Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Being qualified vs being educated

First off, as an industry insider, I don't believe that our ever-improving exam results is in any part due to grade inflation. If the letter writer is concerned that we are handing out cheap As, it isn't true. We and the kids really do work our collective butts off to achieve those results.

What our industry is highly proficient at is quality control, emphasis on control. We have identified the factors that make the 'A' grade and distilled them into a system that, if followed as prescribed, will give the student every chance of success for a desired outcome at the exams. It's a system that handsomely rewards the obedient student -- the one that does what he is told to the letter. Study this. Do it this way. And when everybody studies the same material and does it the same way, the As come pouring down like manna from heaven. Our children are nothing, if not obedient. And as far as tangible indicators go, the industry has achieved its highest criterion year after year. Everything is transparent and fair, and the customer is more than satisfied.

But if our new acting co-CEO is going to get his way, This system that we've so studiously developed over the years will to have to go.

What Mr acting co-boss has identified is that there is a huge difference between being qualified and being educated. The industry is excellent at qualifying our students. Every factory follows a uniform standard of teaching, learning and assessment, each product follows a uniform assembly-line process and passes through stringent quality control checks before being certified fit for the next level of processing.

The good thing is that the system ensures very little waste. The dropout rate is low, and there are learning and career opportunities available for everyone who leaves the system without necessarily following it through all the way to the end. The not so good thing is that at every level, each individual product is barely distinguishable from another -- being mass-produced within predetermined specs. Totally obedient, but empty; non-functional until programmed, or at least given very specific instructions. And it isn't their fault if something screws up, because you didn't give clear enough instructions. Yes, in the end, the qualified student is very good at taking orders, not half so good at giving them, and hopeless when working unsupervised. Just ask local employers.

The industry hasn't quite figured out how to educate students quite as well as how we qualify them. Education occurs in a much more chaotic environment than we are used to. It requires lots of space and time for unsupervised creativity; for failure; for mistakes; and for problems to be solved by the kids themselves. Not hypothetical problems in class, but real ones in life. Messy problems involving emotions, issues with peer socializing and personal safety which we adults are too anxious to step in and take over before the poor delicate things hurt themselves. Minor bumps, bruises, scratches, blood, mud and tears are part and parcel of the hard knocks of education, and we adults must learn to deal with these problems in proportionality to their occurrence. But as we industry employees have now been made aware, every ounce of prevention is far better than a lawsuit.

We need our future adults to exercise human judgement. We need them to be innovative and adaptable. We need confident decision-makers, who can work with and identify relevant partners in the pursuit of new opportunities. We need brave adventurers who explore unfamiliar paths and rugged individuals who can work around and through obstacles to attain their desired outcomes (preferably legally permissible ones). In order to get such people, they cannot be handed everything they want on a plate when they are young. We can't say to them, if this is what you want, then this is how you're going to get it. Instead, we have to follow them on their own path, help them up when they fall (or fail), discuss with them their learning points, and then let them go again. It'll be one horribly messy school system, but the average grade will be back to a more realistic 'C' since most kids won't be spending their time cramming for the sake of cramming any longer, but rather on their own interests and pursuits, many of which are ungradable except to their own standards of personal engagement. Education can't be manufactured. It's a craft.

For now, it looks like the boss is asking for a paradigm change in the industry-wide mission, and as a result, a major overhaul of our systems. It's a much needed change, but I wonder if we can use the momentum we've already achieved and just change track at the next switch, or whether we have to hit the brakes, come to a stop and completely reverse the train in the opposite direction. Either way, like it or not, change has to come.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Like pulling marrow from the tulang

I turned down a good cause. A door-to-door representative from the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP) approached me and I flatly declined to donate either my time or money to the cause. Donating my bone marrow was out of the question. Was it worthy cause? Yes. Were they asking for much? No. Could I have been inclined to help out? Maybe. So why didn't I?

It was the sales pitch. The boy, bless him, was such an android doing everything he had been programmed to do. He started off by offering me some very unpalatable alternative ways to be a contributor. While he wasn't asking for my bone marrow, he suggested that I could be a volunteer like him, then he reminded me how busy I probably was and so I wouldn't be likely to consider contributing that way.

Next, he went on a heartbreaking spiel on how young some of the bone marrow recipients were -- "months... months old only" and how would I feel as a parent of such a child, separated from parental love being confined in a glass box and stuffed full of tubes? I happened to be holding on to the dog at the time, so it was hard to empathize.

