LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

World Class But Also Barely Literate


I write so much about the educational system and in the end, this picture says it all. Indeed, I am not even sure that the disadvantaged students get a "basic education" (as depicted in the picture above) because MOE's teachers mark work and make mistakes that students don't make. See below.


Note that Teacher spelt trooping with TWO Ps. And instead of what should rightly be "seating myself", has taught Little Boy to use "sitting myself". Please note that the Teacher's name is not published to protect his/her identity. This post is not meant to shame him/her but to highlight ways in which the system can support weak Teachers like him/her. In the light of

(1) insufficient textbooks (make them more comprehensive, for this is what is happening now... http://www.kiasuparents.com/kiasu/forum/viewtopic.php?p=725764#p725764)
(2) patchy collections of essential study notes... some schools have them and others don't (make sure all schools give out good notes if textbooks cannot be enhanced)
(3) a system wiith incentives that discourage sharing of educational resources across schools and between teachers... such that teachers who don't write their own resources have little to teach with (change these disincentives to sharing of educational resources).
(4) high standards of literacy expected in tests and exams... standards that surpass the abilities of Teachers (see errors in spelling made by Teacher above)... hence, demand of students only what Teachers can deliver.
(5) exams that test beyond what the school is capable of adequately teaching and reinforcing (don't test beyond what has been taught which happens increasingly often... http://www.kiasuparents.com/kiasu/forum/viewtopic.php?f=69&t=26571&start=190)
(6) absence of electronic databases (in this internet age) to allow Teachers to share resources across the nation in such a way as to quickly generate homework that is flexibly suited to each child's individual needs (develop such a database so that weak Teachers can be helped to deliver good teaching)
(7) no metric of teaching effectiveness (measure this so that Teachers know they are accountable for good teaching and not for writing good reports and winning at CCAs)

... a child from a disadvantaged home has a lot stacked against him in his path towards academic success, because his parents cannot afford the enrichment and the extra resources that palliate the problems above. As a result, MNCs  prefer to hire foreign talent who can communicate well in English ( See here: http://www.todayonline.com/Voices/EDC120303-0000029/Skills-imbalance-due-to-education-system) instead of ADULT Singaporeans who write so poorly there is no way to clearly discern what they are trying to say...

The song titled “Over There” is describing a man’s desire to leave his wife to a place that brings him the sense of achievement.

If learning has to happen outside the classroom, and schools content themselves with testing HARD, then the gap between haves and have nots will widen... because the haves who have access to high quality tuition and educational materials, will hit world class. But the have nots will be barely literate, as in the example above (which happens quite often), because they have no one else except school teachers who make spelling mistakes to learn from. How can all schools be good when they differ on 4 important criteria (1) the quantity of notes given out to make up for insufficient textbooks, (2) the quality of notes given out to make up for insufficient textbooks (3) the quality of teaching, marking and feedback, (4) the quantity of teaching, marking and feedback. The picture below illustrates.

19 comments:

Theanne said...

Are you sure you wouldn't like to come to the states and work on our school system...I'm sure you'd tear your hair out in a day!

Kids can't spell...when I went to school kids were taught to read phonetically...sounding out the word. By the time my son went to school kids were taught to "sight read"...look at the word read the word...no sounding out if the word was different or difficult. Since sounding out is also important in learning to spell...kids were no longer able to spell!

I had a friend whose daughter called her up from school to ask her how to spell a word...excuse me...isn't she in school to learn...and isn't learning to spell one of the things she's meant to be learning???!!!

On my mother's side of the family, most of the females were teachers...you didn't want to get into a discussion with any of them on the ills of the educational system in the USA and that was years ago...who knows what's going on now???!!!

One of these days I hope to find that you've updated and revitalized the education system in Singapore!

Rachel Tan said...

MOE hires Diploma holders and degree holders to train as Primary School Teachers. After NIE, teachers who are posted to Primary Schools are expected (at least after a few years) to be able to handle all Primary School levels, and to teach English, Math and Science.

