TL;DR – Slay sacred cows, more respect for SPED teachers, lifelong learning.
Ms Denise Phua is known to be a strong advocate for those with disabilities. Not only is she an MP and Mayor of the Central Singapore District, she is also the chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education. As such, it’s only expected that she speaks on issues related to education.
In a recent interview with Channel NewsAsia, Ms Phua spoke at length about the changes she hopes to see as our education system continues to evolve. Here are the three key things she pointed out.
1. Slay the sacred cows of high stakes exams
During MOE’s Committee of Supply debate this year, Ms Phua pushed for the PSLE to be scrapped. She asked:
“Are we merely re-arranging the chairs on the deck and not making deep enough changes? In this age of disruptions, do we dare proactively disrupt our current education systems by slaying some of the sacred cows that we inherited from the proverbial third Industrial Revolution when we are already in the fourth?”
She highlighted that children, parents, and teachers are still spending a lot of time preparing for the very high stakes exams like the PSLE. She also pointed out that even though MOE implemented the Direct School Admission (DSA) with good intent, the majority of secondary school admissions are still based on one’s academic scores. She emphasised:
“Worse, the DSA at one point became another competitive gateway to popular schools by nurturing or ‘hot housing’ some children from young by families who are more affluent.”
Ms Phua acknowledged that it’s not something that MOE can do alone. There are some parents who are obsessed with the PSLE, whose sole goal is for their children to do beat other children in the race for their school of choice. There are some who decisive and bolder and take the path less travelled by not excessively fretting over the PSLE.
Ms Phua referred to the story Minister Ong Ye Kung told in parliament of how he taught his daughter to ride by not being overprotective and letting go. Ms Phua urged more parents to heed Minister Ong’s advice and learn when to let go, and what to let go of.
In case you’re curious, here’s what Minister Ong had said in his Budget 2018 COS debate speech,
“Years ago I taught my daughter how to cycle, and I learned that a young girl cannot find balance with an over-protective father holding the back of the bicycle. I had to let go. Eventually, when my running could not keep up with her bike, I did, and off she went. She learned how to cycle, and I learned how to let go.”
“Perhaps one of the best things we as parents can do for our children is to know when to let go, and what to let go of. But this does not mean that they will be left alone – they will have the love of family, as well as the support of the entire school system.”
2. More respect for Special Education (SPED) teachers
Ms Phua has been advocating for the interests of those with special needs for a very long time. She co-founded the Pathlight School, which is a school for children with autism. She acknowledged that the government has provided a lot more attention and resources to the SPED sector. She said:
“Gone are the days when I had to contemplate selling my home to pay for the operational deficit when Pathlight School was first set up.”
Ms Phua welcomed the announcement by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) to raise the salaries of SPED teachers and other professionals. But she emphasised that there is a need to raise the level of expertise and build this category of professionals to be respected by all stakeholders. She explained:
“In other models, the SPED educator, for instance, is first trained in generalist education and adds a layer of specialist expertise in disability. They are regarded as even more proficient than general educators, and highly respected. We need to move toward this direction.”
She pointed out that the existing support models in mainstream schools must be further enhanced. She called for the setting up of a task force to study the gaps and find ways to enhance the system so that we can ensure an “optimal level of support” from pre-schools, to the primary and secondary schools and Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs).
3. Lifelong learning and IHLs
Given the increasing pace of change in the economy brought on by the Fourth Industrial revolution, Ms Phua highlighted that we cannot stop learning. Ms Phua stressed that adults need to ensure their skills remain relevant. Otherwise, they will find themselves having to stop work earlier than they want to. Ms Phua said:
“The SkillsFuture team is racing against time to up-skill our adult workforce, and it needs all the help it can muscle from the employers, the unions, help agencies, and most importantly the very members of the Singapore workforce itself. The need to be equipped with the new literacy in this fourth Industrial Revolution is critical, and cannot wait till it is too late.”
That’s why Ms Phua described the changes in the IHLs described by Minister Ong as “exciting and transformative”.
Minister Ong had announced that the IHLs won’t just focus on the typical four years but will the horizon of IHLs has been expanded from the typical four years to a few decades, but will prioritise continuous education and training and look at educating and training Singaporeans for a few decades.
Ms Phua also pointed out the importance of being able to integrate cross-discipline skills such as creative and marketing skills with the more technical ones. She also highlighted the need to strengthen the close partnership between industry and IHLs.
Important, not easy
It’s important to bring about these changes that Ms Phua have brought up. But it won’t be easy. MOE alone can’t do it. It would require the effort of many different stakeholders, including students, parents, unions, employers, teachers, politicians, and academics. For the sake of Singapore’s continued development, we all need to make these happen.
(Featured image via)