Thursday, October 20, 2016

Staffed duck

Staff retreat. Just ridin' a Duck and feeling like a tourist in my own country.

Getting our flippers wet
Water under the bridge
City skyline
I don't get seasick, else I'd be doing the same
The Sands: view from the Bay
Trusty duck

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Don't wanna go back to school!

To Liu who wrote:
Globalisation could negate efforts in skills upgrading
From Liu Rijing -
October 6
I refer to The Big Read article “Despite being vulnerable, few PMETs heed call to learn new skills” (Oct 1) and wish to raise a few points.
First, threats to jobs come not only from technological change but also globalisation.
So how can we be sure that learning new skills will ensure we do not lose out to global competition when companies relocate owing to cost considerations?
Second is whether a new skill one picks up would still be in demand after one has spent time and money to complete the training.
Third, when companies can choose to outsource professional work to a worker based in a foreign country with a lower salary, how can skills upgrading help then? (Today Online)
If you are looking for assurances, there are none. Sorry. But if you don't want to undergo skills upgrading, that's fine. When enough of us refuse to do so, there will be more opportunities for overseas companies to outsource their crappy, low-skilled, underpaid, exploitative, dangerous jobs to us. That should put your overarching fear of unemployment to rest.

10 cents for career counselling, thanks!

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Wanna bet?

People are understandably concerned about the legalization of online betting in S'pore within the next month or two. Going online makes it more convenient to place bets via mobile app than having to trudge down and queue up at the corner betting store. But will convenience alone cause a spike in gambling as our concerned citizens fear? I doubt it.

This convenience comes with a price: the ability for the authorities to identify individual bettors, track how much each is wagering per transaction and establish their betting patterns over time. Cross-referenced against personal incomes, disproportionate or suspicious spending on bets can be flagged out for intervention if necessary.

If I were a betting man, I'd still go to the corner shop and place an anonymous bet with less-traceable cash. Only if I win big will the world know who I am. Until then, how I bet and what I bet on is nobody else's business. And as a non-betting man, I see more disincentive than incentive to start.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Who's an unhappy camper?

S'poreans show their unhappy side again, this time with their employment situation. That is, compared across the board against our South-East Asian counterparts, our employees are the most unhappy.

I wonder what we would see if we cross-reference our job happiness index against a corresponding survey on general income levels? My guess would be that S'poreans are educated, and have expectations of higher income and better job prospects that are set somewhat above realistic; whereas our neighbours are happy to have a job that puts food on the table for their families.

This observation is intended to be neither snarky nor mean. It's probably a human trait that when we have more we make ourselves unhappy by wanting even more; conversely when we have but a little, we are happy being grateful for that little.

We also seem to be looking at the wrong things to be happy about:
Singapore respondents felt that getting a new job (30 per cent), a higher salary (19 per cent), or receiving recognition from the company (9 per cent) would help increase their job happiness.
These perks offer immediate gratification. But they don't come around too often, and when they do, they usually also come with more work, more responsibilities, and more time spent in the office -- side-effects that make us more unhappy in the long run. We accept them anyway, in order to justify the happiness we feel from achieving these very temporary rewards.

We actually have a good problem. To be able to have and want more is a good thing. But it means that if we also want to be happy, all we need to do is realise that happiness is a choice we make for ourselves. Choose wisely!

An afterthought: perhaps the jobs of Management and Middle-management is inherently unhappy? Managers neither own the company nor do much of the actual production work, so they are sort of in-between, easily replaceable and sometimes even an obstacle to getting real work done. Who'd be happy in a job like that?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Getting through

T -1 day to promotional exams. The going metaphor is that the exams are like a door to get through, which makes sense. Once past that door, the successful get to face a new arena containing a new set of trials and tribulations to traverse before they arrive at the next door.

Some kids think that they need a 'passport' or a 'password' to get through the door, and that they can find it in the assigned reading materials or last-minute hints dropped by their tutors in the last days leading up to the exams. But they are being silly. The fact is, there is no one guarding the door to hear the password or stamp the passport. The door is simply locked.

Who has the key, then? The good news is, there is no 'Master' key, so there is no need to scramble for a limited resource that doesn't exist. There is also no need to acquire a key in a standard design, because there isn't one either. Remember the trials and tribulations mentioned above? They exist to train each student how to pick the lock for themselves. Yes, not a key, but a set of lock-picking tools unlocks the door to the next level.

