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Crisis : Singapore Inc. Does Not Have An Education Minister!

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    By: (Mr) Law Sin Ling Singapore Review 3 Jun 2004 Crisis : Singapore Inc. Does Not Have An Education Minister! The current Minister of Education of Singapore,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 3, 2004
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      By: (Mr) Law Sin Ling
      Singapore Review
      3 Jun 2004

      Crisis : Singapore Inc. Does Not Have An Education Minister!

      The current Minister of Education of Singapore, Mr Tharman
      Shanmugaratnam, is commendable for his broadaxe approach to problems
      in education, in conformance to the entrenched credo of the
      government that "What that is devised by the government cannot be
      wrong", and definitely very much in the established tradition of his
      predecessors in the same capacity. The situation is exacerbated by
      his "renowned" background as an economist, but a dullard in education.

      Removing the gossamer of well-meaning angelic intents on the merits
      of inculcating a natural interest in the study of the Chinese
      language, the Minister makes no bones about the ultimate purpose of
      his campaign, the China market (see footnote 1). And
      quintessentially, the way to motivate students, especially ethnic
      Chinese, to learn their cultural mother-tongue is to lean on the
      potential economic gains ahead of them! Like the economist he is, the
      minister espouses the paragon of "Money as a motivation for
      learning". The scent of money may certainly suffice to transcend
      the "resistance" of acquiring the language, but is this the wisest
      approach Singapore is entitled to from its elected leaders?

      The Minister is evidently an astute economist ruminating in dollars
      and cents. Hence like the economist he is, the expected increase in
      university fees (from reduced government "subsidies") was justified
      based on the graduates' projected future earning potential. Education
      has been transformed into an investment of non-guaranteed return. The
      Minister also endorsed the entrance requirement of the Arts school
      and Sports school which essentially limits eligible applicants to the
      rich and academically elite. Little wonder many Singaporeans cannot
      see beyond the monetary worth of their daily undertakings.

      The Minister was a very confident man when he noted that "discipline
      today was far better than the situation 15 years ago and certainly
      superior to that in many countries". Singaporeans were amused at his
      optimism, and ponder over how the sage qualifies "disciplinary
      problem"? The truth behind his misplaced smugness was flagrantly
      revealed in his recent response to STU (see footnote 2). The Minister
      addressed (resisted) the demand (for stiffer corporal punishments and
      other austerities) by considering the "plea" in its literal sense,
      but failed to register the subtle impetus behind those proposals.
      Hence, Singaporeans came to "better appreciate" his yardstick, by
      which Singapore would have an enviable world disciplinary record for
      the next 100 years! By his measure, escalating theft, truancy,
      vandalism, brawl, physical abuse of teachers, sexual harassment of
      teachers, and computer database break-ins, etc, would not constitute
      a disciplinary concern. Not in the economic sense anyway!

      Boldly taking on the entire youth population, he unequivocally
      lamented today's Singapore students as "individualistic, soft and not
      hungry enough". The tsunami of incredulous outrage was palpable. He
      was undoubtedly attempting to make a point through shock-tactics
      towards the "flagging" younger generation. But in his oafish
      enthusiasm, he insulted the dignity of his audience, and so
      hopelessly confused the rest on his intended agenda. And his solution
      was nothing short of baffling. Like the economist he is, the co-
      curricular activities (CCA) points associated with the participation
      of a sport activity in school will be augmented for sports-related
      activities (see footnote 3). Essentially, this constitutes another
      form of bribery, in the name of "ruggedising" the "wimps". To further
      obfuscate his argument, a new uniformed group, the National Civil
      Defence Cadet Corps, will be introduced with the aim of "having one
      in three students in a uniformed group in every school. Talk about
      a "brilliant" idea (a uniform makes a rugged individual?)! One can
      only surmise that the Minister is not too wise to the relation
      between the "soft youth" and the efforts of his colleagues in
      promoting Singapore as an entertainment hub, shopping haven,
      recreation paradise, gastronomic hub, and media hub. Or perhaps, he
      has simply lost his marbles.

      Singapore has been subsisting without a "bona fide" Education
      Minister for over 2 decades, and the effect shows. If the government
      persists in rotating appointments through the Ministry, casually
      enthroning appointees who haven't the faintest idea of the essence of
      the word `Education", Singaporeans can soon expect to see the final
      metamorphosis of education from a cocoon for physical, intellectual,
      and moral development into a beast with a single-minded appetite for
      individual economic wealth, and nothing else.

      (Mr) Law Sin Ling

      Footnotes

      (1) (a) "With China's economic rise, its language is also becoming
      important globally, with more people clamouring to learn it",
      (b) "the young here have to be well-prepared to be part of the
      exchange of ideas, culture and business between China and the world",
      (c) "rewarding students who excel in mother tongue and making it a
      requirement in schools are essential to ensure students take mother
      tongue seriously. Otherwise, they will not easily recognise the
      importance that the language will eventually have for them when they
      grow up". – The forte of his speech at the recent launch of World
      Book Fair 2004 at Suntec Singapore International Convention and
      Exhibition Centre.

      (2) "There is a very strong consensus among the principals that the
      present guidelines are appropriate and should stay. The situation is
      not alarming and schools are doing a very good job of maintaining
      discipline". – Responding to Singapore Teachers' Union (STU) request
      for regulations governing corporal punishment in schools to be
      reviewed in the face of escalating disciplinary problems among the
      conventionally better-behaved female student population.

      (3) The CCA points are earned by students in school when they
      participate in a so-called extra-curriculum activity. The points can
      be converted to a grade that they can use as a bonus score for entry
      to an institute of higher learning such as a polytechnic or junior
      college.
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