Preschool kid made to wear hair clip in front of class

From ‘Pre-school teacher suspended after parent complains about ‘humiliating’ punishment’, 10 July 2016, article by Sanjay Nair and Chew Hui Min, ST

A teacher has been suspended by a pre-school after a parent lodged a public complaint about her behaviour towards his son. A Facebook post by Mr Eric Cheong on Saturday (July 9) accused the teacher at Zoo-phonics School’s Serangoon Central branch, identified as “Ms Theresa”, of making his son stand in front of the class for sporting long hair, and then putting a “girl hair clip” on the boy, “much to the amusement of all the other kids”.

Mr Cheong added that the teacher threatened to repeat the action the next school day if the boy did not cut his hair by then.

…In his post, which has been shared over 1,500 times, Mr Cheong said that a school should be a place where learning is “fun, encouraging and engaging”, and was worried about the psychological impact of the incident on his son.

He wrote: “A simple verbal warning or even standing for a period of time is acceptable. But to humiliate a kid, made to wear a classmate’s hair clip in front of the class, is totally unnecessary and intolerable in a school environment.”

I’m surprised the father of the traumatised kid didn’t lodge a police report. Making a boy wear a girly accessory is terrible for the self-esteem. It’s like forcing him to play with dolls in front of other girls. He may turn out to be a cross-dresser when he grows up, all because a teacher meted out shaming as a punishment for long hair. Quick, send him to a child psychiatrist before he plays with mommy’s lipstick.

With a name like ‘Zoo-phonics’, you wouldn’t imagine that it’s a preschool teaching kids how to pronounce human words. I initially thought it’s a place where you could train your kid to mimic animal sounds so that they can communicate with our bestial brethren like Tarzan. Maybe the kid was just trying to blend in by sporting a mane. But wait a minute, what’s a toddler doing in enrichment in the first place? Isn’t he still a bit too young to get permanent mental trauma, or know what Pink Dot is?

Well, thanks to Mr Cheong’s complaint, someone risks losing her job, and further aggravates the burden on aspiring educators who have to face the wrath of overprotective parents if they believe that the best way to instill discipline in a brat is to make an example of him in front of the rest. ‘Ms Theresa’ didn’t drag the boy around like a rag doll like another abusive teacher did in a high profile case some years back. Dad should count himself lucky that the teacher didn’t cut the boy’s hair herself. Now that you probably need to send in the SWAT team and SCDF too.

Kids used to be taunted for being sissies all the time by other kids, and our parents didn’t come rushing to our rescue back then. Old school parents adopted a ‘serves you right attitude’. Today, they witch-hunt teachers for abusing their darlings. We eventually grew out of the harassment, and if our teachers punished us by shaming, whether it’s throwing chalk at our faces or mocking our masculinity, we learnt to forget and eventually thank them for their tough love. Today, parents are so afraid of kids being emotionally scarred they don’t realise their constant meddling will only do more good than harm in the long run. Ms Theresa was simply preparing the kid, albeit a bit prematurely, for the shit he’ll get in the army, which will be far worse than simply putting on a Hello Kitty hair clip for laughs. Don’t worry kid, if your drill sergeant calls you a ‘gu-niang’ for your long hair, Daddy is there to make sure he gets sent to detention barracks.

By the way, why are fierce teachers always named ‘Theresa’?

 

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.

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.

Teacher using criminal force on boy with ADHD

From ‘Ruling may instil fear in teachers’, 22 Nov 14, ST Forum

(Trent Ng Yong En): A COURT has ordered a primary school teacher to do 60 hours of community service for forcibly dragging an 11-year-old boy with behavioural issues out of class for not following instructions (“Teacher who mistreated boy gets community service”; yesterday). While the teacher’s actions could have been more appropriate, given that the boy suffered from neuro-developmental disorders, the court ruling will likely instil fear in teachers when dealing with insubordinate students.