The spectrum of teachers and their abilities is wide. It is true that there are a number of first class honours graduates, or those with stellar A level results that eventually choose to teach. However, this is not representative of the calibre of the general teaching population. Neither is it reasonable to expect that MOE only hires the top 10 or 20% of each cohort into teaching. The reality is that the content knowledge and skills of teachers, vary substantially.

Language acquisition is particularly challenging. Many Singaporeans do not grow up in an environment where English is written and spoken at a first language level. It is not uncommon to hear Singlish being spoken, even by teachers, in school.

I think there are multiple aspects to literacy. For sure, most Singaporeans, by the time they finish secondary school, will be able to read and comprehend the newspapers, and are able to hold conversations in English. However, being able to speak, write and express, in proper English, is a higher order skill and even graduates are sometimes struggling with this aspect.

Unless we devote Primary School teachers to teach and specialize in single content subjects, it is difficult to expect Primary School teachers to hone deep content skills, keep up with pedagogical and curriculum changes, CCA and admin requirements etc.

MOE has over the years, raised the pay for teachers, perhaps in recognition that teachers have lots to do. It is gratifying to see that principals are now regarded as substantial job holders, and even Master Teachers can be promoted to a superscale level if I do not recall wrongly. The career paths for outstanding educators has improved. It is now equally important to be raising the overall standards of teaching, and what we expect of each teacher.

petunialee said...

Theanne - I think I can only do so much by writing. The people in charge of education are very proud of themselves. I don't think they think there is anything wrong.

petunialee said...

Rachel - Good Post!

Goo Angez said...

Hi! I'm a new reader of your blog as I was searching for happy call pan recipes and noticed your interesting blog...

Anyway, a close friend of mine is a kindergarten school teacher and I used to tease her about how bad her English is...until I realised it's not funny at all! Kindergarten is like foundation school. And a lot of them can't speak fluent English...

I haven't been elsewhere (other countries). Can only say we are shoved textbooks & notes and people who score are, hmm, people who understand how to conquer the system here. Our country is so academically-driven. And it's just plain shocking to see how bad Lil Boy's teacher's English is. =.= I think your child understands the language better than the teacher! And I think some teachers are not exactly passionate, and also not that adequately equipped... Teachers are paid comfortably and well-covered as civil servants... Many people choose to go into teaching not because they enjoy imparting knowledge but because it is a good occupation. I do know of a few who are in NIE/just graduated :) and I feel that they make fine mentors/teachers for the little ones, but not everybody is that lucky to meet the awesome teachers. Teachers are amazing people! But you have unfortunately crossed paths with one which isn't that amazing and... gosh, stay strong.

petunialee said...

Angez... I would like to believe that there are Teachers who join with a passion for kids and for wanting to develop children. After a few years though...

BlueIsMyNewBlack said...

1) I have to support Theanne's comment. I too left Singapore at the age of 16 to study high school in a local school in Melbourne, and then went on to complete my degree there.
At my high school, many of my classmates who were aged 16 could not even spell. This I believe to be shocking.
Many of them thought it was funny that I was getting better scores on my English Language exams, when English was supposed to be their native language.

2) I’d have to ask you a question. As a human being, would you admit to never having made a single mistake in your work life? I know I can’t admit that.
The thing is, teachers have many, many books to mark. There are some instances in our life where we are weaker, and we do make mistakes. While it is not encouraged, it does happen. I’m not saying I condone such mistakes, but gosh, can’t you give that person a break? Just highlight the mistake to him or her, and move on!

3) I personally feel if anyone continues to feel so strongly about the Singapore education system, they have a choice to just send their children overseas to study in their own favoured education environments. By all means, go ahead. Bashing is counterproductive. One should focus on providing productive solutions / suggestions on how to improve the system, rather than just bash it.

petunialee said...

BlueIsMyNewBlack - I have bashed no one. I have not revealed the Teacher's name. This problem is not a one off. Many such situations exist in Singapore. Not every child is as lucky as you, with parents able to send you abroad. Some are stuck here with poor Teaching because they have no money. So these people should migrate? Or should our country ship them off forcibly (like the English did) to Australia because they have no money to buy tuition to make up for poor teaching in schools resulting failure at exams?

