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Singapore Education System Essay Active Assignments

SINGAPORE - A Primary 1 pupil's answer to an English composition assignment has sparked a lively online debate, after a photo of it was shared widely on social media.

The girl's mother, tech start-up vice-president and Democratic People's Party member Nadine Yap, had posted the photo of the corrected answer with the caption, "Scratching my head," on her Facebook page on Tuesday (Oct 6) morning.

It has since been shared over 500 times, attracting more than a hundred comments from netizens.

Ms Yap's daughter Zoe, who goes to Methodist Girls' School, appeared to have written a model answer to the question, and Ms Yap was puzzled over the corrections that Zoe's teacher had made on it.

The question was a stimulus-based conversation consisting of three parts.

Part C asked: "If you are celebrating a family member's birthday, how do you plan to celebrate it?"

Zoe's answer was: "If I were to plan a birthday, I would plan it for my mother. Instead of a cake I would make cupcakes."

The teacher corrected the answer to read: "If I am to plan a birthday, I will plan it for my mother. Instead of getting a cake, I will make cupcakes."

Majority of the netizens who shared and responded to the post saw nothing wrong with Zoe's answer and questioned the teacher's need to correct her grammar.

Several speculated that the teacher may have corrected the answer because the question was posed in the present tense; others took issue with the way the question had been phrased.

Some netizens initially thought that the figure "1/10" written in red at the bottom right of the answer indicated that Zoe had been given a low score of one out of 10, and proceeded to criticise the teacher. But it was actually the date - Oct 1.

Ms Yap, 46, later clarified in comments made on her original post that she had no intention to shame the teacher, and had wanted to gather input from her friends as she was not an expert.

"I'll talk to Zoe about it and see if she wants to address it with the teacher herself. I will also quietly have a word/e-mail with the teacher and perhaps other relevant folks," she wrote.

Oct 15 update: Mum defends teacher

In another Facebook update on Oct 15, Ms Yap said she had a conversation with the teacher and others from the school over the issue, and said they were very "clear and gracious".

"They explained that the assignment was a 'stimulus based conversation'," she wrote, "where the teacher goes through the assignment first with the class. She did give verbal instructions on which tense to use."

She added that the teacher would then go through the answers with the class, where she would point out common errors to pay attention to.

Ms Yap also defended the teacher, describing her as an "attentive, imaginative and caring professional", and apologising to her for the untoward attention she had received.

I was born, raised and educated in London for 12 years. During this time, I faced a very drab and disciplined British system of education that I never questioned. It was given that there was a classroom hierarchy, and it is only upon our family’s first intercontinental move to Singapore that I started to question the education that I had grown up with. I was startled to find a completely different ideology in this new city. A system based on technology, stronger relationships with teachers and freedom in the classroom. I spent months wondering what this difference was about, and why two cities as arguably similar as London and Singapore offered such deeply contrasting educations. I started to become irked by the ‘underline the noun’ and ‘fill in the adjective’ worksheets that my dad presented to me as they were so different from the work that I was given at school based around emotion, expression and rich writing. It was only when I saw my sister’s extensive worksheets that I began to seriously question why I was getting such a different education compared to all the other members of my family. In an evolving world quickly adapting to the massive amounts of information that the internet provides at our fingertips, the education system goes through a similar redesign and adaptation. Parents of adolescent students, having grown up in a completely different world to their children, often deny the significance of this revolution. Due to fear and discomfort, parents may force their outdated system of education upon their child, obliging them as a result to work harder to satisfy conflicting messages from school and home.

The educational revolution is a powerful motif spreading through international schools around the world, influencing students’ and parents’ views of education. The revolution that we are going through today is the most recent of the 3 major changes the education system has undergone through the ages. The first change was a result of the invention of the book. Now that information could be recorded, the burden of forgetting was removed from the common population and was passed on to the sage of the village, who would have read one of the extremely rare handwritten books on a given subject. The second invention that turned education around was the printing press. With the ability to mass produce books and thus information, people could teach themselves, and had a wider access to knowledge. The third revolution (that we are undergoing today) coincides with the spread of the internet. The education system is simply adapting to a future where the answer to any question takes as long to find as it takes to type the query. Due to this instant information, the need to memorise is no longer a key part of education. Many teachers today agree with this view, as my drama teacher Amy Cupitt says ‘memorising is not learning. The absence of memorisation and the presence of the internet have allowed the education system to blossom into a scheme where the gap between the student and the teacher is narrow and an equal emphasis is placed on Art, Music, Technology and design as is placed on Math, English, Science and Humanities. We now learn what to plug into the calculator instead of learning how to solve it. Of course, this radically new system adapting to a completely new world is greatly unsettling to parents. Some may even say that there is no revolution. 'It's just a fresh coat of paint on an old system. The old way is ultimately the right way.' They may also plainly disagree with the revolution, arguing that it is still important to memorize information. Education is preparing us for the life and world that come ahead, which involves having the answer to any question at the press of a button. The education system is part of a much larger, more global revolution: the ability to have information at one’s fingertips constantly and instantly.