The teacher may have used force to drag the pupil out of class, but how could this sensibly constitute “criminal force”? Section 350 of the Penal Code reads: “Whoever intentionally uses force to any person, without that person’s consent… knowing it to be likely that by the use of such force he will illegally cause injury, fear or annoyance to the person… is said to use criminal force to that other.”

The court seems to have taken a broad interpretation of this provision to find the teacher’s act of disciplining the pupil amounting to causing “injury, fear or annoyance”. This interpretation, taken to its extreme, could cover all acts of school discipline where a teacher or discipline master physically handles an errant student in the slightest way.

Clearly, this is not a school culture we want to encourage, where insubordination is condoned and educators live in fear of the students and their parents. While the law may have decided that educators must take care when disciplining students, such that their acts do not amount to criminal force, what should be discussed is whether educators should be given more discretion to discipline their students, so long as it does not amount to a gross violation of their bodily integrity – for example, slapping, hitting, or throwing projectiles.

If you’re a teacher resorting to physical force to keep an unruly child in his place, you’re accused of assault. Will the old lady who pummelled a helpless child on the MRT with an UMBRELLA be slapped with the same charge of  ‘criminal force’ then? Or what about an angry father slapping someone else’s boy to avenge his own bullied kid? If a parent running out of ideas wrestled his own nuisance kid to the ground in public, few would intervene. If it’s a teacher doing the same in the classroom on the other hand, we demand for his dismissal. Today, teachers are supposed to rule not with an iron fist, but a benevolent caress. You can no longer discipline a child for ‘his own good’ at the expense of your ‘own job’. The problem worsens when parents are not doing theirs. Granted, the child had neurological issues, but it would have been the same outcome had it been a child without ADHD/autism or any other illness that explains disruptive behaviour.

If these same charges were applied to teachers in the past, we would have at least half the education workforce doing ‘community service’ for slapping or spanking rowdy kids for ruining class, the only difference being they’re not on Ritalin or other psychostimulants to keep their ‘naughtiness’ at bay. My own primary school teacher walloped my knuckles with a wooden ruler and nobody was around to call the cops for this blatant act of physical abuse, nor did anyone send her away for 60 hours to do the janitor’s job. When I told my parents they simply laughed and added fuel to the fire by saying ‘Obi Good’. I mean, it’s not like I went home in crutches, an arm in a sling, or had one eye dangling out of its bloody socket. Thanks Mom and Dad, for letting a stranger half beat me to death because you love me too much to do it yourselves.

Children with ‘issues’ in school these days are protected by euphemisms and medical jargon. You’re not ‘naughty’ but ‘hyperactive’ or suffering from ADHD. If you’re the aggressive sort, you’ve got ‘oppositional defiant disorder’. Sometimes this outcry over physical duress may lead to otherwise capable leaders losing their positions. 10 years ago, the principal of Nan Chiau High stepped down after parents called the police on him for hitting their lying daughter with a SOFT COVER BOOK. If this ADHD child abuser were otherwise an excellent educator capable of bringing out the best PSLE scores in the school, it would be a loss not just the ‘punishee’, but the ENTIRE class, if he quits because his reputation as a bully who exercises CRIMINAL force has been cemented by overprotective parents who can’t do anything about their own unruly children themselves.

But the fact is you don’t even need to touch the flesh of a problem child to get into trouble with the police, or hate your job forever. You could get hauled up for questioning if you CUT HIS HAIR, or if you even say to a kid: ‘I don’t want to see your face!’, which amounts to ‘verbal abuse’. One teacher resigned after being accused by a rich and influential parent (who contributed to school funds, naturally) for abusing Daddy’s Boy. She merely ‘reprimanded’ him for BREAKING FLOWER POTS (Time for corporal punishment in schools, May 6 2014, ST Forum). Don’t say I didn’t warn you if Junior grows up to be a serial vandal.

In 2003, a RJC GP teacher verbally crushed a student for sloppy work and dramatically tore up his essay in front of class.

