Saturday, March 10, 2007

In the local news, the practice of "dropping subjects" in schools these days has generated quite a bit of excitement. People are indignant that teachers have become so concerned about school rankings, or their rankings, that they are advising students to drop their weaker subjects and concentrate on their stronger subjects so that there will be fewer failures and more 'A' grades produced at the end-of-year exams.

While scoring 'A's seems to be a positive thing for a child's academic records, people are upset that dropping subjects at secondary level effectively closes off options in fields of study at tertiary level. A dropped subject means a prerequisite lost for certain uni courses. Because Little Ah Huat dropped A. Math, he'll never become an engineer, and Little Suzie will never become a doctor because she dropped Bio. So despite the fact that they scored multiple 'A's in their other subjects, it's all meaningless because they can never be the doctor, lawyer or engineer their parents always dreamed they would become one day.

Which has got me thinking about our KI selection process and wondering if we've been over-selective with our kids. Granted, at this point, there's little advantage taking KI other than for its prestige. KI certainly isn't a prerequisite course for anything at the uni, at least not for the moment. It really is a lot of pain -- not the subject itself, but the burden of requiring extra time on the timetable to accommodate the extra subject, the time spent on additional assignments, and all for the dubious distinction of being able to say, "I took KI instead of GP at JC." Wouldn't the kids find it more profitable to go out and play instead, like any other regular kid?

I have a lot of respect for those who are tenacious enough to still want to take KI though, and I welcome them with open arms. KI was not meant to be an elite subject. In fact, I'd like to believe that we're pioneering a subject that will eventually be open to all comers. It's no use to us having just a tiny core group of thinking Singaporeans when all Singaporeans need to learn how to think, and not just replicate.

Still, last year's experience scared us a little, when a third of our first KI group dropped out of college because they couldn't handle the stress. This year, we wanted to protect the kids, and perhaps ourselves as well, hence the stringent selectivity the applicants went through. But really, if they really, really want to take KI anyway, who are we to stop them before we've had a proper trial period -- within what our limited resources can provide, that is.

But after the trial, we do need the right to determine if the student is suitable or not to continue. No one questions the probation period as an HR policy, so I don't see why anyone should question this whole "dropping subject" thing. Like everyone else, kids need to prove themselves capable of taking and keeping a subject. Showing a lack of interest, not submitting work, not being prepared for discussions, little evidence of wanting to improve, all these symptoms show a lack of aptitude in a subject. It's a sad fact of life everywhere: Sorry, kid, you're the weakest link. Goodbye.
Once again we've reached another term break. One week in which to catch up on neglected administration, clear the marking backlog and plan for the next assault on our next educational objectives. Somewhere in there, there are plans for a little R&R time with the department folk and friends as well.

It certainly has been a busy first term, in the sense of working hours and output -- and it's just the beginning of the year. Much of the work has been quite fulfilling. Things needed to be done, and there's a great feeling of accomplishment on completion, and despite working longer hours this year, I feel the time hasn't gone to waste.

Still, I detect a darker tone underlying my entries since the year began. I seem to be writing less about my friends, and more about my peeves and things that stupid people say that tick me off. Or about work. There's little time these days to go explore new places or try out new experiences to write about. Our movie watching record has been pathetic so far. Or we're too tired and simply wanna go home 'cos we too frazzled to do anything else. This applies to June as well as myself (oh, btw, June worked things out with her management so she's still got her job after all).

This really does look like the year of hard labour. I need a vacation.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Finished finalizing the new batch of J1 KIds. We set the bar high this time (no offense, Taily & co.) and selected 6, about 50% of our applicant list. It's tough making such a painful decision, but we think in many cases we're being cruel to be kind. The demands of taking 4 H2 subjects are not to be underestimated, so having learned from last year's experience, we're choosing to be more conservative this year.

I admit the selection process isn't 100% infallible. But we had to make the best decision we could under the circumstances. We turned away kids who took KI in other colleges and I'm sure they're gonna be sore about that for a while to come. They need to understand that we lined everyone up at the same starting line again. We tried not to let any preconceived notions bias our decision, even if they had prior experience in the subject (and had a recommendation letter from their previous instructor).

There are no guarantees in a situation like this, but we'll have to live with our decision and make the best of it now that the die is cast.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Today's taping session turned out not to be a straight interview as I expected. I walked onto a makeshift set of a talkshow. Me, Mel and Linc on one side representing the Arts; KW, Pio and Mich on the other representing the Sciences. I certainly wasn't prepared to debate the merits of one over the other, considering my position on the value of both. Thankfully, although our hosts began the show by trying to drive a wedge between our faculties, cooler heads prevailed and both sides steered the argument towards affirming that both the arts and sciences need each other.

