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

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

Seeing in a different light – hearing colours

President Tony Tan signing 1000 people Pine Tree
千人松 signing by President Tony Tan – Life Art 40th Anniversary

It was an unplanned encounter with a concerned parent last Saturday. No, I was not meeting her in the capacity of a teacher. It was not in a school setting.

Instead, we were having refreshments after the Opening Night of the 40th Anniversary Art Exibition by Life Art Society. It was a small cosy event. Nothing spectacular compared to last Sat’s Gala Dinner where we witnessed Dr Tony Tan signing the 千人松 or 1000 Pine Tree picture as the Guest-of-Honour.

Yet, it is in the simple and unglamorous occasion that sometimes the best conversations take place. The cosy event presents an opportunity for me to share with her some of my insights as an educator. To help assure her that the things she is doing are on the right path.We were chatting over a simple plate of Char Bee Hoon. In a humble building, @Lam Ann Association, in upmarket area of River Valley Road in Singapore. The exhibition was a simple and sincere effort by all volunteers and supported by people who are interested in Chinese Ink.

I was introduced to her by a friend, a fellow amateur artist and a friend of hers. There we were, talking about the concerns she has as a parent of a Sec 1 boy. She was anxious about whether she was doing the right thing as a stay-at-home mum.

– if her boy is rather quiet and compliant, should she be worried?

– if he fails in his social studies, what should she do?

– he seems laid back, how can she motivate him?

– should she caned him more? should she cane at all?

She shared that she felt her report card and achievements are all tied to the way the boy turned out. Is she a good parent doing all she should at this time in his life? Should she be doing more? or less?

A friend and ex-colleague once sms me, “I always feel that becoming a parent is a very humbling experience. …suddenly you are not independent and self sufficient anymore. I count of my mum’s good health so that someone can take care of them…I hope their teachers at school teach them well etc”

It truly reflects the many many anxieties of parenting. Parenting is a journey and as in all journeys, we need many good partners to help us.

The partners can be the classmates of your child, the teachers, the good neighbours and of course, your immediate family. People who are concerned for the well-being of your child.

The sharing lasted a good half an hour or more. I believe there are no quick fixes. Instead, what was important was for her to know that what she is experiencing is normal and what she is doing is just fine. Sometimes, it is as simple as that. Anxiety weighs you down.

I ended by sharing with her that she can try praying. Praying to God. Sometimes our human wisdom do not allow us to see ahead. Men may pride ourselves in having so many achievements and coming so far. It is afterall the 21st Century. However, a small voice tells us…”We do not have all the answers. We are still vulnerable.”

Let me end off by sharing a wonderful and inspiring TED talk by this guy, ‘artist Neil Harbisson who was born completely color blind. These days, a device attached to his head turns color into audible frequencies. Instead of seeing a world in grayscale, Harbisson can hear a symphony of color — and yes, even listen to faces and paintings.

Neil Harbisson’s “eyeborg” allows him to hear colors, even those beyond the range of sight.’ You can watch his video and sharing via Ted.com (Source: http://www.ted.com/talks/neil_harbisson_i_listen_to_color.html)

Indeed I have felt that my life has been so much more secure after experiencing God.
Useful links
Neil Harbisson – I listen to color

Building the creative confidence in your child

The recent TED talk by Dr David Kelley: “How to build your creative confidence” interests me greatly. I liked the idea that the world is not divided into the ‘practical’ and the ‘creatives’. According to his bio on TED.com, he is the “founder of legendary design firm IDEO. He built the company that created many icons of the digital generation — the first mouse, the first Treo, the thumbs up/thumbs down button on your Tivo’s remote control, to name a few. But what matters even more to him is unlocking the creative potential of people and organizations so they can innovate routinely.” (Source: http://www.ted.com/speakers/david_kelley.html)

Innovate routinely. A paradox of terms. We think people who do routine work cannot innovate and vice-versa. Yet the term itself speaks volumes.

Innovation is present in all of us. It is up to us to create the confidence in the child to allow him space to think. To create. To innovate. Within the current constraints.

I believe that having constraints helped us to be more creative and innovative.

