Thursday, July 30, 2009

Speeding Up Our Life Cycle

Are you one of those parents who always need to be around when your child is doing his/her homework? I may not remember much of my primary school curriculum, but I’m sure I didn’t do algebra at Primary 1!

Ali has 3 marbles more than Tom who has 1 marble more than Jerry. If Jerry has 2 marbles, how many marbles do Tom and Ali have?


Let Jerry have j marbles
Tom has j+1 marbles
Ali has 3+j+1 marbles
Given that j=2
Therefore Tom has 2+1=3 marbles
Ali has 3+2+1=6 marbles
Well, at least that was the way I was taught to do this sort of “problem sums”. I don’t know how smart other people and their kids are. But I certainly wouldn’t have a clue as to how many marbles Ali and Tom have when I was in Primary 1. And I don’t expect my 6-year-old son to be able to do that. To me, this is probably Primary 4 work. Why are they teaching it at Primary 1 now? A chill runs down my spine when I imagine what they might teach in Primary 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

If you think that’s not bad enough, have you heard of the Primary 2 kids who had to write book reviews as homework? Almost every child would seem to have read a book that no child would find interesting. Almost every child would get an A for their insightful review copied from My son would probably get an F because instead of a book review, I’d be the only parent who would write an essay on how stupid the whole exercise is.

We are a nation obsessed with upgrading, efficiency and bang for buck. That’s not a bad thing - provided we don’t let things get out of hand. Compared to my son and other kids in school today, I went through primary school at a very comfortable pace. It’s not just about enjoying childhood. It’s also about being true to yourself. So what if my homework was never flawless? At least I understood most of it and did it myself. So what if my projects were made out of cheap cardboard and coloured paper? At least my parents didn’t have to scrimp on the next meal to get materials that would make my project look as professional as the others.

If learning is forever, why rush into it? More importantly, how much does a Primary 1 kid really need to know at Primary 1? Are the schools really in such need to show that they are improving and reaching ever higher standards? What simpler way to show “improvement” than bringing Primary 2 work to Primary 1.

Wow. That’s an impressive improvement. What do we do next year? Let’s bring the Primary 3 work to Primary 1. Wow!

The end point? There is no end point in theory, but for practical reasons, most people would stop at an MBA or a PhD. And my friend who holds an MBA (and a very expensive one too) just got retrenched for the nth time. He has been switching careers, attending diploma courses to help him remain employable. After multiple humbling career switches with equally humbling salaries, he still ended up retrenched. It’s quite baffling that with so much more experience, he is worth much less than he was young. He’s finally considering becoming a tour guide - a job done very well by another friend of mine who only finished his O Levels.

Is it because this friend of mine didn’t learn about how many marbles Ali has when he was in Primary 1? Would our kids not fall into the same predicament when they hit 40 because the education system they are under is now an improved one that will make sure you won’t wash toilets or drive taxis if you have an MBA?

I’m glad that I can sometimes decide my own worth. My years of experience are tangible and worth something in the field of dentistry. While I can still hold handpieces and scalpel blades steady, I don’t have to retrain and acquire new skills in a food court or toilet to remain employable. Not so for many friends my age. Many of them have reached their “employ by …” age. Like the primary school system, everything is being sped up in Singapore. We can’t wait to graduate. We can’t wait for the IRs to be built. We can’t wait for the next rally at the stock market.

So why not attain O Level knowledge by Primary 6. Retire to wash toilets by 40 (already happening). Draw CPF at 90. No, this is one thing which will only be slowed down. Happy speeding on the other lanes.


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