Glad we could use the opportunity to clear up some misconceptions people have about our respective faculties. We ended up advising our mostly year 2 audience not to get locked into their labels, to follow their hearts and their passions, and not rely on textbooks as the only guide to life. Pio offered a nice analogy: textbooks are like travel guides, useful for acquiring a rough idea of the place you are about to visit; but having read the guide alone, you can't say you've been there if you never actually went.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Does it matter if a person is educated in either the arts or science faculties? Campus TV news wants to interview me on this topic... not that I'm any authority on the matter. I just agreed to it out of professional courtesy to a fellow campus news organization. Indulge me while I think aloud in preparation for tomorrow's taping.

As a general overview, both disciplines are essential to a person's educational development. The sciences help us understand our environment thereby allowing us to harness natural phenomena and employ them for our benefit. The arts help us to understand ourselves as human beings, and give us the ability to express ourselves and organize our relationships with each other and the world around us. So in a sense, the sciences look at us from the outside in, while the arts look at us from the inside out.

Both disciplines are important because they function best in partnership with each other. The arts power the imagination from which science draws the inspiration to seek new knowledge. But the arts also remind us of our humanity, which puts a brake on science, preventing us from going too far too quickly for our own good.

It's unfortunate that Education has split the arts and the sciences into diverging learning paths. The impression on us is that the two are pretty much mutually exclusive. The arts appear to us as idealistic and impractical, while the sciences seem rigidly pragmatic and insanely boring. Who in their right minds would want to be educated if these were the only two possible choices?

Usually, the deciding factor for students (or their parents) is in determining which course of study will lead to the more lucrative outcome. So rather than acquiring knowledge for its own sake, these poor kids chase an elusive price tag that exists only as a promise somewhere in the distant future.

For some reason, there's the impression that there's more money to be made in the practical sciences than in the airy-fairy arts. Hence the gross imbalance in the numbers of science vs arts students. And this imbalance fuels its own myth: more people are lining up for science than arts, therefore science must be better. It's the bandwagon fallacy operating on a societal scale.

Going solely on the which-makes-more-money premise, I would say that the most successful (I mean wealthiest) self-made capitalist pig-dogs (self-made to eliminate inherited money) are usually those who have integrated their appreciation for both the arts and sciences. They are 'artsy' in that they know how to work relationships with other people and sell them on story-like promises, but they are also 'scientific' in that they've been able to develop products to sell. It helps when their products work well too.

Gates. Jobs. Spielberg. Beckham. Branson. Trump. Or look at any world-famous brand-name. Arts or science? Smart money will say arts AND science.

Sadly, at JC level, students are already segregated according to their faculty of study. But that doesn't mean that they're set for life as "arts" or "science" people. As long as they don't rely on their textbooks to tell them how to live life, but rather learn to live life by living, I think they'll do just fine.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Just as I was saying NYconneX needs a bit more recognition, campus comms has decided to explore the possibility of helping increase our print run to double what we were producing last year. It's reassuring that people are starting to take notice and see the potential in us. In that, my journos have been instrumental. Without them, I really wouldn't have the confidence to believe in what we're doing, and continue finding new ways for us to grow. 'nuff said about that for now.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Last night's clan outing took us to a $15 per head buffet at the All or Nothing Cafe in Geylang. I think it was more for curiosity that we chose the location. We wanted to see where my bro was working at, and what he actually did there. So 3 generations of family descended upon him, at his invitation, of course.

The cafe is mostly a front for an outreach programme catering to the lost and wayward in Geylang. It aims to befriend the people on the street and offer a beacon of hope in one of the darker areas in our city. The locals have already checked the place out, and have deemed it harmless. Some have even offered business advice and friendly intel about the neighbourhood.

The organization employs ex-cons, a la the Yellow Ribbon project. The cooking staff are also walk-ins, and before last night's dinner the night chef walked out, leaving a crisis in the kitchen that had to be resolved one way or another.

There's so much potential for clash and conflict in this real-life scenario that if they had a good scriptwriter observing their operations for a week, a new local sit-com will be making its way to prime-time TV very soon.

Not an ex-con himself, my bro takes his job there as a full-time CIP. His job-scope is to do whatever's necessary. Waiter, receptionist, dishwasher, cashier, stage-actor, whatever. He was also prepared to take over the kitchen in place of the departed night chef, but thankfully the day chef was persuaded to take the night duty as well.

Dinner isn't usually buffet style. The cafe is more used to a la carte zi-cha, but last night was a celebration in honour of Purim. During dinner, the staff dramatized the biblical story of Esther to explain how this Jewish festival came about. Let's just say they have very little experience with theatre, and leave it at that.

It's nice that the family could get together again so quickly after the chili crab incident. Gatherings of the paternal clan are always fun.