My own “aha” moment – Educate, Education and Learning

DoggieRecently I was conducting this lesson with my poly students using the PBL approach. I had 3 classes of year 1 students and we spent a day each talking about these issues.

Hey, to an educator, that is a fantastic time. I have always wondered how our students felt about education, being educated and learning. Now I got the “air-time” plus get to hear their views…all in the name of a lesson 🙂

What is the end goal of education in a formal system?

Are there informal ways of learning? What is the role on informal education in one’s lifespan?

My own “aha” moment came when I had to re-look at everything from another perspective after I accidentally discovered that I could draw and paint, and that people actually liked my paintings enough to buy them…

The journey in learning Chinese ink, was pretty much incidental and accidental.

Like a good programme, (for those programmers out there…)my life was “interrupted” with this new interest which I somehow couldn’t explain.

You see, from young, I learnt that I cannot draw cos I have “D” or “F” grades for Art. I could never draw that brinjal or do potato prints. I did not understand why we had to do calligraphy with a manuscript pen. Still life bores me as I cannot understand why we need to draw objects.

And my idea of Chinese ink? Well, it pretty much belonged to “Chi-na” people who do not like English and are often seen  as “uncool”.

But I like art books, art galleries and have been collecting them ever since my twenties.

I liked water-colors and the way the pictures are done. Of course, there are some artists who are so different from me and I cannot understand their art at all.

But what happened was that it took a good art teacher, my first Chinese ink teacher, Mr Tan, to make me believe I can draw. How?

He simply asked and told us to exhibit our paintings. Nothing is impossible for him. His unquestioning look when I brought my only art piece (a piece on “Orchids”, which incidentally I did right when I ran out of ink…yep, it’s true…as my friends will tell you :)) and my determination to put my piece as part of his exhibition started my journey into excellence for art.

To him, I owe this small yet important step to unlock my “drawing” potential.

He simply believed me. 

Then my next step. A calligraphy teacher, Mr Guo from Shanghai who taught me the basics of strokes and make even writing “One” a delightful masterpiece. (Read my blogpost on this:http://plchi.blogspot.sg/2012/07/calligraphy-and-what-it-taught-me-in.html)

He taught me the details and the structures of the words. It may seem boring and not as fun as the other class. But he taught me the basics of the strokes. The delight of forming that perfect stroke and the beauty of each Chinese ink brush stroke.

Confirmation of the talent came from friends, my sister, sister-in-law and when I finally drew a complete painting, my favourite to date, the water village series (http://plchi.blogspot.sg/2012/07/revelations-there-is-no-short-cut.html), a friend, Adeline remarked “but now you can..”

and finally my watercolor teacher, Mr Cheng, whom I learnt a little on how to draw and sketch on the spot.

However, not all of my “education” for art was formal. Some were “aha” moments when friends passed me a calendar to sketch, another was when I got this stylo milo portable water color set from another friend, cos I drew a self-admiring panda for her.

Not forgetting the many who liked my Chinese new year pieces and were kind enough to donate monies to my fund raising activities.

So what is education? Really it is about meeting with the right mentors and being diligent.

Mentor Beginner – the one who started you on the first step, who spotted your potential and believed in you

Mentor Structure – the one who “forced” you to practise hard on uninteresting stuff

Mentor On-the-Spot– the ones who taught you outside the typical classroom

Mentor friends – people who affirmed your talents and gifts through feedback and encouragement

Mentor buyers – people who are interested enough to buy your products

So, for students out there who are frustrated with the “formal” education, do not be discouraged. What cannot destroy you can only make you stronger:)

Adversity breeds perseverance..a forgotten virtue in this “instant” world.

I am fortunate to have met some of the most wonderful students in my poly teaching. These are not the typical academic “A1” students whom I used to teach in premier schools but students who have good attitudes and fortitudes. They are students who could be acting in shows like “Ah Boys to Men”.

What is ultimately more important is not to let people, system and grades label you as “cannot”.

Everyone has a role to play on this earth. Just discover your role and work hard.

And yes, when people fail to recognise your “talent”, don’t be so hard on yourself and play the blame game.

