20 November 2007

Trim and Fit aka TAF Club

[How Singapore battled obesity]

Remember TAF club? I was never a member, thankfully, because I was pathetically skinny even till now. But I remember laughing at the TAF club people as they jump up and down in the hall. "Elephants", that's what I used to called them. Hey, common I was 14. It was a really difficult period.

I have always think that the getting all the heavy people together in a group is a bad idea. It doesn't take a genius to imagine that the kids are going to be made fun of. And I sincerely, believes that there's more harm than good. Apparently, some of these kids grew up and needed psychological help.
...David Kan, counsels several past members of Trim and Fit clubs. He says some of these children are deeply scarred by the experience.
Kan: They do feel the stigma that I’m being short-listed for this program means I’m labelled a person that is obese and as a result I may be a potential outcast in the school. And to them, if I am fat perhaps I’m a failure, I am a loser.
And here we have the official respond:
Education officials insist that no-one set out to stigmatize overweight children. It’s just turned out to be a by-product of the program a by-product nonetheless tolerated by officials for 15 years.
And according to statistics earlier:
...Singapore has achieved remarkable success in its fight against childhood obesity. The proportion of school-age children classified by the government as obese has fallen from 14% to 9% in the past 15 years. During that same period, just about everywhere else in Asia has seen childhood obesity rise.
Once again, the Singapore government is reminding us that these children are not just sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. They are also numbers.

Another mass production of students

An article appeared in Today newspaper on the 17th of November, titled: School experiment that failed. It's about a parent dilemma on sending her children to a Singapore public school, or an international school. She decides to give the public school a go but the venture proof to be short lived, and she finally send her kids to an international school.

Of course this not the first time our educational system has been criticised, and the its many short coming discussed in the media. And our educational board will again, metaphorically, smiles and nods, and reassure us how about how innovative our schools are, and how improvements are constantly made to an already world class formula, and exciting new classes on creativity thinking are around the corner.

But stupid is as stupid does. The fact that students nowadays are still facing the same kettle of fish like I did, shows the problem are not going to away with a few new 'creative classes'.

Passing exams has becomes the aim and goals of schools. The true purpose of teaching and learning has been forgotten in the pressure of higher school ranking. Exams results has been the sole determination to a person's worth. It has become an end in itself. Can anyone honestly deny this culture of fear of exams in our students?

We boost of high maths and science scores. But our unnaturally high scores in this area are nothing to be proud of. Simply because these are subjects that one can prepare for by doing the holy 10 years series. In other words, you can do well in these subjects by doing roughly the same thing over and over again. You simply have to follow.

Ever wonder why we don't seems to do so well in literature? Maybe because to do well, you'll need to come up with your own ideas and original content. Something that is perhaps sadly foreign in our students. Seriously, how many Singapore students ask questions in your university class?

The problem with our system is that it systematic destroys ones creativity, uniqueness and self-esteem. Round pegs are made to fix into square holes and polygons are filed to form squares. There is simply no room in the system to be yourself. It's a system that rewards conformity and punishes uniqueness. The best way to pass exams is to do what is tried and tested and avoid risk.

I have never felt that I actually learned anything in the 10 years I spend in government school. In fact I'm glad that I'm still able to do a little bit of thinking once in a while despite the fact that I have been authoritative educated (But then I have stop reading the straits times, so I guess that helped).

Our schools may be good in imparting factual knowledge, but at a cost of a person innate sense of creativity and discovery. While factual knowledge are useful, I can't help but wonders if I can't achieve the same result by keeping a small library. Creativity can't and doesn't need to be taught, it only need to be allowed. Sometimes I feel we give up the forest for a tree.

You could say that the high teacher-student ratio are to blame and that the teachers and schools mean well, but I'm incline to be unforgiving to a system that robs me of my childhood, destroys my self esteem, and teaches me to be afraid of the world.

School experiment that failed

How will their kids fare in a local school? One expat mum finds out Noelle de Jesus

Weekend • November 17, 2007

THOSE who had watched the international schools defeat some of the best local schools in televised debates earlier this year found much to discuss across their dinner tables and at cocktail parties.

The key question: What kind of educational system best prepares children for today's challenges?

For my husband and I, these discussions took place much earlier. When we moved here eight years ago, our major concern was how best to educate our daughter and son — Filipinos carrying United States passports, now permanent residents of Singapore.

We wanted strong academics, of course, but we also wanted them to be life-long learners with confidence, creativity, responsibility, self-respect and awareness of the world. Neither did we want them to be set apart from the youth of the country which we had chosen to make our home.

Seeing groups of expat teenagers skateboarding in the youth park off Orchard Road, I sensed alienation and a lack of belonging. Somehow they seemed cut off from society. We did not want this for our children.

So we sent them to local schools. We were aware of the strengths of the school system — the solid foundation in science and mathematics and the remarkable self-discipline that would be so efficiently instilled.

We had read of a few foreign students who had emerged triumphant from local academic rigours, securing admission into fine universities abroad.

But we also understood potential pitfalls — the largely authoritarian system, the single-minded rote approach to learning and the high student-teacher ratios.