To have an abundance of resources – time, money and goods can make us lazy and takes things for granted. A scarcity of resources make us more acutely aware of our “cost” for doing something. Budgeting and cutting down cost to build a viable business becomes my priority when I went to business. I had to find out the best way to do things to maximise my limited resources. I also wanted to give time to people since I have a more flexible schedule. So how do I creatively weave my work, my development of materials and also volunteering in non-profits and lead educational trips into my 24 hours? I find that I work best in pockets of time. In between my meetings with other people to bounce off ideas, share dreams or just to be present for them. Hoarding my time makes me less productive. By giving my time liberally and yet being strict to maintain routines to get good work done makes me appreciate structures. Structures help us scaffold things. Yet how often we worship structures and neglect developing our creative self? Striking a balance is important.

In his TED talk Dr David Kelley mentioned about how a certain psychologist, Dr Albert Bandura who helped his participants overcome their phobia of snakes. Dr Bandura is a renown psychologist from Stanford.  “In 1963 he published Social Learning and Personality Development. In 1974 Stanford University awarded him an endowed chair and he became David Starr Jordan Professor of Social Science in Psychology. In 1977, he published Social Learning Theory, a book that altered the direction psychology took in the 1980s.

While investigating the processes by which modeling alleviates phobic disorders in snake-phobics, he found that self-efficacy beliefs (which the phobic individuals had in their own capabilities to alleviate their phobia) mediated changes in behavior and in fear-arousal. He launched a major program of research examining the influential role of self-referent thought in psychological functioning. Although he continued to explore and write on theoretical problems relating to myriad topics, from the late 1970s he devoted much attention to exploring the role of self-efficacy beliefs in human functioning. ” (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Bandura)

The experiment involved helping the participants to get rid of their phobias of snakes through a series of steps, which he named, guided mastery. Dr Bandura was able to help the participants get rid of their phobia within a short period of 4 hours! He found that once the participants have overcome their phobia of snakes, they become less anxious, try harder, persevere and have new confidence! We have phobia because of our fear of judgement. 


We live in a world where our beliefs shaped our thinking. For example, for a long time, I thought my English was not good. How can I blog about things? I knew I can never draw anything presentable. I also had a phobia of big dogs. I remember once I quickly shut the door on a big dog at a friend’s house cos when the dog stood on its hind legs, it was very intimidating! I was afraid of the dog! It was as tall as me as look ferocious. (okay, granted I am really not very tall in the first place!)

I also knew I was quite good in Science, in teaching and also in technology planning. And my work history testify to that. People are willing to pay me good money for work in Science and technology. But is that all I am good at?

It took a good art teacher and mentor to helped me see that I can paint. It was an accidental discovery. But this teacher believed that every student can paint. Simple as that. When he first asked everyone in the class to submit their paintings for his exhibition, I was shocked! Can I? I just started learning. But his belief in us, his students were amazing. He simply believed that everyone that he taught can paint. A couple of years later, I paint to raise funds, to give as gifts and to use for talks. I even illustrate the Yong Tau Foo team© and did a couple of logos plus incorporate in my workshops the beauty of using Chinese ink:) Not because I am good or the best but because it is a series of guided mastery that my teacher did. Plus my willingness to try new things. To persevere. To put in the hours.

My phobia of dogs took a longer time. It took me more than 10 years. Yet it was through a friend’s dog, Forest, a spitzer that I learnt to overcome my fear of dogs. Forest was a white and beautiful dog who always welcome me unreservedly when I go to my friend’s house. I would have never imagine myself, filming with big dogs and giving a talk on World Animal Day. A person who have never owned a pet in her whole life!

Building creative confidence in your child is not easy but it is not difficult either. Do you scaffold events for him to innovate routinely?

I believe every child, every person has the creative capacity. Recently after filming at my bro’s house, I witness first hand

With the homemade magnet (solenoid)
With the homemade magnet (solenoid)

how scaffolding helps my nephew, Johanand. He was supposed to be studying for his exam. His science exam. After taking a quick look at his book, he put it down and declare to his sis that he needs to make the magnet. It is part of his assignment for his science. His older sis, a Sec 1 student shook her head in disbelief. She did not believe that he needs to do the project.

