Education Alive ad depicting a kid trapped under a truck

From ‘Tuition agency order to stop ‘objectionable ad”, 27 March 2014, article by Joy Fang, Today

The advertising authority ordered a tuition agency to stop placing an advertisement that shows a child trapped under a vehicle, after parents denounced its graphic content. The full-page advertisement by Education Alive to promote a workshop carries a picture of a child crushed under a vehicle beneath the words “Breaking news: Child trapped under 4 tonnes truck!”

It also asked “concerned parents” of children taking the GCE O- and A-Level examinations this year what they would do to “save” their child….Its intent was to convey to parents that “their child’s future is a matter of life and death” and that parents “can literally change their child’s destiny if they wanted to”, she (founder Sherina Koh) explained.

…Senior marketing executive Samantha Lee, 33, who has two sons aged two and five, said it was “very wrong to use such a picture as part of their marketing campaign”.

“What kind of message are they trying to put across? That if I do not attend this workshop, my child will die? It’s insulting to parents,” she said.

Photo credit from 'Faces of Death'

Photo credit from ‘Faces of Death’

Yes, this ad is definitely objectionable. First of all, it’s 4-TONNE truck, not 4 TONNES truck. Next, it’s ‘imagine if he WERE your child, not WAS’. The hyphen between the ‘MUST ATTEND’ is missing, and I seriously doubt the claim of ‘INSTANTLY’. It’s a child’s brain you’re talking about here, not a stained shirt treated with Dynamo. If I were a parent, I’d be more offended by the grammar and the schizo right and left text alignment than graphic violence, and this would be the last place on earth to send a child for English tuition (though it could also mean a great place for CHINESE tuition). Yes, I would risk my life to pull my baby out from under a truck in an instant, just like I’d rescue anyone else’s kids from the clutches of a company that sounds more like a geomancy consultancy than educators.

Sherina Koh explained in a subsequent FB post cum apology that the truck image was inspired by the story of a mother displaying superhuman strength by lifting a car off her trapped child, which suggests that failure to enrol your kid with Education Alive spells eternal doom and you’re a bad parent for neglecting to do so. In any case, lifting a CAR is one thing, 4 TONNES of TRUCK on the other hand, is ridiculous. She also describes a child’s ‘future’ as being ‘a matter of life or death’. Erm, isn’t EVERYONE’S future a matter of life or death? You either live or die tomorrow, or next week. Did she really mean EXAMS instead? That if you fail your O’s/A’s, it’s the end of the world as you know it? Gosh, it must terrible for those school dropouts then, especially those who went on to found multibillion internet start-ups. Their destiny must be total shit if Education Alive is to be taken seriously.

These EA folks brand themselves as ‘coaches’ not ‘tutors’. They’re also dream builders and dream ‘livers’. I have my dream liver too; I like it slightly on the raw side in a hearty bowl of peppery pork innards soup. For a bunch of ‘fun-loving’, ‘crazy’ practitioners of this destiny-changing ‘methodology’ who wear clown noses on their website, having a gruesome image in a full page ad seems out of place. But that’s not all. They used to have an ad with the actual words ‘DYING’ in Dracula font, which they pulled out of their FB page when I last accessed it. Maybe they don’t just help kids pass exams, they’re necromancers who resurrect the dead too. With their pixie dust dream magic.

And it’s ‘witness how your child COMES alive’.

SAVE THE CHILDREN OH GOD!

SAVE THE CHILDREN OH GOD!

 

About these ads

Schoolchildren spending too much time on CCAs

From ‘Review time spent on CCAs’, 24 March 2014, ST Forum

(Lee Hui Ling): …My daughter studies at an independent secondary school. She is required to stay back after school for her CCA three days a week, each time for up to four hours. If there are forthcoming performances or competitions, she may need to stay back on additional days for practice.

Many of her schoolmates who take public transport wake up as early as 5.30am to make it in time for school at 7.20am. Lessons end around 1.30pm and, following lunch, CCA starts at 2.30pm and ends at 6.30pm. Taking public transport home sets them back by another one to 11/2 hours and some manage to reach home only after 8pm. Following a quick dinner and wash-up, they start on their heavy homework load or revisions after 9pm. By the time they go to bed, it is way past midnight or 1am.

They wake up a few hours later at 5.30am, with barely five hours of sleep, to start another long, tiring day.

…In their quest to excel in not only academics but also CCAs, some schools may have imposed gruelling hours on students. In the process, students, and the teachers who stay back for equally long hours, get caught up in a system that drains them mentally and physically. The primary purpose of CCA is to develop the interests and talents of students; winning accolades is secondary and this should not be done at the expense of students’ health.

