Following a dialogue session with Minister of Education Ong Ye Kung last week, John shares his thoughts about the future in education in Singapore, and how we can all do our bit to bring forth the changes we want to see.
I was invited to a dialogue session with Minister of Education Ong Ye Kung last week and had the opportunity to listen to the concerns of other parents and ask questions myself. As this was a close door session, it’s not my place to share what was discussed. Rather, I want to share my thoughts about the future of education in Singapore after attending the dialogue.
Going into the session, my deeply held view is that our current system – with its emphasis on test scores, and tuition consuming our children’s personal time – is woefully inadequate at promoting curiosity and the joy of learning. We need to rethink our education system, putting curiosity at the core.
I remember going through the system as a child, learning to excel at memorising facts and exam answering techniques, getting into the best schools, basically doing everything expected of a good kid who studies hard. Looking back at that journey now, I dare say beyond giving me reading, writing and basic arithmetic skills, very few of the things I learnt in school from age 7-18 really prepared me for adulthood and working life.
Most of the things I know today, I learnt from my love for reading. I read fiction and non-fiction. I read about technology, and also culture. I read books, newspapers, magazines, essays, blog posts. When I discovered podcasts and audiobooks, I started consuming content through my headphones. In other words, I am insatiably curious about the world around me. That has served me well. I believe human beings, regardless of age, learn best by being curious. When I speak to people individually or in small groups, I tell them Saturday Kids is a curiosity school for kids. Our mission is to make kids self-motivated learners who are curious, inventive and resourceful. It’s just so much easier for parents to understand coding school for kids.
The theme of the dialogue session with Minister Ong revolved around the incessant pressure Singapore kids are under to do well in standardised tests and exams. As I shared above, I have strong views about the shortcomings of the Singapore system. I did not expect the dialogue to change my views, but change it did. Minister Ong clearly gets that students are under a lot of pressure and that things don’t have to be that way. This is an important starting point. In order to fix something you need to know what needs fixing. My sense is that the Minister is genuinely concerned about the well-being of students, and the importance of helping children discover the joy of learning. MOE, like most other government ministries in the world, is a machine. It takes time for ideas to course through, and even more time for changes to be effected.
Instead of sitting back and waiting for the system to change, we can do our bit. Parents: beyond school and tuition, reflect on your own learning journeys and formative experiences, and consider an out-of-the-box approach to learning for your child. Employers: take a chance on the candidate who lacks a college degree but is driven and hungry. Teachers: put the curiosity back into kids by using creative means to make learning fun again.
Having attended the dialogue, I am feeling a lot more hopeful about the future of education in Singapore. Let’s not sit back and wait for changes to come from top down. We can all do our bit to bring forward the changes we want to see.
Because Singapore matters.