Not sure what happened to the kid, or the teacher after this. Although it gives some idea of what a horrible subject GP is, it’s also a masterclass in breaking down a student or his ‘insolence, laziness and apathy’ and being a ‘sly crafty old fox’. The insult of all classroom insults. Maybe parents should take notes about disciplining their own child, rather than write complaint emails to principals whenever their kid gets pinched in the ears, or being told to get out of class in a tone and volume beyond that of a gentle whisper.

NUS assistant professor faking academic credentials

From ‘NUS probing work of ex-medicine faculty member’, 14 Sept 2014, article by Linette Lai, Sunday  Times

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has opened an investigation after reports that former faculty member Anoop Shankar had faked his academic credentials. “In view of the media reports on Anoop Shankar, NUS has initiated an internal investigation into his research publications when he was at NUS,” a university spokesman said yesterday.

According to his resume, the former assistant professor at NUS graduated from India’s top medical school when he was 21 and had a doctorate in epidemiology. However, a review of his work by West Virginia University in the United States found that Mr Shankar had only a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina and did not graduate from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi.

In addition, some publications listed on his resume were either authored by someone else, or did not exist.

Mr Shankar was at NUS’ Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine from 2005 to 2008, where he was part of the department of community, occupational and family medicine. There, he wrote several papers on topics such as diabetes, and was also part of a research programme looking into eye diseases in Singapore.

Dr. Anoop Shankar, if that is in fact his real name, was part of a team of researchers involved in the epidemiology of eye diseases in Singapore, according to the 2004 Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine annual research report. Ironically, it is NUS senior management who were too BLIND to realise they have been supporting a fraudster’s work with research funding all this time. Some of his outlandish claims can be easily refuted with random background checks or maybe a few calls (courtesy of NBC news):

1. He was never a member of the Royal College of Physicians.

2. He supposedly wrote a paper in 1976 (the year after he was born), not 1996 as claimed in his resume. It turned out that none of the papers listed were actually written by him.

3. He wasn’t among the top 3 graduates of the All India Institute of Medicine in Delhi.

4. The university where he claimed he got his doctorate in epidemiology from doesn’t even have a department of epidemiology.

5. He had photos online pointing to him being a graduate of Kottayam Medical College, not the ‘Harvard’ of India.

It all seems like a sloppy yet preposterous act of forgery to me, and ever since he charmed his NUS employers into hiring him despite the phantom qualifications, not a squeak of suspicion emerged from 4 years in the university. Some of his latest work with VWU were not even directly related to his ‘specialty’ in NUS. In 2013, he suggested a link between a chemical in popcorn and heart disease. This guy is either incredibly charismatic or has a knack for spinning scientific yarn, the academia equivalent of conman Frank Abagnale (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) in the film Catch Me if you Can.

But it’s not the first time that we let a liar boasting illustrious credentials weasel his way into a senior position in the NUMBER ONE university in Asia, and then only wait for someone else to ferret him out. In 2011, former NUS don Dr Alirio Melendez was hauled up by the University of London for research fraud, when his paper published in the Nature Immunology journal was retracted due to ‘inconsistencies’. NUS soon launched their own battery of investigations, uncovering more than 20 cases of alleged fabrications and plagiarism. He was found guilty earlier this year.  Prior to the fiasco he had been working with a team on a new potential drug which may treat septic shock. I thought this discovery would have been sufficiently ‘shocking’ for NUS to tighten their employee screening and audit processes, yet no one in NUS bothered to snoop on Anoop. How many more ‘world experts’ like these have slipped through the cracks? How many bogus articles are floating out there in scientific publication universe? Quite a few apparently. Some folks have even done it as a PRANK.

Fake professors writing fake articles don’t just waste research funds which could have been put to better use. Imagine if Shankar had fabricated his way into establishing a causal link between popcorn and blindness, and a ‘respected’ medical journal is taken in by this doyen of epidemiology’s gobbledegook and made it the health scare of the century, we’d all be stuck with soggy nachos at the movies, while hailing the man as the hero who saved humanity from poison pop corn.