Learn to take yourself less seriously and laugh at your silly mistakes:)

Make “Excellence” your choice.

2 Cor 4:7-15 “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

Useful links:

http://plchi.blogspot.sg

http://gallery.ourf.sg/Gallery/Welcome.html

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

Encouraging the inventive spirit in your child

Belle's Clock
Belle’s Clock

It all started because my brother’s house needed a new clock. However, the clock was simple. It was “boring” in the words of my sis-in-law.
So she tasked my niece “to do something with the clock”. Very often we hear of parents, especially mothers telling the children what to do.
“Can you help me look after your younger brother?”
“Hurry up! We are late!”
“Aiyoo…Why did your school teacher call again?”
“You better study hard. Else no future. It is very competitive you know.”
“You better study hard. Don’t be lazy. This year is your PSLE.”
“You are so big already. Why can’t you keep your room clean?”
and so on…

So often, parents, especially mothers try to “nag” their children on to the right path. Parenting a child is never easy. There are countless bad habits a child can develop if left to his own devices. A parent’s role is to guide, correct and encourage the child.

In her book, Marilee G. Adams shared on how when “You change your questions, you change your life”. In the book she shares that ‘”Questioning” is a skill rarely taught in school, but doing it well – that is, asking the right questions of the right people – can radically transform attitudes, actions, and results. Change Your Questions, Change Your Life provides easy-to-learn tools that can make a significant and immediate difference in people’s business and personal lives. Written as an engaging fable, it inspires readers to take charge of their thinking in order to accomplish goals, improve relationships, advance careers, investigate new territories, and in general gain greater life satisfaction. This book explains how to “be your own coach,” outlines the author’s Question Thinking Model, and lists the top 12 questions for change. Real-world examples provide practical models for applying the principles in a variety of situations, while a Choice Map is a useful visual tool that demonstrates that everyone has a choice in every situation, even if it is not immediately apparent.’ (Source: Amazon.com)

I agree to a large extent. Question Thinking is a useful communication tools that challenge our assumptions.  Are we in a Judger mode or Learner mode?

Basically it is important to question our assumptions. Stop the blame game when things go wrong. And take a step back to re-look at things again.More importantly the parent child relationship grows when the parent allows the child to “meddle” around. Like in this case, the clock. My niece is quite creative and good in art.

The result? A beautifully crafted and unique Ikea clock piece. When posted on Facebook, there were a couple of buyers. Of course, all these are the “fan” club of my niece.

Some points we can learn from this simple joyful event:
a) Turn a problem into an opportunity for your child to help you
b) Recognise the talents that your child have – what do they do well in? What do they particularly enjoy?
c) Encourage your child to try and innovate eg in this case, what is the worst case scenario? Probably an ugly clock 🙂
d) Share the small achievements of your child

When a child receives recognition that she is good in something, her confidence grows.
In my earlier post, I shared how crushed my niece was when she heard that she could not enter the School of the Arts.(SOTA) (Post: What’s your PSLE score?)
But who knows, she could be extremely talented in Art and turn out to be a superb designer or artist:)

Fruity Clock
Fruity Clock

And by the way, I shared this piece of fun news with a friend and here is the result of the work she did with her children.
Another beautifully decorated Ikea clock!

Perhaps we can modify Ikea’s tagline to : You don’t have to be rich to be inventive 🙂

Useful links:

What’s your PSLE score? 

Change your questions, change your life – by Marilee G. Adams

The 5th Discipline: Peter Senge

What I learnt from failing: My first and only ‘RE’ exam!

I remembered the year as vividly as if it was yesterday. It was my second year in NUS. For the FIRST time in my life, I have failed an examination. It was my Mathematics paper.

I remember the day when we went to collect the results. I was with my bunch of friends, Campus Crusaders as we were called then. We were all from the Science Faculty. I was on a MOE teaching bond and have to take on teaching subjects – Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry for my first year.

Being a lazy student back then, I thought I was smart to take double Maths in Year 2 as it means less studying. My foundation in Hwa Chong stood me in good ground. I sailed through my first year with very little studying, lots of socializing and playing. I passed with decent grades of A,B and C.

