Education Minister wants Singapore students to chiong! Can meh?

By January 12, 2017Current

TL;DR – Yes, we can… if parents change their mindsets

Singapore consistently does extremely well in international rankings like PISA and TIMMS. These are studies which measure the ability of 15 year old students in areas such as literacy, numeracy and science. In particular, Singaporean students came in tops in all three categories of reading, Mathematics, and Science in the 2015 edition of PISA.

Because of such consistent performance in these international rankings, our education system is often the subject of scrutiny, and sometimes, even object of envy. Did you watch this video that went viral a few months ago? Tens of millions of people have watched it, and yes, it mentioned Singapore’s good education system!


Other people, other education ministers want to know how we do it. They want to learn from us. They want to find out how we do it. And it seems that our Education Minister is more than happy to reveal our “secret” to success:

“Education ministers from other countries often ask me what are the key ingredients. I tell them that we have forward-looking policies and good systems in place. But really the key thing is our teachers and the first-rate work they do. You can have the best policies, but without the commitment and dedication of teachers, we will not be able to deliver real outcomes.”

Minister Ng Chee Meng. Photo from ST

Minister wants students to “chiong”

But Minister Ng still isn’t satisfied. He is convinced that there is more that can be done. He’s heard the complaints by employers and company chiefs. They say that while Singapore workers are technically good and hardworking, we are not creative and often don’t push boundaries. And Minister Ng acknowledges that these are fair criticisms. But what does he want to do about it? How does he hope we can change?

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Minister Ng wants to nurture an “entrepreneurial dare” in young Singaporeans. This doesn’t mean that all Singaporeans should become entrepreneurs or businessmen, but that we should have a certain mindset:

“It’s a mindset. An attitude of wanting to do better, find break- throughs, of wanting to innovate. If I were to use a Hokkien word, it would be chiong, not a reckless chiong, but taking into account the risks involved and doing it anyway.”

How does he intend to do that? He looked at two nations known for their innovation and entrepreneurial spirit – USA and Israel. He was impressed with the informal learning that goes alongside formal learning. Actually, that’s not something new. It’s happening in our schools already. It’s called CCA. It’s also the many different school activities that happen outside of the classroom, after “official” school hours.

So it’s not an entirely new concept.

What’s different is that there are a lot more options now. For example, some schools now have “makerspaces”, where students get to tinker with things and develop design-thinking. These spaces allow students to explore ideas and make things. In the process, they may fail, but that in itself is a lesson.

Will parents allow it?

But Singaporeans really don’t like failure. Especially Singaporean parents. They hate to see their children fail. They will do whatever they can to make sure their kids succeed. And they have a very narrow definition of success. Many Singaporean parents think that they kids are considered successful only if they do well academically, go to university, get a well-paying job. Even better if they get a scholarship. Like what Minister Ng did.

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How many parents are willing to let their child try something, knowing full well that their child may fail? How many parents are willing to let their child take a less conventional path?

How many parents will allow their kid to do what Rayner Eng did With ?Rayner’s N-Level results, he qualified for the Polytechnic Foundation Program (PFP). That’s a one year programme to prepare students for polytechnic. But Rayner chose to spend two years in ITE instead.

Most parents would probably not support such a move. But Rayner’s choice paid off. In his time in ITE, him and two of his classmates worked together on a project for the Singapore Zoo. They created a machine with five blades that sliced fish into six pieces in six seconds. Their invention won three awards – the Energy Innovation Challenge in 2015, and the Lee Kuan Yew Technology Award and Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors Award last year.

Rayner Ng. Image from ITE

Let’s hope so…

For Singapore to continue progressing and prospering, we can’t maintain status quo. We need to be different. We need more people to be creators. We need more people who dare to take the paths less trodden.

But we can’t just depend on MOE to make that happen. Parents’ mindset needs to change too. Only then would we have a better chance of becoming a more entrepreneurial nation.

What are Makerspaces?

A makerspace is a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high tech to no tech tools.

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Some people also call it hackspace or hackerspace, and it’s where mostly informal learning takes place. It’s all about learning by trying and doing, and where failure is allowed. And it’s about prototyping or even rapid prototyping where you make it, break it, make it again.

But our favourite way to describe it is that it’s a culture. It’s the whole ethos and process of fiddling, tinkering, experimenting, failing, reworking, recycling, upcycling, hacking and creating. it does not depend on a perfect setting or a dedicated space. It’s a way of looking at the world, creatively testing the boundaries, and playing with what you have.


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Joey Wee

Author Joey Wee

I am nice, most of the time!

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