Observation of the Education System, from a Layman

The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results was released on Thursday, 24 November 2016. It is a national level examination in Singapore which determines where the student will move on to for their Secondary School. For many parents and students, the PSLE is a high stakes event where the weight of one’s future hinges upon the performance in that particular moment.

望子成龙,望女成风 – This Chinese proverb is about the hopes of parents and their longing for their children to succeed in life. I have never been a parent, and thus could not yet understand the obsession with grades among parents who compare the achievements of their children.

While it is true that the Pygmalion effect, which states “that what one person expects of another can come to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy”, can spur the child to succeed, on the flip side there are also children who are overwhelmed by the weight of their parents’ expectations.

I scored 236 for my PSLE and went on to the Express stream in a Neighbourhood School. With a Levels score of 16 for my L1R4, I went on to Polytechnic to pursue a Diploma in Media Design, and then to PSB Academy for my Bachelor Degree at a private university.

My academic achievement in those days was considered mediocre, and it is an indelible part of my past. But my grades lost relevance as I gained more working experience. When I first started work, there was a steep learning curve to pick up the technicality of the job and execute the administrative processes required. After five years in my career, work has become monotonous, tedious and repetitive and I start yearning to challenge this plateau stage.

When we are young, we feel that schools were a shackle to our freedom and we probably do not know purpose of learning the various subjects. It was tedious to memorise so much, with the purpose of getting a number to quantify our worth and effort. As I grow older, I started to miss the freedom of learning and the chance to explore new concepts and ideas, and discuss my thoughts with my peers.

I started realising that the essence of Education is to gain as much knowledge as possible to help mankind, and in hopes to alleviate suffering of others. We learn Geography, to understand the terrains and the environment so that we can adapt to the forces of nature. We learn history, to understand the mistakes and successes of our predecessors in order to make progress to our society, as well as to understand our roots and identities. We learn maths and science to advance our technologies and solve problems we face today. We learn languages to communicate with one another – to understand and to be understood.

Education is touted to be a means to upward mobility. It comprises of general education (the foundation of literacy); and  utilitarian education (which ensure that people are well equipped for the functions they have to perform in society)

Our academic performance open up choices and the means to a coveted profession. Aside from fulfilling our aspirations, certain careers comes with prestige and better monetary compensations which are considered hallmarks of success in the society.

However, the nightmare of youth unemployment is challenging the education system and the value of the information which institutions of higher learning impart to the students.

Even Education is suffering from the law of diminishing marginal returns. While there is a high unemployment rate, there is also a dearth of talents and specialists in some industries – there is a mismatch of labour demand and supply and an awful gap between aspirations and expectations.

This post is merely my observation of happenings around me.

As long as one is alive, there is hope and that you can blossom later in life.

Review: DISGRACED, by Ayad Akhtar

I was invited to attend the play, titled ‘Disgraced’ by Ayad Akhtar on 17 November 2016 at the Singapore Repertory Theatre. It was a novel experience for me, to catch such ‘cultural’ performance.

The synopsis of the play as follows:

The play was set in New York City, circa 2011/2012. The protagonist, Amir Kapoor, has worked hard to achieve the American Dream. With South Asian Muslim roots, he has gone on to become a successful lawyer, has a beautiful American wife, Emily.

But when Amir hosts a dinner party for his African American colleague, Jory, and her Jewish husband, Isaac the initially pleasant evening erupts into a volatile argument over race, religion and class in the modern world.

Through the interesting dialogues between the characters, it reveals the various perspectives and interpretation of race, religion and discrimination.

There were already numerous reviews and critique of the play, where various writers expressed the social-political issues they picked up from the play eloquently – such as the feasibility of the American Dream for the non-white people; the nature and purpose of faith, the stereotypes of Muslims; the threat of radicalisation; the need to renounce one’s cultural identity in the name of assimilation and gain acceptance; upward mobility and so on.

Personally, I thought that the play is disconcerting. I have never been to America, but through this play, I think I have the sheer ugliness of the….