I was observing their behaviour. It was an interesting case study for me. After some 10 mins of haggling, the sis left to study for her own exams. I then told Johanand to draw for me the science experiment he is supposed to do. He drew quite a good pix of a solenoid. Ok, knowing that he is an active boy, I said, “let’s do it!” For him the best way to learn could be just doing the experiment

We went to the nearby DIY shop and bought some nails, some pieces of copper wire and batteries. I helped him with the setup. The experiment worked! He was so happy and grinning from year to year. He proudly showed off how the magnetised nail could pick up a small piece of staple.

The small achievement makes him work harder. He started trying to use 2 batteries to test the strength. When he finally went to play football with his friends, he put his “magnet” near to him, a precious testament to him that science works:)

As educators, what are we teaching the people around us? Those young minds? Are we imparting that they can achieve? Or are we slotting them into analytical thinkers, creative thinkers, and if you are in one category, you cannot be in another.

I believe our minds are dynamic. Our habits can be changed. As schools move into the 21st century, let’s be mindful of our subtle hidden message. If a child does not achieve in a paper examination, is he stupid? Is he lazy or simply not motivated enough?

Each of us can be a complete Yong Tau Foo Team© with capacity to collaborate, communicate, be creative and think critically. Let us be humble enough to accept that when things go wrong, it can sometimes be that we need to adjust the way we look at people.

Are our habits of thinking about students effective in promoting an innovative and creative culture in schools?

Useful links:

Dr David Kelly: How to build your creative confidence? 

Dr Albert Bandura: Biography

Oh no, he’s done it again…called to the Principal’s office!

My dear nephew, Johanan, an impish guy is inside the Principal’s office again. My sis-in-law just told me. He was found washing the toilet enthuiastically with his classmate and missing in action for a whole 2 hours.

This same nephew, has been making news since he was two. He is now in Primary 3. He is an interesting intelligent fella who does not seem to take well to current school structures. I must say his teachers and school have been very kind to him despite all his antics. He is in ACS Primary and my brother’s alma mater.

Let me share some of his “adventures”. When he was 2 years old, he started walking outside the gate of his flat and towards an open lift. He walked into the lift and press a button. The lift took him to another floor and thankfully, a neighbour saw this cute little boy in his huggies and brought him back to his home.

When he was 6 while having a dinner at seafood restaurant, he was happily dashing about and got more than a bump. Unlike his older brother who is a careful guy, this little fella bumped his head right into a concrete floor and blood gushed out. He was rushed to the nearby A & E clinic at KK Children’s hospital Thankfully the blood stopped and he recovered.

In Primary one, he looked forward to school. However within 6 months he was feeling so stressed that he did not eat or sleep well. He lost a lot of weight. Where once he looked forward to school, he now tried to avoid it. He could never finish his homework and so had to stay in during recess to do.

He is a very active and restless child. I jokingly remarked to my sis-in-law he is in his school’s rugby team because once he had the ball he cannot let go. He has this incredible ability to hold the ball so tightly that no one can take it away!

iphone on lego
Iphone on lego

The stories he generated make us laugh. He is full of tricks and always eager to try new things. Take risk. Do the unconventional. Challenge the norm. Recently he just built a home for his iphone using lego.

His older brother, Amadeus worries for him. He is worried that Johanan is not able to finish school. My sis-in-law is worried too. She wants her son to grow up well. Both my brother and her did not do well in school. My bro is doing very well now, being the GM of a F&B chain. Yet what is the challenge ahead for Johanand?

He was once diagnosed as ADHD but now the doctor says “No, he is not a ADHD kid. He is normal.”

So is he the ill-disciplined brat that cannot obey rules? I really do not think so.

I have interacted with him and he is highly intelligent. He is very motivated by end results. Especially if it involves earning money. He is what I will term in my Yong Tau Foo team© as a Chilli child. Always out to challenge the system. Always willing to challenge the norm. And he cannot sit still.


He is also good with his art and creates his own cards. In fact, his artistic talent has not just earned him fans but some good pocket money as friends and neighbours are willing to pay for them!

In my last post, I shared about unschooling as a possible tool for the 21s Century. There is another option which I think may be suitable for active children like Johanan. It is to “flip the classroom.”

