Monday, May 29, 2006

A Country of Maximizers

Hou, The Students' Notebook

"Brown, but my first choice was Yale." Does that sound familiar to many students in Singapore?

Schwartz, in his book "The Paradox of Choice : Why More Is Less", speaks about the concept of maximizers. The definition is given as the group of people who will seek and accept nothing but the best, and absolutely the best when it comes to decision in their lives.

He then goes and point out the causes and its consequences of such : Maximizers exist because of the concern with status, in particular when it comes to social comparison (i.e. self vs. expectations, self vs. others). The contemplation of more choices in turn leads to regret, and less self-satisfaction on the choices we have made.

Our society has grown increasingly competitive, to the point of being a rat race. The school rankings table some years ago have caused schools to up the ante with each passing year, turning educators into maximizers and the concept reinforced upon students. Parents fight for a place in a good primary spot, wanting to see that their children have the best. (Schwartz, p. 77-96)

It's not difficult to spot the trend - We are all increasingly becoming a country of maximizers. Many of us, faced by circumstances (such as elitism and bigotry), has made us feel compelled to be maximizers, not wanting to fall behind. I mean, who wants to fall behind and get looked down by others? Jack Neo's box-office hit "I Not Stupid" is a gentle reminder of such.

Adam Khoo, on his book "I Am Gifted, So Are You!", claims that one's failure is absolutely his/her own fault, and nobody else. To think otherwise is to have a mentality of a loser, and one should be a winner's mentality by converting all the negative emotions, and do whatever it takes to drive the person to success. (Khoo, p. 18-19)

It is noted, that the book is a form of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), and this form of development by itself is not without controversy. It advocates that self-responsibility is the sole factor of its causes, but is this always the case as such? Interestingly, what it did say is that it won't work for 95% of the population because they have a loser's frame of mind. (Khoo, p. 16-18) it that NLP is ineffective in the first place?

If the person succeeds, that is fine with me. What if he/she does not? Then the psychological effects would be devastating to one's well-being. Schwartz warns that allocating excessive self-blame leads to even more helplessness, depression, or worse. In addition, maximizers tend to be more susceptible to such, and are less happier. (Schwartz, p. 201-217) It may be irrational to blame everything else except oneself when it comes to failure, but does that mean one should simply take all of it?

Schwartz has many suggestions, but I think this one has got to be my personal favourite for our fellow Singapore students (on why we should resist the tendancy to make social comparisons)

And following that, "remember, it's a bumper sticker, not wisdom!" (Schwartz, p. 224)

Failing which, I would truly worry about my personal well-being.

He's Gifted. So, What's Wrong?

Hou, The Students' Notebook

"Gifted children suffer in a normal education environment, as much as a retarded child would suffer in a normal education system. Therefore (it is) very important that gifted children be placed in an environment that at least acknowledges their different-ness, and makes some attempt to cater to that different-ness." - Mr Wang

Mr Wang justifies the implementation of gifted education with the otherwise negative psychological effects that a gifted child faces, and the potential opportunities missed if he/she were to otherwise undergo a normal education.

It is natural, that every parent would want to see their child realise their full potential. Mr Wang also brings in the case of Einstein. Up to this point, it may sound fair and square.

So, when we have the Gifted Education Programme :

  • Students of similiar gifted intellect come together as a class, and were given opportunities to explore knowledge the world could offer.
  • Yet rarely mixing with others at the next-door classroom, and were seen to be "out of touch"
  • To be exact, the problem of inability to mix with the rest remains unresolved.

  • They were encouraged by the teachers, reminded of their "giftedness".
  • In turn, regarded themselves as superior and declared everyone else as immature and stupid.
  • To be exact, the "different-ness" is used to discriminate upon other students instead, which is counterproductive.

  • Students receive education that is catered to their "giftedness", paid for, and that is different from the rest.
  • Then, invited to join the civil service, subsequently rule over the country and its people.
  • To be exact, their giftedness is seen more as a form of investment, rather than to fulfill their thirst for wisdom.

  • What has gone wrong here?
    (Stop and Think first before highlighting the text above.)
  • Saturday, May 27, 2006

    Social Mobility (or Lack Thereof)

    Hou, The Students' Notebook

    'Doesn't matter who your parents are, doesn't matter where you live. We'll give you the best chance to do well in education,' - Tharman (GE2006)

    O RLY? (Oh, Really?)

    A brief look at the Straits Times' Saturday (27 May) report would give some clue on what the situation in reality is :

  • Gina (p. S3), 15, is under the Normal (Technical) stream, and felt that she was no good in her studies.
  • Rick (p. S3), 17, studying in ITE, has to juggle with his job and studies
  • Devi (p. S5), 12, is under the EM3 stream, and has flunked her all subjects.
  • Alina (p. S5), is also under the EM3 stream, and is struggling to pass PSLE.

    all living in poverty, and their parents/guardians worrying that if they have to go hungry for the night.

    And more statistics from the same set of reports :

  • Data from MOE has indicated that 72% of Normal stream secondary school students live in four room or smaller flats. (p. S3)
  • Mrs Elyan Wong of Feiyue Family Service Centre, indicates that children who did not (or cannot afford) go to kindergarden are generally disadvantaged at Primary 1. (p. S2)
  • Ms Hong of Headerson Student Centre notes that families with problems, in turn causes childen "to have problems in schools, unable to cope with the lessons, have very poor memory and short concentration spans," and that by the time they catch up they would have already found themselves in EM3. (p. S3)

    And are the Education policies in the recent past go towards helping these poor people to receive a good quality education? Let's have a review through them :

  • The formation of Independant Schools were the result of a study tour to 25 elite, private schools in the US and the UK, led by Tony Tan in 1986, that would "cater to the academically meritorious". School fees for these schools, for instance ACS(I), then shot up from the initial $25 to $200 within a year. (Rahim, p. 140-142, Ths Singapore Dilemna, 1998; Tan, p 97-98, The Marketisation of Education in Singapore (Shaping Singapore's Future), 2005)
  • As early as 1990, PAP MP John Chen has warned that "the good schools are getting better, while the poor schools seem to be getting poorer". (Rahim, p. 136)
  • Unversity fees for public universities have increased over the years, in particular just recently.

    Social mobility in education? What social mobility?

    And for those are really cynical, may wish to consider the timing of the ST report.