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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Useful links:
The Travelling Teacher

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

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

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

Enjoy 🙂Art for Love

A gallery to showcase art pieces by our contributors

Unschooling – Is that part of our 21st century toolkit?

Joy and Jeremy at Arcade
Joy and Jeremy at Arcade Game

Have you heard of the phrase “Unschool“?  I stumbled across this term when researching on “asking questions, learning” which I typed in my search box. Dr Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College in his blogpost on Psychology Today, defined “unschooling” as follows:

“Defined most simply, unschooling is not schooling. Unschoolers do not send their children to school and they do not do at home the kinds of things that are done at school. More specifically, they do not establish a curriculum for their children, they do not require their children to do particular assignments for the purpose of education, and they do not test their children to measure progress. Instead, they allow their children freedom to pursue their own interests and to learn, in their own ways, what they need to know to follow those interests. They also, in various ways, provide an environmental context and environmental support for the child’s learning. Life and learning do not occur in a vacuum; they occur in the context of a cultural environment, and unschooling parents help define and bring the child into contact with that environment.

All in all, unschoolers have a view of education that is 180 degrees different from that of our standard system of schooling. They believe that education is something that children (and people of all ages) do for themselves, not something done to them, and they believe that education is a normal part of all of life, not something separate from life that occurs at special times in special places.”

It is believed that 10% of homeschoolers are unschoolers in USA. Which translates to 150,000 students and more.

I supposed unschool takes the concept of homeschool one step further. For homeschooling, there is a prescribed syllabus and you teach your child according to what the syllabus prescribes. There is a network for homeschoolers and you can purchase the syllabus online.

Unschooling is based on the premise that every child is curious and talented in some ways. The parents help to shape their learning. I like the sentence that “they believe that education is a normal part of all of life, not something separate from life that occurs at special times in special places“.

So is there a place for unschooling a child in Singapore? We have founders like the founders of Kampung Temasek who are trying a new way of learning. We have homeschool organisations who provide families a systematic way to ensure their child gets a validated curriculum for their education.We have parents who chose homeschool to inculcate certain values in their children.

But there again, do parents need to homeschool or unschool their children to teach them values? Is there value in a formal school education?

Recently I have the privilege to host an ex-colleague and her two children in Singapore. Her boy(P3) and girl (P5) studies in Hong Kong(HK) Singapore International School, a school based in HK and uses the Singapore syllabus. They were here on for Easter vacation.

Here’s what I observe when I was “babysitting” her two children while she was having her much deserved break and facial. Jeremy(the boy) and Joy(the girl) were given ten dollars each to spend.

I was a bit worried. I am not sure if we should go to the new JCube to do ice skating or walk around IMM where my friend was having her facial. IMM seems like an adult place and what is there to see and do at IMM? kiddy rides? Popular? But we had been at Popular just yesterday to buy some assessment books.

Well, I just asked the kids what they want to do and they told me so innocently, “Aiyah….we cannot ice-skate as you dunno know to. Never mind lah, Auntie Pin Lay, we just walk around IMM.” What a logical answer 🙂

So we were at IMM. Walking aimlessly.

Surprise no 1. The first stop was at Mini Toons. They wanted to buy some sweets. But what was surprising to me was that they chose to buy so little that it cannot even make up the minimum quantity of sweets. It was only 30g compared to 100g requirement for the least amount they need to buy! We did buy the min 100g in the end but they both did not finish the sweets. I think they only ate about 50g or less:)

Surprise no 2. The second stop was at an Arcade place. Jeremy did not want to spend his money at all. In fact he was upset that Joy bought tokens to play together. He was annoyed and said “But you never ask me if I wanted to play!” He was not interested to play in the games as he wanted to keep his $10 intact. Joy, being the sharing and caring big sister, got him interested. She shared how great it will be if they play together. He still refused, not convinced. However, towards the end of the session, they were playing well together. It was a simple game of hitting the belly of an ugly looking frog. It was such a good kiddie game that with their combined skills they scored well and the tickets start rolling. Soon J and J were so motivated to get more tickets that they played the same game 5 times! The end result – they managed to win some nice prizes to share with their mum:)

Surprise no 3. My friend was not done with her facial yet. We walked over to take a drink at Ah Mei, a local food joint. I told them, “Hey time for a little iPad game..no need $$. Just use my iPad while I take my fix of tea halial and chwee kueh.” Imagine my pleasant surprise where Joy took out her remaining $2 and waved at the auntie to use her $2 to pay. Well, $2 was not enough to pay. I started to take out my wallet to pay.

“No, no, Auntie Pin lay, you keep your money!” Both of them said almost simultaneously. Jeremy started to fish for his ununsed $10 to rush to pay for me. I wished you were there to see the amused look of the auntie serving us at the counter. So my $5.10 refreshment of tea plus chwee kueh were totally paid for by them. Not a small amount considering that it is 51% of Jeremy’s pocket money!

I later told my friend that she has really brought up her children well. “Baby-sitting” for her was a real joy 🙂

So to what extent should the the parent’s involvement in their children’s education be? Do you think “unschooling” is a good option for your child? If not, why not? Or should it be part of the suite that is available for Singapore parents to choose from? What type of support do you think you will need? What type of skills? How do you teach values to your children so that even when you are absent they will bring happiness to others and joy to their “baby sitters”.

Your view?

Useful links:

What is unschooling?

