Friday, December 17, 2010

Singapore education experience

It has been sometime since I left the Singapore education system. My experience? Well, it is really a mixed bag of feelings. I treasure some of the best memories from my schooling days and yet also experienced some of my worst nightmares from it. But to sum it all up in one posting perhaps does not do justice to 16 years spent under the Singapore education system. However, I will try.

I shall not count my kindergarten days as part of the sixteen years. After all, this phase of my schooling was not really compulsory. But as both parents were working, and also because it is the norm for kids to attend some kind of class before formal education truly begins, I was enrolled into kindergarten. To think of it, I do not remember much of my kindergarten except the place and the person who I attended it with. It was located some distance away from my house but near enough to my mum's workplace so that she could pick me up after work. A babysitter would pick me up after lessons and I would eat lunch at the place followed by a really boring wait for my mum to end work and pick me was that boring I remember. There were no toys there and I literally whittled my afternoons away just sitting at the living room all by myself.

That perhaps explains a lot about my personality now that I think of it. I like my own free time and quiet space. Now I know where this habit came from!

Seriously, I do not remember much about kindergarten or what I did or learnt. I guessed I must have learnt something useful but then again I am not sure. All I remember were the recesses,the sports days, birthday celebrations, having to sit cross-legged on the cement floor.. There were no air-conditioned classrooms then so u can imagine how uncomfortable it got.

Fast forward to primary school.

I seriously was blur during my primary school days. For the first year, I literally did not know things like homework were meant to be completed and that the spelling lists was meant to be revised. I failed my spelling tests horribly and then only realized that the list of words the teacher had given out days before were the words she was reading out loud in front of class! I still remember the first spelling test when the teacher just walked into class, announced that it was time for spelling and started reciting the words out. Before I knew what was happening, she had already read out two words. By the time I got out my exercise book, she had read through almost half the list! Not that I could spell the words since I did not even know what a spelling test was and the need to do revision. It was only after like two or three spelling tests that I plucked up the courage to ask a classmate what the heck was going on and how on earth he knew how to spell . He then looked at me quizically, took out the spelling list and showed it to me. That was when I finally understood what the whole thing was about. For two to three weeks, I had been wondering what the teacher was babbling about and how she even expected us to spell the words when had i never heard them in my life.

Primary school got more fun when I started making friends and getting a hang of schoolwork. I hated doing homework though and remembered the times I used to leave it to the last minute before completing them. Sometimes, I was even doing my homework in the bus! But primary school was fun for all its innocence, the silly games, the ghost stories we made up, the canteen food and of course, the bus ride home. The exams were killers but I got streamed to EM2, just barely making the grade for EM1 by 2 marks. I was in the second best class and studied really hard for my PSLE. I never had much ambition and thought that my highest score could get was 230. We did not do mock tests then so there was no way of knowing except through the school's internal exams before PSLE. I also did not have any tuition so I was not expecting much. My parents also placed little pressure on me and just asked me to do my best. And then, there were also the many nights spent arguing with my parents that algebra was not allowed and could only draw boxes to work out the answer.(my parents still taught me algebra and told me to use it to double check my answers. ) till today, I am still not sure how to use the stupid boxes to solve a problem! To cut a long story short, I got 262 for my PSLE, straight 6 points for my O levels, fumbled my way through junior college and graduated with good enough results to be hired and paid reasonably well.

And till today, I am not sure what knowledge I have gained during my schooling years that I have used in my career. My wife told me that all the schooling has taught me to think. But I really wonder whether it has. One thing is certain though. Employers do look at your results and the better your results are, the more doors will open. But guess what? All the successful people I know in my cohort tend not to do too well academically but still managed to excel in their respective fields.


  1. "till today, I am still not sure how to use the stupid boxes to solve a problem! " LOL, just what i was thinking. why use boxes when you can use algebra and simultaneous equations!

  2. haha. interesting post. success in the real world demands a totally different skill set than success in school i guess...

  3. Hi Raelynn,

    There's a reason why algebra is taught only in Sec 1 for singapore. If I'm not wrong, the kind of algebra we learn in sec 1 is only taught in the equivalent sec2 and sec 3 for US students.

    The reason is that algebra is abstract. It involves abstracting physical objects into symbols. The brain develops in stages and it takes a while for children to abstract physical objects into symbols. The rough developmental age needed for abstraction is around sec 1, hence after a certain age, algebra is easier to understand.

