On education.

Having lived in Singapore all my life, I have, naturally, led an extremely sheltered lifestyle. As far as I am concerned, Singapore is the best place to live in because it is safe, it has a high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, the education system is producing high achievers, it has fantastic diplomatic relations and trading partnerships with countries all over the world, it has a high Human Development Index (HDI)… In short, it is and has been, to say the least, a successful country, and one that I am proud to call my home.

But the word ‘education’ does not seem to carry much weight in this nation, and what concerns me is the younger generation’s ignorance of their ignorance. True, Singaporean students topped the world by significant margins according to the PISA and TIMSS results released in December, and yes, I was delightfully heartened by Singapore’s progress in, not just education, but in all aspects of life, considering she only gained her independence 51 years ago. However, I fear this has come with a few, albeit minor, backlashes.

I refer to ‘education’ in this essay as the kind of knowledge that goes way beyond the textbooks or the ability to resolve math and science problems instantaneously. It is not the kind that you can assess with a test or quantify with scores. This kind of education is the type that makes you more humane, more benevolent, more insightful, more passionate. It is the kind that is typically aired over the 9pm news with the news presenter skimming lightly over the story in a sentence or two, and then – and this is the important part – it being up to you to find out more about the story if it catches your interest.

Precisely because of the emphasis on studying hard in order to achieve good grades, there is simply too little time left for students to pursue the knowledge they are really interested in. The school curriculum is so intensive and rigorous that students spend a great deal of time grappling with the concepts and completing all their projects and homework. Apart from that, the typical Singaporean student still has to maintain a decent social life, catch up with the latest celebrity news, engage in compulsory twice-weekly-on-average extracurricular activities, take up various leadership positions and occasionally participate in community service. Talk about a holistic education that leaves no time for acquisition of knowledge and insights out of the classroom!

Consequently, most students in Singapore do not take an interest in current affairs around the world. Even if they use the mobile app to read the news, I get the impression that this is mainly to ace their General Paper* and not out of pure interest. While this may be an over-generalisation, and while it may not reflect everyone’s opinions on this matter, I do believe that not many take much pleasure in reading articles from The Economist or TIME Magazine. Personally, I find their opinion articles most intriguing and, outdated as I may seem to my fellow teenagers reading this, will not hesitate to share them on my Facebook page.

This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that our national newspapers discuss in depth issues pertaining mainly to our home country, rather than news around the world. A quick glance at The Straits Times’ (Singapore’s most widely-read newspaper) Facebook page shows the news that have been reported in the past hour are ‘Two men in altercation along Orchard Road’ and ‘Zouk opens doors at new home in Clarke Quay’, while the feature article expresses its highly debatable, profound opinions on ‘four nostalgic [soda] drinks making a comeback’. Clearly, Singapore is so tiny that a fight gives the parties involved internet fame over here on our sunny island.

To be perfectly honest, as long as we dutifully fulfil all that is expected of us as students, there is no real incentive to truly take a keen interest in issues around the world. Whether or not we derive enjoyment from global affairs, ultimately, is not quantifiable. Nor is anyone going to rob us of our opportunities to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer just because deep down, we don’t necessarily feel the way we do about global affairs as we communicate to the outside world. I know many who are perfectly content to remain in their blissful ignorance and I cannot change their perceptions towards news either. After all, I am, as a teenager, just the slightest bit jaded, a complete novice when it comes to most things that matter, but youthful and idealistic, and I’m still coming to terms with the idea that knowledge is power.

*a compulsory subject in Junior College (a form of pre-university education in Singapore) that deals with, obviously, current affairs

 

Note: As mentioned continuously in the beginning of the essay, I am extremely blessed to live in Singapore and this essay is in no way a criticism of the Singaporean education system, The Straits Times or Singaporean students themselves.

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Jack of all trades, Master of none.


29 Comments » for On Education
  1. farid Wakrim says:

    I’ve no doubt that you did a good essay.
    Maybe the conclusion wasn’t enough clear for me, but in general I found it great.

    Congratulations.

    • FIONA TAN says:

      thank you so much 🙂
      yes, I was afraid some of the sentences toward the end were too convoluted. I’ve since amended them!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi Fiona,

    No doubt a greatly pondered essay, although with numerous flaws. When you spoke of education, you mentioned that it was the kind of knowledge, or information that made people more “benevolent, passionate, insightful etc”. You then led on to speaking about how students in Singapore do not have time to pursue current affairs, as a link to them not having the time to pursue what they love.

    This is a rather jarring sequence of thought. What if students in Singapore don’t love catching up on current affairs, and this general dislike was independent of the time or opportunities they had to do so? What if the turmoil in the world with current affairs surrounding the great group of Putin, Trump, Duterte, Erdogan and Al Assad makes the majority of students more depressed and cynical with their world view (seeing as the world is becoming increasingly and seemingly inevitably cruel), as opposed to making them more “passionate, insightful and benevolent”? What if the TIME and Economist magazines have full page briefs on “Everything Surrounding the Conflict in Syria”? How does that compel a teenage reader to then want to find out even more, especially in a first world country that seems so greatly detached from said conflict?