Learning without schooling

Hong Kong Singapore International School

Being a Happy Singaporean

Being a Happy Singaporean
Being a Happy Singaporean

Last year an email invite came on 16th Nov to ask if I will like to speak during Career 2012 on any one of the following topics

  1. What is Work-Life balance in Singapore?
  2. What is healthy lifestyle for a Singaporean?
  3. De-Stress!
  4. How to be a happy and healthy at Work

I thought for a while and decided on the topic “Being a Happy Singaporean” – as it will address a key issue that Singaporeans are grappling about…being Happy.

From letters to editors, online discussions, facebook comments etc, it will seem that Singaporeans are an unhappy lot despite our dollar growing stronger each day. Our SGD is now pegged at 1USD to 1.2569 SGD (Source: Yahoo Finance) at this point of writing. Yet Singaporeans seem unhappy. Unhappy about schools, the government, the MRT and so on.

So what is the missing link?

The Career 2012 advisory committee was kind and open enough to accept this topic on “Being a Happy Singaporean”.  A couple of months later on 3 Mar, I gave a talk/workshop to PMETs at the Career 2012 at Suntec City as part of 21st Century Competencies.

We live in a pragmatic world where GDP and dollars and cents make the most sense to all. Yet it was interesting to note that in 2012, the main newspapers in Singapore carried many many references to Happiness. The gross national happiness was actually a term coined in “1972 by Bhutan‘s then King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who has opened Bhutan to the age of modernization, soon after the demise of his father, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk“. (Source: wikipedia)

My curiosity about happiness started when a good friend ask me if I am interested to visit Bhutan in Mar 2011. When I asked him why, he just merely suggested that it is the “happiest place on earth”.

My research into happiness led me to interesting points raised by renown psychologists all over the world. TED.com devoted one whole year, 2004 to answering what it means to be happy. In fact, there were 167 video clips (ie TED talks) on the topic of happiness.

So what has happiness got to do with our 21st Century Education and skills?

From the research, habits of happiness can be built. It is not a fuzzy feel good concept. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology, proposed by Abraham Maslow, a humanistic psychologist in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation. 

Dr Martin Seligman talks about positive psychology being applicable to normal human beings that is you and me. There are 3 ways we can live our lives… – the pleasant life, the happy life and the meaningful life. To achieve the highest level of happiness, we should aim for the meaningful life – a life that has purpose, meaning and accomplishments with a larger purpose.

Nic Mark, a statistican, gathers evidence of what makes us happy. His simple 5 steps for happiness?  Connect. Be Active. Take notice. Keep Learning. Give.

During the talk, I also gave some examples and tips on how to keep happy. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Speak the truth. Practise kindness and compassion. Build on your strengths. Appreciate diversity in your team. The Yong Tau Foo Team©.

To help our students become happy in our schools and to achieve the highest level of happiness, besides academic skills, one of the key challenges is for schools to help them build meaning into their lives through the 21st Century competencies of collaborating, communicating, creating and thinking critically.

Remember the highest form of happiness is to GIVE. “For it is in giving that you receive.” 
Two projects for your school to consider giving to: Sponsoring a child under World Vision Singapore and Project Happy Feet.
Useful links:

World Vision Singapore

Project Happy Feet

Gross National Happiness, Bhutan

Bhutan, a Kingdom of Happiness

Maslow Hierarchy of Needs

Dr Martin Seligman TED.com video

Nic Mark on Happiness Index

Straits Times: Bhutan is not Shangri-lah on earth

A post by Jack Sim: What is the purpose of school education?

Jack Sim aka the Toilet Guy, asked the question “What is the purpose of school education?” I got to know Jack through being involved as a volunteer with Kampung Temasek, a NGO of which Jack is a founder. When I asked if any one in the KT group will like to share their views on 21st Century education on this blog, he was the first to respond, even though he was with his family in Disneyland Orlando USA! What a passionate guy:)

Here’s a little info about Jack if you are not familiar with him:

“Jack Sim (simplified Chinese: 沈锐华; traditional Chinese: 沈銳華; pinyin: Shěn Ruìhuá) is the founder of the Restroom Association of Singapore and World Toilet Organization. Formerly in the construction industry, he left to found the Toilet Organization in 2001.[1] For “creating good will and bringing the subject into the open” and “mobilizing national support in providing on-the-ground expertise” he received the Schwab Foundation award for Social Entrepreneur of the Year, also in 2001.[2] He was elected a Fellow of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public in 2007, and as of Fall 2007 he was assisting in the United Nations plans for the International Year of Sanitation in 2008.[3]” (Source: Wikipedia).


It’s time MOE revisits what is the purpose of school education:

-Do scoring high academic marks mean the child will be a good leader? Why do we reward academic excellence IQ when what we want are leaders with more EQ?

-What is the competitive edge of our nation? Is it the ability to be more efficient or to be more innovative?
If it is both, why are we not able to identify the innovative ones and instead condemn them as naughty boys?

-At the national level, how do we compete with the world when information is a commodity available to all on internet? Where universities degrees can be obtained through downloading best answers and changing the grammar to technically avoid plagiarism but is in de facto copying?

-At a personal level, are there other pathways to a fulfilling life besides the self-destructive Rat-Race?

-What is it that is uniquely Singapore in our ability to punch above our weight?

In my view, a strong society is one that cares for each other and holds itself together through a sense of community. The competitive edge of a nation is rooted in the virtues of its people: Hard work, ethics, learning culture, sense of responsibility, a strong family nucleus, love, compassion, patriotism, open-thinking and communication, and the strategic integration of all these virtues into a cohesive power plus the wisdom to exploit opportunities presented to us everyday without turning us into the prostitutes of the Rat-Race.

Merry X’mas,

Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

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