I urge the Ministry of Education and the Health Promotion Board to look into this issue.

In 2008, 15 year old ACS student Tan Wen Yi wanted to get out of track and field and switch to drama as his CCA. He was made to stay back 4 times a week as punishment for skipping training to play football. When his parents refused to have any of it, he headed for his bedroom, climbed onto the ledge of the window and jumped to his death. Right in front of his hapless mother. No one saw it coming.

Of course most kids don’t resort to such drastic tactics to get out of CCAs, but added pressure and long hours during competition season is part and parcel of school life. What parents are really worried about, other than sleep deprivation or sudden suicide, is whether this preoccupation with ‘winning accolades’ would have any impact on their child’s studies. If you’re a Type A go-getter and extrovert who thrives on CCAs and little sleep and want to be the Prime Minister when you grow up, then good for you. If CCA is a dreary chore and you would rather spend the time writing Chinese composition, then there should be flexibility to cut back, like ‘days off’ after intense training or medal success, or the choice to take a less hectic CCA.  The problem is some schools may deprive you of a CCA which may be the best fit for you for purely ‘business’ reasons, like an under-performing team which can’t deliver results. Not to mention kiasu parents who think some bonus points would do you good and forbid you from joining any ‘unprofitable’ CCA that seems, well, FUN.

Add homework, tuition and piano lessons to the mix and you’ll produce ‘well-rounded’ kids who hardly have time for themselves or family, victims of the national philosophy that children can only grow up to be productive cogs in the machine if they excelled in at least 1 CCA. Kids who’re ‘team players’ but lack the spark of creativity, fail to develop spiritually, or don’t get to experience the world outside school or even the country. Kids who don’t know what it’s like to help out at their parents’ hawker stall, how to climb a tree, or do something nice for a needy stranger.  In 2007, a survey revealed that only 2.6% of teens had at least 9 hours of sleep every night, a deficit that they can’t even make up for during week long holidays which are often stuffed with even more CCA activities, homework, enrichment classes or group projects. We’re producing kids who can’t, both literally and figuratively, DREAM.

During my time, competitive sport taught me the sour taste of humiliation and defeat and I have no regrets, but I never felt like I was cheated of my personal time, nor put in a pressure cooker environment like what kids these days seem to be immersed in.  So now we know where this epidemic of ‘busyness’ in the working world comes from. We were groomed from young to be madly rushing, always behind time, and everyone believes that this constant stress as a driver for excellence can only be a good thing. Until someone breaks and does the unthinkable that is, which by then would be only too little, too late.

 

Spectra boy demanding apology from teacher

From ‘Student apologises after Youtube clip shows him shouting at teacher’, 22 Jan 2014, article by Pearl Lee, ST

A secondary school student has apologised to his teacher after being filmed shouting at him in class. Spectra Secondary principal Krishnan Aravinthan said on Wednesday that the student “has reflected on his actions and is very remorseful”, adding: “He has apologised to the teacher concerned.”

Mr Aravinthan added that the school “takes a serious view with regard to student discipline and has high expectations of our students’ behaviour”. He has counselled the student involved.

The school is also using the incident – which was uploaded to YouTube on Tuesday – “as a teachable moment for students”.

The clip showed the student walking around the classroom talking to his classmates. When the teacher asked the boy to return to his seat, the student then shouted at his teacher and demanded an apology. Spectra Secondary is Singapore’s second specialised school for students eligible for the Normal (Technical) stream. It took in its first batch of students this month, with each getting a tablet computer to assist their learning.

From the video it appears that it was the teacher who first lost his cool and yelled at ‘Justin’ to stop his nonsense, but what followed was a masterclass of defiant posturing and juvenile obscenity, the kind of behaviour that would have me suspended on the spot. I don’t know what’s sadder, a teacher having to apologise to an arrogant bully or Justin’s upbringing. An attitude like this would be ideal for a career as a bouncer, a warrant officer in the army, or judging by the kid’s weird gyrations,  a pimp gangster boss.

Most kids wouldn’t have the audacity to engage in a shouting match with their teachers. Some would complain of verbal abuse to their parents, who would then go on to complain to the police. This kid decided to take his oppressor head on, and our next generation is doomed if this act of rebellion is hailed as martyrdom by his sniggering classmates. The teacher was shockingly gracious with the quick apology, but Justin began pushing his luck once he realised he got the upper hand like the tenacious brat that he is. The sex comment was just, well, bizarre, and you’d think such behaviour might have been the result of watching too much BDSM porn.

