Parents sending kids to psychologists for IQ tests

From ‘Ensure we don’t create elitist mindset’, 19 June 2015, ST Forum

(Jeffrey Law Lee Beng): AFTER reading yesterday’s report on parents having their children tested for “giftedness”, I cannot help but wonder if we are creating an exclusive society (“Gifted? More kids sent for psychology tests”). I find it unacceptable that toddlers are subjected to psychological tests, the findings of which some parents claim can help them tap their children’s potential.

Equally deplorable is the fact that some parents send their children for the tests to join high-IQ society Mensa so that their young can be in “like-minded company”. In other words, children at such an impressionable age are encouraged to form a class of their own.

This may not be healthy as they could turn into a generation of intellectual snobs, having the notion that they are extraordinary. Instead of comfortably ensconcing themselves, children should be accustomed to interacting with other children their age, regardless of their personal backgrounds and IQ scores.

This helps them to expand their horizons and further enrich their lives when they become adults. It is, thus, crucial that parents not overreact to their children’s high-IQ status with a “high and mighty” attitude. Instead, they would do well to teach their children that there is more to life than being born gifted.

The youngest MENSA member is 2 years and 6 months with an IQ of 142. While it seems like the most natural thing for parents to find out if their kid is a genius, others forgo the testing entirely and sign them up for GEP tuition classes directly. Unless there is a real need to get your kid’s brain checked by a doctor, I don’t think parents should get over-excited and start calling up psychologists whenever their kid starts exhibiting signs of ‘giftedness’, like reciting a Bible passage by heart or Pi to 20 digits. In some extreme cases, like a sudden familiarity with an ancient language, an exorcist may be more useful than a mental healthcare professional.

Mensa, Latin for ‘table’, was founded in 1946, and was set up as an exclusive club for people with ‘high intelligence’. Its Singapore chapter was established only in 1989, and restricted members to 8 years and above. Today, 5% of the 1000 plus members are 6 years and below. What in blue blazes is a toddler doing in a society still made up mostly of  adults, one that counts not just science gods like Isaac Asimov among its alumni, but has also embraced unlikely personalities like Geena Davis (of Cutthroat Island fame) and PORN STAR Asia Carerra? Your MENSA fellows may all have the exact same IQ score, but you guys will still have nothing much to talk about. Well, unless you’re an adult film star with a brain as big as your..never mind.

To call Mensa ‘elitist’ would be like saying that the X-men are ‘freaks’. MENSA is basically a fancy interest group, just like how we have interest groups for people addicted to bodybuilding, Lego enthusiasts, bus-spotters, birdwatchers or vintage sock collectors. In a way, we’re all ‘snobs’ in what we’re passionate about, be it intellectual pursuits, sporting excellence, cafe-hopping or competitive Monopoly. Like Game of Throne geeks, these ‘geniuses’ just need a platform for conversation where they can be on the same wavelength as others like them, and not feel oestracised by the man on the street with the reptilian IQ of 100, though what exactly MENSA has done for humanity remains to be seen. They sure as hell ain’t the Justice League.

The question is whether we’re depriving such young children of a ‘normal’ childhood by rushing them into a club for geniuses before they even develop the minimal set of social skills, like making friends, reading expressions, knowing what’s right from wrong, or even grasp mundane knowledge like why people grow old and die. More importantly, a sense of compassion and humility. Can they grow up and live ‘normally’ despite an insane IQ without being booted out of the village constantly like Brainy Smurf? By labelling toddlers as ‘gifted’, we risk having them fixated on their newfound ‘powers’ relative to their lower IQ peers, giving them high hopes and the illusion that they are destined for success, or worse, Greatness.

7 year old MENSA member George Yeo, for instance, is already sounding like the smart-aleck every kid in school wants to punch in the face. He reportedly told his parents not to ‘waste money’ on school because he already ‘knew everything’. One thing MENSA doesn’t test is your EMOTIONAL intelligence, which could make the difference between someone who becomes a pioneer quantum physics, and the weirdo with the crazy hair building a killer robot monster in his hidden lair.