Then the day came. My friends who took Biology went in and take their results. It was A after A. Then it was my turn to go to the Maths department. I remembered I saw my result slip and wondered why it was F for one of the papers. It was such a shameful moment for me – the arrogant and cocky student who thought that no studying and all socializing is the way to go for NUS. I blamed it on the lousy NUS Maths lecturer that talked only to his OHP (overhead projector) instead of teaching us.

It was a rude shock to me. No one of my friends believed I failed and had to do the dreaded “RE”. It did not help that a guy who was very interested in me, told me that he has done RE’s after RE’s and he will be studying with me. I still remember being very offended by his suggestion. “Hey, I am not a loser like you. I am not the “RE” sort.” – was my arrogant thought at that point of time.

I totally withdrawn from my friends, my social life during those months leading up to the RE exam. For the first time I did all the past year questions, revised all my notes and did every single exercise. It was a black hole in my life at that time. I felt stupid and lousy. The arrogant self was all gone. Instead self pity and a deep sense of regret – why didn’t I pull through? My thoughts oscillated between failing my RE again and being shamed to “it’s no big deal, I am sure I can pull through.”

Well, the exam day came. I sat for the paper and was happy that the lecturer actually reused his old question.

Either it was a case of pure luck or plain laziness of the Maths lecturer.

I passed the paper.

I was promoted to Year 3.

That was my brief encounter with failure in an examination. But it proved to be a stepping stone in my life. I become more grounded, less arrogant and more willing to work hard.

It also made me a better teacher. I was able to empathize with students who failed. Some failed because they were lazy like me. But there were many who failed just because they could not understand the teacher. Some worked very hard and yet still can’t pass.

In the various schools that I taught in, St Thomas (which has since closed down due to falling enrollment), Yishun, St Joseph’s Institution and Nanyang Girls’ High, I have many chances to share the tears of my students when they failed a major exam.

It took me many more years and many more failures (not in terms of examinations) but in losing promotions, being rejected, learning to take disappointments to become who I am today. The words of my partner still ring in my ears when I first left a comfortable post to start our education consultancy, “Remember, you are no longer the Dean of NYGH, you need to do everything yourself…..”

Yes, learning to fail is oh so important. It gives you the right perspective to life and more importantly it teaches you what went wrong.

In USA, there is a re-visiting of the over-praising culture for children. According to Dr Jim Taylor, a clinical associate professor at the University of Denver,  “Children develop a sense of competence by seeing the consequences of their actions, not by being told about the consequences of their actions.

“Too much praise of any sort can also be unhealthy. Research has found that students who were lavished with praise were more cautious in their responses to questions, had less confidence in their answers, were less persistent in difficult assignments, and less willing to share their ideas.” (Source: Psychology Today: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/200909/parenting-dont-praise-your-children)

So do call a spade a spade. Failure, red marks are all stepping stones to make a child with character.

Do wait a while before you stretch out your hand to pick up your child.

Do give him time to learn to stand on his own two feet. 

 Useful links:
The power of Prime – by Dr Jim Taylor

What’s your PSLE score?

For any parent who has been staying in Singapore for a while, these four letters “PSLE” will definitely ring a bell. The PSLE means Primary School Leaving Examinations. Nothing very special yet it may conjure images of fear, dread, happiness, exuberance, anxiety, sleepless nights and even be marked as the D-day for many students and their parents.

To help children prepare for this PSLE, parents have been known to take leave and stay at home before and during the examinations. Some start preparing as early as in Primary 5. Tuition classes, extra classes, past year exam papers..practise, practise, practise. It has even spawned an industry where “top” and popular primary school exam papers are sold at bus interchanges, bookshops. Popular bookstore and many others carries and sells sample exam papers for students to hone their skills in ace-ing this exam. This is because unlike the entry to a local Primary school, the PSLE score is the key and prime determinant of where your child will go after his/her primary education has ended.

From the Ministry of Education website: “The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is conducted in Singapore annually. It is a national examination which pupils sit at the end of their final year of primary school education. A pupil can sit the PSLE if he/she is studying in an approved institution in Singapore.” (Source: http://www.seab.gov.sg/psle/generalInfo.html)

Top students can score a range of 260-290. A score of 250 will land the child in a good autonomous or independent school. The average range is from 200-250. Low scores of less than 200 can mean that your child has to take 5 years to finish the secondary education instead of four.