He complimented me on my interior decor (seriously?), hoping to trigger a psychological reminder of how well-off I was, then offered me a suite of possible tax deductible donation plans and which demographic each plan was targeted at. He surmised that like so-and-so and so-and-so who signed up (ooh, neighbour envy), I might undertake the middle-income plan, at which point I had heard enough and closed the door on him with a "thank you for the information, sorry for wasting your time."

Understand that the boy did everything he was taught.He smiled at the right time, he picked up on the right cues, he asked for reasons for my concerns... he was trained well. And that's my problem. I turned him down because he was doing what he was told.  While he may well have been personally motivated for whatever reason to volunteer for this worthy cause, his performance was perfect as a mouthpiece for whomever trained him and didn't sound sincere at all. Most of all, I hate being manipulated. This template-dialogue just made it so obvious.

Perhaps karma will bite me in the ass someday, but if and when I do donate to a good cause, I want to do so because I genuinely believe it is the right thing to do, and not because I couldn't say, "no", to someone groping around looking for the right buttons to push on me.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Cat and consequences

Thought the cat was sick this morning. When I woke up, he was alternating between trying to attract my attention and avoiding me. He tried to hide in the wardrobe, but only succeeded in knocking over my t-shirt stack to the floor. He was meowing like he was hungry, but refused to eat his breakfast.

Then, I saw the study door open. He must have got in during the night. On the carpet, there were the remains of a large vacuum-sealed package of pork floss meant as a Christmas pressie for someone. More than half the contents were missing.

I exited the study, and it was obvious that the cat had gone into hiding. There was a suspiciously large lump under the living-room carpet. Such a ninja, that cat. I lifted the carpet, and stroked him gently until he resumed purring. I had to make sure he absolutely knew he was forgiven.

Which makes me wonder: I know he is smart enough to open doors. A problem-solver, that one. But could he possibly be smart enough to know that what he did was wrong, and that there would be dire consequences when his human found out? And are cats capable of feeling guilt? Or am I reading too much into his somewhat abnormal behaviour?
The perp.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Star Wars at Changi Airport

Have to thank Uncle Moe for the gift of a re-contracted Samsung Note 5. No, this post is not a review of the new toy, but a sample platform for its photographic capabilities. And what better way to initiate testing than by visiting Changi Airport the day the cool life-sized display mock-ups of the new X-wing and TIE-fighter make their debut to promote Ep VII: The Force Awakens?

 OK, it starts with a lunch set at Itacho, but so pretty and colourful!

 Happened to catch the 501st Legion standing by to make their grand entrance.

 New Republic base on the 3rd Terminal of Changi revealed!

 Poorly-disguised spies of The First Order "surreptitiously" photograph New Republic hardware.

 Rebel pilots being directed to the cafeteria

 Retro troopers defend an Imperial asset from curious citizens and pesky journalists

 Ever wanted to play whack-a-mole with a crowd of camera-wielding tourists?

Red-shirt recruits, yet to qualify for a personal blaster, have to make do with pew-pew fingers

Monday, September 14, 2015

A simple test for career assessment

Random thought of the day: how do you know if the job you are doing is the right one for you? Or if you're better off quitting the job you have? Or if the job you've been fired or retrenched from is one you cannot afford to lose?

Ask yourself if you would do the job for free. If you can't or won't, get the heck out. The logic is simple. If you can't even give it away, no one in their right mind would pay you for it.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Looking back at the results of GE2015

Woke up to clear white skies with just a tinier patch of blue than before. Against expectations, the incumbents took a larger share of the popular vote at GE2015 than earlier indications seemed to suggest. It looks like beyond the raucous rallies and the social media frenzy of support for 'alternative voices' in parliament, the sleeping giant of the silent majority only made a noise where it counted the most: at the polls.

Looking back at how this apparently out-of-the-blue support for the incumbents might have reached landslide proportions, we need to see what the electorate did NOT vote for:

Clearly, the electorate did not want the incumbents to lose its 2/3s majority in parliament. Given that all constituencies were once again being contested, voters took no chances and chose conservatively. Having said that, it is telling that the blues kept their strongholds while the other oppo parties were quite let down at the polls. It could be said that the blues did not fight to win big at this elections but rather strategized to not lose its major symbolic territories. Letting the other oppo parties become the distracting sideshows that they were actually made the blues look good in comparison, and keeping 6 elected seats in parliament is still better than losing them all. The voters win, the blues win, and the other oppo parties win because they still keep an 'alternative voice' in an otherwise all-white government, 'moving forward'.

Even before Nomination Day, the voters could see the infighting, dissent, tantrums and rage quits that showed the different oppo parties not quite getting their act together. If that was what the campaign was going to look like, the electorate could not stomach that lot in parliament where actual decisions are being made about real lives and real livelihoods over the next 5 years to come.