I like the lock-pick metaphor because unlike keys; passports; and passwords that only work once per door, we always hold on to our lock-picks, find new ways to manipulate them and pick up new upgrades along the way. Lock-picks work on every door, and how they are used is unique to the user, as long as they consistently practice their skills, being in the moment and not constantly worrying about the next door ahead.

Cliched, but if people valued the journey rather than the destination, they'd have less anxiety approaching their exams.

Monday, September 05, 2016

It's just a job

My Teachers Day thoughts, though a bit belated:

I'm a teacher. That's my job. But don't expect me bend over backwards and rip my own heart out to help each kid pass their exams when they aren't.

My best teachers were those who taught me nothing. They didn't pretend that their words were gospel or that if I didn't heed them, my life was over. They did share their ideas, but let me form my own thoughts and reach my own conclusions, and we had enjoyable tutorial discussions because of this kind of mutual understanding. They were an interested audience to my exploration of less popular pathways of coursework and were pleased to give me space and independence to bring back my discoveries for evaluation. Though they often graded my work with raised eyebrows, they were fair as well.

For my own part, all I really am is just some dude who picked up a couple of skills over a few decades of experience. All I do is pass them on to those who need them and can make use of them. I entertain no further aspirations nor illusions about this job my mother tells people I have.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The mask that students wear

The biggest stress factor in being a student is being a student. The "student" is a mask that kids wear to play a game involving arbitrary and often unnecessarily petty rules of conduct and impossibly difficult tasks that have little to no bearing on who they really are under their masks. The students we meet in class are pale shells of who they really are. It is when they are not in school that's where we find their true selves.

Keeping the two identities apart for a sustained period every school day makes school the torture that it is for most kids. The ones who suffer the most are the ones who have the clearest sense of self identity -- the musicians, the dancers, the athletes, the computer whizzes and the entrepreneurs -- who have to keep their real selves hidden while they pretend to be sheep when in school.

The identity of the "student" is formless and shapeless. Always incomplete, and hence always having to defer to the wisdom and authority of the "teacher". Students have nothing to say because they don't know enough. They are lumps of clay or rock which submit to the hands of the teacher who sculpts and molds them to whatever shape the school needs them to be -- usually a cube or a brick that easily fits in with everybody else who has been successfully 'bricked' after doing their required schooling time in their turn.

Schools and parents emphasize that exams are their kids' top priority. Everything else can wait until all the prerequisite 'A's have been garnered and paraded among family members and the education community. All the more so among the tuition agencies for whom exam results are their raison d'etre thus making the "student" identity perfectly solid. In the meantime, the identities which have been kept hidden often get forgotten or shelved in the process of brick-making.

Kids hate school because schools subvert individual identity, and level every student towards the lowest common denominator. The tasks they are assigned, the subjects they grapple with, the pressure they get to do their best apply to their student selves, but are completely irrelevant to their real selves. On our part, as teachers, we are stymied as to how to motivate our kids to work harder and do better; and for other kids who have no identity beyond the mask they wear, how to manage their stress before they go bonkers.

What if kids and schools agreed to dispense with the "student" mask and allow their true selves to flourish instead? We take the emphasis away from common exams in favour of allowing the kids to develop themselves as musicians, dancers, and whatever else they see themselves as first. Rather than have them suppress their talents and put them aside to study for exams, we show them how being smart in their academics supports their personal development and helps them become better at what they are or want to be good at. While they develop their physicality and skills, we train them in becoming better thinkers, analysts, strategists, and storytellers. That way, the exams make sense as they become part and parcel of their overall development rather than as a separate and unrelated obstacle they have to overcome before they are allowed to chase their dreams.

I'm not asking for much to change other than mindset. I want us teachers to recognise that we are supporting the cognitive development of individual people offering a wide variety of talents and abilities, rather than training a common mass of drooling zombies to jump through exam hoops. I want kids to bring their true selves to school and to class -- the ones who know who they are and who they want to be successful as, and not the "student" who only does things because they are told to do things.

A good school isn't the one that goes all-out to deliver the best exam results. It's the one which develops its kids to be whatever they want to be first, then good exam results follow as an after-effect.