Based on their results, candidates are streamed into three different courses: Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical). (Source: wikipedia)

Well, this year, happened to be the year my niece is sitting for her P6. Being the dutiful aunt, I tried to do my small bit to prepare her for a good secondary education. I brought her to my ex-school(Nanyang Girls’ High) when she was in P5. I shared with her that schools like these are hard to get in and required hard work. She talked to some of my ex-colleagues to understand more about art as she was pretty good in that. In P6, I brought her to SOTA (School of the Arts) and arrange for a tour of the school. She was captivated by the school and inspired to work hard. She wanted very much to get into SOTA. It was her dream school.

She worked hard. She applied for DSA (direct school admission). She got selected for art and was granted entry provided she met the min cut off for her PSLE result. The day she got the offer from SOTA, she posted on Facebook. My sis-in-law shared with me. I was elated. I thought I had done my part as educator and aunt. I have helped her have a choice. It was the high point of my week! I shared a couple of sms with my friends and ex-colleagues. Everyone was happy for her. I was very very happy.

Fast forward to PSLE exams. As the day for the exams drew near, my sis-in-law was anxious for her daughter. I told her not to worry. I believe she should be fine.

The exams came and went.

I accompanied my niece for her trip to Hong Kong, her choir tour.

Then I got an sms on the day of the PSLE results. I was at Barcelona. It was early morning. My niece did not make it for the entry cut-off required for SOTA. She was crying. My sis-in-law asked if she could appeal. What can I do to help? After a couple of sms and one to check with the VP of SOTA, I replied that an appeal is out. The requirements from MOE is clear. As long as she did not make the grade in terms of points, she cannot get into SOTA.

My mind was peaceful yet not peaceful. What did I do? Did I just helped raise her hope then have it dashed again? My mind says that the criteria is fair and as an educator and someone who has been on selection panel, my niece simply did not qualify. I have seen students who struggle with self esteem problems when they enter an independent school and then failed miserably. Do I want her to go through that?

My other mind says perhaps the system needs tweaking. I was visiting Barcelona – the land which breeds Picasso, Dali, Gaudi – famous artists whom some did not recognise during their lifetime. Gaudi died a poor man. His art was not appreciated during his lifetime. Yet today, his art work is all over Barcelona. People came from all over the world to see his art! Perhaps artists are wired differently. Can our system make provision for them? Do we expects students to have it all? Good grades and beautiful break through art pieces…do they come hand-in-hand or ??

I am not sure and have no answers. But I do think that for some students it is not possible to have it all. They have academic challenges. But they excel in art. Do we want them in SOTA? or any other special independent school?

My friend who teaches in Singapore Sports School also faced similar challenges.

Perhaps one way is to tweak entry requirement such that academic requirement is not necessary at all. Another will be to have a mix indicator. For example 70% goes to artistic abilities and 30% academic.

As Singapore strives to be a renaissance city, can we re-look how we assess our students? Must it always be about a good score for PSLE?

Can academia wait?

NB: My niece incidentally is going to Christ Church, a school that I mentioned in the earlier blog. She has friends going to that school and she is still going to pursue her art – on her own!

Useful links:

Direct School Admission (Secondary)

School of the Arts (SOTA)

Christ Church Secondary School

PSLE

Thoughts on Overseas Learning Journeys of Singapore schools

At Google, Nov 2006
At Google, Nov 2006

To become a better education consultant, I decided to expand my horizon beyond top schools, beyond ICT and to take on different roles in helping schools – to do some sort of community service in terms of helping to lead trips out of Singapore during the peak travel periods of Nov/Dec. It started some time ago when I designed the Silicon Valley trip for Nanyang Girls’ High School, supported by IDA Singapore.(Mar, Nov 2001) I guess I must have done a decent job for the itinerary as I understand from the education travel agency that subsequently every Principal who joined NYGH went on the Silicon Valley trip 🙂 When I left the school, my “expertise” was sought by STA Travel to help them lead groups going there. Thereafter, I became good friends with these travel consultants, who were once my vendors. From a vendor-client relationship, it went onto become partners for education. Almost 4 years down the road since I started OURF(2008-present), I have helped to lead 2 Silicon Valley trips(2008, 2009) 1 trip to Perth for CHIJ-OLOP, a primary school netball group (2010), 1 trip to Hong Kong for Ai Tong Primary’s school choir exchange (2011) and 1 trip to Barcelona for St Joseph’s Convent – a secondary school arts tour (2011).

