Friday, August 22, 2014

Singapore education system condemns twelve year old children to a life of mediocrity and hopelessness

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Singapore's has an education system which decides whether a 12 year old child will spend the rest of his life as a menial lowly paid worker, an inconsequential nonentity or a successful professional.

In Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore a child's future depends on how well he does in his PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) at 12 years of age.

This is how it works.

From age 6, like anywhere else, he begins primary school. At 6th grade, at age 12,he takes the PSLE. If the child does well, he graduates to a Secondary School to study for his ordinary level (O level) exams at 10th grade at age 16. This O level program is the premier education stream.

If he doesn't do well at 6th grade PSLE, he will attend the normal level (N Level) stream. This program is inferior  compared to the O level stream. In this stream, after his 10th grade, he is eligible to enroll only in the ITE (Institute of Technical Education) where he is taught a trade like being a carpenter or air conditioning technician, and that too will depend on whether he wishes to do it. Most simply drop out and join the huge pool of unskilled workers; literate but without any skill.

And this is like a death sentence on the child. He is left with no hope of any real success, no hope of any real advancement, because in the Singapore workforce, technical workers or tradesmen are paid pittance compared to professional white collar workers walking around in white shirts and ties in the humid tropical midday sun.

On the other hand the student who did well in O levels, the premier stream, goes on to Junior College which is similar to High School, after which if he does very well, and I repeat only if he does extremely well, will he go on to one of the handful of Universities or colleges to study for a degree.

These students graduate into the white collar professionals, engineers, doctors and lawyers. But the truth is, only about 20% or so of these students manage to get places in the handful of universities.

The rest simply end their education at the age of 18 after Junior College. They leave without any particular skill or vocation and are useless in the workforce except as clerks in offices, since the O level courses and Junior College are purely academic.

Coming to the boy who did badly at age 6, he has almost no hope at all. Being in the N level stream, he is looked down upon by his school mates as dumb and stupid, and in all likelihood will drop out of school at 10th grade, with no real skills whatsoever, except being able to read and write. His failure is boosted by a psychological block which he feels as someone who is not good enough.

The Malays who form a minority of the population usually make up the largest proportion of those in N level classes. They are the disadvantaged minority. This phenomenon is reinforced by the general perception among the citizenry that they are lazy and stupid, a feeling encouraged by the government who appear almost to want them to fail, presumably to provide sufficient numbers necessary for menial jobs.

This shepherding of a handful of young 12 year old children into future successful careers and profession while the others, the vast majority, to a life of mediocrity and hopelessness is a great injustice.

The fact that a child at a tender age may not be hardworking but would later change and have ambitions of greatness is totally ignored. If a child of 12 who did not do well at his PSLE but later wakes up and wants to be a brain surgeon, why shouldn't he be given a chance?

The government fails to appreciate that children are humans and not machines which can always perform like clockwork. Sometimes humans fail and at other times they pick up. But to condemn a child for life just because he did badly at age 12 is criminal.

It is a system where the 12 year old is given just one chance in life and his entire future is decided by that one miserable exam he takes when he is 12.

One can begin to ask why does a government which apparently has highly qualified bureaucrats in all sectors would deliberately come up with a system such as this.

One answer that immediately comes to mind is this.

Singapore is a one party police state that is run like a fiefdom by the Lee family. They don't want too many educated citizens because education emboldens people. It gives them ideas. They begin to question how they live. And a questioning people is a danger to any totalitarian state. Better to keep them dumb and submissive. Just as the wise man once said, the best way to rule is to keep their stomachs full and their heads empty.

My own case is in point. Had I lived my life in Singapore, I would probably have ended up a  dumb clerk pushing a pen in some office with nothing in my head. I would never have been a lawyer or an eternal thorn on the side of the Lee dynasty as I am now.

When I was 12 in primary school, I did well, I must confess. But after I went on to Raffles Institution, Singapore's premier school, for my secondary education at age 13, I became totally distracted, my mind was totally elsewhere, and I completely failed my O levels. True, I took it again and did very well getting Grade 1, top marks. But after that at 12 grade, I again went off on a tangent and I did so badly, I failed it altogether. I was not given another chance in school.

I was only saved because I was determined to succeed. Since I had henceforth no chance anymore in Lee's Singapore, and was destined to be another digit pushing a pen in some office somewhere, no more than a clerk, I packed up and went to England.