Teachers never needed to say sorry for raising their voices in the past; it was almost essential to get the work done if you’re dealing with a rowdy bunch of renegades. This one was willing to swallow his pride, perhaps in case the kid decides to call the police, but emotional blackmail should never get in the way of how a teacher does his job, even if it means having to lose his temper at the devil’s spawn.

Now if there’s ever another MOE recruitment ad to tell us how wonderful teaching is, and if Justin is game for it, he could play the role of the good-for-nothing angry kid who ends up being a motivational speaker, eternally grateful to the poor teacher he once shot down in class.

Stephanie Koh not proud to be Singaporean

From ‘K-pop hunt 3 finalist:I don’t feel proud to be Singaporean’, 13 Jan 2014, article in asiaone. com

Controversial K-pop Star Hunt 3 finalist Stephanie Koh from Singapore says she doesn’t regret how badly she behaved on the reality talent show. In one episode where she was asked to surrender her mobile phone, the 21-year-old had infamously said: “I’ll attack you, I’ll scratch you and I’ll kill you”.

…On the topic on viewers expressing the view that her behaviour gives Singapore a bad name, she said she is not bothered about it. “I wouldn’t actually bother about representing this country because to be honest, I don’t really feel proud to be a Singaporean,” she said.

“Everyone here is so small minded, everyone here is so submissive, everyone here don’t know how to think outside the box, no one here is creative, everyone here just thinks the same way, full of the same rules, and it’s too rigid for my taste,” she told RazorTV.

Stephanie later posted a vlog ranting about why Singapore sucks, making comparisons between Singapore and Australia wages, invoking sympathy for ‘artists’, and blaming the education system for mass manufacturing ‘homework robots’. I didn’t have the patience to listen to a K-pop wannabe complain for more than 10 minutes, so here’s a summary of her main points on why being Singaporean is nothing to be proud of based on the asiaone screenshots.

1. No place for an artist.

The finest example of how artists aren’t appreciated here is the My Grandfather Road saga. Yet, despite Sticker Lady Samantha Lo’s scuffle with the law for her street art, she has managed to find a ‘place’ for her work in Sentosa. If you’re aspiring to be a digital CG artist, there’s Lucasfilms’ Sandcrawler at Fusionopolis. So yeah, you may not be able to get permits to display a dead shark in a tank or even get arrested for using the Singapore flag as an artpiece, but to generalise that art as a career path is a dead end in Singapore is probably stretching it. And, oh, there’s this small local film called Ilo Ilo. Perhaps Stephanie may have heard of it.

2. Singaporeans are narrow minded.

This suggests that we’re fixated on only certain things in life and not open to new experiences. I was expecting Koh to expand on this point to talk about the paper chase and PSLE, but she began complaining about how we’re brainwashed by mainstream media propaganda, and comparing what a waitress would get in Singapore vs Australia. Granted, we’re still a conservative lot, uncomfortable with homosexuality and stuff on the Internet, but that speaks more of the Government than the people of Singapore. I don’t know if she went on to discuss the chewing gum ban.

In a similar vein, someone by the name of Zing waxed lyrical about London some years back;

In London, I can be a saint or a sinner. I can be City boy, goth girl, punk kid; I can be in with the media, in with the cool kids, I can drop rhymes in East End ghettos and I can drop cash in Mahiki on cocktails. I can be posh, poor, upmarket, downmarket, chav, toff, hippie, indie. I can be gay or straight, man or woman.

Zing also bragged about being ‘mugged’ in London and having to need stitches. No I’d rather not be mugged at knifepoint, nor ‘drop rhymes’ thank you very much. And who wants to be ‘poor’?

3. Singaporeans are not creative

This is where the ‘homework’ robot argument comes in. Sure Singapore may never produce the likes of Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. Even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak thinks we suck at creativity.

When you’re very structured almost like a religion… Uniforms, uniforms, uniforms… everybody is the same. Look at structured societies like Singapore where bad behavior isn’t tolerated. You are extremely punished.

Where are the creative people? Where are the great artists? Where are the great musicians? Where are the great singers? Where are the great writers? Where are the athletes? All the creative elements seems to disappear.

Perhaps what our critics mean is the lack of innovation and risk-taking, even if such elements may not necessarily lead to noble enterprises. One ex-Singaporean Brandon Wade defied the odds to let his creativity flourish in the US. He runs sugar daddy websites.

