The greatest overhaul our education system needs is something our government can’t do

By April 3, 2017Current

TL;DR – So. You ready?

There was a recent article in TODAY stating that our education system is in need of an overhaul. It suggested that we need a review that extensively consults important stakeholders, including students themselves. The article also emphasized that the review must aim to change the attitudes of parents, teachers and students towards examinations and grades.

But no review that the government puts in will succeed if parents don’t change their mindset. And no review by the government alone can change parents’ attitudes and mindset about education. What are the sort of changes are needed to parents’ mindsets? We think that we need at least the following three.

1. Parents need to respect teachers more

Most parents in Singapore do respect teachers. But there are parents who are over-demanding. And then there are some who are just downright disrespectful. We’ve heard of horror stories from our teacher-friends.

There are parents who think that they are the “customers” of the school and, since the customers are always right, whatever they say is right and teachers should follow whatever instructions they give. Then there are parents who keep threatening to complain to MPs or ministers if teachers don’t accede to their demands.

But teachers are not vendors.

Yes, yes, we do get it. Parents love their kids. But we should trust our teachers that they too want the best for their students. We should trust in the professional judgement of teachers. We should treat teachers the way we treat neurosurgeons. Think about it. If you were going for a brain surgery, would you be telling your neurosurgeon what to do? Or would you just follow every single instruction they give you?

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And that’s exactly what we should do. We should respect teachers as much as if our lives are in their hands. Because they hold something even more precious. They hold the lives of our children in their hands. Parents need to work WITH teachers, not against them. Parents should follow whatever advice teachers give them. When a teacher disciplines a child, parents ought to reinforce the lesson at home. Not march into the principal’s office to complain.

Is that something that MOE can do? Is that something MOE should do? No. That’s something that we as a society need to do for ourselves.

2. Parents need to understand what the future of work is going to be

There was a time when people said one university certificate was enough. And it was. But gone are those days. Rapid changes in technology are bringing about corresponding changes in the structure of economy. Consequently, jobs that exist today may not exist tomorrow. Even jobs that would still exist would probably require very different skills.

And guess what. Some of the good quality jobs in the future may not even require a degree. Software developers are in high demand in this day and age. A good proportion of developers don’t have a computer science degree and are self-taught.

But there are good quality jobs that do require degrees (or at least some form of formal training). Nonetheless, the trend is toward skills-based modular courses.


Because the increasing pace of change in the structure of the economy has made the speed to market more important than ever. If courses are too long, by the time you are done with course, what you have learnt might not be relevant anymore.

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Parents need to understand that. Getting a single university degree isn’t going to set their children for life. Similarly, not getting a university degree by the time your child is 25 isn’t going to doom him/her forever. Can the government make parents understand that? Maybe. But it’s more important for parents to educate themselves about the changing nature of work.

3. Parents need to believe that the love for learning is most important

At the end of the day, beyond whatever the government does to the education system, parents need to be convinced that learning isn’t just for grades.

As Minister Ng Chee Meng put it:

“Let me elaborate on the joy of learning: we believe in nurturing the joy of learning so that every child can discover his interests, grow his passions, and love what he is doing. School should not just be about doing well in exams. It should be an exciting place to acquire knowledge and skills, where learning is fun and with the necessary rigour.”

As much as the government can change educational institutions, improve infrastructure, recruit more teachers, tweak the system, the efforts will be for nought unless parents change their mindsets.

As Minister Ong Ye Kung put it:

“Today, perhaps we are at the starting line of a time of change and transformation. It is up to us today, to create these multiple paths and new opportunities, which will take us to many different places, but arrive at a common future – a Singapore of many talents, on a united yet multi-faceted journey of one people, and one country.”

Parents, will you play your part?

There are things that the government needs to do about our education system. But often, the government can only go as far as Singaporeans are willing to let it go. Parents will need to work with schools, teachers, and the government. Only then can Singapore have an education system and learning environment that will best enable our children to thrive in the future.

So. You ready?



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Joey Wee

Author Joey Wee

I am nice, most of the time!

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Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • KS Chong says:

    The consequence of our action spreads far and wide. Most parents are the products of the early education system. the government is very much responsible for the attitude of today’s parents.

    • Ang says:

      Agree totally! Which is sad! Nephew started Pri school and the transition has killed all his joy of learning. This is the very reason we have decided to leave SG for good.

  • John chia says:

    Incomplete treatment of the kiasu mindsets in educating our students. Why isnt national pre requisite of employment especially the civil service not mentioned?
    Private companies also take cues from our government boards on the paper-heavy emphasis as pre requisite for most jobs.
    If this is not going to change, parental mindsets wont change because that affects the future direction of their children!!

  • Disappointed says:

    Re govt is responsible for the attitude of today’s parents: Indeed! It’s been repeated ad nauseum — and put into practice quite blindly for over 50 years — that you cant get anywhere unless u’re a top scorer in school and have a clutch of degrees.

    In fact, this Still continues.

    How many times have we been told that we have great heads of GLCs; great, becos they’re scholars. Whether or not they are capable of doing the work doesn’t matter, becos they’re scholars. Bad bungles are overlooked, becos they’re scholars!

    In fact, promotions have been based solely on people’s educational qualifications, rather than their abilities and performance, and whether they Can actually lead. And this is Still continuing!! No matter how good a performer you are, you hit a ceiling without the papers and the A’s. And all this is set when a person is still very young, not on how he develops later.

    The system in practice is called meritocracy, even though there is little that is meritocratic about it.

    The govt really needs to practise what it preaches. Words alone are simply not enough. It does not help that contradictions in what it says and what it does are blatant and the norm. So where is the leadership??? Why would should anyone believe the govt? And why should they?

  • Always Victorious says:

    Mindset of employers need to change too. I had a personal experience with a particular sector that only employs degree holders for admin work. Diploma is not good enough. It didn’t matter that I had demonstrated my competence as a contract staff.

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