Primary school kids too young for KK trip

From ‘Rethink rationale for overseas school  trips’, 8 June 2015, ST Forum

(Ramesh Niedu): IN THE light of news of the ill-fated Mount Kinabalu school trip (“9 S’poreans feared dead in quake”; yesterday), I urge the Ministry of Education to seriously reconsider its rationale for overseas trips for students, particularly those at the primary and secondary levels who are too young to go on such trips, especially a mountaineering one.

Such trips should be only for students at the junior college or tertiary levels, who are older and more safety-conscious. I am a parent with young school-going children, and I experience much anxiety whenever they go on overseas school trips.

If the rationale is that overseas trips contribute to character development, then such trips should be for cultural exchanges, for instance, rather than for physically demanding mountaineering expeditions at dangerous locations. Such trips should also be confined to our neighbouring countries, so as to keep costs low.

It’s not true that the older you are, the more ‘safety-conscious’ you become. Just recently, a 21 year old man fell off a Bali cliff after being hit by a wave while taking photos. Besides, even with the most rigorous of preparatory training, no one, young or old, would be able to fend off the onslaught of a natural disaster.  The writer above recommends ‘cultural exchanges’, which I suppose entails playing ice breakers in the security of a hotel, in the heart of the city next to a police station, in a country where no terrorist would ever think of carrying out a bomb attack. Oh, not to mention in a building that’s fireproof, tsunami and typhoon-proof. Wait, scrap that, let’s just do Skype and Facetime from the air-con comfort of the classroom instead. More cost savings, less risk of being sent hurtling from a mountain towards certain death.

During the bird flu epidemic in 2005, people complained about kids being sent to be community work in a Vietnam orphanage. Others griped about flu vaccines not being given to some kids travelling to China. More recently, a parent questioned why there was no travel advisory for MERS when her son was sent to Medan (More stringent travel advisories needed for overseas school trips, 21 May 2014, ST). To be fair, the Ministry has done a decent job making sure that none of our children got exposed and bring deadly bugs back into the country. But alas, we only remember the nasty trips when shit happens, taking for granted all the many other uneventful ones where kids actually come back in one piece, whether they’re scaling mountains or participating in Maths Olympiads, thanks in part to the care and dedication of their teachers, who may very well be more stressed over their charges than some parents themselves.

Thousands of children have been sent abroad, with parents accusing some ‘exchange’ programs of being unnecessarily extravagant, like Kinderland sending toddlers to Japan during autumn for example. Most come back with nary a scratch, while others who remain school-bound get goddamn Hand Foot Mouth Disease. The KK incident is a tragic anomaly, and no amount of advisories or protection could have saved the kids from this merciless act of God. Or in the case of the Sewol ferry sinking in South Korea, a case of human ‘gross negligence’. That doesn’t mean we should cut back on overseas trips that have the slightest hint of rugged adventure, when even a joyride down a river, or the building of a house, could end up in catastrophe if fate wills it.

I never had the chance to venture to even Sentosa when I was in primary school, and the closest I had to ‘outdoor’ activity was camping in the school’s football field, where the only skill I learnt was how to pee discreetly when no one is looking. If I had to weigh the risk of getting crushed by a boulder, drowning in a sinking vessel or getting sucked into the sky by a tornado vs a once-in-a-lifetime adrenaline-rush experience enduring physical hardship with friends, character-building or not, I would choose the latter. And then make sure I’ve got really good travel insurance.

RIP, young ones.

Yale-NUS cohabitation begets relational loneliness

From ‘Co-ed cohabitation endangers chastity’, 5 May 2015, ST Forum

(Chen Dewei): YALE-NUS College recently announced that it will be allowing male and female students to share suites (“Male, female students in Yale-NUS can soon share suites”; April 22). In the report, a parent, Mrs Grace Yeo, was quoted saying: “These are not teenagers but young adults. I trust my son to make responsible choices.”

I wonder if this is representative of Singapore parents today. Based on the 2004 Global Sex Survey by Durex, the average age that Singaporean youth first have sex is 18.9 years. The survey also found that Singapore youth have an average of 5.8 sexual partners. The average age that our youth first have sex is dangerously close to the age when students would enter Yale-NUS. So we have to ask ourselves a fundamental question: Is it an issue to have premarital sex?

