Good Lord, our children are not committing suicide!

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Chee Soon Juan

Just what does take to beat the odds?

Well, if there is somebody who knows better, than it is no other than the very veritable opposition doyen of Singapore politics – Chee Soon Juan.

Since catapulting into the limelight in 1991 when he told of his disinclination to be in the Workers’ Party (WP), Chee has since the passing of J.B Jeyaretnam hogged the airwaves, lionised affection across Singapore and to a narrow extent the world, and has even fostered a martyr-type of image that has endeared to the hordes of people in Singapore.

In his latest Facebook post he lectures is not cracked up in the way it has been piously pontificated. His grouses against the phenomenon reeks thematically with Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir’s bile against it some 15 years ago.

He adds the “backlash against globalisation has never been stronger. The oil and gas industry is in the doldrums and seems far from recovering. The adoption of clean energy is moving faster than anyone had anticipated and China is aggressively investing in infrastructure in Malaysia and beyond. Jobs [the one thing that matters to all and sundry] are being rapidly being lost to automation. Yet, there is little indication that the PAP gets it, Chee rues and distances itself away from an innovative culture”.

From all reasonable expectations there is little to diss Chee for spelling out what the real hard truths of life and survival actually amount to.

Nothing is more critical than education, “and the system here”, he decries “is stuck in an era designed more for the industrial revolution than the digital one and shows no sign of a rebirth”.

How very pithy is that?. The education system is rigourous though not like the type in Japan where children take to committing suicide. (Heaven forbid if that happens).

Delayed development, the various types of intelligence, and gender and individual differences are cast aside in a mill that grinds out students better equipped to regurgitate information than critically process it.
Students make the memorisation of answers in the Ten-Year Series (publications of past-exam questions) an art form. Tuition centres even advertise “How to spot the tricky questions that can make or break your child’s goal of getting A”.

Observers, both at home and overseas, repeatedly point out that the rigid exam-oriented curriculum is antithetical to critical and creative thinking. Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng sees the problem. He acknowledges that the system produces workers who are technically competent but “do not think out of the box and lack the derring-do to push boundaries”.

These traits, he noted, need to be nurtured from young. He exhorted pupils to chiong, the Hokkien vernacular for taking risks. “It’s a mindset,” he said. “An attitude of wanting to do better, find break-throughs, of wanting to innovate…taking into account the risks involved and doing it anyway.”
He warned of a rapidly changing world: “What has afforded success for one generation, may not for another.”

Mindful words, no doubt, but they remain, worryingly, words. He demonstrates no intention to revamp the education system. He doesn’t possess, in his own words, the derring-do to push boundaries.

When he finally roused himself to make changes, he declared that his ministry will discontinue the use of T-scores to rank PSLE results, ‘Achievement Levels’ will be used instead. The remedy is like applying Mopiko on a malignant tumour.

And get this, the switch over will only take place in 2021!

When a general exhorts his troops to chiong and he remains rooted behind the frontline, paralysed by fear, he runs the danger of being ignored.

Worse, his inaction jeopardises the nation’s future – a future that is already here and Chee seems to have seen nobody else has!