For the past few days, i’ve been thinking about the education provided in Singapore to kids nowadays. Especially with regards to my sister. It deeply worries me that we all study for the sake of getting good grades in our exams, and not because we want to study for the fun of it. We also constantly worry about what’s in the syllabus and what’s not. Not to mention, we are only willing to study what’s in the syllabus.
At least, i can agree with the rationale for having a syllabus at different levels of education. We need boundaries and rubrics to guide us in what to study from a broad subject content. But in the actual learning process, i believe that we should study as much as we can, if that subject matter interests us. We shouldn’t put a full stop in the process of acquiring knowledge and say “that’s not in the syllabus, so i don’t need to learn it.”
In A Devil’s Chaplain, Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science and Love, Richard Dawkins expresses my worries articulately with reference to a book that he constantly quotes from, The Story of a Great Schoolmaster: being a plain account of the life and ideas of Sanderson of Oundle. His essay is titled “The Joy of Living Dangerously: Sanderson of oundle”:
“It is not just the joy of childhood that is threatened. It is the joy of true education: of reading for the sake of a wonderful book rather than for an exam; of following up a subject because it is fascinating rather than because it is on a syllabus; of watching a great teacher’s eyes light up for sheer love of the subject.”
How true this is in Singapore. But it’s not only in Singapore. I can say that this is true in many of the countries like India, China, Korea and Japan. Western countries also foster the same education values. True education is lost. The joys of childhood is also lost. Richard Dawkins says here:
“I hear horror stories almost daily of ambitious parents or ambitious schools ruining the joy of childhood. And it starts wretchedly early. A six-year-old boy receives ‘counselling’ because he is ‘worried’ that his performance in mathematics is falling behind. A headmistress summons the parents of a little girl to suggest that she should be sent for external tuition. The parents expostulate that it is the school’s job to teach the child. Why is she falling behind? She is falling behind, explains the headmistress patiently, because the parents of all the other children in the
class are paying for them to go to external tutors.”
The same is happening to my sister. She has to go to tuitions for math and english separately, so that she could ‘keep up’ with her classmates. I sometimes wonder whether all this training and tutoring really reflects my sister’s true hardwork and knowledge in her progress in education. I sometimes wonder for myself too. Because i went to tuition too, until the age of 14, after which i stopped and started studying for myself. My classmates in JC also had private tutors who would help them in their tutorials. So they got their 4 distinctions because they had private tutoring. I am more satisfied with my performance than them, because i got 3 distinctions without having any private tutors.
All the schools here ever care about is ranking. How well is the school ranked depends on the academic performance of the students. Principals fightwith each other if one school loses it’s best student to the other school, like divorced parents fighting for the custody of their child. Parents here are also a step more competitive than their children. They set the expectations for their children. They tell the children that they should get such-and-such grades and that they should enter such-and-such school.
I would very much like to imagine a world where there are no examinations and no syllabuses. In a world, where students are given the freedom to choose what subject interests them and excel in it. But such an utopian world will never come about in existence. All we can do is some changes in the education policies here and there and just hope that students are doing what they really want to do, and not what they are told to do.