The protagonist, Amir, was an apostate, who had renounced his Islamic faith and changed his name. Throughout the show, Amir projected a bitter man with intense self-hatred, identity crisis and uttered blasphemy about Islam. The source of his anger is fear – he was acutely aware and sensitive to the discrimination against Muslims in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks; and was afraid that his racial profile will overshadow his talents and performance and ruin his career progression.

In contrast, Amir’s wife, Emily, embraced and idealised the Islamic traditions. Owing to the privilege of being a White person, she is blithely unaware about the discrimination her husband faces, nor able fathom the intensity of her husband’s turmoil.

Towards the ending of the play, Amir snapped as he felt that the world was against him. His worst fear of being passed over for the promotion because his employers felt he was a professional liability due to his roots, being unjustly branded as an ‘Jihadist sympathiser’ when he attended a hearing of a local Imam, and the shame of learning that his wife had an extra-marital affair. While ‘understandable’, I felt that the portrayal of domestic violence committed by a “Muslim man” in the play may not augur well in the current climate of distrust, and might reinforce the negative stereotype among those who already have such misgivings.

While majority of us acknowledge the importance and fragility of racial harmony, our community is becoming more stratified due to inequalities – the privilege gap, the racial & religious faults, and the different aspirations and value systems among people.

The status quo – racial tolerance – is fragile. This was evident in the play where a simple dinner among four ‘liberal minded’ professional adults escalated into a dramatic and intense conflict.

Few feel comfortable about having an honest conversation about our difference, out of fear of offending the other party, and inciting unnecessary problems such as being branded as a racist. Stereotypes arise as human has the primal instinct to make snap judgment for ‘survival’ – deciding arbitrarily based on hearsay or assumptions of other groups of people. But we have to be aware of our own inherent prejudices and biases, to avoid discriminating and hurting others.

  1. http://arabstages.org/2016/04/on-ayad-akhtars-disgraced/
  2. https://www.google.com.sg/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/stage/2016/apr/22/disgraced-review-pulitzer-winning-play-challenges-audience-to-question-their-tolerance?client=safari
  3. https://www.google.com.sg/amp/www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cm-disgraced-review-20160620-snap-story,amp.html?client=safari
  4. http://theconversation.com/review-disgraced-turns-west-meets-islam-divisions-into-striking-melodrama-58224
  5. http://m.buro247.sg/culture/film-tv-and-stage/theatre-review-disgraced-singapore-repertory.html
  6. http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2016/03/02/south-asians-are-disgraced-by-the-most-popular-play-in-america/48209

 

Life contemplation 

I have been in my current career for almost five years and can’t help thinking about being in another job. I wanted to be an artist, an illustrator, a graphic designer, a librarian, a researcher, a teacher and so on.

I realised that no matter where I am, I will always be the same person because what I want most is the freedom to pursue new knowledge, express myself creatively, to teach and to learn.

I’m starting to feel stagnant and noted and work. It’s true there is still a mass amount of things I can learn in my job – the procurement processes, the rules and work processes are always changing and becoming more onerous with time.

But I’m not inspired. I only need to comply with the prescribed practices. 

I’m thinking of resigning and putting myself in the job market. But I’m nervous in facing interviews – I’m afraid of the unknown and whether I’m good enough.

Food Wastage in Singapore

According to the Straits Times News Article, a staggering 788,600 tonnes of food were thrown away in 2014 with only 13 per cent of last year’s food waste was recycled (Boh, 2015). This is a tremendous waste of resources for this country.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) would be launching a new campaign to tackle food wastage and educate people on the poor habits of overstocking of food at home and having to discard expired the food that were unconsumed.

However, I feel that NEA’s attempt in trying changing the consumption patterns is not as effective as taking a multipronged approach in addressing food waste in our food cycle from the production, distribution, retail to consumption.

