Friday, February 15, 2008

Can teaching creativity be possible? Isn't creativity an in-born trait we either have or don't have? Or can creativity be nurtured through a social environment that encourages its members to play, be silly and be free to ask the really stupid questions?

That was what this bunch of us signed up for today; the chance to shuck off the weight and wisdom of our years and be noisy, mischievous, shameless little kids once again.

This time, for being the monkey who disrupts class with his antics, instead of death-threats and letters to our parents we got rewarded with chocolate! And guess who amassed the largest haul of cocoa-based goodness? Ahem.

But this full-day workshop was about having purpose-oriented fun. We participants -- representing organizations involving different fields of education, transport and maintenance -- were there to experience how to solve our industrial problems, or explore potential opportunities using innovative thinking tools fueled by freedom, fun and play.

In between laughing, egging on and cheering our fellow participants to perform eyeball-rolling acts of ego suicide (like playing modified games of catching and pole dancing), we were gently being led to put together a business concept for some unlikely product or service that arose from our games.

A few competitive brainstorming sessions led us to ask 'what if...?' questions somewhat akin to Lewis Carroll's "why is a raven like a writing desk?" conundrum. But since we were thinking within the contexts of our particular industries, our questions came out something like "What if our office set-up was like the S'pore Flyer?" or "How can we use a bus to assist in ship repair?" or my group's "What if education was fast food?"

If we're stuck for ideas, the theory goes that by putting different things together in weird combinations and thinking through the random associations and connotations these combos embody, we can find a seed of a powerful new innovation that may solve an immediate headache, or become the next big thing to take the world by storm... who's to say?

While this method sounds suspiciously like the monkeys with typewriters theory, because there's some actual thought going on, the odds for success are marginally better. The oddities our various groups ended up pitching were things like creating a carnival atmosphere in the admin office; training office staff with a magician's showmanship to add entertainment value to the basic service provided; an ERP system to track and fine latecomers; a personal counselling service to help troubled workers be more confident and effective in their workplace; and a transforming bus that assists with ship repair (which we voted Idea of the Day). Obviously, Feasibility is another lesson for another time.

Today, we learned to not fear the stupid question, but rather how to ask the stupid question, no matter how stupid. A better tomorrow depends less on the clever answers people work out, and more on the stupid questions people ask. That's human history in a nutshell.
The car stays home today. I'm taking public transport into town; yep, cutting class to attend a course at the National Library. No way am I shelling out for ERP and whole day parking downtown. Gonna join the rest of humanity jostling our way through the bus and subway system enroute to and from work. Should be setting off in the next few minutes. It'll be like old times again.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

For once, Drama Night has a proper performing venue. This despite having convinced ourselves that the only available venue was back in LT4. But because it became possible to share the stage with a concurrent production, this year we get to tread the boards of SRT. Yes!

Went with Mel and Steph to recce the site. We looked at the stage, backstage, changing rooms, and we're pretty sure the kids will give extra oomph to match the glam factor of performing in a professional theatre. No doubt we have to share the morning show's set and lights, but we're adaptable.

Now the thing is whether we can produce a show worthy of the space. Steph's piece should be well in hand, given her experience in directing, but I'm still kind'a antsy about mine. Today's rehearsal at least showed some of my ideas are feasible, and that I do have a core set of actors to build the show on. We're off to a slow start, but at least we're starting to move.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The South Koreans see that proficiency in English is essential for staying competitive in this world. We've known that all along, making English one of our official languages. South Korea wants to start teaching English classes in English -- a bit late in the game, since we have already implemented this revolutionary innovation since granddad's time. And yet so many of the essays and assignments I've received for marking only just approach the quality of perhaps the harder working students in ESL class. Grammar, syntax, paragraph construction, vocabulary, convey some basic sense of the subject in question, but because of frequent poor expression it all sounds like I'm being reached out to by some rudimentary intelligence rather than the erudite seekers of answers that the students are supposed to be.

Making English an "official language" may actually have the drawback of allowing our people to settle into complacency about it. It's an official language, therefore whatever vernacular we use must therefore be good enough, collect or not? When it comes to spoken English, we have the attitude that when in S'pore speak as the S'poreans do. As long as can unnerstan', can awreddy, w'at!

It's also a pride thing. S'poreans speak Singlish. It's our identity, our heritage and our proudest export to the rest of the Commonwealth. C'mon, lah! We not kentang or banana; wanna be so Ang Mor for what? Speak "proper" English in school and be labeled a Western wannabe, a freakshow, an object of ridicule and contempt. This probably happens in most neighbourhoods and families as well, so there's little encouragement to learn more than what passes for basic comprehension.

It's little surprise then that our students find difficulty expressing themselves in public. The brand of English they use is obviously inappropriate for formal discourse, and naturally, it's easy to develop an inferiority complex coming face-to-face with others who have a stronger command of the language. This lack of confidence is more pronounced in the colleges ranked below our mythical "top 5" JCs. They are "top 5" because their students use a higher level of English that allows them to access, digest and discuss higher level reading material. Those kids thrive on, and are stimulated by stuff that would put their lesser peers to sleep. They get to be the future brains, bureaucrats and insensitive policy-makers, while the majority of their cohort get by with their daily grind and complain how unfair life is.

I daresay the English teachers we have on campus are among the world's best. We have an oyster for every student who passes through our classes, but few of them actually reach out and take what is rightfully theirs. The rest rather slog away at more concrete subjects like the sciences and math, but they forget what language medium they receive such instruction in. That's like sweating it out making bricks, but without the cement of English to bind all the brick fragments together, they'll never be able to build a house. And they wonder why their lives are so hard.

"The private English education market is estimated to be worth about US$15.8 billion (S$22 billion) a year, fuelled by families who spend an average of 700,000 won a month on their children, according to the Samsung Economic Research Institute." That's a lot of moolah to be shared by those of us who can teach English. Perhaps we should put some thought into getting a piece of that action and be paid by people who can appreciate what we have to offer.