In the TED talk, Salman Khan talks about how and why he created the remarkable Khan Academy, “a carefully structured series of educational videos offering complete curricula in math and, now, other subjects”. He shows the power of interactive exercises, and calls for teachers to consider flipping the traditional classroom script — give students video lectures to watch at home, and do “homework” in the classroom with the teacher available to help. (Source: http://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_reinvent_education.html)

In the New York Times, it talks about the flip classroom as ‘an “inverted” teaching structure in which instructional content is delivered outside class, and engagement with the content – skill development and practice, projects and the like – is done in class, under teacher guidance and in collaboration with peers.’ (Source: http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/08/five-ways-to-flip-your-classroom-with-the-new-york-times/)

IMHO, perhaps we can have a semblance of it in our Singapore classroom. We can start a class for these active boys who cannot sit still by using authentic project work to engage them. The learning can take place by asking these boys to ask questions about what works and what does not.

So if Johanan and company likes to clean the toilet, they can start by understanding what chemicals go into making the toilet smelly, what makes them smell good and what are some ways the students can make going to the toilet a better experience. They can even start to charge a small amount for keeping this toilet clean. Test the market to see if other students like their toilet. If the idea flops, why does it flop?

Do you think this is strange idea? A friend of mine, Rod, an entrepreneur, part time lecturer and also a 5x Tan Kah Kee Award winner, told me his inventions come from solving problems. He wanted to invent a toilet that does not splash when things are deposited into the toilet. Hmmm…

Perhaps we can set have a classroom where these active boys are taught by experienced teachers who are good at handling students who are restless. These could be retired teachers. These could be teachers who think differently. Or teachers who themselves were like that when they were younger.

I remember that whenever I had to attend meetings, I like sitting near the door. I like the fact that I can move out and take a call or just be able to do a quick stretch in between agendas. I simply cannot sit still or be squashed in between a long row of colleagues. My ex-Principal saw this restless spirit in me and put me in charge of marketing for the school. I also held most of my meetings in canteen or the staff lounge. The informal atmosphere makes me think and perform better. My portfolio has changed from a Math to Chem teacher, to heading ICT, creating Silicon Valley trip, then marketing for the school,  and now developing creative solutions for schools and organisations….leading a new initiative for World Vision Singapore under the Joy Ambassadors and venturing into using Chinese Ink in my Yong Tau Foo Team©…plus many others…yes, my friends like to tease that I have many pots cooking and I have to keep stirring the different pots so that things do not get burnt 🙂

Nowadays I have my meetings at coffee houses, club houses or even shopping centres. I enjoy pioneering work and exploring new grounds.

Perhaps Johanan being restless is a family trait. My sis-in-law says she was like that as a child. But she worries now for Johanan as she wants him to have a minimum education.

I guess the challenge in the 21st Century education is how to use technology to help these children. Besides administering drug after drug to calm them down, what is more important is how to harness this restless energy and make something positive out of it. Sir Ken Robinson in his now famous video on “School kills creativity” talks about how kids who were restless were easily labelled with ADHD in the USA.

Another friend of mine, C, who is heading a primary school told me that there is a rise in the number of boys who cannot sit still in P1 and P2.  How we can help these active children when they enter P1 and P2? Is there a place for “unschooling” and “flipping” in our classroom? Can we adopt some of these approaches in our P1 and P2 classroom? How can we help these active boys?

Your view?

Useful links:

Anglo Chinese Primary

School kills creativity – Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk

Khan’s Academy – flipping the classroom

5 ways to flip your classroom – New York Times

Can we create a “Blame-Less” culture in schools?

School then and now
School then and now

I was sent this picture by a friend recently. I ask myself – “Does it really capture what school is like nowadays?” 

Today the culture of who to point a finger to seems to start young. The BLAME culture.

If a child does badly in school:

– Hey why doesn’t the school give remedial? Why doesn’t…….

Do the teachers understand what my child is going through?

– The poor child is too tired

– My child is hungry lah…cannot concentrate…

– Let me talk to the teacher….

– I want to see the Principal…..

