was quite straight forward – My mum has told me that she is quite tired of fundraising – my sisters and brothers all being in aided mission schools, so I decided to just find an all girls school nearby and put in my choice – Crescent Girls. Unlike today, where we do DSA, primary school info talks for parents, none were present during my time.

I spent a happy 4 years there where I had lotsa free time to pursue my interest – reading and sleeping in the afternoon. I joined many CCAs (ECA then) and was my team table tennis captain, where I organised the matches for the interclass games. It was a fun and carefree secondary school. I did my ten years series in maths for fun as I enjoyed solving the problems and no teacher ever told us we have to finish our ten year series. We were staying in a cramped one room HDB flat and I had to shut out external TV noise to study.

I went to Hwa Chong not because I knew it was a good college but because my brother studied there. He told me many stories about the school and it sounded like fun to me. I joined a total of 6 ECAs – table tennis, squash, social service, library, Chinese Orchestra (cos my bro is in it) and badminton.

My friends and I did well enough to further our studies.

In Hwa Chong, I was immersed in Chinese culture and a spirit of excellence – as each assembly we saw many many students coming up to receive prizes for their achievements. In Crescent, I was given space to read and learn at my own pace.

In his article, JJ wrote about the finnish education where “A tactic used in virtually every lesson is the provision of an additional teacher who helps those who struggle in a particular subject. But the pupils are all kept in the same classroom, regardless of their ability in that particular subject.” and “Teaching is a prestigious career in Finland. Teachers are highly valued and teaching standards are high. The educational system’s success in Finland seems to be part cultural. Pupils study in a relaxed and informal atmosphere.”

I believe we can learn two things from the Finnish Education system – one, is that there is a recognition that teaching is prestigious career and not a case of, “those who can’t teach” and secondly, that pupils study in a relaxed and informal atmosphere.”

Too much scaffolding and structure stifles. A child that is spoon fed all his life cannot survive in the world by himself, he needs constant help from everyone to succeed.

During a casual conversation with a Prof one day he shared that 99% of entrepreneurs in university (those who took a grant for starting the companies whilst in uni) failed!

I recently met up with an ex-student, a brilliant student leader who started her own company. She is pushed into the limelight to extol the virtues of young entrepreneurs. She appeared in the press frequently. Whilst I do think she has good calibre, too much endorsement and help from government bodies may not be good for her own growth. She needs to realise the real cost of doing business…not in terms of grants after grants …but more in how to cleverly develop strategies to save costs and be profitable. So while I applaud our dear government in wanting to help young entrepreneurs, I am also worried about this “helping” mentality. If used in excess, we raise a whole generation who may develop a dependent mentality!!

While doing consultancy for schools, I came across two very good “neighbhourhood” schools who are headed by very dynamic principals. I saw first hand how the staff and students benefit from their leadership.

Fridays at Christ Church secondary were used for CCAs and it was a hive of activity when I visited the school to see their vibrant outdoor education. The Principal is a dynamic lady who hopes that through this channel, all academic staff can also see the value of CCA education and how it helps mould her students.
Jing Shan Primary school Principal introduced the breakfast programme for students in FAS scheme for a year and the following year, MOE introduced the scheme so now, breakfasts are also provided for pupils who fall out of MOE FAS scheme by a narrow margin(NB:@Jing Shan, funds come from SAC fund)

There exists good schools besides the regularly named ones. The people in these “neighbour schools” are raising the bar for education with their passion and dedication. Please take time to discover these gems.

Useful links:
Jing Shan Primary School
Christ Church Secondary School

How do I know which school to choose for my child?

MOE Excel Fest 2011
MOE Excel Fest 2011

MOE Excel Fest is an annual showcase by K12 schools in Singapore – the best time for parents interested to find out more about the schools of choice for their children. It is typically a 2 Day event, with one day open to the public.

This is your best chance to talk to the teachers, students and know what is the offering each school has for your child. The venue is usually at a central location like Suntec Convention Hall though there are some years where it is held in local schools.

Schools with the latest innovation and best practices will be there to share. So do drop by with your children. There are lots of games to be played and of course, not forgetting the many souvenirs. Even as a veteran educator, I have been amazed at the many many confident children I have come across who tried to “sell” their schools to me.

I have also done presentations when I was at Nanyang Girls’ High and it is a good start for parents to feel the buzz in schools without having to spend a cent!

Useful links
MOE Excel Fest 2011
MOE Excel Fest 2010

Err…What is DSA-Secondary?

Good news parents! If your child is going to P6 in 2012, there is the DSA-Secondary that you may want to consider to help him/her get into a secondary school of choice.

What is DSA-Secondary? DSA-Secondary means direct school admission for Primary 6 students going to Sec 1 the following year.

It is an admission exercise to allow participating secondary schools to admit selected students to Secondary 1 based on their achievements and talents before the PSLE results are released.

More and more secondary schools are having DSA for incoming batches for P6 students. The DSA-Sec is to help give students a chance to go to their secondary school based on their interest, talents and achievements (besides PSLE results).

Typically the exercise starts from June to late Nov. For 2011, the 3 stages are from 27 June 2011 to late Nov 2011.

There is a list of schools who can admit students under the DSA-Secondary niche areas of the schools. So, start preparing now…for 2012! All the best:)
Attached a pix taken from Ministry of Education’s website.

A list of schools under DSA-Secondary

Source: Ministry of Education, Singapore

Useful links:
List of participating Secondary Schools for 2011

DSA-Secondary information

Flow Chart of stages in 2011 DSA admission exercises

What are the ingredients of a good school?

I do Education talks from time to time. During the workshop, I like to use some questions to check out perceptions of the public on our Singapore Schools. One of the questions I asked to the participants was on “What are the ingredients of a good school?” Here are the results of the straw poll:

Top ingredient: A good principal
Second most important ingredient: Good staff
Third most important ingredient: Good students

I agree. The principal plays a most important role and is the key driver of the school. The rest follows. Good leadership is not a given. It takes skills in people management and also school management. K12 schools in Singapore now adopt a partnership approach to enhance the resources to help groom their students.

Do you know that every school in Singapore that is funded by Ministry of Education goes through a rigorous process of benchmarking under the School Excellence Model? “The MOE Masterplan of Awards (MoA) was instituted in 1998 as part of the implementation of the School Excellence Model (SEM). The SEM is a framework for school appraisal that emphasises a holistic approach to education with equal focus on processes as well as results.”(Source: Masterplan of Awards by MOE, Singapore)

School Excellence Award
School Excellence Award

Whether it is an established school with a long history or your neighbourhood school or a new school, every school is benchmarked against the rigours of the model.

School Distinction Award
School Distinction Award









You may want to go on to the MOE website to check out the Masterplans of Awardsfor the school you are interested in.

The SEM awards is a recognition of the whole school approach to learning. I have been involved in writing, documentation as well as in helping in assessment process from its inception till I left NYGH in 2007. It is a rigorous process and the benchmarking helps you to know about the “health” of the school.

So do check out the various awards the school you are interested in. See what are their strengths. Go to their website. Every school now has its own website. Talk to people who have children studying in the school. Make an informed choice through updated information. Do not just rely on historical data.

You can go to MOE’s website to do a comparison between schools.

Schools today are very different from schools in 1980s. Your homework will pay off!

Some useful links:
Masterplans of Awards
Schools info and comparison