Education is of paramount importance as it plays a crucial role in shaping the future. Our attitudes to learning and how we react to and deal with problems are inculcated when young. While some responsibility falls on parents, a large chunk of that obligation ultimately falls on the shoulders of our educators (given that our children spend so much of their time in school).
Of late, there has been much criticism against our rigid education system. Some students have also stepped up to offer feedback. Kelvin Oh in his letter entitled "For exams or knowledge" had this to say: "our education system has not encouraged us to be curious. Curiosity accelerates the human race. If different inventors or great thinkers of the past did not ask themselves “Why can’t I do this?” we would probably still be living in the past". There has also been simultaneous criticism leveled against our current crop of leaders for lacking initiative and being unimaginative.
However, there is some indication to show that the government may finally be listening, and in so doing, attempting to react to criticisms that have been thrown their way.
Singapore’s new Education Minister, Mr Heng Swee Keat, recently made a surprise visit to Gongshang Primary School. In that surprise visit, he managed to achieve two things:
1. He managed to display initiative, and in so doing, set an example for his fellow ministers and MPs.
2. He managed to avoid the fanfare and rigid procedure of protocol. Had he announced his visit, the school would have no doubt issued guidelines to parents and teachers. They would have introduced formality into what would otherwise have been an informal session. It would have become a structured and regulated one-sided monologue whereby parents would have felt uncomfortable asking questions. As it turned out, because of the unexpected nature of the visit, many were unaware that Mr Heng was present, which would no doubt have created a more conducive environment for feedback and sharing.
It is heartening that such a seemingly spur-of-the-moment visit was made because it heralds a departure from the regimented approach taken by past ministers and sends a clear message to the electorate of the government’s desire to do things differently.
Secondly, it is positive that such a proactive step is taken by the Minister for Education. This move shows that the government recognises the importance of education in the future of our nation. It also indicates acknowledgment that change must come from the very top. By showing that he is willing to be creative in his approach for garnering feedback and putting forth his agenda, Mr Heng is setting an example for his entire ministry.
In his address outlining his vision for a Singapore education that can prepare “our children to be ready to face the future”, he is tacitly acknowledging the limitations of our present system. That is a good start, for it is only in recognising its current lack, can he seek to improve it.
He also stressed the values of “care and concern for others, values of integrity, values of resilience” and said that in “a globalised world, the ability to think analytically and creatively is important”. This is encouraging for in these words, Mr Heng is demonstrating an understanding for the correlation between values and creativity.
Resilience implies staying power and hardiness. This toughness can only come about with an ability to think outside the box, for if one is unable to think laterally, how can one remain sustainable?
If our mindset could be shifted such that more value is placed on education for the sake of learning and self development as opposed to as a means to an end, we would put more emphasis on fulfillment. If we are fulfilled, we would be more receptive towards new ideas because we would no longer feel shackled to the chains of having to learn in order to attain a supposed tangible result. That freedom and liberation would free us to think out of the box and be innovative,
I applaud the minister for his attempt to be inventive. It is an excellent start which I sincerely hope can be sustained and followed upon by other ministers in their respective ministries.
People need to engage with their leaders in a honest and respectful manner and this visit has proven that if ministers really wanted to understand the people better, they can. This spontaneous visit has already yielded positive results. One parent, Shankar Vishwanath, 36, who is a banking executive, has told The Sunday Times that "he was impressed with the session" and that he "now has a clearer idea on schools to send his son to next year."