Critical Perspectives on Education in Singapore schools

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Education is an integral part of a child's life. John Dewey, a renowned educational thinker mentioned: "Education serving as a broader social purpose is to help people become more effective members of democratic society. And that, instead of the one-way style authoritarian schooling, students should acquire educational experiences which enables them to become valued, equal, and responsible members of society." He added on that: "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." Singapore's education policies structure reflected his theories. Globalization created an era when drastic changes were made in terms of economical, political and technological factors.

But Singapore is small country, lack of natural resources and hugely reliant on human resources. Thus constantly meeting the demands of domestic and export have always been a pressing issue for Singapore even till now. Industrialization started since 1960s in Jurong town. Firstly by establishing industrial estates and then attracting foreign investors, Singapore sees the need to implement these measures to open the markets for her citizens to address issues of low employment rate and creating a new national identity. However, another problem arises- the competency of the citizens especially when people during those times were lowly educated. From then, Singapore heavily invested in education to constantly meet the requirements of having sufficiently educated people to put globalization to her advantage. The National Institute of Education was set up in 1973. Teachers are taught along the lines of every current education policies. Now, a purposeful education now means the ability to combine teaching of skills that favors the global market but not forgetting to inculcate the fundamental values to children effectively. The purpose of this essay is to discuss the implications of education policies faced by educators, students and parents while meeting the need of the desired outcomes of education for the children of the iGeneration or Generation Z.

Singapore's aim is to mould future generations of student to be global citizens with global mindsets from the education schemes. Definition of a global citizen includes learning to respect other cultures and interacting with foreigners. Just like what Singapore is facing- a society with increasing amount of foreigners as well as vast interactions amongst different cultures in the country. Furthermore, the rise of multiple literacies from technology has made interactions with people of different cultures from different parts of the world much easier. Teacher's role is to educate the students of such concepts.

However, changes in society led by globalization occur faster before the policies can yield results. Thus new policies were all structured to better the previous one. Thinking School, Learning Nation (TSLN) is to replace technical studies which are then useful only for the heavy low-cost manufacturing industries. With strong markets from the superpowers, Singapore needs to shift education from technical-base to knowledge-base, emphasizing more on service sector. Innovative and Enterprise follows, forming the foundation for future policies like master plans for Infocomm Technology and Teach Less Learn More (TLLM) which aims to mould students into intrinsically motivated people, bringing about independent and open ended learning using IT. As the name suggests, lesson load will be reduced while greater emphasis will be placed on understanding what is taught using a more engaging way. The removal of test and major examinations like the O' levels, primary one and two examinations are such examples.

The idea of bypassing O' Levels is an effort to shift from the rigid mainstream curriculum. Assignments were largely based on open ended learning and project work. However, this means students are expected to possess the skill of independent learner whom some do not even know how.

Furthermore, schools in which the IP programme was implemented were all currently top schools. It might come across that the program is a selection of elites amongst the elites. Secondly, without the O' Levels to fall back on, this means it is make or break scenario as these students cannot afford to fail otherwise their highest qualification would be a mere PSLE certificate.

No doubt the exemption of primary one examination is of good purpose- to narrow the gap between preschool and mainstream school, but mainstream schools are still competing through means of other assessments to be the top 20 value added school at the expense of weaker students. This widens the gap of weaker and better students instead. Furthermore, with a society that places heavy emphasis on examinations and results mean they have to work doubly harder for PSLE from primary three onwards. This is a probable factor to the yearly complaints from parents regarding the difference in standard between the exam and curriculum. Hence, it does not solve the problem but delays it. The policies gave teachers more flexibility in planning their lesson plan. However, if practicality in education still runs in the society, parents will not stop demanding explanations in the difference. Ultimately, teachers being the middlemen have to face the dilemma. Direct School Admission Exercise in 2004 recognizes student with other achievements and talents, this will lighten the problem but very slowly because of the deep rooted mindset from past rigid policies.

Mindset can change a student's perspective on failure. Learning from failure is the continuity tenet of what John Dewey had mentioned in his theory of experience, playing an important role in education.

From failure, it will lead to the interaction tenet where lessons based on past experiences; one will apply to present situation. Succumbing to failure is a probable factor of why there are an increase number of suicides of students over the years. Be it from stress over school grades or relationship from parents, it has already reflected how demands of society have brought about the changes in mindsets in students and parents. They might easily have perceived failure as losing their standing in education thus losing the competition.

Education policies have changed the children's perception of education. Now, they study with extrinsically motivation for the sake of getting a good grade so that it would guarantee a good job in the future. Parents and students complain that competition might be too tough but the cause of competition ironically lies with them, especially the policies. Government has made the society more meritocratic each time as they raise the standard of education. Problem with soft skills surfaces when practicality comes to place in education. Implementation of National Education (NE) along side with Think School Learning Nation (TSLN) is the government response towards the issue. However, it is to everyone's knowledge that to have a job in the 'ideal' workforce in Singapore, many organizations still require people to first produce their academic transcript results before anything else. From here, it is still obvious that soft skill for some is still ranked after academic achievements just like how the importance of National Education in student's context is after the main stream subjects despite efforts to step up the influence in NE. That is why it is still very common to see youngsters lack apathy towards the social issues of Singapore. It shows that National Education is not taking effect so far and education is making student lose their sense of national identity.