Food waste is created due to

  1. Discarding of spoilt food from improper storage or handling; or
  2. Discarding of ‘unsellable’ or ‘ugly’ food although they are still edible,
  3. Discarding of excessive leftovers

Supermarkets, wholesale and wet markets and farms would do cosmetic filtering where food that look less than perfect are discarded although it is edible (SaveFoodCutWaste.com, 2015). Moreover, fresh produce are perishable and could not be kept for sale for long.

NEA can consider adopting the “ugly food movement” which is quite successful in Europe and Australia – where edible food that are in odd shapes are also put up for sale instead of being discarded (Dan Mitchell, 2015). For a start, our NTUC Fairprice supermarket can do their part by adopting the ‘Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables’ that was launched by Intermarché, a French Supermarket (Martha Cliff , 2015).

Alternatively, more of the edible but ‘unsellable’ food can be donated to soup kitchens, such as ‘Willing Hearts, which offers cooked food to the needy residents.

Food & Beverage (F&B) establishment ought to invest in managing their inventory of food stock, where they order or prepare more food than required (Savefoodcutwaste.com, 2015). Currently, the voluntary welfare organization, ‘Food From The Heart’, help to channels unwanted bread from hotels and bakeries to needy families and individuals, and more can be done to encourage other bakeries to participate in the programme.

During events and social functions, it is common to over-order the food for the guests. Most of the leftovers are gone to waste as the practice of ‘tau-paoing’ the food can be seen as embarrassing. In additional, the ‘tau-pau’ or doggy-bag practice is also not recommended especially after NEA implemented the mandatory time-stamping of catered food.

Lastly, food waste from homes is substantial as many people tend to overstock of food at home and the food could end up not being consumed and expire. The Food Bank Singapore is making an effort to collect excessive food from the affluence and redistribute them to the needy through the various volunteer welfare organizations.

If NEA is committed to reducing the food waste to as part of the ‘Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015’, there should be much stronger network and synergy between itself, the stakeholders in the food cycle, and the welfare organizations. The importance of food security should also be emphasized in its public awareness campaigns

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Boh, Samantha. (2015). NEA To Launch Campaign To Reduce Food Waste Next Week. Singapore News & Top Stories – The Straits Times. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/nea-and-ava-to-launch-campaign-to-reduce-food-waste-next-week?login=true. [Accessed 29 November 2015].

Dan Mitchell. (2015). WHy People Are Falling in Love With “Ugly Food”. TIME. [ONLINE] Available at: http://time.com/3761942/why-people-are-falling-in-love-with-ugly-food/ . [Accessed 29 November 2015].

 

Anonymous. (2015). Food Wastage in Singapore. SaveFoodCutWaste.com. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.savefoodcutwaste.com/food-waste/food-wastage-in-singapore/. [Accessed 29 November 2015].

Martha Cliff (2015). French Supermarket Sells Ugly Fruit And Vegetables At Discount To Combat Food Waste. Daily Mail Online. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/food/article-2693000/Forget-ugli-fruit-meet-ugly-fruit-bowl-French-supermarket-introduces-lumpy-misshapen-fruit-vegetables-sold-30-discount-combat-food-waste.html. [Accessed 29 November 2015].

 

Food Bank Singapore. (2015). [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.foodbank.sg/. [Accessed 29 November 2015].

Heralding a Post LKY Singapore

I wrote ‘Singapore, without LKY, What will my future Be? on 6 June 2009.

The inevitable had became a reality. Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed away on 23 March 2015 at the age of 91 years old.

Death is sobering. It reminded us of our mortality and that life is transient.

There was an outpouring of grief and tributes from people of all walks of life and nationalities during the week of state mourning. We began to grasp the extend of Mr Lee’s impact upon his death, as we piece anecdotes from people to learn more about this man – as a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend, a political leader, a mentor, and a boss – and remember him by.

For so long, many Singaporeans, like myself, have take the prosperity, peace, and beauty of Singapore for granted. It is a luxury to do.

