3rd November: Sg Education

10 am to 1 pm, E1-09, Humanities Room
Attendance: Lee Si Yuan; Lim Yi Fei; Soon Hao Jing [1, 2]; Terence Tim; Uriel Tan; Zhou Ruohua [1]
[1] Denotes record-keepers [2] Denotes moderator


Terence gave a presentation on Singapore and posed some questions for consideration regarding the merits and demerits of having a stronger opposition presence in Parliament, to fulfil a requirement that all Insight members give a presentation about their chosen ‘country’ to confirm their choice. As the pre-defined theme of the discussions was to be ‘Education in Singapore’, Hao Jing as moderator started discussions with the question of whether a Singaporean education equips students with the ability to participate in or consider current affairs. Si Yuan remarked that his Humanities education thus far had mostly required memorization of facts and discussed how the present government had shaped Singapore’s modern history, and his assessments did not encourage creative thinking beyond what questions asked for and provided as prompts. Terence said his Geography education was mostly scientific and technical, implying it had no direct bearing on his ability to converse about current affairs. Members then talked about their language classes. Terence mentioned that his English language classes in Year 5 and 6 had allowed him to approach and learn more about Singaporean current affairs. In contrast, Ruohua said that in China, students’ discussion and learning of current affairs and politics are curtailed.

Members shared some of their impressions about their co-curricular activities (CCA) as well as Community Involvement Projects (CIP), but also had in common a belief that their CIP activities thus far had not been long-term, stimulating, or involving significant interaction with various groups in society which CIP activities normally aim to benefit. When asked for possible reasons, members said that students are mostly concerned with their schoolwork, and especially their academic performance, to the extent where they will do things merely to be credited in their transcripts. In contrast, Yi Fei shared that in the Chinese-language high school in Malaysia where she previously studied, significant weightage was also accorded to participation and performance in extracurricular pursuits, and extracurricular activities also took up significant time and effort. She also shared examples of students who had scored very well academically, only to be let down by their poor participation in extracurricular pursuits when they applied to universities.

Hao Jing remarked that members’ observations about CCA and CIP activities might be due to NUS High’s peculiarity as a 6-year institution not offering O or A levels, unlike other JCs and secondary schools. He also commented that in terms of rote-learning, Singapore’s education system highly resembles those in the rest of East Asia. He also questioned why the most excellent universities were mostly located in the West, whereas Asian students have performed so well in math and the sciences in recent years, and asked if Western education might provide a more holistic path to students’ development.

The discussion also touched on the possible effects of expanding the number of degree-granting universities here. An expected 40% of Singaporeans, up from over a quarter currently, will receive tertiary education in future. Members agreed that there may be concerns of an oversupply of well-qualified graduates with good academic performance, who may not be able to fully translate their academic achievements into vocational skills. Also, noted members, Singaporeans’ desire to replace low-wage foreign labour, as well as Singapore’s continued development and rise in affluence, will result in an increased pressure on Singaporeans to fill up job vacancies in services, construction, etc. Hao Jing asked if this might not entrench social inequality in Singapore. Members responded to questions about whether Singaporean education is a social leveller, by stating that it may actually reinforce social divisions, observing that richer parents can afford to send their children to better schools, more tuition classes, and equip them for a future overseas university education, which means Singaporean education is not a social leveller as not all children have the same starting point due to education.

Before adjourning the meeting for the day, members agreed to perform further research on the following areas: the debate on meritocracy in Singaporean education, and a comparison of Singaporean education with those of the US, China and Northern Europe. Members also requested that essays pertaining to the US presidential elections be featured in Writing Exercise I, to be issued on a subsequent date.



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