Many raised eyebrows at our choice. A colleague at work said: "You have a choice, why put them through that?" She spoke of the way the system can kill the joy of learning, the ability to think "out of the box".

But we had taken to heart the news that the Ministry of Education (MOE) was slowly but surely changing the system. It was allowing the teaching of simplified Chinese, establishing support for more creative as well as more critical thinking, and promoting the arts and sports. Anything else our children needed, we figured we would be able to provide at home. We were hopeful.

After sending them to a local Montessori pre-school, we found ourselves living 1km away from two of the best primary schools, one for girls and one for boys. That single kilometre was critical. Our son went through the ballot, but they both made it.

Our first frustration was foreign language learning. Anxious that they learn Mandarin, we (and they) quickly found it was next to impossible in the local system, due to the pace and depth of the classes — classes that proved too difficult even for Singaporean students.

I soon discovered that all the students in my daughter's class were taking extra Chinese lessons. As one tutor said: "Children don't learn mother tongue at school; they learn it from their tuition."

With no Mandarin background, my children tuned the classes out; the rote system of learning did not work.

"Why can't they take Mandarin as a foreign language?" I asked an MOE administrator. There was no ready answer. Instead, my children were invited to take French, German or Japanese.

When my daughter told me she had to prepare for her science exam, I told her to study her textbook. She replied: "There's nothing in the book."

The girls were told to "read on their own"; what to read was not specified. Later, I found out parents bought old science exam papers for their daughters to study from.

I also found the rather quantitative methods used in my kids' English classes highly suspect. If my daughter tried her hand at a complex sentence with modifying phrases and she made a mistake, the entire sentence was marked incorrect and points were taken off. This made her decide to stick with easy noun-verb sentences.

As for my son's compositions, they were edited subjectively. His quirky, still grammatical sentences were red-penned and in many cases, falsely labelled incorrect.

But the high teacher-student ratio — 1 teacher to 40 students — proved to be our utmost concern. It rendered the simplest dynamics of question-and- answer explanation difficult to say the least. In the boys' school especially, teachers struggled to maintain order, let alone teach.

My son, a square peg in a round hole, was labelled a trouble-maker for inquisitiveness. The reputation followed him from Primary 1 to Primary 2.

One day, his teacher called me to report him as "the mastermind" of some class bullying, saying his own friends had fingered him as the culprit.

When I spoke to my son, he denied he was solely responsible, saying: "What's the point of saying I'm not; they'll all say it's me, anyway. So I just took the punishment."

When we heard this, all our doubts crystallised in one decision. Despite all our hopes, this wasn't working for him. Creativity, language, even writing — we could teach ourselves. But we felt unequal to the task of constantly undoing daily institutional damage to his self-esteem. And we had no desire to fight the system.

We withdrew both children from their schools and placed them in an international school.

There, they could at least learn Mandarin as a foreign language. They would be able to have a real relationship with their teachers, enjoy inquiry-based learning and be encouraged to express themselves. They would each be in a class with no more than 25 students and that ratio would only make things better all around.

It is by no means perfect. No education system is. And we were disappointed that our experiment failed.

Cost, of course, is one issue. To pay the price equivalent to that of a small diamond, when once we paid the price of an apple for a year's schooling, will not be easy.

We also continue to seek opportunities for our children to interact with other Singaporean children, grateful they have maintained some of the friendships they forged at their old schools.

But on his first day at the new school, my son told me he had the best day of his life. My daughter came to me and thanked me for moving her. "Here," she confided, "I feel like I am learning something every day." How can you argue with that?

At the end of the day, the root problem of the local school system is the high teacher-student ratio which demands more control from the teacher and gives the students less opportunities for variation.

Many foreign families make it by dint of playing the game we did not play: Filling the children's time with extra classes, buying old exam papers and willingly allowing their children's uniqueness to be efficiently rubbed off so that they could fit themselves neatly into the system's uniformly round holes. We did the only thing we could do.

At least, you can't say we didn't try. And it was a learning experience.

Ultimately that's what education should be about.

Noelle de Jesus is a freelance editor and writer who believes parents should be responsible co-educators of their children.

19 November 2007

Repeal 377A and Thio Li-Ann, on why the 2 sides can't agree and freedom

*Dr Thio Li-Ann speech can be read here together with commentaries.

A lot can be, and indeed has been said on the debate. To find out more, and you should, goggle is your friend (Try 377A, or Thio Li-Ann). I have wanted to comment on this issue, but was too busy, and frankly, not smart enough to add anything new. But now that the sound and fiery has died down a little, and with the advantage of hindsight, I'll attempt to share what I picked up on this

1."You cannot make a human wrong a human right."
The prime minister was right. What he was right about that prompted this unique occurrence (me agreeing with him that is) was this: "Neither side is going to convince the other."


Because both sides (over generalising from this point on, I admit), holds a different fundamental assumption.

One side don't think that homosexuality is wrong.
One side believes fundamentally that homosexuality is wrong.

There is no way, literally, to convince either side to the other position. How can both side even relate to the other side, or see where they are coming from, when their core assumption is so different? On one side, a group of people don't really see why a act is harmful enough to have a law against it, while another side sees the act as wrong and if I may, 'evil'.

