Letter for Minister Tharman
- From: "Lau Ah Pek"
18 May 2004
To: Singapore Review
A Letter in Defence of "Softies"
Dear Minsta Tharman,
I am totally flabbergasted by your highly explosive rant against all
school-going kids in Singapore. In one fell swoop, all kids have been
labelled as weak-assed, soft and high in the wimp category. May I ask
whether you can provide some statistics to illuminate humble serfs
like myself just which kids, under which types of households and
income levels are susceptible to this charge of wussines. From my
highly "in the woods", short-sighted and non strategic experience
working ages ago as a temp relief teaching staff in your dynamic
ministry, I had the rare opportunity to come across a lot of kids who
defy your grandiose proclamation. If you allow me, let me elaborate:
I once had a student, 14 years old, in the Normal Tech stream, who
came into class everyday looking highly dis-spirited, lacking in
motivation and sleepy most of the time. He would be the ideal
chracterization of weak, skinny, pale and totally not involved in any
CCA. Being a dewy-eyed newbie in the education system, I of course
took my moral high ground position and railed and ranted against the
student. In my grilling session, I learnt as a teacher: he worked
every night as a cleaner in Wisma Atria from 12 to 2 am. Was it to
buy the latest Nokia handphone? I can hear the cynics in the
background chirping. The answer is no. He stays with his grandmother,
mother is gone, father is in DRC and two younger siblings needing
some things like basic necessities in the house.
Next case, another student, 15 years old, different class and in
Normal Acad. He has a huge talent for soccer. He is always held up
high in class as the Man. But strangely, he is not in the school
soccer team, instead he puts in his extra hours as a librarian. The
school soccer coach is yanking his hair out. As a dewy-eyed newbie in
the education system, I am of course charged with the ideals of
pursuing dreams and letting your talent develop to the fullest
potential. Again I learnt as a teacher: he comes from a family of 7,
he is the eldest, staying in a two-room flat. His parents are menial
workers. And they do not know how to read the letters/bills that they
receive. They do not how to fill in tax forms. He has to concentrate
on the softie option of studying to learn all these.
Enuff said. I am not throwing these little spanners to elicit some
form of pity of sympathy for the downtrodden in Singapore society.
They do not need that. They are Big enuff to know what is known as
the reality of living. At the same time, neither do they deserve
labelling from the Head Honcho about weak kids. and to pre-empt the
charge that I am raising such incidents which are a minority, allow
me juz to say that certain types of kids with certain problems are
minorities in some schools but majorities in others; depends on where
you stand. Therefore, my challenge, tell me who exactly are you
referring to Minsta? Which schools and whose kids are you talking
about? My hint to you, both kids from these schools which are now
known in common lingo as "neighbourhood schools".
Lau Ah Pek
14 Nov 2003
Expertise counts, not degrees
I READ with interest Mr Lee Kay Swee's letter, 'What S'pore grads are
up against' (ST, Nov 4).
Mr Lee highlighted the importance of acquiring 'different expertise
to cope with a fast-changing world'. By citing the examples of the
British graduate 'who has a basic degree in law, has passed a
chartered accountants' examination and is embarking on his third
academic qualification, a biomedical degree', and the 1,200
undergraduate/postgraduate students from China studying in the
British university that he is in, he seems to suggest that 'differ-
ent expertise' is tied to the number of degrees one has.
Mr Lee concluded his letter by recommending that a conducive
environment be created for working adults in Singapore to acquire
additional qualifications in different disciplines at a reasonable
While I agree with him that 'academic qualifications' are a powerful
tool in today's fluid job market, I do not think they are the only
yardstick to measure how much expertise has been acquired. Most
certainly, they do not guarantee job success.
Best-selling management author Stephen P. Robbins, in his book The
Truth About Managing People, reveals that 'most managers want
employees who will do more than their usual job duties'.
These include 'making constructive statements about their work,
helping others on their team, volunteering for extra job activities,
avoiding unnecessary conflicts, respecting the spirit as well as the
letter of rules and regulations, and gracefully tolerating the
occasional work-related impositions...'
Employees who go beyond the normal expectations are said to be 'good
citizens'. Robbins goes on to add that 'employees who exhibit good
citizenship behaviours outperform those who don't'.
Most companies have powerful gatekeeping measures to keep out job
seekers who do not match up. Having a string of degrees in various
disciplines at best helps one to break down some of these barriers.
Once a job seeker has crossed the paper-qualifications barrier, he
enters a level playing field, along with other successful applicants.
Where does one go from here to achieve job success?
After having worked for 3 1/2 years, here are some things I have
learnt, some from mistakes which I might have avoided:
always maintain high personal integrity.
theoretical knowledge alone is not enough, though one has to know his
stuff; one must learn to apply the knowledge acquired to advance the
interests of the organisation.
the spirit of innovation and creativity is important in a world where
the only constant is change.
know what is going on, anticipate change and take the initiative to
learn to assume both the roles of a leader and a team-player.
show unusual commitment.
acquire other 'expertise' which is valuable to the employer, such as
writing, speaking and presentation skills.
use the skills acquired to help others within the organisation freely.
if possible, build the team by training others in the organisation to
achieve excellence too.
people skills, such as communication, respecting and caring for
workmates, giving praise genuinely and criticising graciously are
vital for enhancing relationships and for conflict management.
be confident and stay positive.
By all means, embark on a second and even a third degree; but in the
workplace where various dynamics are at play, the Singapore graduate
must be discerning to make his 'expertise' relevant to his employer,
and exhibit good citizenship behaviour.
LENA SOH KWEE KIM (MS)
This message was forwarded to you from Straits Times Interactive (http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg)
Comments from sender:
What is the retirement age for million dollar ministers???? Or do they just relocate conveniently to head a GLC/TLC when their "use by" date nears.
Have we got too many scholars?
I READ with interest the article, 'Top civil servants to retire young' (ST, April 2), which mentioned that retiring young will become the norm for top civil servants as the service seeks to rejuvenate itself and pave the way for younger officers to move up.
I recall a conversation I had with a scholar who lamented that, instead of 55, he is now slated for retirement at 45, all because there are insufficient positions 'at the top' to promote scholars to.
Not only is he forced to look for alternative employment at an age when his children are probably at their most needy financially, but all the time and effort put into his training also goes to waste when he is best able to contribute to the service.
All this is the result of having too many scholars and too few positions to 'push' them up to. We spend millions of dollars building up a pool of scholars but do not fully realise their potential.
Is this a gross miscalculation of the Public Service Commission?
YIP SIN CHI