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 (Source:

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

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:

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:

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

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

The volunteer media team@Qi Global: What a fantastic group of guys!

The Media Team from Singapore Polytechnic with Joshua
The Media Team from Singapore Polytechnic with Joshua

It was a most pleasant encounter of sorts when I was introduced to the volunteer media team comprising of six boys from Singapore Polytechnic, a veteran film maker – Joshua Wong and Arif Khan, a recent graduate of Singapore Management University and formerly from SP. The boys were Year 2 students studying Visual Effects and Motion Graphics at the polytechnic and volunteering to be the media production team at recently concluded Qi-Global conference (Qi 2011 Event) held at Goodman Arts Centre.

Led by veteran Mr Joshua Wong, the team was tasked to capture the contents of the 20 over presenters as well as do express and post production for the videos. Joshua did a great job in outlining the details needed for the team’s mission. It was clear and detailed. What was very challenging to the team was to find a proper room for storage of equipment, a scrambling of sorts for the interview room, editing room as well as trying to capture the highlight of each speaker’s speech within a 2 min bracket so that the highlights can be posted the next day onto the Qi website.

To be honest my role in the team was redundant. Though I have volunteered to help to edit some videos if need be, Joshua thought my management experience will be good to guide the students. He was happily proved wrong!

From day 1, during the inaugural cocktail dinner party, the boys took to the work with tremendous pride and professionalism. They were divided into two teams for ease of distribution of duties. Team A comprised of Jayraj, Eswaran and Muhamad Hafiz. Team B comprised of the twin brothers, Chuen Yee and Chuan Yew and Muhamad Faiz. Each played a different role. They are to take on the duties of capturing content, editing and uploading online to

Another ex-student of mine, Liza was in charge of the web and making sure that the videos went live the next day. Liza is currently waiting to go to Singapore University of Design and Technology.

The teams did a great job. When the first videos were posted on the 2nd day, Joshua, like a proud father sms me “Pin Lay, our awesome videos are now alive at”. (You can watch their clips at

I was there as both a participant and as a volunteer. I wanted to find out what’s the buzz amongst the innovators. I had not anticipated that I will be roped in during the conference to help as I had other work commitments as well. As a volunteer member of this team, I see my role quite simply as to fill in the gaps. Small things like helping to get the room for the guys, acting as a conduit for information between the organisers and the media team, driving to collect two battery cables from the Camwerkz which rented the equipment and back to Goodman Arts Centre. The great thing about being in volunteer work is that you do what you can. Titles and designations are not important for everyone on the team as volunteers just want to ensure that the event went on as well as they possibly can (within the limits of our time, skills and resources).

As for me, the veteran and passionate educator, nothing makes me more happy than seeing students (the boys in this case) being so responsible and skillful in discharging their duties. I am sure their lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic can be proud of them. They are independent and responsible students. My nephew Hudson is thinking of going the Polytechnic route. I have told my sister that perhaps Singapore Polytechnic is a good choice. Why not go and check out their Open House 🙂

If you are still thinking that the A level route is the only way for bright students, think again. Yesterday I was one of the judges for the ITE-Oracle ThinkQuest Local Contest 2011 held at ITE West College. I was impressed with the standards of the apps, design and presentation of 10 finalist teams that presented to us. Well, that’s another story:)

Useful links:

Singapore Polytechnic

Singapore Management University

Singapore University of Design and Technology

What does your kid need?

Homeless to Harvard - Liz Murray
Homeless to Harvard - Liz Murray

Today I am going to share a little inspiring story about Liz Murray. Hers is an inspiring story of how self motivation and society blend together to help her carve out a better life. The DVD “Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story” tells “how the daughter of an extremely dysfunctional Bronx family and taken care of by her loving, but drug-addicted parents. Liz becomes homeless at 15 and after her mother dies of HIV, and she begins her work to finish high school. Then she becomes a star student and earns a scholarship to Harvard University through an essay contest sponsored by the New York Times. “(Source: Wikipedia).

When I was reading her story in the latest issue of Readers’ Digest, The humour issue”, though the title of the article was on “Freedom from Want”, she shared that “oddly enough even after all I have been through – maybe because of it – I believe that a certain amount of want is healthy. In fact, “freedom from want” was never my goal. Indeed want served as a catalyst for my dreams, not a hindrance, and my dreams have always been what motivates me.” (Source:, Sept 2011 issue)

So which school is good for your child? It is a school where he or she feels that she is stretched and needs to want a little more. A school where your child is feeling complacent is not one where he will feel he needs to improve.

By the “want” portion, what I meant is to help your child grow up well, do not over provide. Many many parents in Singapore are well meaning, but with many of the children now living with maids, there has been a subtle message sent to the students even they reach school – that is, there is an adult willing to serve them because they are the master’s children. There is always someone to pick up the pieces after they have dirtied the place, wash the cups etc.

However many well meaning parents may have missed an important part – these children tend to grow up to be dependent people. In school, when they forgot to bring something, the maid helps to bring it along. Doting grandparents also do that when the parents are busy working. I once was in charge of a Sec 1 camp. After a game exercise, the Sec 1 student was using her shoes as a pair of slip ons. She told me she did not know how to tie her shoe laces as it was always done by the maid.

Your kid needs, besides the immediate family:

a) Peers – Peers are generally less indulgent than adults and tend to be more critical. The critical portion is good as it helps to provide reality checks for the child. A little good old teasing amongst friends help your child to grow up more resilient. 

b) Good mentors – Are you able to find one or two teachers in the school that can help mentor your child? Besides the parents, it is always healthy to have mentors for your children. A typical mentor to your child is the school’s form teacher or CCA (co-curricular teacher) who is able to tell you things about your child which you may not know. My sister-in-law regularly goes to the school to ask for help to understand what the school syllabus is. The form teacher was very happy to partner my sis-in-law in helping my niece do better. So much so that the neighbours have asked her to help coach their children!

You may want to read about how mentors help these famous people. The extracts are taken from “The Harvard School of Public Health

a) Bill Clinton – “My high school band director, Virgil Spurlin, had a huge impact on my life. Not because he was a particularly great band director. He was quite good, but he was a world-class human being.”

b) Ophrah Winfrey – “What Mrs. Duncan did for me was to help me to not be afraid of being smart.

c) Deepak Chopra – “My most important mentors were my parents. My father was a very prominent physician and cardiologist. Once a week he would see patients free of charge for charity. “

d) Larry King – “When I was a child, all I wanted to do was be on the radio, and there were two great radio broadcasters who influenced me and whom I admired.”

Students need student role models and adult role models. Once physical needs are provided for, the inspiration to excel comes from inspiring role models.