The finger starts pointing…

The Talent Code
The Talent Code

In the book, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, he talks about how greatness isn’t born but grown. He researched the world for talent hotbeds – and he wrote about three factors that make the formula for success: deep practice, ignition and master coaching. Deep practice simply means lots of practice. Pure diligence. Learning from your mistakes.

During my student days, it was a shame to fail your subject. I remember tuition was rare and it was a real disgrace to fail your tests. Additional Maths was a challenge to many students. Some of my friends failed and they started taking tuition. Those who passed were relieved that we do not have to waste money on tuition. Many of us do not come from rich families and having tuition was a luxury few could afford.

When I first failed my English test, my dad gave me a huge whack on my thigh with a cane. There was no cry of child abuse then. Even though the caning caused my skin to crack and blood trickled. It was a good 4-5cm long on my little thigh then. And I was only in Sec 1 then. It brought me lots of pain – physically and embarrassment too. But it also made me determined not to fail my English again.

In an exclusive interview with Readers’ Digest (Feb 2012) issue, Michelle Obama shared this on Success: “You have to practise success. Success doesn’t just show up. If you aren’t practising success today, you won’t wake up in 20 years and be successful because you won’t have developed the habits of success, which are small things like finishing what you start, putting a lot of effort into what you do, being on time, treating people well.”

I like that.

Finishing what you start. Do you start new things all the time but find it difficult to finish them?

Putting in a lot of effort into what you do. Due diligence counts. Passion alone is not enough.

Being on time. Do you value others’ time? 

Treating people well. Irrespective of their job, their status in society, their race, their family background.

On why her children made their beds and even help set the table – “We have to prepare them(her children) for life beyond the White House, and that means chores, responsiblities, treating people with dignity and respect and being mindful of elders and polite and kind to others….these are values we want them to have when they are old and grey…..we cannot take a break from all those values that we believe in. No we have to maintain those values, even here.” (Source: Readers’ Digest Feb 2012)

What’s the culture you are creating for your children? Is it “Blame-Less” or “Blame-MORE!”

Is your child growing up to be a creeper who constantly need scaffolding or an oak tree where others can lean on?

Useful link:

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

Reflections on “Sewing the seeds of Kindness”

An inspiring mentor, Ms Ong
An inspiring mentor, Ms Ong

Reflections by students from Singapore Sports School – by Ms Lisa Ong, SST teacher

What were your initial thoughts when you were invited to sew a felt donkey for SPANA?

1. “Initially, I didn’t think this project would help SPANA much and would be a failure because many of us can’t sew well and would not be bothered to learn. But now, I realized that although we were not great at sewing, everyone showed enthusiasm and made an effort to sew the felt donkeys whole-heartedly. I have confidence we can contribute to SPANA successfully.” – Gladys Wong 1B

2. “I was excited because it’s been a long time since I’ve done sewing and I also thought to myself; Well it’s better than normal homework.” Sabrina Chau 1C

3. “I was very excited as I’ve never done something on my own for charity except to give away some money. And when I knew that we were sewing to help animals, I was happy because I love animals and love helping them.” Anastasia 1E

4. “At first I thought that this project was just a joke as it is a huge project. But after that I realized it wasn’t because it involved a lot of work. And I thought this is serious and decided it is going to be fun.” – Boaz 1C

How has this sewing project made you feel about helping animals?

1. “I feel useful because by sewing a felt donkey to raise funds for SPANA, I’ve converted my knowledge into an act of kindness.” – Nadia 1C

2. “By sewing the felt donkeys, we are reminded that there are animals out there in pain and we can do something to help them.” – Elizabeth Chia 1B

3. “I’ve used my precious time and energy to sew a felt donkey to raise funds for the working animals which are suffering because of inadequate care. I feel happy to be able to do something for them and not just pity them.” – Choi Seon Hee 1B

4. “I learnt that when we put in effort to sew the felt donkey properly, we are showing we care. And the real donkeys will feel our care.” – Prakash 1E

5. “I was determined to sew the felt donkeys properly so I went online to find out how to do it well. I’ve even helped a few of my friends who can’t sew properly complete their felt donkeys.” – Jay 1C

6. “ My mother had to show me again and again how to do a blanket stitch but she was very patient with me so I managed to sew a felt donkey at last.” – Darwisy 1C