It was not because I had money that I could go to England; I didn't. Although I was unaware at the time, they were giving grants to university students which enabled me to study at government expense. I had to pay only for my high school education for 2 years which wasn't much.

In England I had a chance to do my 12th grade again, I passed and went on to University and finally qualified as a barrister.

Honestly had it not been for England, I would have been another of Lee Kuan Yew's subjects, obedient, docile, submissive and most importantly ignorant, his model citizen.

Had it not been for England, a country to which I am eternally grateful and respect, I would have been nothing, as is the average Singaporean who runs around doing Lee's bidding.

And my case with its ups and downs, describes any other ordinary human being's development. One is not always perfect. Sometimes one fails. Other times one improves. At the end of the day, it is what the child aspires to be that should decide his future, not some tin pot tyrant like Lee Kuan Yew when he is age 12.

Lee does not want people like me. They are too much trouble. They can be a very bad thorn on the side. Which is why he would prefer only a select few to get a real education. Others should be content to do as they are told in the jobs that they manage to find.

It is almost criminal to condemn a little child to a life time of mediocrity like this. And that is what happens in Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore of today.

Which is why I love countries such as the USA, England, Germany, France and every other developed Western nation, with democracy, with the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and where children are given a chance to achieve their full potential, regardless of age. And that is why I detest the Singapore one party state government for what it does  to its people.

I know that the 6th grade exams which children are required to take is so hard, that kids almost have no free time at all, cramming to pass that exam which will decide their entire future.

In fact the standards are so high that a Singaporean 12 year old can write and read far better than many American students of even age 18. But this difficulty in the exam is not intended to produce better qualified students, there is a more sinister reason behind the test.

It is deliberately made so difficult so that many children will not do well in it however hard they try, enabling the government to channel increasing numbers into the second grade N level stream and limit those going into the better O Level stream.

And they do this to ensure that there are sufficiently large numbers that will eventually be available for the menial jobs, since after all, someone has to clear your rubbish or work as security guards.

And more importantly, it will continue to maintain sufficiently large numbers of dumb citizens who would be more pliable and obedient. For the Lee administration just as any other dictatorship around the world, the fewer troublemakers asking questions, the better.

Despite the more leisurely regimen of student education in the West, they eventually end up far more educated and capable than the Singaporean version.

This is because although an American or Australian student may start slow, with more time to play,(something totally denied a Singaporean child)  which is as important for children as an education, his interest in his chosen profession and calling, his independent mind, eventually makes him far more capable than any Singaporean who goes through life in horse blinkers.

I had a checkered past in my education, just as any other child anywhere else, but that has not made me any less a lawyer and a dedicated professional at that, just as anyone else.

What the Singapore system lacks in their education policy is honesty.

Despite the lip service of wanting to educate their students, for political reasons to create a submissive society, they calibrate the numbers being educated, leaving the numbers small, giving opportunities only to a handful of opportunists supportive of their one party state, to ensure the Lee family's hold on power.

It would have been far better for the government to say it as it is instead of claiming to have the interests of their citizens but instead doing everything to stifle their aspirations.  

A child should be allowed to dream to be whatever they want. It is criminal to allow a child's mind to waste.

And it should the state's duty to provide every opportunity to realize that dream.

Education is a work in progress, not something that stops someone at age 12 because of that miserable exam.

And this is why the citizens in the West love and respect their countries, while the average Singaporean is so unhappy with his, that according to a recent survey, the vast majority of Singaporeans have said, if given a chance, they would rather emigrate.

Gopalan Nair
Attorney at Law
A Singaporean in Exile
Fremont, California USA
Tel: 510 491 8525


Anonymous said...

Totally agree with your post. The Singapore PSLE is a death sentence to many Singaporean children. How can any system decided the fate of a child at age 12. But all this is done in the name of meritocracy in Singapore. And yet the PAP government, the mainstream media and many hoodwinked Singaporeans believe that their education system is world class despite the fact that only 25% of the secondary school leavers make it into University. This is amongst the lowest in developed countries. They only focus and compare their best and brightest to others but never mention about the average or mediocre. Besides the early segregation of school children via exams, the education system itself is totally focused on grades and exams. It seems the system has lost the higher purpose of education which is to develop critical thinking and effective writing capabilities in its students. Sometimes, one has to wonder if this is not done intentionally, to stifle effective opposition to the ruling party.

Anonymous said...

Mr Nair perhaps you could write a book in electronic format (Hard copies would probably be banned) that would be a Inspiration for the average Sinkie. I shall be glad of your opinion on this.