What Could Singaporeans Teach Americans About Public Schools?

September 30th, 2009 Posted by General No Comment yet

The product of a good education has to do more with the inherent system than the caliber of the individual students.  A good system will in the end turn out more good students.  A bad or poorly designed system creates an imbalance and can cause much disruption in society, producing far more academically under-performing students.

I’m fortunate to have a daily opportunity to talk to my wife.  We can talk and discuss about anything under the sky.  One of the topics was the differences in our education. I was educated in the States and she was educated in Singapore.  I was a mediocre student at best while she was top of her class at worst.  I had a wonderful childhood as many did in the America’s suburbia, typical but perhaps much less diverse than most those who grew up in big cities.  She had, in my perspective, a more challenging childhood in that she had to actually study and takes comprehensive examinations every few months since her first grade.  I don’t even know what a comprehensive exam was until I was much older – SAT in high school.

Singapore is among the world’s best in terms of educating its youth.  I lived in Singapore for several years and I had a chance to explore – yet back then in 1995, I was young, and I didn’t really think all that much about anything.  Now, with time on my hands, I like to share a few thoughts my wife and I were discussing this morning at breakfast:  Why is Singapore’s education system so much better in producing academically advanced students? I have come across so many Singaporeans who are way more superior in academic skills than their peers in the States. My argument is that as a system, Singapore promotes academic challenges.  Students in Singapore grew up with a sense of belonging and being a part of the education system, almost like being in a big community. In other words, it matters to do well in school.

I grew up in Utah, the west side of the city.  The locals call it West Valley City.  Now, it is perhaps considered the worst part of the city.  My family’s root still runs deep in the neighborhood.  Perhaps, home is where you grew up and no matter who tells you differently, they are, to us, just outsiders’ opinion.  I don’t think my life is so different than most new immigrants in America.  Most of my family members came from Vietnam, a few younger members were born here.  Many years ago most of us who were born in Vietnam got naturalized to become Americans.  My parents would never consider moving back to Vietnam even now when the homeland is vastly different.  Many of my friends went back to Vietnam and saw a new life of opportunity and wealth, while all my folks can see is oppression.  The saying is, “There is no place like America”.

I never really took part in school other than to attend classes – it was just a place for me to go during the day.  Learning wasn’t a fascination for me.  I didn’t really fit in.  I had friends but they seemed to be involved in gossips and busy “hanging out”.  What is hanging out?  I thought the whole concept of hanging out was so boring.  What do you do?  My friends knew that I wasn’t interested in anything other than perhaps a game of basketball or football.  I love to play basketball or football as it allowed me an opportunity to channel my aggression.  I was never asked to hangout in high school and I never wanted to.

Upon reflection and this morning discussion, I realized that perhaps the product of my education had more to do with the education system I was a part of.  Thinking about it, I really do believe our education system wasn’t complete, you know.  At best, our education system in the US was only a supplementary or an annex to our families.  Family had more of an influence than the school system.  If you have wonderful family support and understanding of the importance of an education, you will do well.  If however, your family doesn’t think too highly of having an education or does not get involved in your education, you are likely to not do very well in school.  There are exceptions of course.  I’m generalizing here.

The elementary years of my education were interesting and fun.  Every year I was assigned a teacher and I had a classroom.  I was in Ms. Brown’s class in 5th grade and Mr. Gertino’s class in 6th grade.  One teacher taught all kinds of subjects.  I had friends and I tried my best to get along.  I have to say I had a sense that I belong in school.  However, by junior high, I no longer had a classroom to go to.  I had a home room where in the morning, I met my home room teacher and fellow classmates for a short time and then off we all go to our separate classes attending different subjects.  I can hardly recall but by high school, it was just going to different classes, no more home room.

Thinking about this topic and examining it in brief makes it clearer to me now, many years later, what was going on back then.  I really do think that most of our education experiences dealt with trying to make friends and be a part of the community.  It is perhaps with this understanding that led me to think back why there were so many divisions in junior high and high school.  It was much less about going to school for an education as it was to be a part of a clique.

If you could only see my school in my youth – the Asian kids hung out together. The Mexican kids had their own things.  There were cool kids and the smart kids – there were so many different groups of kids.  It was amazing that I didn’t pick this up till now.  I didn’t go to school for any reason other than the fact that I had to.  However, I did learn a lot, come to think about it, but it wasn’t the intent, I guess. I was an awkward kid who didn’t belong.  I suspect that I wasn’t the only one.  That is why I would argue that our education system created many outcasts.  I had a lot of time and could easily fall prey to gangs and mischief.

Contrast to my experience, my wife had a very different learning environment.  During the elementary years, she was assigned to a classroom.  She and her classmates had responsibilities and took pride in keeping their room clean.  It was the students’ room.  Different teachers taught different subjects throughout the day in their classroom.  They were free to post and semi-free to decorate their room.  All the kids knew each other and didn’t spend that much time trying to make and kept friends.  They were all friends.  It was that way in junior high as well.  It was only in the last two years in high school where they didn’t have a room.  However, there were fewer subjects taught, so most of her friends continued to attend the same classes.

It dawn on me that our education system while good provided too many distractions.   Upon pondering on the differences, I really do think that we have a very good education system but that we definitely could use a few inspirations from Singapore.  The first thing we should do is to rethink about the concept of a community within a school.  Students shouldn’t have to compete for attention and social status.  School should be a place for academic learning, a nurturing institution for developing young minds, a faculty to preside over athletic achievements and a foundation for productive character development.

In conclusion, I believe that from the elementary years to pre-college.  Students should wear school uniforms.  Students should be assigned their own classrooms.  If spaces are limited, then more students should share a room.  Teachers should also have their own offices.  As a student advance in age and academic level, he or she is assigned a smaller room or share with fewer students until upon reaching college. With these two changes, students would be a part of a more integral system. What do you think?  If you are reading this and you feel that you can contribute to the discussion, please post your comments below.  Thank you.

Copyright 2009 by fartingcamel.com

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