It has been an interesting journey as I never thought of myself as a tour leader, much less expected myself to go to Silicon Valley 5x!

In Suzhou, house visit
In Suzhou, house visit

When I was in NYGH, I have led a trip for the inaugural batch of bicultural scholars for immersion in Suzhou and Wenzhou(2005)

Here are my thoughts after leading these trips:

a) In doing overseas learning journeys for students in schools, what is the optimum age?

I have seen how the teachers are stressed out when they have to bring very young children overseas. The fact that they have to be accountable for every child’s safety and learning weighs heavily on every responsible teacher!!

My personal experience in leading the bicultural scholars at Suzhou was to visit every single home which my students stayed in (yes in winter with the local school teachers, which was a very dedicated team) to see that the girls are safe and post the pix up onto the blog (at that time, only travelblog was available – no facebook etc) This was not “required” by my school then, but it was my small way to assure the parents that the girls are well taken care of.

The same happened when I was at Silicon Valley in 2006. I posted almost daily updates to help parents keep in touch for I believe a pix says a thousand words. This small action actually helped and I have really nice parents who came up to thank me as they have seen me on the pix:)

When I was with Ai Tong Pri this year for their choir exchange, the 4 teachers, being very responsible were seen counting the students at every place we went. The group comprises of very young students – from 8 years old to 12+. Similarly, CHIJ-OLOP had a parent helping out with the group which also comprised young participants – P3 onwards.

It is heartening to see such overseas learning journeys conducted for primary school students, but really is 8 or P3 too young for such trips? What are the gains? How can the school engage the parents? Is the Ai Tong way better or the CHIJ-OLOP way or…?? One school has the parent come on board the trip and helped looked after the group, another was not keen to have parents on board and went as far as not telling them where the hotel location is until the last few days.

For Ai Tong, there were several parents who went on the trip on their own expense though the parents were not told of the hotel arrangements until a few days before the trip. Is this a wise decison by the school? Can more be done to engage the parents?

I was fortunate to be able to play the role of tour leader and help lead the trip my niece was on (Ai Tong choir). But my sis-in-law and brother were not able to know of the hotel arrangements until a few days before the trip. Is this move helpful to the growth and education of the child to be more independent?

For the school trip which I led for St Joseph’s Convent, the students were on an art trip. The itinerary included many sketching sessions, at the art museums, at the artists hometown and at beautiful places like Park Güell.

SAC Students sketching at Park Güell
SJC Students sketching at Park_Güell

The students immersion were total and I can see them enjoying the beauty of the pieces, being enthused and enticed to work and improve on their art pieces..so much so that I also got caught up in the beauty of the place and started sketching🙂

The art teachers, especially the lead teacher, Iris were also happy to share with me some interesting points about art education, renaissance city and I was presented with my first sketch book by Amanda, the young art teacher accompanying the Barcelona trip.

As schools increasingly plan overseas learning journeys, perhaps some questions we need to ask ourselves are:

a) What is the optimum age for these students when they go overseas for learning trips?

b) How should the school partner the stakeholders? parents, education travel agencies?

c) What is the primary role of the education travel agency? To provide a good itinerary? To source for good partner schools or should this be the role of the teachers and the schools? Should a travel agency be the one to do the worksheets or the school teachers? And then again, should learning journeys have worksheets? Are worksheets really effective?

d) Can we learn if we have no worksheets?

e) What are the roles of the teachers when they travel overseas with the students?

f) What are the real gains for the students? the teachers?

As we grapple with 21st Century learning and competencies, the school boundaries become blurred. More and more are heaped on schools and learning. Can we do more with less?

