Sunday, October 09, 2011

Ideal Schooling is about....(?)

The Straits Times 2011, Oct 8 (My Point, pA45)

On the paper: "The day will come when parents will send their children to the school nearest to their homes because all schools are good."

I think there are 2 parts to this comment, one key idea that builds on one key phrase.

If "schools are good", it would make no difference where the child studies (is it going to be true?), then the next thing is to look into the "well being" of the kid - to minimise the travel so that more time is channelled into more (presumably) purposeful and meaningful activities... (Hm... ok, I'm making some assumptions to arrive at the reason behind).

On the other hand, would parents send their children to faraway schools because those schools are 'better'. Is it because they have no better choices? Hm... probably the nearby schools are "no good" (in their eyes)? Hm... definitely we do have parents who think like this!
  • Every morning at around 6 am, my neighbour would see her son to the main road to wait for the school bus that would ferry him from the Tampines home to ACS Bakar! 
  • Look around the "prestigous" schools, every morning cars from all over the island would converge at the school gate! 
  • One of my colleagues even said the back of her car is the 'changing room' for her daughter every morning! 
  • In the 6.20 am train departing Tampines for the west, it's not difficult to find students who don uniforms of schools like RI and CGS, of course, nearer would be VS, TKGS and DHS! 
Why do so many kids have to "travel" to schools faraway from home?
The idea of "every school being a school" was something highlighted by our Minister of Education in the recent Work Plan seminar, for improved quality in our present education system. On the other hand, I also wonder, is it a move to 'equalising' more schools? I recall reading an education-related article that mentioned something like "there is no failing school in Singapore" many many years ago (was that mentioned by then Prime Minister Goh?).

All schools in Singapore (maybe we need to quantify that schools under the Ministry of Education) provides education of a reasonable quality. There is definitely an "unwritten" 'baseline' that all schools strive to go above. Various measures and policies in place to ensure there is a common base for all. There's appraisal system in place by the MOE to "assess" where the schools are, ensuring they make it to the minimum mark (ok... it doesn't say that, it's a reality check for many, especially when an external party comes in to see-see-look-look).

Many say, Singapore is 'so' small... and being 'small' is an added advantage to manage quality. Hm... well, I think this thinking has somehow undermine the effort to put in to esnsure this positive outcome that is admired and 'dreamt about' by many. Being small doesn't mean it's always good. Systems have to be in place to ensure it delivers what's expected.

While schools are granted the 'base' for resources, once they are deployed to schools, given the envrionment and many other factors, these resources start to 'evolved', many a time, people is the key to this evolution. Put it across simply, there's where some schools raised to the rank of "good" schools while some 'fall behind" and more often than not, we call them neighbourhood schools! (Though neighbourhood schools, literally refers to schools situated within neighbourhoods!).

For every school is a good school would mean all schools adopting the same approach? I wonder. Then would we be getting 'clone' schools? Hm... What's the first thing that the public would use to check if a school has measure up to be a "good school"? Hm... Academic results! That's the most tangible and easiest to do! In the first place, that already differentiates schools because of the students 'enrolled' there! Would a school that has consistently made up of the larger group of "lower ability" students get the chance to change/ reverse the situation? Hm... There's this "value-added" award in place to show how these schools have made a difference to children's learning. To the schools, it matters as it's a recognition of the effort (and effectiveness in its approach) put in to value-add the child's development. On the other hand, does it really matter to parents? How many parents really think deeper than 'results at the surface' (i.e. to look at the processes and mechanics behind the success stories) and they started looking for schools for their children? I wonder.

So, what exactly defines a good school? While we were in the schooling age, one key consideration of the school is, it should be nearby. But what's important was, a school that "children will not learn to become bad" (translated literally “不会学坏”). So, the basis of good education is "character and value".  I think this has not changed over time... and in fact, it has been re-emphasized by our new Education Minister. Irregardless of  economic status, I believe all parents want their children to have good moral values, and the school environment were children spend most of the time there is critical. This goes back to the story of “孟母三迁”. All schools emphasize on character and values, as that decides who we are. However, I guess many a time, parents forget that that character education begins from home. Children bring the values they have (learnt from home) to schools!

So, after "beating around the bush", what makes a good school?