7. “I brought my felt donkey onto the plane to sew as I was flying home to Thailand for the Sept break. But I dropped a ear while I was on flight and my donkey ended up with only one ear. But still, somebody bought it to help SPANA” – Teekayu 1E

and for Assembly Programme for World Animal Day

Feedback on WAD Assembly Programme Items 

1.  “I was impressed by the beautiful pictures of cute dogs and cats that the speaker, Ms Chi showed us. I also respect her as I know that it is not easy to change from a person who is not especially fond of animals to somebody who goes to a dog’s birthday party.” – Jing Lei 1C

2. “I was surprised that our WAD speaker, Ms Chi does not have a pet and is sometimes scared of some animals. Yet she is still able to help animals in need.” – Keith Tan 1C

“I find the most memorable part of the assembly for me was when my friends performed Charlotte’s Web Readers’ Theatre. It was captivating for me because of the teamwork and the way they projected their voices. They sounded synchronized, loud and convincing. They must have put in a lot of work at their rehearsals.” – Ryan 1C

3. “Watching my friends read calmly on stage inspires me to read better and improve on my English.” – Wei Lu 1C

4. “Listening to Diane Ackerman’s poem, School Prayer helped me see that I too can protect nature, cure misery, bring wonder and build peace.” – Pearlina 1C

5. “My reading was interrupted by an itchy throat and everyone in the auditorium laughed. I felt embarrassed but my teacher said it was a minor problem and I still did well.” – Raaziq 1C

6. “I’m very proud of my friends who performed in front of the whole school. And I felt touched by the SPANA video. I really enjoyed today’s assembly.” Amirul, 1E

7. “I like the Charity Begins at SSP power point show. It inspired me to become a more caring person and to care for animals. And it feels good to be in a school where staff and students have a heart for animals.” Cher Sinn 1C

8. “It gives me a warm feeling of joy when I learnt that SSP decided to adopt the kittens that were born in our school compound. At least I need not keep worrying about the cats’ well-being. I’m glad to belong to a school where everyone plays a part in the cats’ welfare over the past few years.” – Aerina 1C

Useful link:

Singapore Sports School

Sewing the seeds of kindness….World Animal Day 2011

Sec 4 students supporting their juniors
Sec 4 students supporting their juniors

What a contrast of sorts…Sports guys and gals sewing felt donkeys for a good cause. If you think sewing are for wimps, think again…the students at Singapore Sports School have been busy stitching donkeys to raise awareness for World Animal Day, which was celebrated on 10th Oct 2011 at SSS.

Here is the story as told to me by Ms Lisa Ong, the teacher-in-charge of the event. The story to help animals started long ago, in a chapel at St Joseph’s Institution in 1994. When she shared with me her journey, it was such an amazing story of inspiration, courage and perseverance that I felt that it is only good that I share how this inspiration has panned out into the reality of teaching good character and values. The story also tells me how one teacher, spent her own time, her own money and resources to build a community awareness for animals over the years.

It shows me that we do not need committees to be formed for good ideas to take off. All it takes is just one teacher and a passion to do a little good…yes, it sounded cliche but I have known Ms Ong since the days when we were both rather young teachers at SJI and then @Nanyang Girls’ High where we were colleagues again…

The completed felt donkey
The completed felt donkey

Google has a system that allows each staff to spend 20% of their time (or so) on a project they believed in. This project if feasible, can be grown into something that Google will take on as a corporate project.. 80% of the googlers time is for the “real google work” they were employed to do…in a similar way, Mrs Tan the current Principal must have allowed this project to sprout and grow so that it benefits the whole school community…

Here’s the story on World Animal Day 2011 in Ms Ong SC’s words:

Besides the 500 strong students and staff, the audience included the school principal, Mrs Deborah Tan, the various Directors from the academic, sports and corporate wings as well as sports coaches from both the local and expatriate communities. The focus this year was on working animals in the world. And SPANA (Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad) was the beneficiary of all funds and awareness raised through this event.

Picture 1: A section of World Animal Day 2011 homeroom display

SPANA and a surprise visit!

