TOC: There are who servicemen embark on educational pursuits during their national service term and have complained that they are either too tired or do not have enough time for their studies. How can such servicemen be assisted in their educational pursuits?
TT: For those who wish to repeat their GCE “O” or “A” level exams, MINDEF should grant them deferment. Later enlistment does not mean enlistees serve shorter duration.
For the others, with reduced duration of full-time NS to 12-18 months, servicemen should commit their energy and time fully on meeting training requirements. They can continue their education after NS full time.
TOC: While you have been an exception, other regulars who left the military after years of service have found it difficult in re-adjust to the demands of the working world. Thus, how can the social mobility and employability of former regular servicemen be enhanced?
TT: I believe the statement does not just apply to military servicemen. It also applies to Professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) and anyone who has lost their jobs and forced to seek employment in other industries. Change is one of the constant realities of Singapore’s economy. The future workforce will need to learn to accept faster pace of changes to the employment needs of the economy.
Currently, there are quotas for polytechnics and universities, and the subjects on offer are designed to meet the manpower needs of industries. When the manpower requirements change, people lose their jobs, and their option is to get re-trained/skilled for other employment opportunities.
So what can we do to prepare our young ones for the globalised world? We would be discussing this issue and some of our proposals at the upcoming Seminar on Education.
TOC: Can the current education system equip students with necessary skills to deal with challenges in this knowledge-based economy? Why?
TT: To make our future workforce more resilient to economic changes, students should be empowered. They should be allowed to pursue their interests and develop their potentials, apart from academic pursuits. Students should take charge of their education and decide for themselves how they want to progress and set the pace at which they want to achieve it. There should be equal opportunities for all Singaporeans since young, regardless of abilities and disabilities.
Our students need to be confident, outspoken, multi-skilled, and be prepared to unlearn what they learnt and to learn like an unlearnt. The learning environment should change. From one where students are asked to accept what is taught to one where students will challenge what is taught. Like a forest, we need to breed new varieties that will add biodiversity to the current. The learning environment should also be representative of the society where different people with varying strengths fulfill different roles.
The future of Singapore also depends on whether the students of today are engaged to stay committed and rooted to Singapore. Engaged to understand the various government policies and how they affect the lives of Singaporeans. Engaged to think and understand what are the alternatives, and how these can make a difference to the present system. Change is the only constant reality. Participating in change allows students to be engaged and to want to contribute to nation building. In short, the Reform Party believes in the importance of political education, which will bring about inclusivity.
TOC: Do you think our education system is suffering from an asymmetric distribution of teaching and learning resources, i.e. the best teachers and learning facilities going to the better schools? Why? If yes, what can be done to address this asymmetry?
TT: To answer that question, we need statistics from Ministry of Education (MOE). Numerous like-minded individuals have also asked whether children from the lower social economic strata of our society have performed more poorly in national examinations. Currently those data are not available.
Apart from that, some parents have highlighted that relief teachers, who are non-NIE trained, are teaching their children. MOE and each school should make public the percentage of relief/untrained teachers, adjunct teachers, trained teachers and experienced teachers (>3 years).
The Reform Party believes in Transparency. Information that is of interest to the public should be made available.
TOC: What is your opinion of the integrated programme that allows selected students to skip "O" levels?
TT: In one of the TOC articles on education , it was penned:
The former president of Japanese multinational Matsushita remarked some years ago to the then-Economic Development Board (EDB) Chairman Ngiam Tong Dow that our educational structure had some brilliant individuals perched like eagles on high peaks, but the average education level of the rest was not high. He advised that Singapore should concentrate on educating the masses to raise the average level and not just focus on the top scholars. He said that to advance as a nation, we need “high broad plateaus, not solitary peaks”.
We need to challenge all students to ensure that their potentials are developed to the fullest. Mr Ngiam has clearly pinpointed that our education system had helped the brightest to be “perched like eagles on high peaks” and the integrated programme is another such example.
During the Seminar on Education, we will share some of our proposals to improve education for the masses. As for the brighter students, we also have proposals to allow them to pursue wider spectrum of subjects and easing on the age restriction as to when they can do GCE O/A level examinations.
TOC: Do you think our current education system favors the early bloomers and sidelines the late ones? What improvements can be made to make the system more inclusive so that adequate attention is paid to both groups to allow them to realise their potential?
TT: Currently about 1 in 3 students are in the “Normal” stream. Students who are in “Normal” stream feel abnormal and at that young age, they may lack the maturity to understand the need to group them in accordance to learning abilities. This would have a negative psychological effect on their confidence in learning and may hinder the development of their potentials in other areas.
Should we avoid the creation of a “sure-fail” formula by placing slower or less interested academic learners or late bloomers together, and labelling them as "Normal” when they know it is not normal to be in such a grouping?
Parents are anxious that their children may be streamed to Normal. It is perceived that the future of Normal students is less bright as they are at the bottom of the academic ranking in PSLE. But is this academic ranking necessary? Why must the PSLE consist of English, 2nd Language, Math and Science? What are the possible tradeoffs that we have in focusing our future generation countrywide on PSLE during their formative years?
This is also one of the issues we will be discussing at our Seminar on Education. Please join us at the seminar and give us your feedback on our proposals on how to avoid streaming students of different abilities too early and yet still allow each to learn and develop at their own pace.