These are not easy questions but overseas learning journeys are here to stay. Rather than bury our heads and pretend problems do not exist, how can we proceed bravely on, bearing in mind the increasing workload of principals, teachers and students in Singapore schools 🙂

SAC students sketching at Picasso Museum
SJC students sketching at Picasso Museum

Useful links: 

Ai Tong Primary School

St Joseph’s Convent

Nanyang Girls’ High School 

A one point entry for foreign students – Demystifying the AEIS

The Ministry of Education has introduced a one point entry system – Admission Exercise for Foreign Students (AEIS) to help simplify the process of application for a place in a local K12 school.

I chanced upon this when asked to help children of friends from Shanghai and other countries to get a place for their children. So while many Singaporeans feel that our local K12 system is not ideal, it is a seen as a coveted item for many of these parents.

I have seen how foreign parents sacrificed their time to be “study” parents so that their children can be adequately prepared to be one of the fortunate people to make the cut for our local K12 schools. The amount of time and effort they spent, esp Asian parents on trying to help their children get the Singapore brand of education always make me feel that we have taken our education system for granted.

In Indonesia, I have seen how parents work together to setup a school for their children just so the kids get a chance to learn Mandarin as a subject.
In China, a couple once waited for us for a whole day just to get a chance to talk to my principal, when we were there for an education assignment. The parents were from Nanjing and they travelled all the way to Wuxi just to wait for us.

Back to the AEIS. It is one stop shop – a centralised admissions exercise conducted by MOE around September or October each year for new international students who wish to join K12 primary and secondary schools in January of the following year.

The Centralised Test
The candidates are tested on English and Mathematics and general reasoning ability. Applicants who pass the test will be offered a place in a suitable school, based on availability of school vacancies, their test performance and declared address in Singapore. (Source: Ministry of Education)

What is the admission criteria?
New international students who do not have a place in a local K12 school and who wish to seek admission into Primary 2–5 and Secondary 1–3 levels in January of the following academic year are eligible to take part in AEIS.

You have to factor in how old the child will be when he/she enters the school the following year. The max age is +2 above the current cohort of students.

AEIS - admission for Primary School
AEIS - admission for Primary School

Stop Check!
This is a picture (Source: MOE) which shows the age and the level the child will be posted to. There is another similar table for Secondary schools.
This is the FIRST STEP that all parents who are interested to enrol their children for the admission test should take note of. If the child fails to have this criteria, it is a FUTILE exercise and a source of heartache.

There are a few steps you need to note for this admission exercise:
a) The dates of tests for 2011 AEIS.

AEIS dates
AEIS dates

b) The types of pass the parents hold
c) The eligibility of the students
d) Application Process and Documents required – these need to be carefully studied and comply with. The application process is via an online form and the person who is helping the parents to apply need to have these information ready and at hand.
e) Online Form – which is closed for this year already
f) Reporting Venue of AEIS test
g) How to prepare – There exists many private schools who claim they can help students prepare for the exams. The parents are advised to check out these premises and to see if they are certified by edu-trust. Some schools charge a bit more but give better quality. What I did the last time was to ask qualified ex-colleagues of mine who are teachers to help out. However, a private school setting could be more conducive for studying. Besides the academic preparation, those helping out should also take note of how the child feels. In many cases, the psychological aspects play a key role. To study and be immersed in an EL and foreign environment can be very intimidating to many students. Those who are successful in their own country may suddenly feel a deep sense of loss and rejection.
h) Finally the last hurdle will be the exams and the results of the AEIS. The bar is getting higher each year. It is very difficult to get a place in a local school as places for foreign students are very limited. Plus the fact that at the end of the year, local students could be also thinking of transferring to another school through the school’s own internal exams.

It is also important to note that all students who are staying on for a period of time longer than the regular tourist, needs to have a student VISA. The information for application process can be found through ICA website. Many credited private schools will be able to issue the student pass if the students are enrolled in their school.

If you are a Singapore parents, perhaps if you have friends or biz associates who are interested in enrolling for the Singapore Schools, this is one exercise you may want to get yourself acquainted with. All the best!

Useful links
International Students Admissions Overview
Studying in Singapore K12 schools
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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