Or perhaps we think that even if our children have premarital sex, they can sort it out after marriage. A recent report (“Recent marriages not standing the test of time”; April 7) showed that recent marriages are failing more often than in the past, and I would say that today’s generation lacks faithfulness.

How does abstaining from premarital sex help? Because when your partner can control himself before marriage, he will be able to control himself after marriage.

One may ask: Why keep your virginity when you can have fun? Because sex has the uncanny ability to create a lasting connection with another person, and the voices of your previous sex partners hovering over you when you embark on a serious relationship can be very disconcerting.

Rage and insecurity can hinder the formation of a healthy relationship and it is very lonely to be in such marriages.  Intentionally or unintentionally, Yale-NUS’ policy propagates a lifestyle that begets relational loneliness.

A Yale suite consists of 4 to 6 rooms with a common area, and maybe the writer shouldn’t be just worried about premarital sex between a man and a woman on a bed, but an all-out sex orgy in the living room, after which our graduates will find themselves in miserable marriages not just full of ‘rage and insecurity’, but paranoid schizophrenia because of ghostly lovers’ voices looming over their heads. All because of one fateful night of sordid fun.

As if college kids aren’t getting down and dirty already, cohabitation or not. If not a common suite, there’s the car, the staircase or a bench in a park. To sum up the letter, putting single boys and girls in the same house will lead to more premarital sex, which is a terrible thing for humanity because the best marriage is a one between two virgins with absolute control over their hormones, not people with intimate knowledge of others’ genitals, because such people are obviously irrepressible perverts who no sense of loyalty.

The writer probably also believes that porn, dating apps, budget hotels, deserted carparks, teen dramas and dancing under the influence of alcohol in a club should all be banned because they’re all chastity hazards as long as it presents an opportunity, or induces the opposite sexes to hanky-panky their way to matrimony hell. Perhaps the writer speaks from personal experience, nevermind the sweeping assumptions about something as complex as human sexual behaviour. Or rather, inexperience. The kind of ascetic inexperience that only saints yearn for because it’s their path to holy salvation.

It’s a mindset that’s stuck in the 80’s, when sex before marriage is deemed selfish and a wanton act of disrespect for your future virgin partner, that if you could fool around instead of saving your virginity for later, it means that you’re a potential cheat once you’re married. If anything, these highfalutin champions for preserving sanctity are actually undermining the institution of marriage itself, that love could not possibly transcend one’s personal history of sexual debauchery. If everyone were so choosy about their partners, valuing abstinence above all our virtues, then our population is doomed.

It is 2015, we’re in an age when we’re becoming more accepting of homosexuality, bondage and dirty jokes involving bodily ejaculate, and we have people who still believe that sex leaves a ‘lasting connection’, that strings will ALWAYS be attached in any relationship that involves exchange of bodily fluids, that you can’t have a one-off tryst with a hooker without having the lingering taste of her saliva in your mouth for as long as you live, or a little naked devil popping by your shoulder every now and then luring you into wicked temptation.

Education is like buying equipment from a mall

From ‘Education just like a retail transaction now?’18 April 2015, ST Forum

(Grace Yong Fui Han): THURSDAY’S report fills me with disappointment (“Former RGS student claims she was bullied, sues school”). I was a Raffles Girls’ School student, from the class of 1979. Somewhere between then and now, we lost something, not just for the school, but also for Singapore. The report highlights the symptom of a serious malaise in our society, if left unchecked.

One might argue that in taking out a lawsuit against her alma mater, Ms Cheryl Tan is exercising her right to be compensated for the suffering she allegedly endured. However, gratitude for what the school and teachers have done, and respect and deference for the office of the educators seem to have gone out the window.

In their place is a sense of entitlement. Going to school is no different from going to the mall to buy a piece of equipment: “I paid a price (worked hard to get the right grades) to get into my school of choice, so it must meet my expectations. If it does not deliver, like the item I bought at the mall, I will sue the school in the same way I sue the manufacturer.”

Is there a mindset now that relationships are valued by what one can get out of them, rather than what one can contribute? If the alleged bullying is true, then, were compassion and empathy absent, in that the students were unable to put themselves in Ms Tan’s shoes to see how she might have felt as a result of their actions?

