Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Specialised Talents" surviving in today's society? Just some thoughts...

Read the article in the Straits Times a couple of weeks ago about a former champion gymnast, Zhang Shangwu was caught buskering at the busy metro station in Beijing. It caught the attention of the media because the police 'chased' him away.

Another online report by the "" also reported about this: The unpromising athlete

In fact, I think this piece of news reinforces the common belief that one could not rely on "specialised" talents to earn a living. This does not just happen in sports, but also other areas like music or art. Perhaps it's a socio-perception? Maybe yes. Maybe no.

{Before you read further, I need to put down a disclaimer that I am writing with a set of assumptions... and of course, my possible ignorance of the actual facts... these are just personal views (that could be bias) in the absence of possible facts available}

For a long time, we know that 'big' countries like China and Russia made lots of 'investments' in terms of sports area. From a documentary that I watched (long long ago), little children were identified to be developed to become world class athletes! Since young, they went through tough training and there were numerous selection stages. It's basically training all day and all night long, and nothing else. As such, these athletes were not exposed to other things like formal education in schools. This was basically a very dear price to pay.

Of course, one might say, these athletes were trained to materialise their dreams! (in fact, I wonder, whose dream?); they might add that if they emerged to the top athletes, big money and fame would follow! (being in such a competitive environment, what's the success rate - for one to emerge amongst the tops?). For those who struggled but did not met with any success, then what's next? They would just 'return' to the society like just any unskilled (apart from the sports they know) individuals, just like a grain of sand at the beach. What high price to pay!

Even for those who emerge as world class athletes, how many sustain and lead good living after their retirement. I think this was the point that the report attempted to bring out. Many of us would think they could end up as coaches... nevertheless, how many would be engaged as one - I think, not many.

This is, in fact a serious issue to look into. China athletes are 'faraway'... how about our locals star athletes? 
Where are they?  One classic case was Mr Tan Howe Liang, who won the very first Olympics medal for the nation. Sometime ago, it was reported in papers about his not so smooth journey after the peak of his career.

I guess that's also one of the reasons why many parents are reluctant to let their children devote their entire life (children & adolescent) in sports unless uncompromised attention is also given to their academic well-being.

Thinking about Thinking Questions...

I admit, in the system that I was familiar with, be it in my school days or in my earlier years of teaching (ok, back to my previous context), there were lots of emphasis in the content and skill acquisition. Be it in Mathematics or Science subjects. "Drill and Practice" is a dirty word! It was the 'antiode' to good performance! It's a 'guaranteed' way of the getting to the top of the ranking, which many educators believe, not just the past, but also amongst the many today.

I might have dreamt my way through the many years of education, I still remember very clearly my very first encounter of a question in a major exam that required me to think 'out-of-the-box' and see something quite different (in those days when I was still a student). It was a Maths question - pattern observation followed by generalisation to come up with an algebraic expression. It's the first time I saw a 'context' outside Mathematics. I saw organic compounds (structures) appeared in the Maths paper. Still remember very clearly, CH4, CH6... the series... of course, it's a breeze since we saw that in Chemistry. But it was an enlightening encounter when I saw the cross-subject application! Under the exam condition, definitely, it required me to think beyond, especially when it went beyond just the simple organic series!

My second encounter was the "A" level Chemistry question that got to do with the manufacturing of a certain compound in the industrial context, which deviate from (or I should say, built on) what we learnt in the lecture.

Well, 'thinking questions' is actually not new in the Singapore Mathematics curriculum. However, it's many a time 'confined' to "Problem Solving (Hueristics)" type of questions. Many a time, skills are tested - procedural skills, application; rather than conceptual understanding.

Came across an assessment paper recently. There was a heavy emphasis on Algebra that constituted about 3/4 of the questions. Almost 50% of the weightage of these questions focused on procedural skills, to some extent, was testing the candidate the similar skills but disguised in the form of complexity in questions.

Do such questions reflect what the environment tried to encourage - conceptual thinking and understanding, hence application? Or does this only happen in classroom discussion, but reverting back to the 'old school' thinking and practices? Aren't we sending different messages? Are we aligning our practices?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Stretching & Extending our Threshold

A check at shows that the word "threshold" has the following meaning...
1. called: doorsill a sill, esp one made of stone or hardwood, placed at a doorway
2. any doorway or entrance
3. the starting point of an experience, event, or venture: on the threshold of manhood
4. psychol absolute threshold Compare difference threshold the strength at which a stimulus is just perceived: the threshold of consciousness
5. a. a level or point at which something would happen, would cease to happen, or would take effect, become true, etc
b. (as modifier): threshold price; threshold effect
6. a. the minimum intensity or value of a signal, etc, that will produce a response or specified effect: a frequency threshold
b. (as modifier): a threshold current
7. (modifier) designating or relating to a pay agreement, clause, etc, that raises wages to compensate for increases in the cost of living

No day is a good day, no week is a good week...
Hahaha.. This sounds so common... especially when someone asked, how's your day? Well sometimes people would ask me: "How are you? In a new school. How's life?" The standard or a more diplomatic reply would be "Well, it all depends on which time of the year you ask this question."


Let's do a comparison... if someone asked me to count your bad hair days and you are able to name it, not too bad (although it's bad enough to have a day named as "bad hair day"). It also comes with an assumption that those we are unable to count is considered reasonably ok... and sometimes very bright days! On the other hand, if you were asked if could name your good sunny days and you are able to easily identify and name it... what could one infer about the rest of the days? Hm... Interesting, isn't it?

