Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Time and Place for Everything

This is one of my many letters to the Straits Times that have not been published:


What do the news on sloppily dressed students, Singapore employers struggling to fill vacancies, and the Indian tycoon Ratan Tata complaining about the “work ethic” of British workers have in common?

Despite putting people through an extensive, and some say intensive, education system, employers in Singapore and the UK still do not get the type of employees they require.

Ergo, our education systems have failed.

This clearly contradicts the increase in the number of students gaining a greater number of O and A levels. Some young person questioned how Chen Show Mao could be a top student with only 4 A Levels.

I am of the opinion that a “marketplace” of exam boards in UK has led to a “dumbing down”. Where previously only the top 5% (say) of a cohort are awarded an “A” grade, now everyone who scored over 70% (say) is given an “A”.

Therefore, many more people get A grades. But does gaining multiple A grades mean they have actually mastered the art of learning and the skills of thinking?

I have met several ostensibly “high-achieving” young people who cannot string two grammatical sentences together in a conversation on any topic of significance.

“Yes”, “No”, shrug of shoulder, shake of head. How are these going to convince anyone to buy a product, a service, or an idea?

I had no qualms in ticking off my NUS students if they came to tutorials ill-prepared or dressed inappropriately.

Educationists speak of a “hidden curriculum”: being – and submitting work – on time, wearing the uniform correctly, participating in discussions, walking and speaking in a manner befitting a student, etc. (“Hooligan or gentleman?” is enough to make my son sit properly.)

Knowing how to dress (and behave) for the occasion is a life skill. Would you wear revealing clothes when being introduced to your prospective mother-in-law or a scholarship interview?

Heard of Victoria Beckham? She annoyed me by refusing to smile at the recent royal wedding. She behaved as if she were royalty, attending a funeral.

Time and place for everything, my dear.

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