Different priorities on education within the Workers’ Party

Not long after making a speech that drew praise even from his long-time political rival PM himself, Mr Low once again delivered some really good points about the education system in Singapore.

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Mr Low quite sharply pointed out that despite all of MOE’s good work and efforts in adjusting the education system in Singapore, the “results-oriented” mind-set continue to be entrenched in many parents here.

Coupled with the parents’ desire for their kids to have the best start in life, this has caused many students in Singapore to be anxious about tests and exams.

So Mr Low urged MOE to continue with their good efforts, while educating Singaporean parents on the many pathways of success so as to lessen the parents’, and consequentially the students’, anxiety about studies.

Contrast that with the comments from his colleague Mr Leon Perera

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At the same debate about education, Mr Leon Perera spent his entire speech asking about whether MPs like himself could be a guest-of-honour at a school.

Essentially, whether he can go to a school and talk about Workers Party’s values and beliefs

So I can’t help but question Mr Leon Perera’s motives in pressing so hard for himself to appear at schools as a guest of honour

Does he want more visibility?

Or chances to interact with teachers and parents?

Or worse, to convince young kids that WP was the right party to vote for?

Mr Low wanted Singapore to be better – he acknowledged good work, highlighted social issues, and urged MOE to continue their good work.

On the other hand, his colleague Mr Leon was more interested in making sure that he could be a guest in schools to share his political beliefs.

Its a pity, Mr Low will be stepping down as the Worker’s Party leader soon.

Read their speeches here:

http://www.wp.sg/ministry-of-education-committee-of-supply-2018-cuts-by-wp-mps-and-ncmps/

MOE Stressed Students and Parents – Low Thia Khiang

Chairman Sir, I understand that the Ministry of Education has been retooling the education system to shift the unhealthy focus on academic competition to emphasize holistic education and the love of learning.

But a culture of “academic results focus” has already set in among the parents. We cannot blame the parents because they want to give the best to their children. They learned the culture from the old focus on academic competition, believing in the old paradigm of good grades and a linear path from elite primary schools to the top universities.

When they are faced with globalization and technological disruptions, they become even more anxious about making sure their children get the best start in life. When MOE rightly sought to improve pre-school education by setting up MOE kindergartens, some parents saw this as the new first stop to academic success.

It was reported that a study conducted by OECD to look at the connection between well-being and Pisa test achievement found Singapore students have high levels of anxiety compared to the OECD average. For example, 76 per cent of Singapore students reported feeling very anxious for a test even if they were well prepared, compared to the OECD average of 55 per cent. The students involved in the study were mostly Secondary 4 students. I hope the MOE could do a study to see whether this kind of anxiety is also affecting primary school children and also children in pre-school, so that we can learn how to mitigate the problem.

MOE should not stop to complete the transformation of the system despite these die-hard habits. It will take time to change such an entrenched culture. Meanwhile, MOE could also look into communicating and educating parents on the many pathways to success in the new economy, so as to lessen their anxiety and thus lessen the transfer of the anxiety to their children.

Diverse Perspectives in School – Leon Perera

From my recent exchange with SMS Dr Puthucheary on MPs speaking in schools, and from information subsequently obtained, I am not 100% sure but it would seem that Government office-holders and grassroots advisors or GRAs can go into MOE schools to officiate at events, hold dialogues on national issues and interact with students.  But MPs in their MP capacity cannot. The SMS did not confirm this directly. I would like to ask MOE to now confirm if this is indeed correct.

That exchange was headlined in some media outlets as if I was advocating partisan politics in schools whereas the government wants to keep politics out of schools. That is incorrect.

What I am arguing for is that we should balance up the exposure that students already have to PAP MPs wearing their GRA or Ministerial hats. The key phrase in what I said is “both sides.”

Our students should be able to hear from and talk with members of Parliament who are not from the PAP.

Why? For two reasons.

Firstly, students should not be exposed to only one set of perspectives on national issues. Students should be able to hear first-hand, in their schools, the perspectives of duly elected non-PAP MPs on the issues of the day, be it our aging society, public finances or social policies. It is NOT an adequate response to this to say that students can access views on the internet. Exposing students to only one set of views from speakers in schools is unhealthy for the development of their critical faculties and their ability to see both sides of an issue. They should be able to pose questions and dialogue with elected public figures, both PAP and non-PAP.

Secondly, this blocks students from understanding the role played by elected MPs other than those from the PAP in our legislative process. MPs from all parties play a role in our legislative process that is enshrined in the Constitution, which our students study in school. Our students should have the opportunity to hear directly from non-PAP members of this House about their experience and the role they play in the national institution of Parliament and the legislative work it undertakes.

Surely it cannot be argued that Ministers and GRAs are by definition non-political when they talk to students but non-PAP MPs are by definition political? The same strictures on speech and behaviour can be applied to both groups when they go into schools. I believe that both groups should be allowed into schools but not to canvass for a Party, not to engage in partisan discussion, not to wear Party symbols and so on, ie to be consistent with Education (Schools) regulations section 111.

I know that non-PAP MPs can go into schools in their personal or professional capacity – indeed I have done that before – but in that capacity, they cannot have dialogues about their role in the legislative process whereas it would seem that PAP MPs can, wearing their Ministerial or GRA hats.

I have a second question. It appears that in the past, MPs could go into schools in their MP capacity. There are public references online to MPs having officiated at school events in the past as MPs. I am told that there are many plaques in schools recording that certain MPs opened a particular school facility. In former PAP MP Dr Ho Peng Kee’s memoirs, he writes on Pg 18: “I had made this call at many of the schools I spoke at during those early years as MP.”

I noted on at least two school’s websites that prior to 2011 or thereabouts, schools would acknowledge MPs but after that, the school referred only to Grassroots Advisors.

Would the MOE confirm if this change was indeed made in 2011 and if so why was this change made at that time?

In conclusion, firstly – will MOE consider allowing all MPs, including NMPs, into schools to be able to share their perspectives on public affairs and their role in the legislative process as MPs, all subject to the same strictures on speech and behaviour to keep out partisan politics?

Secondly, can MOE clarify when was the apparently long-standing policy to allow MPs into schools changed and why was it changed at that time?

We can pin labels that say PAP is by definition OK, non-PAP is by definition partisan and hence not. But does that serve the best interests of our students who will become the citizens of tomorrow? Let us not make this a conversation about labels. That is a circular argument. Let’s make this a conversation about our students, what’s best for them.