Teachers not reading newspapers

From ‘Teachers should read newspapers’, 11 Aug 2014, ST Forum

(Dr V Subramaniam):  WHEN I had lunch with two secondary school teachers one recent weekend, I was taken aback when both admitted that they do not read newspapers. The Straits Times was not part of their daily reading content, and they were ignorant of the Forum pages. I had expected these teachers of English and Literature to take a keener interest in what was happening around them through the medium of newsprint, so that they could disseminate more informed knowledge and wisdom to their students.

I explained to them that newspapers carry models of clear and concise writing that can stand alone as teaching tools – or supplement other instructional materials, such as the Internet. Newspapers contain many different types of writing models – narrative, persuasive, expository – and are written for various reading levels that would help students.

Newspapers help teachers bridge the gap between the classroom and the “real world” by extending the boundaries of knowledge, and help teachers and students feel like a part of the world.

In this way, educators’ interest in new teaching techniques is heightened while their intellectual skills and critical and independent thinking are sharpened for the benefit of their students, who are being nurtured for active citizenship.

Newspapers also air the grievances of the public and help shape public opinion, and keep the public and the Government in close contact. The newspaper helps teachers gain knowledge, wisdom and power that they can inculcate in their students.

It is imperative that the Ministry of Education strives to ensure that teachers read beyond their teaching materials and syllabus. The reading habit has gradually waned with the advent of new technological devices and gadgets. It needs to be reawakened in our society so that we can keep up with the rest of the world.

If you’re an English/Literature teacher and you know you’re about to have lunch with Dr V Subramaniam, make sure you read the Straits Times from beginning to end, including the Obituaries section, so that you won’t get caught in a situation where this champion of newspapers decides to complain about your competence as a role model in the national medium. It’s one thing to suggest using the newspapers as a ‘tool’ to engage students, which is fine, but another to run down a couple of teachers because they’ve never heard of the Forum page. Give them a break, they work some of the LONGEST hours in the world, and you want to them read Today in Parliament before bedtime?(Then again probably not a bad idea if you have insomnia)

As far back as 1979, proponents of the medium we use to pick up dogshit with have hailed its ability to stimulate ‘functional literacy’. Other claimed benefits include improving ‘general knowledge’ and ‘skimming and scanning skills’. In 1984, in a bid to inculcate the habit, a newspaper-reading CONTEST was held. V Subramaniam goes further, using hyperbole like ‘wisdom’ and ‘power’, like a cleric promoting the Old Testament, forgetting that the newspaper industry is not out to instill ‘independent thinking’ in young minds. It’s a business that sensationalises, filters content or sells sex scandals if necessary to make money. Come, class, let’s discuss what Cecilia Sue said in court about her steamy affair with Ng Boon Gay! It can supplement your sex education class as well!

The ST is also often accused of having a political agenda, a mouthpiece for the ruling party, and if it can’t possibly ‘air the grievances’ of EVERY concerned citizen, then it can’t be a bridge to the ‘real world’. That would make it, well, OBJECTIVE. And no newspaper in the world has the audacity of claiming they’re such. Newspapers have a responsibility to their stakeholders, mostly the Government, and thrive on a gullible public willing to swallow information wholesale, not pupils taking an English test. The paper is just ONE of the many sources of knowledge and current affairs out there, whether it’s online commentaries, magazines, books, documentaries or the now defunct Encyclopedia Britannica. The ST is generally a decent ‘textbook’ for concise writing, reading skills and vocabulary, and a source of cheap gossip fodder every now and then to bond readers, but it doesn’t necessarily make a teacher better at his job if he has to make an obligatory ritual out of it. Other than that, it’s excellent for wiping windows during CNY spring cleaning.

Real world? Maybe the writer needs to live in it too.

(According to the ST feature ‘Writer of the Week’ in Apr 29 2013, Dr V Subramaniam is 71 years old and a retired assistant commissioner of the IRA and university lecturer. He thinks the Forum page offers at a single glance the ‘pulse of our society’, which is flattering considering how many letters get rejected every day)

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