John Dewey mentioned: "Education is politics". Singapore changes with accordance to global needs. Politics plays a huge role in conveying these ideas through education to students for economy. As a measure to structure the future economy, education have to embrace Infocomm Technology (IT) as well and students have to be educated on these ever changing literacies. The implementation of various IT related policies like C2015, the three master plans for ICT in ordinance of iN2015 are the results for some 60 schools with [email protected] status as well as FutureSchool@ Singapore- collaboration between MOE and Infocomm Develop Authority (IDA). The government seeks to tap on the influence of technology as a form of innovation teaching which will result in effective and open ended learning. However, for teachers, this also means they had to constantly upgrade to acquire skills that have to satisfy the speed of change. Of course, it is a teacher's responsibility to seek personal upgrading but it will be harder and overbearing for teachers of the older generation.

Although many teachers came into teaching line for the passion of teaching and for the love of children, teachers now have to start answering directly to the parents as well as the ministry. On one hand, these extra workload is not some would have foreseen or experienced while studying in NIE thus over the years, seeing the increase number of teachers forsaking their job because of stress. On the other, despite being adequately educated, it might also prove that teachers are not well versed in soft skills to start off with to handle these increasing interrelation pressure since they are all part of the rigid education policies as a student. It is important that teachers truly know the purpose of education and what kind of mindset they possess as they are the ones in closest contact with a child in education.

Globalization had been bringing about a whole new variety of jobs that caters to current needs in the market. As part of Singapore's economical structure, to produce citizens excelling in different attributes is a focal point in the new policies. It will give Singapore an extra edge but once again blurring the purpose of education.

Schools of different intellect fields are set up to give a more diversified pool of talents. The Singapore Sports School, Singapore School of Arts, NUS Math and Science are some examples of providing a diversified education. However, with increasing numbers of educated parents, the change in education policy might mean their child's success can be in terms of other form. Pressure from society and elitism mindset arising from education indicates the importance of her child's need to remain competent. But for the child, it will mean starting to take tuitions in kindergarten age and many other forms of enrichment to 'discover' their abilities. No doubt it can do a child good but on the other hand, driven by a blind craze of competition also means learning for the sake of practicality. As well as depriving a child's childhood that they deserve at the very least. These signs of competition arise with the increasing amount of graduates in the market as well as a high influx of foreign workers. Here, it defeated the purpose when education becomes a practical tool. People starts to fear not landing themselves with an 'ideal' job- fearing of what they work hard for will come to naught.

Education reforms had made Singapore tops in several aspects. It is inevitable for the future generation to think that the amount of hard work they put in, they deserve a better job than anyone else. This gave rise to complacency- an elitism mindset. Therefore issues with fewer people filling up blue collar jobs arise. Government has to seek for foreign workers to fill these spots but local citizens are once again unhappy. It forms a cause and effect cycle.

Here, it can be inferred that education has tunneled their vision for the future. Firstly, it defeats the aim of producing locals to sustain the economy. Secondly, it defeats the saying that education is life but instead, a preparation for life. Learning should be through intrinsic motivation and should be cultivated since young. Therefore, it is even compulsory for preschool teachers to be trained in teaching pedagogy now.

In conclusion, past policies of education had neglected the fact that education is life and it determines one character in the future. As we can see, Singapore's policy is not that all ineffective but it takes time. Especially with TLLM, it is too soon to tell the outcome. But possibly, once again before it can take effect, another policy is implemented. They can teach students to excel they have to be innovative, to be IT savvy but embracing failure is what they should enforce. Starting in classroom through action, through words, students should learn the difference between being a failure and having failed. Of course, a setting a standard too high will push students to the point of failure. The ministry should revise the contradictions in the policies. Discrepancies in contextual knowledge and standard of exams should be address. Gaps of weaker student will only widen if they reduce amount of content but keeps or heightens the standard of examinations, rendering their policy useless.

Another problem Singapore might see in the future is the continual loss of local people and talents to other countries. In this case, education backfired- once again NE is questionable, failing in terms of forging a national identity. Wrong elitism mindset might send people off to search for better opportunities in the other developing countries since local market is too saturated.

Being too conservative can also lead to problems in the future as youths are now seeking for more liberal education and that means studying in other countries despite being more expensive.

New policies forced the older teachers to leave. But they are the ones with experience. Recruitment of teachers should place more emphasis on soft skills as younger teachers under the influence of society might not be committed. Their main focus is to achieve personal gains like a stable jobs and welfare benefits. I personally feel that we as future teachers should have foreseen these problems especially from the current society. If one is not ready for all this, they should not join the teaching line in the first place. Ultimately, the fuel for long sustaining passion in teaching is about a student's accomplishment as a whole. If we abide to the real purpose of teaching, it will not be loss.