By Cheong Yaoming –
According to the founder and first President of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, “Teachers are the one and only people who save nations.” Despite the importance of governments in forming nation shaping policies why would President Ataturk confer such a great responsibility to teachers and not politicians?
Having been a private tuition teacher in Singapore for 3 years and been a student in the local education system for 12 years. I have noticed stark differences as well as archaic practices still being applied in our education system.
One such difference is the way children and teenagers behave. Growing up as a 80s kid, we were indoctrinated to fear, obey and respect our teachers in equal proportion. Whenever we misbehaved in class or did not do our homework we would be reprimanded or physically punished. Teachers would punish us according to the severity of our misbehavior and we were generally manageable. If we dared to complain to our parents about being disciplined, we would get a second round of scolding from our parents, who would in turn ask our teachers to discipline us even more! In public, we were wary of bringing shame to our school as teachers and the public would report our misdeeds. These days anti-social and even criminal behaviour among our youngster is prevalent.
Nowadays, schools are adopting the ‘light touch’ approach where children are built up instead of being put down, talked to kindly if they misbehave and physical punishment is all but phased out. All these sound good on paper and in research studies but looking at reality, we now have a generation of spoilt, egotistical teenagers with lacking basic courtesy and etiquette. Recently one parent even made a police report against his child’s teacher for verbal abuse! While evolving and improving pedagogy to keep up with the times is necessary, shackling and undermining our school teachers will not produce more character in our children.
As Dr John Yam pointed out in the Workers’ Party (WP) Rally on 22 May 2012, keeping gifted classes to around 25 while all other classes can be as big as 40 smacks of elitism. This also contradicts the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) stance of class sizes having no correlation to learning outcomes. During an MOE interview for a teaching position I asked the panel “Why have class sizes remained relatively similar over the last 20 years?” From what I have observed during my one-on-one sessions and small class sizes of not more than 20 in tuition centres, children do indeed learn much better, not just in terms of knowledge, but in critical thinking and independent learning as well. The panel dismissed my observations “Well according to research, we found that smaller class sizes do not result in better learning outcomes”. At least the people working in MOE are consistent, just that they are consistently mistaken.
Minister for Education Mr Heng Swee Keat had unveiled a new vision for MOE, to instill character and moral values into our children. Why the need for such emphasis Minister Heng? Aren’t our school teachers already supposed to be doing that by default? Is the Edusave Character Award scheme sending the right message to impressionable children of how to build character?
I believe the MOE and their staff have the best of intentions and is sincere in developing our children academically and morally. However it seems they are reliant on old methods based on the ideology of ‘they have worked in the past, so they will work in the future’ while adopting new practices which have brought us backwards as a society. Why did MOE’s TV ad ‘Mrs Chong’ win Television Campaign of the Year 2011 and Viewers’ Choice Best Local TV Commercial 2011? I believe industry experts and the general public identified with the qualities of Mrs Chong that made her such an outstanding educator. The very same qualities that President Ataturk recognised and cannot be capture in any KPI.
This article is published by The Online Citizen, 20 Maxwell Road, #09-17 Maxwell House, Singapore 069113.