The biggest losers are the Independents because if no one wanted them to join a party... 'nuff said.

The party that was obviously running a poorly-disguised racist platform got few votes because the electorate had already left ethnically-based politics behind decades ago, knowing that a country divided along such lines will absolutely ruin what has gone right for this country for the last 50 years.

The party that promised to TAKE money out of voters' pockets and give it to the poor and needy elderly cardboard collectors union of Singapore found little support for its well-meaning humanitarian social-welfare platform.

The party that stood for Democracy over Action found out that the electorate, though relishing a good debate, is still fundamentally pragmatic and is swayed more by results than a dramatic chin-and-finger-wag.

The People's party found out that after all, only one Person ever mattered, and that without him, they had become the who-are-you party. Which was probably the same case for the remaining oppo parties which ran equally forgettable platforms and candidates.

What the electorate DID vote for was a calm, dignified, matter-of-fact, results-orientated tone of voice. Non-reactionary, non-sensational, ultimately boring and occasionally foot-in-mouth in presentation, perhaps overly-highly paid but at the same time has done nothing to damage the reputation; infrastructure; and standing, trustworthiness and respect of the country on the international stage.

In fact, GE2015 turned out to be little more than a municipal election in which all contesting parties, including the incumbent who went along and played the same game, were only vying for a town council seat. The electorate instead decided to vote for a Government -- the one that was already there in the first place.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The good ship, Singapore

One metaphor used in the #GE2015 campaign is the one that likens Singapore to a 'cruise ship'. The one who proposed it is deluded, and the one who opposes it is equally deluded -- and paranoid. Our little red dot has never been a cruise ship and will never survive as one, iceberg or no. The moment we start believing we are a cruise ship, everyone will want to be a first class passenger, no one wants to work any more. And given the rhetoric that's been passing for 'campaign speeches' on both sides, this belief is strongly setting in already.

Most of us have forgotten what we truly are: a pirate ship. All we have is what we have taken from others. Sure, we are nice pirates and we don't do bloodshed, but we own nothing but the planks we stand on and that's all that's shielding us from rough seas, bad weather and rival privateers, some of whom wield larger cannon and bloodthirstier warriors than those we seem to have on board.

No one in this campaign is talking about them. No, we are stuck with squabbling over how to cut the pie that we have into larger pieces for everyone. For now, it may look like a huge pie in it's totality, but if everyone wants a bigger share of it, we will find out how quickly it becomes a finite resource. Look, if we want more pie, the answer for our little pirate ship is to go plunder other people for what we need. That's all we have to go on.

And, no, on a pirate ship, there are no lifeboats, no safety nets, unlike a cruise ship. The reason why we've been confidently sailing the 7 seas for the last 50 years is because we knew our vulnerabilities and we've played by the rules of our constraints. We do have a few rubber rings, but more importantly, we have each other and we have each other's backs. At least, we did, until we started recognizing that some of our shipmates were starting to look and talk a little differently from ourselves. Then we were no longer 'we' any more, but 'us' and 'them'. And now it's getting to be more like 'me' vs everybody else.

A pirate ship does not become a cruise ship. We have all got to get back to being pirates. Everyone works, no passengers unless they are hostages held for ransom. Not happy with a pittance of a fixed wage? Take a risk. That's what the top-paid pirates are doing. Not happy with the income disparity? There's a way to get some of that money back for yourself. It's a free market, so sell a better product or provide a better service. Make other people say, 'please, take my money'. Plan your own raids, recruit your own crew, branch out and remember to pay your taxes (kept low to encourage entrepreneurship) when you make it big. But if you don't make it big, remember that it was a risk you took and it doesn't always pan out. Either settle; or learn, grow and try again. Can't stomach the risk of a raid, then don't complain about swabbing the deck. Your fixed salary will see you through, as long as you're careful with your expenses. That's the pirate's life.

More importantly, there are opportunities out there that we are missing. Those opportunities are what we should be talking about. We need to be planning adventures, expeditions into the unknown; seeking new resources and planting our flag everywhere. It's not like anyone died and has left us an inheritance to divvy up (although we are behaving a lot like that). Rather, we are building on the foundations laid down by our pioneers, building a stronger, better, faster, more nimble ship that will carry us into our pirating future. And as crew, we don't need the 'leadership' to tell us how to manage ourselves -- we take care of each other.

If the competing candidates now want to captain a cruise ship instead of a pirate ship, well, it's been a fantastic 50-year voyage. There are no lifeboats...