‘Creativity’ is subjective of course. Stephenie thinks Jack Neo films are ‘super amazing’ and does cover versions of Gangnam style. Ironically, Jack Neo’s movie success came  from capitalising on the exact same things that Stephenie is whining about. If we weren’t oppressive in some way, ‘I Not Stupid’ wouldn’t have existed. The fact that we’re renown for being a nanny-state makes any sort of creative output noteworthy, like ‘Wow imagine that, a thumb drive invention coming out of boring, sterile Singapore!’. Which did happen, by the way.

4. Singaporeans are submissive

Well, totally. Unlike those buggers rioting in Little India.

5. Singaporeans are not happy, and not nice.

Stephanie tries to impress with some dubious statistics about Singapore being the smallest country in the world with the highest suicide rate. What has the size got to do with suicide anyway? Yeah, we’re not shiny happy people and we grumble a lot. We’re not as ‘nice and friendly’ as the Australians, and aren’t generous when it comes to smiles, emotions, or helping strangers. It needs work I have to admit, though I rather be given a scowl on a train than have someone mug me or insult my race in broad daylight. Again, a case of selective observation and the ‘grass is greener’ syndrome. The average Australian may treat you with zealous hospitality if you’re there visiting, but it might be a different story if you’re there taking someone’s job.

6. Everybody just follow rules

This point is related to all 5 previous points. Everybody loves a rebel, the one who bucks the trend, who goes against the mainstream. ‘Breaking the rules’ has become such an overrated motivational cliche that we forget that for every person who makes it big as a non-conformer, there are other rule-breakers subscribing to the same gung-ho thinking who fall by the wayside.

Stephanie goes on to say she won’t be here for long and will be scooting out of this godforsaken place (I’m guessing Australia where she can join 50,000 of ex-fellow countrymen). I wish her all the best and I’m sure all unhappy, submissive, uncreative Singaporeans are spurred into proving some of her gripes about the country wrong. Not sure if Australia would welcome with open arms someone who mocks her fellow countrymen on Youtube, or feral enough to scratch you if you get anywhere near her precious phone. She ends her video challenging anyone to come up with something worthy to be proud of as a Singaporean. That’s easy: I’m proud of our food, though I don’t know if Stephenie’s diet consists of only kimchee and sour grapes. Maybe she should try some humble pie for a change. That would help a lot if you’re settling down in ANY foreign country and can’t afford to piss people off with a snarky attitude.

I would argue that you don’t have to be ‘proud’ of your own country to be perfectly happy living in it. Singapore has things to be ashamed of, but so does everywhere else in the world. And even if Australia turns out to be a disappointment, it’s unlikely that someone committed to romanticising the country and its way of life would admit that they made the wrong decision to pack their bags and leave in the first place. Let’s be ‘nice’ and just leave her be, shall we.

Teenage students dying during PE lessons

From ’13 year old student dies after PE lesson, second case this week’, 16 Jan 2014, article by Pearl Lee, ST

A 13-year-old student from Temasek Junior College died on Wednesday during a physical education (PE) lesson, after he reportedly had an asthma attack. A relative of the boy, who is an Integrated Programme student, told Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao that the student had informed the PE teacher that he felt unwell. He collapsed right after that.

Police have classified the case as an unnatural death and are investigating. This is the second such case this week. On Monday, a 16-year-old student from Tanglin Secondary died after jogging during a PE lesson.

According to the Chinese papers, the boy fainted while doing WARM UP EXERCISES, dying shortly after while in hospital. In 1988, 19 year old Ong Kok Kheng also died after doing warm up exercises. 3 years later, 15 year old Aw Wei Yong collapsed and died after walking 2 rounds around a basketball court as part of team ‘warm up’. Though both the latter victims had a ‘heart condition’, we usually think of ‘warming up’ as an activity to PREVENT injury rather than one that could actually kill you. If you think about the evolution of human running, the act of warming up comes across as totally unnatural preparation for any form of rapid locomotion. Most physically daunting activities that we perform on a daily basis are often bursts of adrenaline-fuelled spontaneity and don’t require any form of ‘warm-up’ whatsoever.  Dashing after a bus, dancing, quickie sex. The worst that could happen was getting a stitch. Not stitched up in a coffin.

If doing embarrassing hip rotation exercises could slay you, imagine what track equipment could do to your mortal flesh. In 1991, a JC student died a gruesome death after impaling himself on a JAVELIN. He was playing with HULA HOOPS when the freak tragedy happened. When I was in JC, we were made to handle ‘medicine balls’, dusty heavy weapons of mass destruction that could cause sink holes on the road if you dropped them from a sufficient height. Sometimes it’s the PE teacher herself attacking you for not showing enough enthusiasm, and all you have to defend yourself with is a beanbag or a plastic cone. PE lessons aren’t just hazardous to some kids, but to PE teachers as well. You may get knocked into a coma by a stray shot put ball, or beaten silly with a piece of wood by a kid unwilling to walk around the field as punishment.