The accomplishments of the pioneers of Singapore, and the hardships they faced, had faded with time. Mr Lee’s death sparked a new awakening of our national identity and appreciation of our history, as the media bombarded us with stories and historic recordings which encapsulated the Mr Lee’s achievements, and together with his comrades, in charting a sustainable history for Singapore.

Lives goes on. Mr Lee’s lifelong passion in guarding the future of Singapore imbued a sense of pride, patriotism and the mission in us to steward Singapore to greater heights.

PS: I am sharing the vide, ‘I wish I could Miss you, Mr Lee’, as I thought it is one of the poignant tributes to Mr Lee Kuan Yew which reflects the sentiments of the younger generation

I Wish I Could Miss You, Mr Lee from Zo Fan on Vimeo.

Fundraising for Charities

Introduction

Following the lawyer’s letter to remove my original post ” ***** and Fundraising for Charities” in October 2011, I am re-posting the content with general information to avoid the accusation of “defamation”and “confidentiality” issues as I believe that such information is scarce on the Internet.

(Disclaimer: Please note that the original post was published in 2010, and I had not been keeping abreast with development of charity fundraising. The information is still relevant as I still see people asking for peoples to make monthly donations to the charities organisation in Singapore; but I am not sure whether transparency of such practices had been improved.)

Continue reading

What is in a Job?

I was reading the book written by R. William Holland, ‘Are There Any Good Jobs Left? Career Management in the Age of the Age of Disposable Worker’ and it struck me on the accuracy and poignancy of his observations.

As we pore through the news, we will notice that job creation is one of the foremost priorities for many governments around the world. With high sustained unemployment rates, people will eventually lose faith in the government and thus lead to political and social upheaval – as seen in Europe.

This got me thinking: What is in a job? Why are jobs so important?

According to BusinessDictionary.com, a job is defined as employees performing and accomplishing quantifiable duties, responsibilities and tasks in exchange for a salary. It added that beyond this perspective, jobs are especially important for us as we identify ourselves through our occupations, and our unique contributions to the organisation and society (BusinessDictionary.com, N.D.).

Below are some of the memorable quotes from the Holland’s Book.

One feature of a good job relates to the continuity of work and its associated income. It allows us to do things such as take on long-term debt. How much debt as well as the length of the debt obligations is often a function of monthly cash flow. Interruptions to a person’s income can easily interrupt access to the Dream (Holland, 2006, p.43).

We believe education is a ticket for admission to a good job – one with security of employment, health care benefits, career development, and a pension programme for retirement (Holland, 2006, p.4). Access to good jobs is a key motivator behind educating ourselves and our children. We structure our debts and dreams through our jobs (Holland, 2006, p.45).

The price of the admission ticket to good jobs has steadily risen while what we are getting for a return is less certain than before (Holland, 2006, p.4) How we prepare ourselves as a society and as individuals to deal with these changes, will have a dramatic impact on the quality of our lives.

The availability of job will ebb and flow depending on forces in the market place, including technology and concerns about efficiency (Holland, 2006, p.12). When companies are free to move jobs to their most rational economic locations, those who held those jobs become part of the labour pool in need of redeployment (Holland, 2006, p.12).

For the economist, workforce redeployment is looked upon as an engine for economic development as workers migrate to other jobs and companies reinvest to get better returns on capital (Holland, 2006, p.12). For individual workers, redeployment can be a source of economic demise because their jobs move elsewhere or disappear altogether (Holland, 2006, p.12).

There is no benign mechanism that redeploys workers on an as-needed basis. Indeed, people are left to fend for themselves, and there is no assurance they will share in any of the economic benefits workforce redeployment generates for society as a whole (Holland, 2006, p.12). In this sense, workers become disposable (Holland, 2006, p.12).