If education were a product, it would be a defective one from the start, judging by the existence of a billion-dollar tuition industry. Frivolous suits have been filed in the past, though not by students themselves. A teacher once tried to sue MOE for FALSE IMPRISONMENT after she got locked out of school and injured herself during escape. A divorcee sued both a principal and MOE when he found out that his son wasn’t using his surname during primary school registration. Come to think of it, when my Chinese teacher threw my pencil box out of the window because I was playing with it, destroying it in the process, I could have easily sued her for damage to personal property.

Cheryl Tan is demanding $220 K to continue her studies at Wells Cathedral School in England, in addition to the ‘pain and suffering’ including an outbreak of eczema when she was involved in some CCA Chinese Orchestra kerfuffle. My guess is Cheryl is also a rabid Harry Potter fan, because her current school looks like goddamn Hogwarts. If her suit turns out unsuccessful (most likely to be the case), perhaps she can come back from Wells in a sorcerer’s robe and cast a hex on RGS resulting in them dropping a few notches down the schools ranking. Being a cathedral doesn’t mean she won’t get into trouble there either. If bullied by twats again she could jolly well sue not just Wells, but the Archibishop and Queen of England if she wants to.

The first 2 words that come to mind is ‘spoilt brat’, and you don’t find them just in elite schools. Parents have filed police reports for alleged abuse of their precious ones, whether teachers are giving their kids horrible haircuts or verbal lashings. Cheryl’s case may well set an ugly precedent for overprotective parents with the money to take their case from the police post to the lawyer’s office. Bullying is no laughing matter of course, but being disliked, back-stabbed and ganged up in school also serves as a precursor for what you’ll get in the workplace. Unlike school, you can’t just run crying to your teacher, principal or mummy and daddy when a jealous colleague shreds your documents in the printer room before you get a chance to retrieve them. As stressed out as Cheryl may be, it didn’t torment her as much as actual studies did for others. Students have committed suicide by jumping from buildings in the past. Cheryl jumped ship, and landed herself on a luxury liner.

Well if that’s the kind of parenting that Cheryl’s parents subscribe to, encouraging the mentality that it’s everybody else’s fault that you are unpopular in school and you deserve to be compensated for every little insult to your ego, then so be it at their own ruin. You could send your daughter to a centuries old prestigious castle but she’ll come out a chronic damsel in distress rather than a jouster armed and ready to tackle life’s challenges. Even if the bullying were seriously damaging to your academic prospects and you are the religiously litigious type who doesn’t want to engage school counselors or professional help, there’s something called the Harassment Act, which you can file against the offender directly rather than try to embarrass a bedrock institution known for producing some of the greatest minds the country has ever known. One less rotten apple to mar its reputation then.

ACS Barker using pressure tactics to sell carnival tickets

From ‘Carnival tickets: Students feel sales pressure’, 11 April 2015, article by Pearl Lee, ST

A letter by the principal of Anglo-Chinese School (Barker) appears to pressure students to sell tickets for a fund-raising carnival, saying the school would know how many tickets each boy had sold. A 44-year-old mother, whose two sons attend the secondary school in Barker Road, was so upset she sent the letter to citizen journalism website Stomp on Wednesday.

In his letter, e-mailed to all parents and uploaded on the school website, principal Peter Tan said: “As I told the boys, their effort in selling coupons reflects on their attitude. It is less an issue of ‘rich’ friends or relatives, but their willingness to step out of their comfort zone.”

…In the letter, Mr Tan wrote: “A student I spoke with this morning said he did not try to contact or speak to any of his relatives, though knowing that even if they are unable to attend, the coupons will be donated to needy families… I wonder if your son/ward is like him?

“My concern is that this lack of drive becomes a habit that will not do him any good.”

…On ACS (Primary)’s parent support group website, it said the carnival aims to raise $600,000, “which will be channelled towards enriching the education of ACS boys”. The school also started an initiative for students to donate coupons to needy families nearby.