We used to be a tough lot. As early as 1939 schoolchildren were forced to do rhythmic exercises for developing ‘suppleness’. Some of these gymnastic shenanigans were more military-grade than the wussy stuff they dish out in army now. Those days if I didn’t want to study I could at least have become a travelling acrobat, with a body drilled into supple perfection.

Hangin tough

Hangin tough

When one too many army boys die for nothing, SAF puts a stop to outdoor training. If you have kids collapsing during school hours when PE is supposed to be the most fun part of your entire education, perhaps the Ministry should look into putting classes on hold as well and devote the time to catching up on homework instead. Much to the delight of kiasu parents of course.

Heather Chua is really a 22 year old man

From ‘Man probed for posing as woman and making racist remarks online’, 11 Jan 2014, article by David Ee, ST

A 22-YEAR-OLD man is under investigation for making racially insensitive remarks on Facebook while posing as a woman with the fictitious name of Heather Chua. The comments targeting Malays last week caused an outcry among netizens, and led to several police reports being lodged.

Yet to be named, he is assisting police with investigations. The “Heather Chua” moniker gained notoriety online from early last year after numerous posts denigrating, among other groups, the poor and the lower-income.

“She” also hit out at Institute of Technical Education graduates, public housing residents and national servicemen. “Heather Chua” claimed to be a 40-year-old Singaporean who studied engineering at the National University of Singapore and attended Raffles Girls’ School and Temasek Junior College. “She” also claimed to live at Sentosa Cove. Photographs of luxury cars “she” purportedly owned were posted on the Facebook account.

…In a Facebook post last night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he had received complaints about “Heather Chua”, and was glad the Singapore Police Force had established the identity of the man believed to be behind the fictitious profile.

If a hacker claiming to work for the Anonymous legion can get caught by the police, what makes the brainchild behind ‘Heather Chua’ think he could hide behind a fake Facebook profile? The last time someone posed as another person on FB to make disparaging remarks did so under the moniker Rachel Ann Beguia, who insulted Singaporeans as a whole. The post that triggered the hunt for ‘Heather’ was related to Muslim dietary habits, and proved to be as offensive as sharing a link to a Pig on a Kaaba image.

Heather Chua may have started out as a parody account, a fictional persona of an attractive, snobbish and ridiculously wealthy elite, the kind inspired by the likes of  Wee Shu Min.  Citing her home as Sentosa Cove, she followed up her ITE diss by calling HDB dwellers ‘brainless low-lifes’.  It’s hard to imagine that such people exist, or that locals actually LIVE on Sentosa Cove. Last year the same Heather complained about NSmen being slackers and no one seemed to suspect her of being fake despite her familiarity with the army. She also happened to be an admirer of our PM, the very same PM who’s now glad that she’s been nabbed for investigations.

Thankfully, some bloggers were quick to call out Heather as a fraud, as ‘she’ turned out to be. If ‘Heather’ was conceived as an arrogant, racist bitch on the pretentious stage that is FB and her creator may be potentially arrested for sedition, what about characters in plays and movies who spew racist insults, like Adrian Pang’s porn director in Porn Masala? Would screenwriters or producers of racist scripts be called to ‘assist’ the police in investigations?

Racism aside, it’s not the first time someone got flamed for commenting on the educational level or affiliation of the boys they prefer to date. In 2011, relief teacher and blogger Jiang Lai said only ACS boys were worth dating. She was later arrested not for seditious remarks but for attempted suicide, with suggestions of ‘borderline personality disorder’, a neurosis which perhaps all FB users suffer from to various degrees. It’s interesting to see what the real Heather Chua is diagnosed with after being exposed and possibly charged. My bet is on ‘depression’, or at the very least he was ‘going through a difficult time in his life’.

Mission school students forced to attend chapel sessions

From ‘Respect faiths of others in mission schools’, 6 Jan 2014, ST Forum

(Poh Choon Kiat): WHEN my family went to the Open House of a mission secondary school, we were told that non-Christians were welcome and that my daughter would not be forced to attend chapel (“Religious knowledge lessons important in mission schools” by Mr Benjamin Wee; last Friday). But after admission into the school, my daughter was forced to attend fortnightly one-hour chapel sessions.

When she protested that she was not a Christian, she was taken to see the principal, who made cutting comments about her knowing full well she was joining a mission school.