    For primary school children, the best way to learn is through the senses - something that can be seen and touched. That's why for a toddler, hiding behind your palm and then reappearing again by lowering your palm is so entertaining to them. The toddler knows you're there when you're in sight, but when your face is hidden by your palm, you disappear, at least in their perspective. The idea that an object can be present when it ceases to be visible needs to be developed first.

    Similarly, the model method (the stupid box thingy) is the "level 1" of algebra. It involves abstracting numbers into symbols (in this case, a box. In the future, it'll be even more abstract letters like x and y). There is thus progression in the learning model method first in primary school, then followed by algebra in sec 1.

    Interestingly, I was taught both methods in primary school. I suck at both during primary school. I still suck at model drawing now.

    To FF,

    All the successful people tend not to do too well academically doesn't mean that those who do not do well academically tend to be successful :)

  4. LP,
    Heh that was a funny reply. Such a serious lengthy explanation in reply till the last bit.

    Try as I might I don't remember how to use the boxes now. Even after some kid tried to teach it to me, I still don't get it. Doing it with algebra is just somehow more understandable to me. Ho boy, are my kids going to think daddy's an idiot when they reach that stage and ask me for help haha. That's where mummy comes in. lol

    Blown away by your grades man. I was only an average kid. The bane of my life in school from pri to sec was mother tongue (which wasn't even my mother tongue to begin with haha)

    Well here's a humourous true story for your reading pleasure that I posted some time ago to complement yours.

    Hope you like it. =)


  5. Hi Kay,

    Heh, I try my best to explain :)

    I love the story that you linked up! I read it long long time ago, and it's great that you posted it up again :)

    I do such problems in leisure too, haha :) I remembered a student told me he wanted to die cos his grades are so sucky. I told him in all seriousness all the different options. We came upon this option of jumping off a building tall building. He then asked me how long it'll take to reach the floor.

    I estimated a 30 stories building. Each floor is about 2.5 metres. 30 floors will be 75 metres. Assuming he climbed up to the roof and jumped off from rest and that g is 9.81 m/s², we can use the formula s=ut+0.5at². Since u is zero, it's just s = 0.5at². Calculating it, it'll take 3.9s. Then I proceeded to scream AHHH for 4 s just to let him know how fast 4 s is.

    It's not over yet. I asked him if he'll expect to take longer or shorter than 3.9s. It's actually going to be longer than 3.9s because of drag forces. Then I proceeded to scream AHHH, followed by a shorter AHH to emphasize the point :)

    Physics is fun when you apply to real life problems :)

    To FF,

    Sorry for bitching my lengthy post here!

  6. LP,
    Lol! That killed me. Hilarious. Talk about case in point. =)

    Well done!


  7. HI FF,
    We all know about Warren Buffet's idea of as long as you have an IQ of 125 the rest is dependent on your temperament in order to do well in stocks investing.
    So to be successful in gathering $$$ slowly, you don't have to be a straight "A" student in education.
    In fact, sometimes WB's quotation is stated as "In investment, temperament is more important than high IQ".
    To me, I am one good example of his belief.
    Of course , if you have high IQ + high EQ(temperament) than you will be super.
    Maybe like our Peter LIM?
    Yes? No?
    Que sera! sera!

  8. Thanks for reminding me it's called the model method LP.

    There was a point in time during primary school that I thought the trick to doing the model method was really to make sure the boxes were drawn 1 cm each. Then I could measure how much I want to cut away and transfer to some other corner. Then measure it all again and get the answer. But then I realised that it only worked for certain problems (maybe by luck) and not for most of the problems. Till today, I still do not know why.

    You are correct. People who tend to perform academically better will also have a higher certainty of breaking into the middle-income or high income group.

    IQ of 125 is all that is needed is correct. The rest is pure hard work. But that also depends where you are and what sort of connections u have. It does not necessarily guarantee success. 2 people with the same IQ and same temperament could be given very different opportunities in life and this in turn translates to different outcomes.

    Recently, I have become surer of one thing. The more you conform to everyone around you, the more COMMON u will become. To stand out from the crowd, you really need to be doing something different. To live a different life, you need to be different and live differently from the rest.

    How will you live differently?

  9. Hi FF,

    You are absolutely right , says Michael J Hanson-Author of the book 20 upon 20.
    "We crave approval and to fit in—we generally feel awkward and upset when we are alone or the group disagrees. Social validation is a big deal. The natural proclivity to fit in counters your best interests—you must feel comfortable alone, or you are cooked from the start"
    It's something like "Far from the madding crowd"
    I absolutely agree with Michael J Hanson when come to investing. Everyone must find his "ownself". No one can find it for you.


Popular Posts