The invasion of the internet into a student's school and personal life may be perceived as a threat by parents. Since many children do not feel this way, a large gap is created between the student’s and parents’ view of this new system of education. ‘Is my child getting the grades that they should be?’, ‘Why are they learning different things than I was at that age?’ and ‘Why do I not feel in control?’ are just a few of the many questions that many parents ask themselves. Many parents argue that since they went through school themselves, they fully understand the education system on a deeper level, whatever changes it might bring on the surface. They should be the ones that dictate how their child is educated. What they fail to understand is that the educational revolution carries its name for a reason. Unlike their own and their parent’s education, this is not an incremental update to the system. Rather, it is a full adaptation to the world that we live in today. My mother often tells me ‘I didn’t have any after school activities, music, art or technology in my school. You went, learnt and went home. This was how our day went.’ The complete contrast between my Mother’s education and mine leads me to further understand why many parents are confused by the new system of education. Patrick Ness states this very plainly in his book ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’, when he writes ‘people are scared of what they don't know’. This is a true revolution on the way the new generation is educated for the equally new and radically different world that awaits them. The parent’s fear of the unknown acts as a fuel for the worry they start to feel towards their child’s success. The parent’s misunderstanding on how the evolving world around them is affecting the education system is surprisingly huge. They suspect that the world can change, but the education system remains in the same state. They fail to realize that knowing the dates of a historical event is going to help less in the future than is knowing about different cultures around the world and how they have interacted through history. This misunderstanding makes the parents feel a duty to encourage their older system of education in the home, and this message often clashes with the one students are receiving from school.

The school’s revolutionary methods of teaching conflicts with the parent’s equally strong emphasis on the older education system that they experienced. Students don’t know how to please their parents and their school. The latter is encouraging creativity, technology and interactive classrooms while the parents encourage more of a grades, academics and raw work perspective. Although the need to satisfy both sides can be a cause of stress for students, it can be positive to have both systems, and find the positive sides of each entity. Many writers include the theme of sharing cultures and stories in their own writing, such as Gish Jen in her short story ‘Who’s Irish?’. The novel explores the relationship between a Chinese grandmother and her partly Irish and wild granddaughter, Sophie. The two characters come from completely different cultures and worlds, much like the two systems of education parents and students are going through today. The big cultural gap is shown by the Grandmother when she says ‘In America, all day long, people talk about creative - another thing we do not talk about in China. We talk about whether we have difficulty or no difficulty.’ Having grown up in a completely different world than Sophie, the Grandmother can’t properly understand why her granddaughter is being so wild and creative, a quality frowned upon in Chinese culture. She forces her older Chinese values on Sophie by later starting to spank her because she does not know any better. She just goes back to what she knows. In the end, Sophie’s Irish culture, which represents creativity and the newer world is enhanced by her Grandmother’s older and more traditional values.  Likewise, many middle school parents do not understand what the educational revolution is, and go back to their older ways of teaching and educating. Messages from school and home may be conflicting, but conflicts are often solved through negotiating and finding a midpoint between opposite ideas. If students can enrich themselves by finding the positive points of both systems and incorporating them into their learning, they can grow as people and enhance their knowledge further.

Revolutions do not always captivate everybody at once. It often takes a new generation to adapt to revolution, as with the mobile phone or the internet. The people of this generation are the true pioneers of any changes made during their childhood. Such is the case with the educational revolution. The generation being directly affected by the change is the one that will be supportive of their own children when they go through it, and the ones that will integrate it into our future world. Parents, however, are still in control. They dictate how much of an old system is good, and how much of it should be integrated into this new world that they see unfolding before their eyes. They decide what this new generation of pioneers will bring to a future world rich with the internet, instant information and seamless technology, even if they may not sometimes fully understand it themselves. I wonder how the internet and this new way of learning will evolve in the future, and how I will be with my own children. Will today’s system of education become outdated as a newer, fourth revolution sweeps in? How will the internet revolutionise other systems in our everyday life? I can’t wait to find out.

Solal Bauer
Grade 8
East Campus