My daughter’s suggestion that she do her own revision or homework during chapel sessions was flatly rejected. In Secondary 3 now, she is still being forced to attend these sessions. The Education Ministry should ensure that all government and government-aided schools do not force chapel sessions on students of other faiths, as respect and tolerance of other religions are the cornerstone of our country’s values.

In 1992, St Andrews JC made attending chapel sessions a condition for admission into the school for a group of ‘appeal’ students, prompting the Education Ministry to summon Article 16 (3) of the constitution that states that ‘no person shall be required to receive instruction in or take part in any ceremony or act of worship of a religion OTHER THAN HIS OWN. In other words, no one can compel you to attend chapel if you’re a non-believer, even if the school has been established to promote the Bible as moral nourishment like pushing milk for strong teeth and bones. One of those students forced to ‘sing hymns’ and hear the chaplain preaching was a SIKH, who also lamented about Muslims being excused from such tedious rites.

‘Proselytising’ was a charge laid against the Anglo Chinese school way back in 1896, where about 60 Chinese boys were coerced into attending ‘religious exercises’. More than a century later, the ministry continued to warn schools against making religious activities compulsory or as a criterion for admission. PM Lee, himself from Catholic High, stressed in his 2009 National Day Rally that religious activities should be optional, and he didn’t want to see ‘Christians, Buddhists, Hindus all attending different schools’. But the evangelising wasn’t just happening in the confines of the school, some school teachers make it their personal mission to convert errant delinquents outside school hours.

Yet, it was in 1984 when the Government made ‘Religious Knowledge’ a compulsory subject for all secondary students, for it was deemed the ‘best and most dependable basis for inculcating moral values’, especially for rebellious teens corrupted by ‘Western’ influences. Except that no prayers, meditation or carrying of ‘artifacts’ were allowed during such classes. Which is like telling you to study a cookbook and not getting to cook anything, not even crack an egg. Within 5 years there were calls to scrap RK for good, and replace it with something more ‘inclusive’, like Civics, much to the agony of RK supporters who tried to convince us, and then Minister Tony Tan, that the scrapping of religious subjects was responsible for our young and impressionable becoming ‘materialistic and individualistic’.  Look what good decades of religious study has done to the likes of Kong Hee and gang then.

There are those who still believe that the touch of God is a necessary rite of passage for a ‘complete’ education and upbringing of a person. Some even propose to offer Religion 101 to students (Offer Religion 101 to students, 8 Jan 2013, ST Forum), which is like revisiting the 80s all over again. Except there is no evidence from history that being exposed to religion in school makes you a more moral, wholesome being than one who hasn’t. You don’t even need to be in a school, mission or non-mission, to get harassed by proselytisers outside, like how I’ve been targetted during my secondary school days by people trying to educate me about Jesus Christ. What I came to appreciate, and despise, about religion didn’t come from school, but from social encounters, family gatherings and IRC chatrooms.

In fact, it may be easier if you’re a non-Christian in a mission school to just pretend and attend chapel anyway, so that your staunch teachers or friends won’t single you out and try to shepherd you onto the path of eternal life. Or just report diarrhoea and bring your homework into the toilet with you.

Children burning schoolwork after PSLE

From ‘Burning question on post-PSLE ‘celebration’, 10 Oct 2013, ST

(Desiree Tan): IT SADDENED me to read about a group of children and parents burning school material right after the Primary School Leaving Examination (“Post-PSLE book-burning photo inflames netizens”; Tuesday). While I agree with netizens that these items should be recycled or given to needy pupils, the more disturbing issue is the celebratory connotation of the act of burning to signify the end of a major examination.

I can understand people blaming the system for placing too great an emphasis on exam grades. I can also understand that in their quest to excel, children experience a great deal of stress sitting the PSLE.

But to use these reasons to justify the act of burning school material is inexcusable. Are we teaching 12-year-olds that once they complete the PSLE, they can burn away what they have learnt?

What is the point of achieving stellar results if our children grow up with such thinking? The damage that has been done is far more serious than just killing trees.

We did start the fire

We did start the fire

Bonfire organiser Arnold Gay said the symbolic act of destroying schoolwork was ‘cathartic and fun’. One critic of the celebration said ‘books and writings’ should be revered and are a ‘sacred part of civilisation’ as if they were magical scrolls or scripture (We were not burning textbooks, says Kiss92 DJ Arnold Gay, 9 Oct 2013).  While my sympathies go to the authors of such assessment books or worksheets, tossing educational material into the fire isn’t a culmination of resentment against the system or deliberately erasing from memory everything primary school taught us so much as a stark, dramatic exaggeration of what people actually do with their old worksheets after the PSLE.  Not many of us would laminate them and stack them nicely in a chest as an heirloom to our descendents, hoping that they would look upon our maths notes like they just stumbled upon ancient manuscripts that foretell the ultimate fate of the Universe.

