Recently, I read an article titled “Universal rankings: A need for critical reflection” in the Today newspaper. The writer was sharing his views on Singapore’s university ranking system, the flaws of ranking and the roles of universities in today’s context. You can read the full article here. I will be sharing my thoughts on school rankings in general and its repercussions. This article somehow came in line because when i was in my recent reservist training, I had a chat with a Junior College English teacher and he shared with me about this topic on school rankings and the education system here.
Just some background about me. I came from a mainstream primary and secondary school. I did just nice to get into Junior College but I chose the polytechnic route to study I.T. I was born in the era where our parents placed very strong emphasis on the school rankings. I remembered during the 90s, there was a piece of paper given to our parents stating the rankings of the secondary schools in Singapore. At that time, when I first saw this ranking system, I asked my parents, the top ranked secondary school has the best teachers? The answer to me was a yes. For me, i vaguely remembered that the secondary school that i chose was ranked about 20 -30 in Singapore. Probably my PSLE results was not good enough to go to better schools.
All through out my studying years from primary school to secondary school, we were taught by our teachers to memorize textbooks. The kind of teaching that I received was a one way traffic. You can never argue and win against the teachers. Fast forward till today, I think I am a super left brain trained person who is probably utilizing a meagre 2 percent of my right brain for creativity thinking.
What are my thoughts on school rankings in Singapore?
Recently I was back for my reservist and I met a Junior College teacher. I asked him this question, “I understand that MOE has started not to publish the secondary and junior college rankings but what is the reaction on the ground from the parents on this issue?” His answer to me was this “You can never get rid of the stigma for school rankings, at least not for the next 15 years. This issue on school rankings has been there for the last 30 years and been ingrained in us that top schools have the best teachers. Of course to a certain extent, good teachers want to teach in top schools but nowadays teaching is no longer only about academic results. A good teacher may not be able to impart values to the students. Stuff like character building and life changing values has to be taught to the students also. The role of teachers have changed dramatically over the years. Parents rely a lot on the teachers to teach values to their kids.”
I also felt the same, school rankings is hard to get rid off. It is not an overnight thing. Because of this school ranking issue, Singaporeans are missing out on the whole point of education. Holistic education is not purely focused on academic results. Of course we have seen school drop-outs that became famous entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates. I am not asking you to get your kids to quit school immediately and start your own business. Please do not get me wrong. I am just trying to emphasize on the point that education should be a mixture of academic results, character, creativity, social, mental and physical development. When your kid goes to a school, he is not a lone ranger in studying, He learns to mix around and interact with others. This develops his social skills. In the midst of this, when he studies with the rest of his friends in class, he gains academic knowledge and he learns from others what to do and what not to do. If you have a school ranking lingering behind your back, the teacher’s focus will be purely to get top grades because if you do not get the top grades, the ranking will drop and this might affect the teacher’s career advancement. Well it’s a very practical world out there.
I like what the author of the above mentioned article said “The real danger of rankings, however, lies not so much in their methodological flaws, but the uses to which they are put. They are widely publicized in the media and give the general public and policymakers the illusion of objective evaluation of the standing of public universities. Public pressure on universities thus results in what social scientists characterize as “perverse incentives” to improve an institution’s performance on proxy indicators, rather than to consider wider visions of what a university might be. This can be applied to a university or a secondary school. As long as the ranking system still psychologically exists in the educator’s and parents mind. There will always be some repercussions. Schools will never be able to fulfill it’s potential which is to provide an all rounded education for the kids that attend it.
The roles of the higher learning institutes such as the universities and polytechnics have changed a lot over the last few years. There have been a lot of emphasis on creative learning and e-learning. I think this is a good move by the government but we are still lagging behind our Australian and US counterparts in this area. That probably explains why parents if they had the money, would rather send their kids for overseas studies. We do have many traditionalist lecturers that still focus on “downloading” information into the student’s brains. I believe parents do have a part to play in this area. Many at times, we are worried that if our kids do not get top grades, we will lose out in life. Because of this thinking, the parents in turn pressure the teachers/lecturers to make sure that the students turn up to be top students. Even if the schools were to promote holistic education, but due to the parents pressure, the principals and teachers have no choice but to concentrate fully on making sure the students get top grades.
After reading this, you might be asking, what kind of parent am I? Well…I believe in an all-rounded education. Grades are not everything. Being in the most popular course in university that can earns the most money out there in the workforce is not everything too. Reuben does not need to be the top person in the classroom. There can only be one top person, how can everyone be number 1? Kids need to learn how to accept being not always at the top. However to emphasise my point, I do believe that education is important. Knowledge is power. Without education, the kid grows up being ignorant of things. However, I hope that the methods use to deliver the education to Reuben will change by the time he enters primary school. I believe in developing Reuben’s physical, social and mental well being. I also believe in preparing him for creativity thinking, so that explains my previous blog post on Right Brain education. To all the the kiasu parents out there, sometimes pressurizing the kids to be always at the top is not the ideal thing to do. What if they enter the work force one day and then they realize they have to start from bottom and work their way up, will they be able to accept this? Habits formed in their childhood will have a lasting impact on them when they grow up.
In conclusion, I am not the perfect parent and there is no such thing as the perfect parent. I am always exploring ways on how to bring up my kid to the best I can. I hope my insight on this issue on school rankings and education would set you guys thinking on the education issues that we face today. Do feel free to leave a comment on my blog?