Saturday, 27 July 2013

Elitism at its worst

Every year this time, voices on the internet would grow ferociously loud and letters about an all-important issue would find their way onto The Straits Times' forum page.

Yes, it's about the 'imperfect' system of Primary One registration.

But what I find disgusting and intolerable is these voices would screech, repetitively, about how 'unfair' and 'elitist' a particular phase is - yes, you guessed it. It's phase 2A, the alumni phase.

These are the allegations against the phase:

- It is elitist as the children of the alumni get to enter the school through nil merit, and the alumni who had benefitted from the school continue to benefit from it by having their children studying in the same school as themselves.

- It is unfair as the takeup rate at this phase is the greatest and it leaves very few vacancies to the remaining phases.

- It is elitist because those schools are popular schools and incidentally, top schools, and children whose parents without connections to the schools have little chance to enter the schools.

- It is unfair because the majority of the alumni do nothing for the their alma maters for so many years and only turn up during P1 registration to enrol their children into the schools.

- It is elitist as it cuts the majority of the population away from these schools and only the alumni get to enjoy the schools.

- Children who live far away from the schools are the cause of air pollution and do a lot of harm to the environment because most of the alumni live more than 2km outside the schools and parents send their offsprings to schools in - heaven forbid, cars!

- The alumni's children are deprived of sleep because their parents make them wake up at 5am to go to their alma maters.

- It is elitist. Period.

- It is unfair. Full-stop.

In truth, the most elitist people are these people who voice incessantly, untiringly to champion for a change in the system, to oust the alumni who do not live within the schools' radius from the phase.

They sound as if they are championing for the good of the majority. The fact is, they are the minority who seethe with utter jealousy at the juicy grapes that are out of their reach.

Their argument is that distance priority is the most logical and fairest way to allocate seats in a school. But we all know what kind of financial standing it takes for one to buy houses or flats near popular schools. I shudder to think that the seats in popular schools get taken up by just the rich and the very rich simply because they can afford to live near those schools.

By emphasising 'logical' and 'fairest' reasons (read: distance, distance and distance), I can't help but feel that these people are the typical product of the Singapore education system who only look at statistics and logic and nothing else.

They dismiss the values and sentimental reasons quoted by the many alumni. They scoff,"You mean your warm fuzzy feeling at seeing your child going to the same school as you did entitles your child a place at these (popular) schools?"

They don't understand that there are things that can't be bought by money. They have to put a number or monetary value to everything in life. They don't understand what memories can offer you. They think that the whole world revolves around money and anything and everything that doesn't have economic value should go.

I stopped arguing with these people because I realised that these people don't even have principles.

One speaks against the alumni phase when he has the intention of sending his son, if he has any in the future, to his 'very popular alma mater in Bishan', via the alumni phase. The other speaks against the parent volunteer phase when he himself got his children into his school of choice through the very mean he is now against.

I am disgusted.

If you hate this phase's guts, at least have some backbone and don't join in the evildoing (if that's how you perceive it).

And the lame reason such people would give would be,"Well, what can we do? This is how the system works."


These will be the same people who will champion for the alumni phase when their grandchildren need it, since their children are now in these popular schools. And they will cook up some cock-and-bull to rationalise why the alumni phase should stay in such a way that it benefits them, like giving the alumni who live within the school radius priority (because they themselves live within the school radius).

These people live in their own world and imagine that the alumni are meek, timid people who allow them to push over. I would like to see if there really is a tweak to the alumni phase, what kind of people would speak up against it. And how many of the alumni would rise up and beat these noise-making machines to a pulp.

However, honestly, I doubt these noise would be taken seriously.  I used to be worried, until I also looked at the statistics: every year, the popular schools produce at least 250 alumni each. You are talking about generations of alumni here. A 70-year-old school would have at least 12, 000 to 17, 500 alumni. And most popular schools have at least 70 years of history.

I haven't even started to rebuttal the points listed in the quest for outright elitism that's perpetuated by distance priority.

Besides, the schools are popular now because of the alumni. It's due to the stellar results of the alumni that these schools become choice schools for the non-alumni. Oh, these people would argue that it is the teachers that make the difference. Yeah, the same teachers teach for 50 years in these schools and continue to produce students who in turn produce stellar results.

What I find ludicrous is: they call the noise they make on a forum 'furore'.