In the letter, Mr Tan also recommended that each boy buy $50 worth of tickets for themselves to use at the carnival, which will have food, drinks and games stalls. He called on parents to help out at the carnival. “Extra pairs of hands ready and willing to help that day would be great! For instance, we have a parent who has offered to drive in his Ferrari and Maserati to add to the carnival atmosphere,” he wrote.

Each boy was given 20 tickets to sell, with each costing $10. One ticket is made up of five $2 coupons, which cannot be sold individually.

If you’re the kind of ACS boy who’s too proud or shy to beg friends or relatives for money, you can post your carnival tickets online for strangers, like what this guy did on Carousell. He may not be graded high on ‘getting out of comfort zone’ but will probably get an A for creativity.

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 8.07.19 AM

Of course if you’re passionate about your school or want to score points with your teachers and principal, it’s your prerogative if you want to go balls-out to squeeze money out of other people’s pockets. Your customers may see you as a pushy syncophant, but your principal will think nothing less of you than an inspiration for all ACS boys, especially if your dad has volunteered to grace the carnival with a Ferrari, which you can showcase to the needy folks invited to the event telling them: ‘Too bad you don’t have the money to send your kid to our school because THIS is what they’ll drive when they’re older’. If you’re an introvert with no business going around asking people for money and you just want to spend your career in a lab than be a travelling salesman, then you’re viewed as a weak link, and may be arrowed to be the guy who gets dunked in a tub of water repeatedly in a carnival game since you didn’t contribute monetary-wise.

There are other ways to prove your ACSian mettle, of course, other than going around bugging people to attend a funfair, but principal Peter Tan seems to be using carnival fund-raising as the litmus test of the ACS spirit, that you’ll be judged for your lack of ambition, or even character, if you don’t meet the challenge. If your parents happen to be elites with a bunch of loaded contacts, you don’t need to do much to satisfy the criteria. If they, however, are working round the clock in a food stall keeping you in ACS thanks to good ol’ meritocracy, then you’ll probably have your fill of humble pie, while your rich ass friend has the luxury of preparing for the test next week because his folks are doing all the collecting on his behalf. I doubt the school monitors how you actually went about raising the money, whether it’s out of your own savings, or if you had to service a 65 year old pedophile in a toilet cubicle to get $300 in one night.

In 1987, Victoria School ran a fund-raising campaign with a less demanding target of $25 per student. Naturally someone complained that they were coerced into buying tickets, that success in this project was testament to one’s ‘desire to achieve’. I’m sure there are other meaningful, creative ways to both give back to society and prevent the school building from collapsing at the same time, without having to distinguish your students by how many coupons they managed to sell, like running a charity car-wash or recycling project outside of school grounds, something that better represents the collective spirit of your students, without boys having to compete with each other to see who makes a better contestant on ‘The Apprentice’.

Hey, ACS, here’s an idea. How about chartering a private MRT ride for all the needy families to your carnival then?

Teachers taking national exams together with students

From ‘Make teachers take national exams’, 28 feb 2015, ST Forum

(Maria Loh Mun Foong): THE trend of private tutors sitting national exams to better gauge their mastery of the subjects they teach appears to be increasing (“Maths tutor sits exams to understand students better”, Wednesday).

Maths tutor Ong Ai Ling said that though she aced both maths papers she sat, “it was not an easy task”. I also know of a General Paper tutor who has sat the paper for at least the past few years, and concedes the difficulties of acing it.

I did not come across any school teachers who sat the national exams during my teaching stint in a secondary school. Perhaps, the Ministry of Education could consider making teachers who teach graduating classes sit the national exams. This may lead to improved outcomes for our educational system.

It would help ensure that teachers, many of whom would have sat their exams many years ago, are adequately equipped to prepare students for the recent changes in the exam format (“Memorising answers won’t score you the As”, Wednesday).

If teachers can prove that they can ace the same exams their students are sitting, it may help instil greater confidence in the teachers’ efficacy in teaching the subject, which may result in fewer students relying on tuition. Teachers who get grades below a benchmark could be required to take corrective action.

