I chanced upon a post by Sillyinvestor and the subsequent commentary between him and his readers and it hit me strongly.
Perhaps because I think it kind of reflected my situation then.
By way of background, Sillyinvestor is a primary school teacher in Singapore and his latest blogpost chronicles some of the issues and challenges of educators in Singapore, as well as guiding them in other areas aside from academics, teaching them about “life”. Or rather, life lessons.
The Singapore education system is perhaps one of the most robust in the world (according to rankings on academic results), and ranked number 1 in various tests and studies. We aced the PISA results, and apparently have one of the best brains for math and science in the world for 15 and 16 year olds although we have never produced a Noble prize winner in this field, or for that matter, any other fields. Which is an irony.
However, it does have its fair share of controversies, including how we might stifle in terms of creativity and innovation.
It has been close to two decades since I left the mainstream schools so I am not sure how much it has evolved now, although I do read of reports now and then suggesting that we have supposedly moved to a more innovative technological setting to educate our students, as well as emphasis on other non-academic areas, as well as to encourage creativity.
Which is wow… and I like it, except that when I hear from friends out there with school-going kids, it actually hasn’t differed much.
Dave was sharing with me the other day that his colleague at work, who has a daughter that is attending primary one (6-7 years old) this year, had to produce a presentation piece using Microsoft Powerpoint.
Which is like what??????
And also, periodically, we will get viral posts from facebook or whatsapp messages on ridiculously difficult questions for primary school kids (they are aged between 6-12) to solve, many of them that their parents (majority of which are university and college graduates) couldn’t solve.
Then again, as I am not familiar with the current syllabus and focus, I can’t comment too much on it but from the looks of it, doesn’t seem to have change much – 换汤不换药.
In fact, it seemed like the tuition industry has ballooned twice (perhaps even thrice compared to the 1990s) compared to the hey days. Just so that students can cope with the increasing difficulty from their school homework.
Anyway, back to my experience.
When I was in secondary school (during those days, we didn’t have those fanciful IB or IP programs), during my secondary two streaming examination, I did relatively well, and as such, I was placed in the “top” class, or so called streamed into the triple pure science class (just wondering if they still have such stuff today). My parents didn’t really think too much (since I was placed in the top class, they didn’t really have an issue with that) and it was also kind of “by default” that you are streamed into the various classes based on your grades (you didn’t really have a choice back then, or perhaps I didn’t even know that I could choose!).
By way of background, for those of you who might not be familiar with the system back then, unlike lower secondary where all the classes (if you were in the same stream, say express), the upper secondary classes do take on a different subject load. I recalled during then, we had 1 triple pure science class, another double pure science class, then there was combined science, etc. English and mother tongue were compulsory then (correct me if I am wrong on the mother tongue part) and I recalled we needed to have at least 1 math (either elementary math and additional math) and humanities (history, literature or geography). Well, different schools might have different combinations, but that was the basic. I remembered some other classes even had subjects like design and technology and home economics.
Anyway, I was streamed into the pure science class and ended up taking pure physics, chemistry and biology. I had taken the two math modules, but only 1 humanities – geography. Which I was like … wait!!! Why is there no literature?
You see, I didn’t realise then that I am actually more of a humanities person. I guess you can’t blame a 14 year old, probably couldn’t figure out what they wanted to be then and there wasn’t career counselling or such back in the days (not sure whether they have it now) or at least we didn’t have it in my school.
Even though I still did relatively well for my ‘O’ levels, I felt that something was missing.
And it hit me really hard when I was in junior college.
I continued with the triple science combination in the first three months.
But crap, I couldn’t keep up with it.
After the first three months, I dropped biology (because I could probably understand 20% of the tutorials) and took up economics instead.
And I pretty much suffered in my academics since then, although I could still do well enough to manage a slot in one of the local business schools.
But when I look back at my education route, I realised that I had probably been focusing and studying the “wrong” subjects in school.
You see, I love humanities more.
I won’t say I hate science, but I didn’t enjoy it as much.
And I pretty much struggle with physics class since secondary three.
Even for the local universities (no offense to anyone), there are certain faculties that are known as dumping grounds for those who didn’t score so well, such as engineering and computer science (just because they have a huge cohort and it wasn’t a popular choice, so they basically took in students with a wide spectrum of grades). And to be honest, I always think that engineering and computer science students are really smart individuals, to be able to understand those complex logic behind (it took me freaking long to understand Fleming’s left and right hand rule in physics class…. )
By the time I entered university, I was pretty much jaded by the education programme. So how did I manage to choose my faculty? Basically I crossed out those that I didn’t want to do, and whatever that was left, I had to think about what I think I might want to study…
I knew I did not ever want to do science and math, so that actually cancels out quite a bit of stuff….
And I landed up in business school.
And the rest is history.
Would it had been different if I took up humanities back then?
I don’t know. I might have had different classmates, and meet a separate group of people.
And I might have ended up studying a different subject in university.
And ended up with a different job.
Meeting different people.
And leading a different life.