There was a time when our careers or occupational choices were prescribed by what our fathers did. Sons of farmers became farmers and their daughters became farmers’ wives. Later, greater access to education gave men, and then women, access to jobs unavailable to their fathers a generation later. Still later it became common for people to have several jobs during the course of a career and more than one career in the course of a lifetime. But it is a freedom bringing an unprecedented set of anxieties and insecurities. In this context, personal freedom and security can be at odds with one another (Holland, 2006, p.12).

While it has never been quite this cut-and-dried, it does seem fair to say that whatever post- World War II job security existed has given way to a more complicated reality (Holland, 2006, p.12). The expectation today is that we will be free (forced) to change both jobs and careers (Holland, 2006, p.12). Consequently, we are facing levels of complexity unknown just a few generations ago (Holland, 2006, p.12).  At the same time, what we do for a living (and whom we do it for) continues to play an important role in our self esteem. Our occupational choices feed our egos and affect how others view us (Holland, 2006, p.12).

But if having a job of which we are proud is important, losing that job can be devastating. Being let go/ fired is often viewed as a threat to our sense of personal worth and value, as it tends to invalidate everything we know and believe about ourselves. “I was laid off,” the reasoning goes, “so what I thought about myself is not true. My personal effectiveness with people – the value I bring to my organization and my peers and the esteem with which I am held in the community – must be less than I thought or they would have laid off somebody else.” (Hollang, 2006, p.13)

These insecurities and anxieties are the other side of workforce redeployment and why being let go feels a lot more personal than it actually is. And, as it turns out, finding the right replacement job is trickier today than ever before, adding complexity to the lives of so many people. (Holland, 2006, p.13)

However, with a increased pool of educated workforce worldwide, more companies have the bargaining power to decide who to hire in order to maximise profits. The decision to hire or fire or retrench on the basis of the bottom line, had transformed the mutual relationship between employers and employees transactional. From the business perspective, a huge pool of people are objectified and thus viewed as a factor of production and thus an aspect of variable costs to be controlled in response to the market conditions. Below are exerpts from Holland’s book.

A flexible workforce is one that can be redeployed to other high-end jobs created as a result of the global economy (Holland, 2006, p.48). For now, the number of jobs going offshore are more than offset by the numbers of jobs being created as companies put their capital to different and more profitable uses. The jobs that go away come back in the form of jobs requiring higher levels of skill, and with the creation of greater value than those that left (Holland, 2006, p.48).

At all times, companies will be what they have always been, self interested economic entities determined to survive. Survival will require them to provide goods and services in some combination of quality and cost better than their competition. That is the context in which jobs exists today. How well of us are treated will be, as it always has been, contingent on the perceived value we create. Immediately following World War II, a college degree was the passport to the perception of being able to create value and land a good job. Perhaps for the first time in modern history, value creation has to be more real than apparent. Where one went to school will be less important than what that employee brings to the table. We are entering an age in which we can no longer afford our prejudices (Holland, 2006, p.79).

The difference between the low income worker and the middle class manager lies in their career opportunities and the means they earn a living. Beyond that, both are groups of people likely to feel financial hardship should their jobs cease. Only the Rich, with passive income, can afford to disregard the pressures of the labour market faced by majority of the population.

References

Job (N.D). BusinessDictionary.com. [Online]. Availale on: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/job.html. [Accessed 1 September 2012].

Holland, R.W., (2006). Are There Any Good Jobs Left? Career Management in the Age of the Age of Disposable Worker. Praeger Publishers: USA

AFP. (2012). Young South Koreans face jobless woes with ‘graduate glut’. The Straits Time. 27 August 2012. https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/asia/story/young-south-koreans-face-jobless-woes-graduate-glut-20120827&sa=U&ei=nd9BUJPeM8qNmQWk_4DoCQ&ved=0CAUQFjAA&client=internal-uds-cse&usg=AFQjCNE_QbB5jQ1U8R94Ng4alwmO-Dholg

Devie, S. (2012). Economy can support more graduates: Government. The Straits Time. 29 August 2012. [Online] Available on http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/singapore/story/economy-can-support-more-graduates-government-20120829 [Accessed 1 September 2012]