    Additionally, I don’t quite understand how your (albeit short) elaboration on the Zouk conflict contributed anything meaningful to your essay. If anything, the side mention of “internet fame” detracted from the main point of current affairs (or was it education? Or was it the system? The clarity of the crucial point that this essay is meant to orbit around is missing,and therefore nullifies much of what I believe you intended to convey.) and was hugely confusing.

    Furthermore, the mention of the Straits Times described almost as a tabloid was appalling. Yes, Singapore does have it’s trashy moments, but you must know (as a secondary school student) that in order to draw a valid conclusion on any action, the same action must be done at least 3 times. If not, it is purely cherry-picking and cannot be taken for fact. Perhaps you could find a range of articles over a longer span of time (a few years), to back your argument up instead, to make it sound more convincing.

    I agree with Farid, that the conclusion wasn’t quite so clear. I was hoping after your slightly bewildering train of thought that you’d be able to tie everything up concisely, but we were instead left with trails of whatever you had left to think of, with a sweet punchline to wrap it all off, though it provided almost no closure at all. Perhaps it would help if you revised it with a greater conclusion with a summary of your points, as opposed to trying to introduce a sub-point in your last paragraph (on there being no incentive to pursue current affairs, although you do)

    I believe you meant to speak of the education system, and it’s lack of emphasis or facilitation towards current affairs, which you deem crucial (as shown in your final line, “knowledge is power”). This lack of facilitation is shown in schools not providing students with enough down time to cultivate an interest in current affairs themselves, and even if they did, the variety of news in the most widely read local newspaper doesn’t provide the level of mature news reporting that enables a high level of insightful opinion that you believe fits your paradigm of inculcating “passion, benevolence and insight”. If I did interpret your essay correctly, it is only because I assumed that you would err on the right side of the aforementioned corrections.

    Regardless, I hope you do well in this competition! Your potential shines through and it is obvious that this was an essay done passionately and with a personal touch. Keep writing. 🙂

    • FIONA TAN says:

      First of all, I must truly thank you for reading my essay with a critical eye and spending time and effort to convey my mistakes to me. I must admit, I don’t usually take kindly to criticism (and it actually being my first time writing such a controversial essay for the public eye, it means so much more) but I thoroughly enjoyed reading your criticisms.

      I do accept that my essay is largely flawed and hence will gladly accept most of your feedback, but I would like to point out two issues you mentioned and explain why I wrote it the way I did. (I think, past that, my attitude would come across as overbearing and overly defensive and that is not how I feel at all.)

      Firstly, about The Straits Times being portrayed almost like a tabloid, my reference to the three articles were searched the minute I finished typing ‘reported in the past hour’, and were the top articles from its Facebook page. A few weeks ago, my friend also texted me saying that 15 minutes were spent talking about washing machines during one of the 9pm news slots (but as I couldn’t verify that, I didn’t include it in). Also, with my past experiences with The Straits Times’ news on Facebook (and this has been going on for about 4 years), like you mentioned, it does not provide that level of mature news that I feel Singaporean students should be exposed to.

      The next thing is about my conclusion. I specifically wrote my conclusion that way (instead of the usual ‘In conclusion…’ + summary of points) to highlight my own weaknesses (a vulnerability, if you will), in the sense that I am, myself, fairly new to this process of knowledge-acquisition and thus wanted a deliberately-conveyed feeling of inferiority to experts, like yourself, who are far more qualified than I am to ponder upon these matters.

      Thank you so much again for all your feedback, which I greatly appreciate, and also thank you for using the ‘sandwich’ method of criticising — with compliments at the start and at the end, and the criticism in the middle. This made me feel quite blessed (in a warped way?) to know that my essay was taken seriously enough for you to deliver all these comments to me. 🙂

      • Bruce K says:

        I agree with Anonymous, that comparing The Straits Times to a tabloid, based on its posts on Facebook, really is appalling. Different forms of media are used to target different groups of the population, which is an argument for snappy captions and lighthearted news articles on social media platforms such as Facebook. However, The Straits Times is primarily a traditional PRINT newspaper, so your fixation with what they publish on their Facebook feed is both unfair and shortsighted in evaluating its usefulness as a form of journalism. A slightly more balanced (albeit hardly fair) critique would be to, at the very least, take a cursory glance at the front page of the actual newspaper. Perhaps you aren’t also aware that the 9pm news slot is probably not run by The Straits Times, but rather another news outlet. It is also not the business of The Straits Times or their Facebook page to educate Singaporean students – their target audience is Singaporeans in general – if students are looking to be educated they should approach educational institutions or their schools.

