True Education Is Lost

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.

Expectations imposed upon women

Society imposes a lot of pressures on both men and women. The society has expections on women. According to them, she must be all or most of the following to be considered as someone worth mentioning:

1) Get good grades when she is in school
2) Be a career woman
3) Get married and have kids
4) Be a good home-maker

I might be generalizing here because not every succesful women in this world today fulfill all or most of the above-mentioned criteria, right? No matter how successful a woman becomes, if she lacks in any of the last three criteria stated above, she is always criticised or sympathised by others.

That is why most of the women judge themselves based on the values imposed by the society. Elizabeth Perle McKenna, author of the book “When Work Doesn’t Work Anymore”, says it clearly:

“Unbeknownst to me, however, i was judging my life by standards that weren’t my standards and coming up woefully short. I had internalized these value systems over the years without knowing it and they measured the same fabric (my life) in completely different and mutually exclusive ways. There was the work standard, which told me that anything less than total devotion to my profession was failure. There were voices of the women’s movement that said, ‘Don’t let us down. You can’t drop out. Your’re a powerful example. Get in there, hang in there, and change things.’

“Then there was society’s measure of womanhood, which told me that the home was my first responsibility and that my child would be an ax murderer if i didn’t make him my top priority. Everywhere, i read that if i worked too hard, my marriage would suffer. On paper these might be outdated concepts, but they weren’t when i was growing up; they were the operative value systems in creating a definition of a successful woman, I swallowed them whole. The consequence was indigestion in my soul.”

And then she says in another page, which i would truly question later on, :

“The goal was to transform that culture [male culture of business and success] so both women and men could have family/personal lives and work. But this is most definitely not the message I heard when I was younger and forming my expectations for my life. Like many of my friends I clearly got the feeling that not only could I do it all, but I should do it all. There was almost a moral imerative: to succeed at everything because we had been given these unprecedented opportunities.”

So is there really a need to follow the society’s definition of what success is? Let’s look at this practically. Every women is geared, or shall we say socially engineered, to think that having a career and then getting married is a must. Nobody questions this value system or even considers it as a possiblity only. In the western society, this might only be partially true. But in the Asian society, i would say that this is mostly true. But i don’t have any statistical data to support this claim.

The problem is not that whether we women should follow this value system or not. Nor is there any debate here on whether the above criteria are right or wrong. But what i think is that, we should all follow our own set of beliefs and standards, rather than relying on the society to define what a successful woman should do. Because when we follow our own set of principles, we might find greater satisfaction in both our work lives and personal lives. However, it is not always as easy as it can be said than done.

Elizabeth Perle McKenna puts it cleary:

“We grew up being assessed, evaluated, and graded and our first impulse is to look outside ourselves for a reflection of how we’re doing… If you are a genius in stock market, the world compensates you for it. But if your gift is in physical therapy, you tend not to value that as much because you aren’t getting rich from it… When we pay the therapist so poorly in comparison, we send the clear message that he or she isn’t as valuable to society-that being the head of a corporation is a higher, more worthy aspiration.

“Women know this isn’t true. But all too often we live as though it is. Moving from a culturally approved value system to a more personal one seems almost impossible-especially when there are no real role models for us to follow. But if we don’t do it, no one is going to do it for us… Until we redefine success and value more broadly to include balance and meaning in our lives, we will stay stuck in careers that ask us to weigh one artificially divided world against another.”

Set your own principles and values in your life. Make them your core ideology and make sure you always follow and retain them no matter how much you change your outlook on life. For example, one of my principles is to always follow my interests. I believe that i can’t really enjoy doing something unless i have an interest in it, a natural drive. I put this principle in practice, when i chose my subjects in JC and when i chose my CCA (Co-curricular activity) in guitar. While lot’s of other people just picked a CCA just for having one for their year-end credits.

Like what McKenna said, you might be really interested in doing physical therapy. But according to society’s defintion of success, being a physiotherapist doesn’t earn you much money and recognition, compared to being in an executive or managerial position. That shouldn’t stop you from redefining your own success. If success is for you to be able to help handicapped people to recover, then follow it. Not to mention, it takes a ton of courage to go against the expectations of the society, and follow your own set of expectations.

Low Fertility Rate in Singapore 2

To me, the conundrum of the declining fertility rate in Singapore has largely attracted my attention. It is a very common phenomenon in countries that have attained a high level of development and standard of living.