Maths tutor Ong Ai Ling from ‘Winners Education‘ did in fact score A1s for both elementary and additional Maths as a working adult, but only after intensive preparation over a 2 month period involving the mugging of past years’ papers. No mean feat of course, considering that I have trouble with even Primary school Maths. Even if I could take a sabbatical to re-take my O Levels again, I doubt I could beat a Sec 4 student, who has been moulded by the system to conquer exam questions based on technique, application and mostly rote memorisation. I doubt I could even beat a Sec 1 student forced to do O Level Maths, or make it past the second round of ‘Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader’?

Having no teaching experience myself, I’m not sure how the competency of teachers in their specialty subject are evaluated in schools, or how they would keep up with their continual education given all the administrative duties they’re burdened with, like dealing with complaining parents, or cutting pupils’ hair. In my time, we assumed our teachers were experts in the field, and though we may occasionally make them uneasy with questions out of the syllabus, we never in our wildest dreams imagined going to battle with them in the examination hall. It’s OK if you’re a chess prodigy beating your mentor in international competition, or Jackie Chan giving his kungfu drunken master the thrashing of his lifetime, but if you’re a better-than-average student scoring higher than your TEACHER in a national exam, he or she may be spending more time directing traffic at parent-teacher functions the following semester, as part of what the writer suggested as ‘corrective action’.

When a high school in Jiangsu Province China asked teachers above the age of 40 to sit exams together with students, most protested by submitting blank sheets of paper and walked away, some afraid that their results may get leaked and compared against students’ scores. The management called it ‘business training’ to test the proficiency of its staff, while teachers viewed it as an insult and humiliation, knowing full well that teaching and scoring exams are two different things altogether. As a teacher, I would expect you to at least know the basic structure of the paper and an idea of how to answer them, not so much how many marks you’ll get given the circumstances (I spend my whole life studying, you are married with kids; I’m young and nimble, you’re old and foggy). If you want to push for teachers sitting for actual exams, shouldn’t the HODs, principals and Minister of State for Education do it as well, so that they know exactly what we underlings are going through? Like making Lui Tuck Yew stand on the MRT during peak hours.

Maybe we don’t need to make teachers compete against students in an exam ‘live’, which would put many off the profession, or tempt some to even cheat given that their career is at stake, but rather against each other, not only as a competency test and friendly competition but so that they can empathise with what students today have to go through. Ultimately the goal here is to fix the system such that parents no longer see the need to subject their kids to excessive tuition. Having smart teachers who score distinctions well into their 40s alone isn’t enough. Just because I still have a mastery of solving cubic equations with synthetic division doesn’t necessarily make me a great teacher.

What I would like to see, however, is a NIE-trained teacher going HEAD to HEAD with a private tutor, given that the private tuition-sphere has its share of unapproved, shady self-professed educators with bogus qualifications. It doesn’t matter if you graduated from the GEP program, aced all your O and A Level subjects, or were a Maths Olympiad champion in the past. If you take a paper today and fail, you can kiss your tuition business goodbye. Perhaps MOE should take the writer’s suggestion and apply it in their assessment and approval of tuition agencies instead.

Primary school science questions having ‘model’ answers

From ‘Only one right answer to science questions?’23 Feb 2015, article by Amelia Teng and Pearl Lee, ST

EXPLAIN how the hard, bony body of a seahorse could be an advantage. The right answer, according to one Primary 6 science teacher, is: “It protects the seahorse from injury and reduces the chances of predators successfully feeding on it.”

But the child who wrote “It acts as an armour that protects the seahorse from predators” was told that her answer was wrong. This was one of several examples thrown up by parents, who have complained recently that primary school science teachers are too rigid in marking open-ended questions, and are emphasising rote learning over the understanding of concepts.

This, despite schools having shifted to an inquiry-based learning approach in science since 2008. With the approach, pupils are encouraged to ask questions, analyse data and come to their own conclusions.

Several parents wrote to The Straits Times Forum page earlier this month, calling for schools to be more flexible. Most said their children were unduly penalised for answers that had the same meaning as the correct ones, but did not contain the right “key words”.

The children had been told by teachers to stick to key phrases and words found in textbooks, in order to get full marks in assignments or tests.

Here’s another Primary 3 head-scratcher for you:

What is the difference between a bird and a lion?