There is no way to prove that homosexuality is wrong, nor is there to prove that it's not wrong. Because you can't prove a right or wrong! You judge a right or wrong! And both side are using a different system! Both side can bring out tons of arguments and counter-arguments and still fail to come to any agreeable conclusion, because all their conclusion are based on this core unchangeable assumption.

2."Repealing section 377A is the first step of a radical, political agenda which will subvert social morality, the common good and undermine our liberties."

Extending logically the assumption that homosexuality is wrong and the notion "that which is evil has no rights", we can have a sense of where the anti-repeal people are coming from. The idea is that, an idea or action that is 'evil', 'wrong', or 'harmful' deserves no rights, no freedom, no protection. An example is terrorism, I suppose the terrorist has some reasons for doing what they do, but their message would never be aired, because their action are considered to be evil, and wrong. (And no, homosexuality is not like terrorism)

So the way I see it, the aim of the anti-repeal movement is to maintain the right to call homosexuality wrong. After all they understand that the law will not be actively, not to mention almost impossible to, enforce.(Although Dr Thio, does (chillingly) said that the current pro-active policy does not mean 377A will never be enforced. In my view, enforcement of it will be too much like a witch hunt.)

3."While difficult, change is possible and a compassionate society would help those wanting to fulfills their heterosexual potential. There is hope."

And they do not see their stand as limiting the freedom of homosexuals. No, seriously. Dr Thio said that the gays are allowed "to live quiet lives". She is understanding freedom negatively, as freedom from constrains, gays can carry on with their life (admittedly as criminals) under our current system. But she is ignoring the positive side of freedom, which is the extent to which individuals have access to the means to fulfilled their needs and wishes. And surely, one has the rights not to be labeled a criminal to love, or the rights to be proud of who we are, or to speak in ones own defense?

4."some countries have criminalised not sodomy, but opposition to sodomy, making it a "hate crime" to criticise homosexuality. This violates freedom of speech and religion; will sacred texts that declare homosexuality morally deviant, like the Bible and Quran, be criminalised? Social unrest beckons. Such assaults on constitutional liberties cannot be tolerated."

In fact Dr Thio seems particularly concerned that the rights of certain religions be compromise if 377A is repealed. This makes me very uneasy. First of all, there is this notion that if someone does something for 'religious' reason, it's right. But then, we all know the problem with that don't we? And second, we respect religious belief, anyhow people are going to think what they are going to think. But we still holds religious people responsible for their actions, even if God is on their side.

8 November 2007

Richard Taylor's glow worm

Each dot of light identifies an ugly worm, whose luminous tail is meant to attract insects from the surrounding darkness. As from time to time one of these insects draws near it becomes entangled in a sticky thread lowered by the worm, and is eaten. These goes on month after month, the blind worm lying there in the barren stillness waiting to entrap an occasional bit of nourishment that will only sustain it to another bit of nourishment until... Until what? What great thing awaits all this long repetitious effort and makes it worthwhile? Really nothing. The larva just transforms itself finally into a tiny winged adult that lacks even mouth parts to feed and lives only a day or two. These adults, as soon as they have mated and laid eggs, are themselves caught in the threads and are devoured by the cannibalistic worms, often without having ventured into the day, the only point of their existence having now been fulfilled. This has been going on for millions of years, and to no other end other than that the same meaningless cycle may continue for another millions of years.

All the living things present essentially the same spectacle...One is led to wonder what the point of it all is, with what great triumph this ceaseless effort, repeating itself through millions of years, might finally culminate, and why it should go on and on and on for so long, accomplishing nothing, getting nowhere. But then one realizes that there is no point to it all, that it really culminates in nothing, that each of these cycles, so filled with toil, is to be followed only by more of the same. The point of any living thing's life is, evidently, nothing but life itself.

10 October 2007

Repeal 377A

It's really none of anyone's business. The state has no rights nor reasons to interfere between the relationship of 2 consenting adults.

25 September 2007

Big Question 2

Who would you want to be?

26 August 2007


After 10 years, I have finally got MSN. I don't really know how it works. My MSN pass is mingde7@hotmail.com. So just add me, yah.

9 August 2007

Singapore is more than the Story of one Man

National Day is here again. This year, I want to share a couple of pictures I took that reflect my thoughts.

Here we have the picture of the statues of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, proudly standing in front of the skyline of Raffles Place. And just under it set in stone are the following words :

"On this historic site Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles first landed in Singapore on 28th January 1819 and with Genius and Perception changed the destiny of Singapore from an obscure fishing village to a great seaport and modern metropolis"

Well, should be no surprise to anyone who've been through the horror of what I call education in Singapore. But directly facing Raffles, someone has set up another statues, this one in concrete, rough, poorly made, holding a trenching spade.

And just under this statues, in cupboard, are these words:

"On this obscure site and many others we landed on Singapore soil since time immemorial with our labour and toil changed your genius and perception from a mere idea to a concrete reality"

This, to me, is the real Singapore story. It's never about one man.

p/s: I don't want to live in a "City of Possibilities", I want to stay in a "Nation of Opportunities".