If you look at the ones making the noise, they are the same few people repeating, repackaging, rephrasing their age-old argument of 'distance is the most logical and fairest way to allocate priority' over and over again.

Yes, my child benefitted from the alumni phase. And I dare say that even if she did not, I would still support this phase which does not have a cap on the number of alumni who register, because this phase is just about the only phase that does not look at how much money you have, what kind of flat or house you live in, what job you hold and what social status you have. And it is by the virtue of the alumni that these schools gain country-wide recognition on their excellence. Such history is built up over many years and generations. No amount of money can buy that.

The parents who view the alumni phase as 'unfair', 'unjust', 'elitist' and so on are parents who did parent-volunteer work. Some got in, a few did not.

Apparently, they must have been disgruntled at the fact that they needed to put in 40 hours of free labour even though they live within 1km or 2km of the schools, just so that they could have a chance at getting into the schools, so they wanted revenge.

Just because you have the money to buy expensive flats or houses near those schools entitles your child to have a place in the school?

That's elitism at its worst.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

What's up with kindy these days?

I have been busy - busy with what - I am also not sure. But I have been tired. Physically, mentally tired.

I do get to come home much earlier compared to when I was in my previous school, but I would lounge my body on the couch and stare at the box that would never reject me.

I have to admit that I am not as enthusiastic in coaching Baby compared to Coco when she was young, but then again, Coco didn't have 听写or spelling when she was in K1.

I think deep down inside, I am still repulsed by the idea of making 4- and 5-year-olds write so hard and so much. My idea of a pre-school education is one without writing, but lots of story-telling, listening, playing, drawing and basically doing what the kid really likes, which Coco was given ample space and time to.

But Baby has homework that involves writing of multiple-stroke characters like 青草,树木 which come together as one set of worksheets. Not just Chinese. English too. Asking them to write words like 'stump' for penmanship? Hello?

They are just babies really.

They can't even hold a pencil properly and you're making them write characters more complex than what I was writing at primary one and words I only know when I was in secondary school.

I know police wore shorts last time, but how different can the development of motor and cognitive skills of children from different eras be?

I am no child psychologist but instincts tell me that what we are doing now is forcing the young plants to grow by pulling them up to make them look like they have grown a few inches every day. It was still acceptable at Nursery level, but I find it quite overwhelming and disillusioning at K1. I feel like screaming,"My baby is only 4 years old! Stop forcing her to write, write and write!"

When I heard that a PCF kindergarten was getting the kids to learn '葡萄' for Chinese spelling, I already found it ridiculous, incomprehensible,"What are these people thinking?!!" I thought it would never happen to my own baby. But it seems she is on the way to write such words for penmanship.

I don't know what the rush is. I hate to sound like a broken record, but we learnt 人,口,手 at Primary One and we turn out fine - more than fine in fact. And I don't remember so many children hating Chinese. I might hate Chinese too if I were a child today.

I think I am getting disillusioned with pre-school education and that's why the angst. I had enrolled Baby into a church kindergarten so that she could enjoy what her sister enjoyed - learning to sing gospel songs and love God with a simple heart while studying in a not-so-academically-driven kindergarten that focuses more on reading and story-telling.

I get very upset when I realise it is not as what I had imagined.

While I may appear to focus a lot on the academics at primary school level since this is the time to build discipline and expectations, I don't believe that children at 4 and 5 years old should be sitting down for an hour, or even half an hour to do penmanship. That's like a corporal punishment for them. Children that young are made to play, and play they should!

Of course, I understand that this is the trickling-down effect of the primary school education system. Since Primary One demands a rather high level of reading and writing ability, we trickle it down to kindergarten, so that they start to write compositions at K2 (I am not kidding!). Since at K2, they start writing compositions, they have to start writing enough vocabulary at K1.

I know that the effect is irreversible. I just wish something can be done about it.

Haven't been blogging

... because a supposedly civil online exchange in a forum turned ugly when the other party became unscrupulous and started calling me names when his arguments did not hold water.

And he attacked me on a personal basis by apparently searching for my posts in the forum to find out which schools my kid went or goes to.

I also suspect, with good reasons, that he reads my blog.

A sense of vulnerability seized me, making me feel foolish to expose myself to such underhanded methods of attack.

I just didn't want to share what happened and how I felt for that period.