Update 7 June: The Today newspaper has published this letter under the title “MOE has role in ‘arms race’”
I have sent this letter to the Today Voices page. I wrote it despite being tired out from a long day at work and also while teaching Isaac how to improve his English composition.
I refer to the story “A call to relearn how we teach our children” (Today, 5 June 2012) where Education Minister Heng Swee Keat offered his take on the primary school education today.
He said that parents should not compare the education methods of today with those of the past, since children will be growing up in a different world from today. Yet at the same time, he asked for parents to continue giving feedback to engage the educators.
Herein lies the contradiction that frustrates parents to no end.
It is clear that many parents have been giving repeated feedback that the education system has been overloading our children with a curriculum of unrealistic standards.
This has resulted in an “arms race” between tuition centers, school principals and assessment book authors to pose the most ludicrous types of test questions for our bewildered children. Their only goal appears to be earning bragging rights about who can set the toughest standards.
Many well-educated parents struggle with long working hours in a society stressed by rising costs, yet are asked to learn new teaching methods for PSLE questions. It begs the question why we went to university in the first place if we now struggle to teach elementary mathematics.
Nevertheless, the Education Ministry keeps insisting that it is trying to do the right thing for our children and in the process ignores the very feedback it has requested. It has also not stepped in to moderate the educational “arms race” in any way.
The obvious beneficiaries of this whole situation are elitist tuition centers who now have the impunity to pick and choose only the brightest students, thus ensuring the “effectiveness” of their expensive classes. There was a recent newspaper ad taken out by a tuition center that boasted having taught 8 out of 17 of the top PSLE scorers.
The Minister also said that teachers are trying their best to prepare students for the unknowns in the future.
Let me pose this question – how do you prepare for the unknown? Do you know what you don’t know? Is it better then, to prepare students for the known, for the things that are within our control?
From what I have observed, the education system today does a dismal job of instilling the basics of good language and mathematics in our students. It prefers to rush them into using unnecessary, stilted vocabulary and mathematical modeling methods that they will never use in their secondary school days or adult life.
In a world where technology is changing the way we live faster than ever before, it is even more critical for students to have a strong grasp of the fundamentals so they do not get lost in the deluge of information and ideas.
I would ask that the Education Ministry learn to take feedback in its stride, and not assure us with words we parents do not agree with.