Saturday, January 30, 2010

Will the Reform Party make your blue furry fantasies come true ? A look at proposed improvements to education in Singapore.

In the movie Avatar, the Na'vi were only able to fend off the colonial humans because humans found way to break ranks with their own kind and joined the Na'vi in battle. This fulfills the fantasy of the white man who joins the savages in upholding their rights in the Universe.

I think this tale has great parallels in the political situation in Singapore.

One of the best news this week is that the Reform Party has managed to bag two government scholars into their ranks. Almost everyone on the Internet has applauded the move by these two potential heavyweights. The Reform party is, as such, on the right track. By and large, Singapore is still very status conscious and we'd very much like to see people with a strong academic and career track records in politics.

Well this post will critique the proposals by the Reform party on education. I'm doing this because I do not want to be caught up with all that mutual back-patting that goes on when opposition parties make some headway. Opposition parties need folks like us to critique their ideas because, well, better us than a rival politician in the Singapore government.

Here are issues on what the Reform Party has proposed so far.

a) Lowering defense investments and raising investments in education.

I applaud the Reform party for taking such a stand because this is about the first time I'm seeing opposition politicians actually proposing where some of their proposed investments are coming from. However, many Singaporeans will not support lowering our defense expenditure. Our neighbors has recently torched 10 churches and we will need to maintain our determination to put a large amount of our money to keep our lives and investments safe. The high proportion of investments into defense maintains our status as attractive places to invest money.

In fact, if it were up to me I'd increase defense expenditure to leverage on new technologies so that NS liability can be reduced by another 6 months, freeing men to join the workforce earlier.

b) Getting rid of the PSLE to prevent streaming at secondary schools.

I strongly disagree with this policy. This is one of those populist ideas which people will buy but may actually reduce social mobility even more. Without regular exams to channel people into the schools which suit their pace of learning, rich people who manipulate students to join top primary schools like Henry Park would be able to extend that ridiculous advantage even further creating micro-communities of their own in their elite neighborhoods. Students will also experience more stress when they finally reach O levels after 10 years of gentle schooling.

There are better ways to eliminate the social stigma of being sent to EM3 or Normal stream. Simply segregate subjects to Special, Express and Normal tiers. A numerate pupil can take Maths and Science at Special level, Languages at express level and maybe social studies at Normal tiers. University entrance will be credit based and students have a fixed time to earn their way to University or enroll in an industrial apprenticeship school.

All that whining about selfish students can be met with project work where joint scoring will determine the score of the team.

c) Comment on "practical" courses by James Gomez is confusing and pointless.

I'm going to leave my most scathing criticism to what James Gomez said when he gave his speech on education. James Gomez wanted more theory and debate to complement practical lessons in institutions of higher learning. First of all, James has to show what theories and debates are lacking in a curriculum and which faculty is the culprit for this criticism. Secondly, students who incur debt will always opt for a practical education so that they will be able to gain employment when they leave.

Will Accenture's HR department be impressed with my deep philosophical musings on Jane Austen ?

As an engineer who did public speaking and gate crashed many union general meetings, I don't think there is a lack of debate. Personally, students should drink less booze and go to fewer discos and focus on their grades so that they will have more time to get involved in CCAs in campus. CCAs simulate the politics, backstabbing and debates of the real world.

With my experience in our universities, I think there are cheaper ways to help graduates. Simply have better outplacement services in campus which is sorely lacking in NUS. Come up with system to attract HR departments by giving Singaporeans the first choice to talk to the top MNCs, have small tax subsidies for MNCs that grant internships and hire Singaporeans on a per head basis.

Seriously, what is James Gomez trying to do ? Is he trying to permanently stamp his own liberal conscience in our local universities ?

Anyway, I would like to end by talking about self-esteem. I think political parties are always thinking of ways to invest or legislate our way into giving voters more self-esteem because it's a great way to gain power in this world that we're in.

I'm not a big fan of Socialist Egalitarian European or Liberal American self-esteem. Our teachers cannot be transformed into an Adam Khoo or Anthony Robbins so that our children can feel good about themselves, they have real content to impart to Singaporeans of tomorrow, its a job for professionals. Our competitors are getting more and more vicious by the day.

By and large the silent majority of Singaporean want to be winners. That's the reason the PAP has been around for decades.

Make that the same reason to give Reform party a victory on the next elections and you'll be on the right path.

2 comments:

Xizor2000 said...

I am one of those who isn't really in favor of cutting defense budget, but I guess if the Reform Party can quantify say, how much cutting 0.5% will be, I think I can live with that. That definitely is better than some harebrained crackpot idea about cancelling NS entirely.

Either way, I think there's a lot of avenue to get more money to up education - less investment by the GIC / Temasek perhaps? $50+ billion of losses by Temasek would go a long way to finance education, wouldn't it?

- Poon

Christopher Ng Wai Chung said...

It's generally possible to conclude that it would have been able to beef up education with money lost but the real long term gain on equities is about 9% and GIC has tremendous holding power.

Returns of education on a country needs to justified before a budget can be allocated because we may be stuck with the problem of having too much money chasing too few ideas.

Losing money occurs in hindsight, we only have the benefit of foresight before we decide how to spend our money.