        As Anonymous mentioned, whether or not you intended to create a sense of inferiority to your reader, you still need to conclude properly; without a good thesis statement, it’s a bit difficult to decide what the essay was actually meant to argue but the title seems to suggest it should be about education rather than news reading.

  3. Bruce K says:

    Hi there,

    I generally do agree with you, having lived abroad for some time, that Singapore is definitely a great place to live (I know this is a common trope but really, where else can you, a young woman (not to be sexist), wave your phone and branded wallet around while bandying about alone at 2am with (little to) no fear of crazy drunks or run-of-the-mill thieves? After which, proceed to take a cab home for under $20. Not in London or NY certainly.).

    Education, as you defined it, is “the type that makes you more humane, more benevolent, more insightful, more passionate.” I see your point, but there is a slight snag. The Oxford Dictionary gives two definitions for education, neither of which carry quite the same meaning. Rather, they take the more conventional meaning of the word, which is “the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university”, and more specifically, “an education” being “an enlightening experience”. Perhaps you are referring instead to the acquisition of morals or virtues? Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but for the sake of accuracy… In any case, it is hardly the business of the government – through the education ministry which in turn governs the education system – to dictate morality, is it? Wouldn’t there be such an uproar if the government suddenly decided to teach kids what exactly is considered humane? Is euthanasia humane? Should bestiality and incest be humane? Does everything done benevolently deserve praise? If you kill a mass murderer to stop him potentially killing again, is that a good thing? Who gets to decide? Why should it be the government or the people who write the textbooks? Shouldn’t the teaching of morality be best left to parents, society, and the understanding that certain things are innate in human character and those that aren’t should be left to free choice?

    I take slight umbrage with your assertion that “the typical Singaporean student still has to maintain a decent social life, catch up with the latest celebrity news, engage in compulsory twice-weekly-on-average extracurricular activities, take up various leadership positions and occasionally participate in community service. Talk about a holistic education that leaves no time for acquisition of knowledge and insights out of the classroom!”

    Even by your definition, I would think that all the above examples are great places to discover knowledge and gain insights, to an inquiring mind, barring perhaps catching up with the latest celebrity gossip. Other than an insight into the insane amount of privilege so easily squandered by celebrities, a perspective you would be hard-pressed to find on the Daily Mail or TMZ, some things are truly just click bait and empty puffs. In fact, I put to you that even the occasional community service that you manage to haul yourself to, has a great influence in seeing how much privilege this education of yours affords you, how many people don’t have it, how many things you take for granted – access to newspapers and the internet for example.

    It is perfectly normal, I think, that teenagers between the ages of 16-18 don’t read the Economist. It is, even by industry standards, relatively technical and dry, and certainly not aimed at high school students. Refer to this link for more info. (http://www.ibtimes.com/audience-profiles-who-actually-reads-new-york-times-watches-fox-news-other-news-publications-1451828) While it is great that you do, I don’t think it is fair to criticise your peers for not having similar foresight, seeing as the topics covered have very little real-world applications for them – they are simply not affected by things like the situation in Aleppo, or Brexit, or Trump. These are all incredibly important things, but will it change whether they have to wake up at 6am tomorrow to go to school? No. The reality is, that’s kind of all that matters at the moment.

    I think this essay is a relatively stale rehashing of the usual points; a listing, if you will, of the oft-discussed pros and cons of Singapore, lacking careful consideration. A great GP essay probably, but doesn’t add much value, unless, I suppose, you’re a foreigner directed here after reading about Singapore’s great scoring on the latest PISA tests. Ironically, I think you have proved, to me at least, that the word “education” carries so much weight in Singapore, that entire essays can be written with the content from the average coffeeshop uncle’s conversation over a round of kopi or beer.

    • FIONA TAN says:

      Thank you for your feedback. I value these remarks more than I do the competition as well as the effort and time that you’ve taken to comment on my essay. I will certainly strive to make my writing better in the future.

  4. FIONA TAN says:

    Thank you so much for your response. However, I’m not an aspiring writer so I probably will not be writing subsequent articles. Will let you know if I do! 🙂

  5. FIONA TAN says:

    Thank you for your support 🙂

  6. FIONA TAN says:

    Oh my, this is the first time someone has expressed this issue to me. Perhaps you would like to use chrome or another PC to read the essay? Thank you for your support in any case 🙂

  7. FIONA TAN says:

    Sure that’s perfect! Thank you for the support 🙂

  8. Adinda Iffa Wardhany Saputra says:

    This a really good essay 🙂

  9. FIONA TAN says:

    hi all, thanks for the support. I’ve received a couple of questions/comments that keep repeating themselves so I shall address them here.

    1) this is not my blog, so I will not be posting other essays on this site.
    2) the image used with the essay was taken by myself, so there was no copyright infringement.
    3) feel free to share this essay with any groups. I would be glad for more people to see this!

    once again, thank you for taking the time to view my essay. hope you have a great day 🙂

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