Days do not get longer... it's still that 24 hours in a day. However, with more and more work added, with more and more "strange" things happening around us that we need to manage, it seems like each day becomes more compact. As a result, sometimes we don't even have the time to think of taking a break.

Here, let's revisit the times when we could take a short break to ponder... and compare with those days that we zoom in and out, from one place to another... so, which is the time/ instance that we are optimising our capacity? In those 'bad hair days' when we are occupied for almost every minute and every second???

So, aren't those 'bad hair days' that our threshold is being tested? How much can we "take in" for the day... in terms of work, ambiguities, reactions and even nonsense around us? There are times that I cried aloud, "I want to skip the day!", "I want to skip the week!". Those were the days when my days were loaded with so many items that I could not even count! While each of the items are countable, it's sometimes the psychological effect that create a bigger impact on us!

Of course, that also includes times when we can't figure out why do we have to do certain things? Why did we choose to do certain thing? After accepting our own reasoning on the purpose, the next thing that we would us is, "Is it really worthwhile to do this?", "Is the price too high to pay?", "To what extent we know there's Return of Investment?". Hm... I think this is not self-doubt, but it's clarifying on the 'reality' ground. Each time we go through this and we decide to go ahead because the value of doing it overcomes the challenge and stress, I guess, there's where we stretch our threshold further. It's the will and determination, I believe.

Apart from looking at "we", there are also other players in the field that "help" us to test and extend our threshold, in particular, patience. It appears in many forms... and of course, things that they do to frustrate us. What are our reactions? At the spur of the moment, sometimes we would really want to strangle them... on the other hand, if we could manage the nonsense calmly... I guess it means it had not hit our boiling point... Yes, it sounds like threshold also refers to patience... how much we have... and it's really up to the point that we lost our patience...

In a recent facebook post that I asked for the measure of patience, I got several responses...
  • ‎1 min=1 headless chicken
  • Measured scientifically by the number of people you did NOT strangle.
  • By the number of pple tat hv left the organisation...or are planning to leave!
  • Wah! Headless chicken? Interesting. By age? The older u are the more patience. 
  • It depends on who it is... To a Buddha, patience is probably eternal. To an attention deficient hyperactivity disorder person, i think, he/she has zero tolerance... Apart from personality, it depends on where u stand on the continuum of patience too! I suppose a proactive person will not allow anything 2make him/her 2b a victim to a person or situation to test his/her patience but will instead strategize to manage & sometimes remove d source that is testing his/her patience. For me, if I hate mossies buzzin around me, I will either wear an insect repellant b4 going on a walk then I don't hv react to their buzzing & biting me or I choose not to go where mossies will test my patience or haha! if got loads of €£¥$, i'll go fumigate d area 1st! Lol

Up to this stage of writing, the term "threshold" focused largely on the individuals... but I think one of the responses pointed out the need to look at "organisational threshold" too! What a foreign entity is introduced to a system, it would sure cause some 'waves'... however, if such 'waves' remain unsettled for a long while and the other entities in the system don't seem to be able to accept its presence in the system, effort has to be put in to achieve stability. When it goes beyond the threshold limit, disintegration could be the next...

1st Time @ Marina Bay Sands...

It's the first time came to Marina Bay Sands... since its opening at the beginning of the year. I had this impression that it's not quite accessible, being on an 'island' on its own, there's no MRT station on this little island. Some walking is necessary, if not would be the bus.

That was also why I had postponed thoughts of watching performances at the theatres housed on this island! Of course, that would mean I might miss out some good productions!

Well, at last, bought a ticket for the "Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber"... as a good reward for myself, a timely one after so many weeks of hardwork and stress :)

I was careful enough to set aside 2 hours for the navigation & settling down. I thought instructions from the MBS website was pretty comprehensive... nevertheless, because I followed the instructions from the website instead of the direct signs put up in the MRT station, I took an extra 5 minutes to find the right exit to catch the bus. Well, 3 buses from the bus-stop... pretty convenient if we do not wish to subject ourselves to the afternoon sun. The building was huge! and it's separated from the hotel building. So, the casino, shopping mall and the theatres are all under one roof... pretty of walking... but I think it's not that difficult to get there :)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

It's Saturday morning

I live on the 11th floor.

In a weekday, usually, by the time I reach home it's already pitch dark... so, seldom look out to see what's happening around although my window faces the open space in front of my flat. Moreover, when it's evening, the window would be closed as the air conditioner starts to 'work'.

There's construction work going on in front of my flat. Oh yes, a 'new barrier' going to sit between my flat and Tampines Junior College. Can't remember how long since... hm... more than 6 months already, definitely. It's quite rare that I would sit in front of the window with a relax mind... to see what's happening out there.

The morning wind is cool... to some extent, icy?
At 8.10 am, the surrounding seems to be exceptionally quiet... seems like many are still in dreamland (though it's only a Saturday morning).
The wind also brings crystal clear instructions that the supervisor gave to the construction workers all the way at the ground floor to my ears... that's amazing, isn't it? Could very clearly hear the instructions right from telling them the danger of standing near the excavator to managing the cables.

The foundation work is more or less done... very quickly, will see the blocks coming up and the JC will be out-of-sight soon.

Apart from the "mega" project right in front of my flat, there's another "mini" project just happening at my door step! Oh yes, it's installing a new lift right outside my unit! Wow! So convenient, right? Actually, I just wonder... how's the traffic going to be like... hm... and probably the noise, when it starts its operation...