The aim of the post is to address the quality of teaching in schools which as you can see, is insufficient... together with insufficient textbooks. I have bashed NO ONE.

Just because the USA system is in a mess is none of our business. You want to compare with people who can spell to justify poor teaching in Singapore? Why?

Note also that our MOE went and signed an MOU with the USA, even after we keep feeding back that Finland is a good model. I KNOW the USA system sucks and THAT is why I am writing this post.

I am not bashing the system. I am giving feedback and suggestions. If suggestions is taken as bashing then how will we improve? I have been giving this feedback privately to MOE for the past 12 months. Parents from 3 to 4 years ago have met with Minister of Education then, to feedback that textbooks are insufficient. Are they still insufficient? Yes. Has anything changed? No. Why? Because MOE THINKS it is so great... so world class... wonderful.

And now, I am sick of reading in the papers how MOE thinks itself great and wonderful. This post intends to tell MOE how poorly it is doing.

This compo featured here was marked 12 months ago. If the intent is to bash, I would not have waited.

petunialee said...

BlueIsMyNewBlack - If you had read the post carefully. There are 7 concrete suggestions (numbered 1 to 7) for MOE to follow up on. These are all suggestions that I have given to MOE directly.

What bashing are you talking about?

petunialee said...

BlueIsTheNewBlack - Errata. "You wanna compare with countries who can't spell? Why?"

Spiritme said...

I was pretty shocked myself to hear my daughter's Primary One Form Teacher saying "every children" instead of "every child" or "all the children".
I was tempted to tell her it was wrong straight away, but I decided not to, to save her face.
However, now after reading your post, I think that I should have!

MLSbolehmakan said...

Hi :D Thought Little Boy may be interested in this blog (done by another little boy): http://thegrowingweed.wordpress.com/

Sorry I didn't post this in an appropriate place!

As for your post, I do indeed find that the education system is shamefully stacked up against the less fortunate. I always find your posts about education very interesting, having recently left the Singapore education system myself.

The Observer said...

I was born in the 70s, did all my primary, secondary and junior college education in Singapore. Worked for a while before heading to the UK for my first degree. I now live in Finland. Singapore's education system has not progressed in the sense that it is in tune with the world. It has progressed within its own boundaries, which unfortunately is bad news. There is much that we can learn from other countries, except that we need to first understand how their systems WORK IN THEIR OWN CONTEXT. MOE has this very basic problem of "cut & paste", i.e. taking what they think is good and then reusing it in Singapore. It's not going to work unless MOE understands why a particular feature worked in the country of interest. One thing Singapore's education system does well however is the drilling of fundamentals, unfortunately they only form the basic foundation.

petunialee said...

Spiritme - Just wait till that child gets to PSLE and marks are deducted for mistakes that aren't mistakes. And then when he makes the mistake that his Teacher taught him, he is marked down at the PSLE...

petunialee said...

MLSbolehmakan - Thank you for the link. That is a most interesting blog indeed!!

petunialee said...

The Observer - Yes... cut and paste... we have a patchwork quilt system. MOE works in silos clearly. No one looks at overview and overall system equilibrium.

THEGPTUTOR said...

@Theanne: I disagree. I taught in the Massachusetts school system for 5 years, two of which were in a school for juvenile delinquents. I learned more about being a teacher in USA than in Singapore. I looked forward to going to work every single day. Teaching is what you make of it. Standards cannot apply across the board. The trick is to teach the student, not to teach the class.

petunialee said...

THEGPTUTOR: Theanne is a lovely retiree. Times may have changed. Your comment is so interesting... especially the part about teaching the child. Do please share more of your thoughts.

Rachel Tan said...

Hi THEGPTUTOR,
Very interesting that you've taught at MA - looking forward to hearing more of your experiences.

I suspect though, that nowhere in the US is a single teacher expected to take a class of 40 students, and to teach them three-quarters of the content subjects. This is exactly what a typical teacher is expected to do in the Singapore system. And on top of the content teaching, all teachers have to contend with administrative work, and be in charge of at least one co-curriculuar activity.

I won't have much of me left to be able to teach the child, rather than the class, under such an environment.