Air flown SPANA leaflets, posters and publications were displayed in each sec one homeroom since August 2011 to the build-up of World Animal Day 2011 assembly at SSP. It was an amazing stroke of luck that our mascot for the Thai Sports School Games this year was a horse, which fitted in nicely with our working animal focus. This beautiful mascot was donated by our science teacher, Mr Kwok Kah Weng, who felt that its presence should enhance the display further. And it did as students who viewed the display marveled at the coincidence.

On 5 Oct, prior to the WAD assembly, Professor Ralph Pim, Director of Competitive Sports at the United States Military Academy visited the Sec Ones students to congratulate them for their contribution to SPANA through the SSP Sewing For SPANA Project. He also bought 3 felt donkeys for himself, for his wife and for his office at the military academy.

Picture 2: Darwisy (sec 1E, soccer academy) posing with his hand-made fantastic felt donkey and SPANA leaflet.

The Sewers

Darwisy was one of the 100 felt donkey makers who used their September break to sew a felt donkey for SPANA. Behind him are the handiworks of his classmates. Prof Pim bought Darwisy’s donkey as well as two others sewn by his classmates, Khoo Xin Yi and Ann Teng. He then personally shook their hands and commended them for their compassion. The Professor later emailed the teacher to say, “I was very touched by the mission of SPANA. I was not aware of SPANA prior to coming to Singapore.  It was delightful meeting your class and please let them know that their donkeys traveled safely and have special “homes” here in the USA.” – Prof Pim.

Picture 3 (L to R): Aqidah (1E, bowling academy, not in picture) Audrey (2D,shooting academy), Sabrina (1C, golf academy), Syasya (1C, bowling academy).

The World Animal Day 2011 assembly began with the sweet voices of four students (Aqidah, Audrey, Sabrina and Syasya) from lower secondary level reciting Diane Ackerman’s poem entitled, “School Prayer.”  These young ladies rehearsed their lines faithfully to their family members and were very determined to create a contemplative mood amongst the audience through their recitation. It helped especially when one of their parents told them that this was a very beautiful poem and they should make a real effort to do justice to the poet and to the assembly audience.

School Prayer by Diane Ackerman

In the name of the daybreak

and the eyelids of morning

and the wayfaring moon

and the night when it departs,

I swear I will not dishonor

my soul with hatred,

but offer myself humbly

as a guardian of nature,

as a healer of misery,

as a messenger of wonder,

as an architect of peace.

In the name of the sun and its mirrors

and the day that embraces it

and the cloud veils drawn over it

and the uttermost night

and the male and the female

and the plants bursting with seed

and the crowning seasons

of the firefly and the apple,

I will honor all life

—wherever and in whatever form

it may dwell—on Earth my home,

and in the mansions of the stars.

Picture 4: Ms Chi Pin Lay's talk, “My Journey with Animals,” generated much interest from her city-raised audience.

What’s a geeky person (who owns no animals or pets) doing as guest speaker of World Animal Day?

After the poem recitation, our guest speaker, Ms Chi Pin Lay, who was IT-trained and came from a science background, exhorted the audience to be open to opportunities of helping animals through a “My Journey with Animals” presentation. Although Ms Chi did not own any pet, she was able to engage the audience with slides of her nieces, nephews and friends with their beloved animals. Her sincere account of how she would drive her friends on animal-related errands as well as donate IT supplies to animal causes touched many students who were city-bred like her, but were nevertheless keen to help animals and the environment. Through her presentation, students learnt that there were numerous ways of helping animals as long as they were open to knowledge of animal sufferings and had the compassion to render assistance.

Picture 5 (L to R): Syukri (1E,soccer academy) played Templeton the Rat, Benedict(1D, bowling academy) played the Old Sheep and in the background were the 3 narrators played by Raaziq (1C, silat academy), Andrei (1D, bowling academy) and Shahrieza (1E, track & field academy)

The Readers of “Charlotte’s Web”

After Ms Chi’s presentation, 8 Sec One pupils took to the stage to perform a Readers’ Theatre based on a segment from “Charlotte’s Web”. They dedicated their performance to all the working animals in the world. The young sportsmen charmed the smiling and approving audience with their expressive interpretation of the novel.