During my time there were no recycling bins to speak of, and most of what I threw away would have ended up disintegrating into ashes in the incinerator anyway. In fact, the most heinous acts of violence on school material were performed BEFORE the actual exam. Wooden rulers were snapped, pages were stabbed with pens and flunked test papers were ripped to shreds, sometimes by angry parents themselves. The holiest of tomes have been vandalised by the luminous scrawling of highlighter pens, battered into tatters, riddled with stains, disfigured by ugly dog ears and left to die like they were humiliated and gangraped a thousand times over. Though sometimes that is EXACTLY how some kids feel when they’re taking the PSLE. Better we take it out on homework than on ourselves, I say. A search on Youtube will reveal the many creative ways that liberated kids around the world destroy their schoolwork, by torching it with an acetylene flame, flushing it down a toilet, or literally letting their DOG EAT the damn thing.

I would imagine kids hurling schoolwork into the flames with the hedonistic zest of one destroying the autobiography of a ruthless dictator, the belongings of a spouse’s illicit lover, or the Pope condemning to Eternal Hell ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. There is nothing ‘sacred’ about mass-produced assessment sheets, and there’s no reason to treat the act as if someone blew up the National Archives and important knowledge has been lost forever, that these book-burning kids would grow up into rebellious troublemakers who would run their bosses’ family photo through the office shredder. Still, you shouldn’t need to make a party out of it like Arnold Gay did, and any torture that you’d wish to inflict on your notes just to fulfill your wildest, sickest fantasy should be performed in strictest privacy, like how I would gyrate to Ricky Martin songs when nobody’s watching.

Arnold Gay didn’t round up some Satanists to burn bibles or the Declaration of Independence, but such tribal abandon strikes me as rather premature. Let’s hope his kids actually PASS the exam, otherwise it’s not just assessment papers, but hopes and aspirations, that go up in flames.

Parents taking courses to help their kids score in PSLE

From ‘PSLE parents take classes to help children’, 24 Aug 2013, article by Benita Aw Yeong, TNP

The subject of PSLE came up in this year’s National Day Rally, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledging the high level of stress families go through because of this exam.

Parents are getting creative, especially when it comes to helping their kids cope – they are not only sending their children to tuition, but going for classes themselves.

They are also exploring hypnotherapy to help the children manage exam stress and build confidence.

According to the Chinese press, there are at least two enrichment centres offering adult programmes, Maths Heuristics and Neuromath Academy. For $320 a couple, you can attend a Maths Heuristics workshop for 3 hours on a Sunday afternoon. Norman Tien from Neuromaths has offered free workshops with titles like ‘How to Prepare Your Child for PSLE’, which gives you handy tips like telling your kid to start cramming for the paper when he’s PRIMARY 5. Another free workshop which focuses on Cognitive Skills is pitched as ‘highly recommended for parents preparing children to enter ELITE primary schools‘. If you’re someone who spends sleepless nights trying to solve Primary School problem sums even if you have no children yourself, and your dream is to become a Sudoku World Champion, then your prayers have been answered.

Although there are seminars for the students themselves (as if tuition alone isn’t enough) – it’s clearly the parents who are targetted in Neuromaths’ workshop ads because no kid in his right mind would fork out $198 to sit through a 1 day (9 to 5pm) Maths seminar on a SUNDAY. Nevermind what our ministers say about banding, elitism, keeping top scorers hush-hush or how ‘good’ every school is.  It doesn’t matter if the exam is about applying what you learnt in school over 6 years, or a test to see how long it takes for you to conquer a maze like a lab rat. A parent willing to do ridiculous, costly things to put their kids in the ‘right’ school in this national obsession with grades would pump their kids (and themselves) with mind/body-enhancing drugs if these were freely available (Parents are already seeing psychiatrists for anxiety disorders before PSLE, like how dads experience sympathetic pregnancy symptoms). Until then, we just have to settle for Brands Essence of Chicken, or hypnotherapy.

Last year, One Hypnosis organised a $100 (parent and child) event called ‘Power Up! Kids’, which aimed to enhance focus and concentration skills in children preparing for PSLE, though it sounds like a training camp for aspiring Power Rangers. At least it involved some exercise rather than sitting around an entire day listening to maths gurus unleash your genius within, but perhaps you could achieve the same tonic effect on your well-being for FREE, like a family day at the beach for instance.  I think it may be more helpful to apply the powers of suggestion to treat the parents’ anxiety and morbid fixation with PSLE rather than on the kids themselves, who are better off being ‘psycho-ed’ into quitting Facebook games and eating their vegetables because no workshop on ‘higher order thinking’ or brain-yoga is going to help if you eat junk food everyday.