If you said the ‘bird has feathers but the lion does not’, you’re wrong. You’re also wrong if you said ‘The bird can fly but the lion can’t’, ‘birds evolved from flying dinosaurs but not lions’, or even ‘birds poop on cars but lions poop on the ground’ (assuming the question involves you staring at a picture of a bird and a lion). The correct answer, according to a parent complaining to the ST Forum earlier this month (‘Good science=Poor English’, Feb 5 2015) is ‘The bird has feathers but the lion does NOT HAVE FEATHERS’, which basically means the same damn thing as your original answer, except annoyingly repetitive. (Well if you want to be even more specific: a bird has feathers but a lion has fur, not feathers).

Clearly, the student knows what he’s talking about, that a lion does not have feathers, but the science teacher here doesn’t give a hoot about your ‘understanding’ if it does not fit into the template answer scheme, even if the same statement in a composition about bird and lions would make your English teacher squirm in her seat, and accuse you of trying to make up the 500 word quota with redundancies. The parent summed it up perfectly in his letter: “Is there rigidity in the teaching of science? It would certainly appear so (that there is rigidity in the teaching of science)”. Take that, Rigidity!

Not convinced that teachers can be anal about science answers? Here’s another puzzler on animals.

You could be thinking of the following possible answers:

1) Both the bull and the lion give birth to their young
2) Both the bull and lion poop and pee
3) Both the bull and lion can kill you
4) Both the bull and lion are mammals

ALL OF THE ABOVE ARE WRONG. (The answers are ‘4 legs’, ‘have hair’, or ‘similar body shape’ i.e something you can actually see from the illustration). The thing that you should be staring hard at isn’t the actual drawing, but the phrase ‘STUDY the animals BELOW’. Gotcha.

Let’s up the ante with a dreaded multiple choice question about the properties of a light bulb.

Now read the last option carefully before you make your choice. If you chose ‘all of the above’, you are interpreting D as ‘the bulb lights up only when electricity passes through it’. If you chose ‘A, B and C’ you read it as ‘light energy is the only energy that is given off when electricity passes through it’. The correct answer happens to be the latter. Answer D, in the spirit of the other animal questions, happens to be the grammatical equivalent of the rabbit/duck gestalt optical illusion. Given the ambiguity of this shitty question, no student should be penalised for seeing a rabbit when the answer scheme says duck.

Do you know how a shadow is formed? Here’s one student’s answer to a puzzle that has tickled the intellect of many an ancient Greek philosopher.

 The complete answer is ‘Because the sun is behind her and she is blocking the path of the light’. You know what this obsession with ‘complete’ answers will do to our kids? They’ll never be able to complete their paper on time because they’d want to add details like ‘because light travels in straight lines and Betty is an opaque human being and she will generate a penumbra and umbra depending on the angle and intensity of the sunlight’. Just to play safe. Except that some teachers will still mark you wrong for ‘trying to be clever’ when penumbrae and umbrae are not taught until you’re in secondary school. If you mention anything about photons or the particle-wave duality you may be suspended from school altogether.

But back to the seahorse question. If I were grading the student I’ll not only let it go, I would also give her BONUS marks for using her imagination and drawing a figurative analogy between ‘hard skin’ and ‘armour’. By our school standards, this paper published in the rather obscure ‘Acta Biomaterialia’ journal is pure BULL. Its title? Highly deformable bones: Unusual deformation mechanisms of seahorse armor (Porter et al).

All this nitpicking over ‘key words’ will not only kill our children’s love for science, but also restricts how individuals grasp concepts, punishing those who, well, ‘think outside the box’. A student who sees beyond 4 legs and digs deeper into the taxonomic characteristics of mammals vs birds is given zero marks vs another who memorises ‘key words’ because his tuition teacher said so. Flowery language, like ‘armour’, is not ‘scientific’ and has no place in a science paper, they say. Well try describing DNA to laymen without ‘unscientific’ analogies like zippers and enzyme/cell receptor interactions without using ‘lock and key’.

Final question: What’s the difference between a robot and a typical Singaporean Science student?

Answer: The robot needs electricity to recharge but the student does not need electricity to recharge.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 375 other followers