The combination of readers from different sporting academy, ethnicities and language diversities reading in a common language, added a global touch to the performance. E.B. White would have been proud of us and touched by how his work, “Charlotte’s Web” was contributing to children’s lives and animal causes long after he was gone.

Picture 6(LtoR): Narrators are Raaziq (1C, silat academy), Andrei (1D, bowling academy) and Shahrieza (1E, track & field academy)
Picture 7: Haziq (1C, silat academy) played Fern Arable, Farmer Zukermann and Lurvy, the farm hand.

In this slip of a boy was a multitude of dramatic and expressive voices that prompted the audience to burst into spontaneous applause. He was later to write in his post -performance reflection that this experience had taught him to gather confidence by being calm. Like many students of SSP and elsewhere, Haziq was greatly disturbed by the unnecessary suffering of animals. Taking part in the SSP Sewing for SPANA project and being involved in Readers’ Theatre gives young people a sense of empowerment they now know they can contribute to relieving suffering and not be a helpless witness to animal misery.

Picture 8(L to R): Arash as Wilbur the pig and Firdaus as Charlotte the spider.
Picture 9: Dedicated SSP community cat care givers like pioneers, Priya and Noreen feed and water the school cats daily.

As the Reader’s Theatre performers took their leave amidst thunderous applause, a power point show entitled, “Charity Begins at SSP” was shown. It was dedicated to the management, staff and students of SSP for their compassion to animals, beginning with the adoption of 4 kittens born in our school compound in 2007. The slides showed how under the care of the SSP community, the kittens blossomed into handsome cats. This well matched duo, Arash and Firdaus came from parents who placed a high premium on reading well and speaking well. They were punctual in each rehearsal and inspired the cast with their focused professionalism. In their post performance reflection, they felt glad that their reading had brought joy to the SSP community and created awareness for working animals. They are looking forward to more challenging reading assignments to help animals next year.

Picture 10: “Charity Begins at SSP”poster kitty, Topaz (age 4 years)

“Charity Begins at SSP’ then dovetailed onto the launch of the fantastic felt donkey sale for SPANA.

Picture 11: Fantastic felt donkeys sold to help SPANA.

“SPANA wins the Lavin Cup” youtube video was the finale item on the World Animal day 2011 assembly programme. SPANA was the first organisation outside America to receive the Lavin Cup by AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners), an award that recognises groups working to improve equine welfare.

The SSP audience was touched by the conditions of working animals and most inspired by the compassion, courage and wisdom of the SPANA staff and volunteers who relentlessly seek ways to help the working animals and the poor people who depend on them.

This inspiring SPANA video was a fitting end to the World Animal Day 2011 assembly at Singapore Sports School. Senior students later commented that the whole assembly programme culminating in the SPANA video made them feel that the money they donated was well worth it. For the rest of the week after the assembly, students and staff continued to show interest in purchasing more felt donkeys, with a number of them generously making donations even when the donkeys were sold out.

The donkey goes to Brunei!
The donkey goes to Brunei!

At the time of this write-up, 3 of our felt donkeys have left Singapore and brought the SPANA message to the USA. Ms Chi, our WAD speaker has also presented her felt donkey (made by Ashley, IC) to a Bruneian delegate at an IT conference, so SPANA will be known in Brunei as well.

We have sold 85 felt donkeys so far and together with donations from staff and friends we have raised S$1120 for SPANA at the time of this report. Our fantastic felt donkey sale has ended as the students are now studying for the year end exams. A few students have expressed the wish to resume the sewing once the exams are over. A number of staff has also placed orders for future felt donkeys subject to maker availability.

On behalf SPANA and the working animals that have since perished, that are now working in the world and those not yet born, I wish to thank Singapore Sports School administration for having the wisdom to put aside one assembly a year to celebrate World Animal Day, my academic and sporting colleagues for believing that compassion for animals is crucial to the character development of our sportsmen and sportswomen and to our parents, friends and well-wishers for clearing the way for our students to make a difference, even if it means only making a felt donkey.

Thank you all for using your talents, wisdom and compassion to make this world a place where every creature is respected.

Ms Lisa Ong
Singapore Sports School

NB: Pictures and Story by Ms Ong. ©All rights reserved.

Useful link:

Singapore Sports School

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