Alas, there is nothing new in this issue. The causes and consequences of low fertility rate are quite well known that I don’t have to waste time discussing about them. But I read something interesting in this blog on the low-fertility trap. Just like the poverty trap, countries cannot come out of this low-fertility trap once their fertility rates plummet below 1.5.

The fertility rate in Singapore is 1.24 for now. It might change whenever. Another thing that I’ve learned after reading through the blog is that when the fertility rates have gone so low in some European countries in the 1980s, they have gone up again in the late 1980s. This is due to the decision of women to delay childbearing and then later deciding to have more than one child.

But whatever the Singapore government does, concerning the post-natal policies, it will not work effectively. I’m referring to policies such as more maternity leave, flexibility in working times and so on. While such policies are important, they are simply not enough to convince a typical couple to consider having more than one child.

The government, in my opinion, should focus also on pre-natal policies. The following excerpt from the blog that I’ve read will explain clearly what I want to say:

“Policy could make an impact. Wolfgang Lutz has suggested that we try informing women of the risks involved in postponement(of childbearing), and also make changes in our education system to enable flexibility between being a mom, and say, postgraduate study, or other kinds of career enhancing activities which could be easily combined with the early months and years of parenthood. Housing policy would be another area which could be scrutinised. The interesting thing is that these are pro-natal measures(or pre-natal measures as I say here) which may be effective, but which are not intrusive, since they help people do something they want to do, and don’t try to push them into doing something they otherwise wouldn’t do.”

It all boils down to mindset and individual-choice. The government can change the social and economic policies. But it cannot change people’s mindset, at least in an issue like this. But the government can do something to solve some of the problems and dilemmas that young women, mothers-to-be and mothers face.

Wolfgang Lutz is an Austrian demographer. His hypothesis is that those countries which sustain total fertility rates below 1.5 for any length of time may have fallen into a self-reinforcing low-fertility trap.

Low Fertility Rate in Singapore 1

The issues of low fertility rate and widening income gap have been fervently discussed in the local newspapers. These issues have really drawn me to the papers and to keep in touch with the updated information, despite the exams taking up most of my time. Finally, I now have the time to discuss and post on issues that I interest me.

This blog was first started with a purpose. Or shall I say, a number of purposes. (1) To discuss some scientific research that has interested me, (2) To talk about things and happenings in my life and (3) To discuss social issues so as to keep in touch with my English.

But as the blog continued to grow in length, width and depth, it has at some times deviated from the above-stated purposes. But it’s alright. This is just a blog, not a news website or something that needs to follow a set of guidelines and purpose.

So coming back to the issue that I wish to write about, after a month-long hiatus. First, there was the issue on the widening of the income gap in Singapore. Because of this and as a solution to this, the government has come up with the rise in the GST from 5% to 7%. GST is short for Goods and Services Tax.

Though it has some economic benefits in general, how will the low-income people cope with such a high tax? I don’t want to discuss about whether the policy implemented by the government is right or wrong here. I don’t have enough knowledge of the economics and hence, if I say something, it would have no basis.

But I was thinking. Is there a connection between this widening of income gap and the low fertility rate in Singapore?

Singaporeans are economically hard-driven and do not even know the true meaning of fun and relaxation. Perhaps, I’m generalizing here. But it’s partially true. Almost everyone here wants to earn a lot of money, buy a condo and own a car. It has become something like a culture.

Then it is not surprising to know that home-ownership in Singapore is 91.7% among the resident owners. The education system in Singapore is also fairly competitive and what every student ever thinks about is results. Amongst all these, there is no wonder why marriage is postponed, in the case of the singles; there is no wonder why childbearing is postponed, in the case of the married couples.

The widening of income gap in Singapore alone is not that significant compared to that in the international level. But still, there is this group of people in Singapore striving to earn a lot of money and upgrade themselves from a 5-room flat to a condominium. Then there is another group of entrepreneurs, constantly accumulating a lot of wealth. The number of millionaires in Singapore is on the rise(1). There is also this group of people struggling to earn enough money to meet the increasing cost of living in Singapore.

The constant drive to accumulate material wealth has caused both the widening income gap and the low fertility rate. I’m not saying that it is the sole cause or whatever. But it has directly or indirectly caused these two conundrums that Singapore is now facing. Of course, I’m not neglecting the other causes.

(1) There are 48,500 millionaires in Singapore. The number of millionaires in Singapore rose at the fastest pace in the world in 2004, according to a report by Cap Gemini & Merrill Lynch & Co. Singapore millionaires rose 22.4 percent to 48,500, the report said.