Pity for MOE to shut down article on PISA results as opposed to simply pointing out the mistakes

Director-General of Education, Mr. Wong Siew Hoong's speech at the Redesigning Pedagogy International Conference 2017 (RPIC 2017) Opening Ceremony

“Fake News”, is a phrase du jour that is beginning to sound tired. In large part due to its overuse, it is starting to lose its meaning.

What is fake news exactly?

Going back to basics, I would imagine that the term implies untrue information that is either maliciously or irresponsibly spread. With this in mind, does the latest MOE saga really constitute fake news?

Singapore’s education system has long been criticised for training students to regurgitate as opposed to apply knowledge. It is also painfully obvious that Singaporean students do not like to challenge or ask questions. Of course, this is a generalisation and I am in no way suggesting that all of our students behave this way or that all of our teachers teach in this manner. However, for the purposes of making a point, I will have to err on the side of stereotype.

Having been a product of the Singapore education system, I will be honest and say that I have to agree with the gist of the offending Aussie article. It is true that while Singaporeans excel academically, they are not always the most eloquent when it comes to critical thinking. I say this not to lay blame on anyone. It is simply the acknowledgement of a broadly true assertion. The point the article is making is therefore not the “fake” part of the write up.

It then transpires that the “fake” part of this equation is that the Aussie article had inaccurately attributed quotes and referenced the different ranking systems.

The article from Education HQ (Australia) had wrongly quoted Director General of the Ministry of Education, Mr Wong Siew Hoong in saying “we’ve been winning the wrong race” after juxtaposing  Singapore’s stellar PISA results to OECD data on student wellbeing, and also of innovation in the economy, revealing Singapore in the lowest quartile. It further wrote, “Wong Siew attributed Singapore’s PISA success to standardised test drilling and a culture of compliance, only to retort: “we’re building compliant students just as the jobs that value compliance are beginning to disappear” but these quotes have since been retracted by the website.

Now, don’t get be wrong, I am in no way, shape or form condoning slack and lazy reporting – far from it. That said, it would be a travesty if we missed the forest for the trees. While, the offending article may not have been above board in thoroughness – not dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, the general point it is trying to make is a valid one.

Is it therefore too trigger-happy for MOE to simply brandish the whole thing as “fake news”?

The whole “fake news” movement has taken on a complete life of its own and has caused people to confuse inaccuracies with fakery. Sadly, this defeats the spirit of the movement altogether. Wanting responsible reporting is not the same as dismissing truths wholesale just because they may contain elements of inaccuracies. We still have to put on our thinking caps to evaluate.

I think it is a pity that MOE has chosen to shut the whole article down as opposed to simply pointing out the mistakes. That to me would have been the more constructive way to do it.

The points raised by the article remain compelling.

It is a pity that the writer did not fact-check properly and shot himself in the foot. But a greater pity is MOE’s reaction to it. While I am not surprised by its response, I remain nevertheless disappointed because it has unwittingly proven a truth; – our education system chooses to be black and white.

It is unwilling to evaluate and that seems to come from top down.

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