It’s not just children alone taking the PSLE anymore. Parents have become so engrossed in it to the point of quitting their jobs for the sake of their kids, short of taking the paper themselves. All this, in addition to the humdrum stress of daily living. Kids have become mere flesh surrogates to the wills of their parents, like jacked up, expensive remote control cars in a death race to the finish. We can only hope they don’t crash and burn.

St Margaret’s girls shaving bald for charity

From ’3 girls who shaved head bald for charity told to wear wigs in school by principal’, 2 Aug 2013, article by Grace Chua, ST

When 15-year-old Leia Lai and two of her classmates went back to school on Monday, they sported a new look – bald. The three St Margaret’s Secondary School students had cut their hair to raise funds for a cancer charity.

But this drew the ire of their principal, as they had not donned wigs, as they had promised earlier.

The school’s rules do not allow “punk, unfeminine or sloppy hairstyles“. Said principal Marion Tan: “It’s very clear in our mission: it’s about their turnout as a young lady.”

And if the girls were allowed to go bald, others might take advantage.

“Can you imagine if I were to say yes, I’d have everybody coming to school with a bald head. Sometimes it’s a fad, so they would take advantage of the situation.”

…As for Leia and Cherry, they have been allowed to go to school bald. But only because of doctors’ notes certifying they had rashes on their heads from wearing wigs.

If there are convent schools that SUSPEND girls for a week for having hair that’s ‘too short’, what more to be said for those who choose to shave their heads bald, for whatever reason? In 1993, two schoolgirls were forced to wear swimming caps because their hair was too short (School punishes girls whose hair was too short, 9 April 1993, ST). As silly as that would look, it is less patronising to the cancer cause than making the girls cover their head with wigs. Incidentally, St Margaret’s was founded on the basis of a missionary’s charity, with the aim of helping homeless ‘slave’ girls and turning them into ‘good homemakers’. It is also active in raising funds for the Singapore Anglican Community Services. Plenty of such activities involve singing, dancing and hosting gala dinners, but clearly none involve turning ‘young ladies’ into GI Janes.

It’s ironic that the ‘shavees’ retracted their promise to principal Marion Tan to don wigs after going bald for charity because a woman shaving ‘botak’ is often portrayed in pop culture as an act of defiance. Local actress Cynthia Koh’s character in a Mediacorp drama went bald because she was forced to marry an abusive husband. Natalie Portman and Demi Moore had their locks shorn to play a freedom fighter and a Navy Seal respectively. A bald Robin Tunney exudes rock-star chic in Empire Records. Some, like Britney Spears, do it during a mental breakdown. 

So how DOES Marion Tan wear her hair then, as an example to her students? This is her in 2008, from the school newsletter. You can’t go wrong if you follow your principal’s hairdo. It’s also 100% protective against wolf whistles from naughty boys.

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Calling a bald head a potential ‘fad’ that may go viral among schoolgirls is like worrying about shaved armpits for the boys – It will never catch on. Going bald is the exact opposite of ‘sloppy’, nor is skinhead recognised as ‘punk fashion’ in today’s context. So according to St Marg’s hair rules and by the process of elimination, one can only conclude that a girl with excessively short hair is considered ‘unfeminine’ by St Marg’s standards, an image that goes against what founder Maria Dyer wanted to achieve for her slave girls in the first place way back in 1842. My Fair Lady, not My Bare Lady. But this is 2013. We don’t groom girls into obedient wives anymore.

Some have even accused such rules for being discriminating against lesbians. If the girls had gone botak to raise funds for a Pink Dot event instead of a children’s charity, would critics be as quick to pounce on Marion Tan for, well, splitting hairs when it comes to school rules? I have done Hair For Hope myself recently as a corporate publicity stunt and got a ‘head cold’ because I was so intent on looking like Vin Diesel or the Rock that I ignored the hazards of exposing my vulnerable scalp to extreme temperatures. Like the St Marg’s girls I too had to see a doctor after shaving my head. Alas, he didn’t waive consultation fees after I told him about my noble deed.

Postscript: Upon public pressure and intervention by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, Marion Tan relented and waived the rule for all 5 bald girls, otherwise she would have faced months of angry people calling for her head to be put on the chopping board, though I think subjecting her head to a clean shave should probably shut everyone up for good.

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