Saturday, 31 December 2011

Child development, entry to Oxbridge and simply common sense

A few days ago I heard on radio a feisty debate on the effect of TV watching on young children.

I've long believed that TV should not be used as a baby-sitter. And so it was that we banned our son from watching TV (especially so-called children's programmes like Teletubbies) until he was two years old.

He was allowed to watch any amount of sport and news programmes, but no other TV was allowed. DVD and video tapes (back when) were OK if carefully vetted. There was a particularly good Beatrix Potter box set.

More importantly he was exposed to a lot of speech on radio, story CDs, to our reading and our face-to-face conversations.

As my blog stats show that the post on bringing up a gifted child was most read, parents interested in this, please do search for information on "children and TV-watching". Note who says what. Children's TV producers usually have a different perspective from academics.

Oxbridge entry 'still stubbornly linked to postcode' was another news item.

Can't say one is exactly surprised that the "richer" areas in the country have more students getting to Oxbridge.

I remember while I was in RGS reading some sociologists (who later became my teachers) telling us that children who lived in Queenstown (where I lived) was least likely to get to junior colleges and then to university.

(This was when Buona Vista was considered "ulu". There were no Clementi, Pandan this and that, Sengkang, etc.)

Instead of being detered by this finding I was determined to prove these sociologists wrong. And did.

But that was when Singapore was truly meritocratic.

Every neighbourhood school was likely to produce boys and girls going to RI and RGSS. Without the benefit of tuition and enhancement classes. We were the generation of WYSIWYG.

Now it appears that we have to be in the right catchment area to get into a good primary school, to get into a SAP/GEP/IP school, to get to university, etc. Not unlike the plight of many parents in the UK: School admissions fraud rises in race for best places.

What I do not understand is why selection is considered such a bad thing in this country.

Is it because UK is [supposed to be] a Christian country and so any talk of selection is Darwinist and therefore anti-Christian?

In fact this is -- ironically -- a largely non-Christian country. Despite what is an essentially Darwinist outlook the country spends a fortune to support the survival of the unfittest (the feckless, the lazy, you get the picture).

OK, maybe schools should not select on the basis of ability, as in academic ability. What about selection on the basis of good behaviour? Or other positive traits?

Even if children are not naturally academic, they could seek to excel in art, sport, drama, music, kindness, selflessness, etc.

If children are anti-social -- or if their parents think it is OK for their children to be anti-social -- then they should be given the lowest priority for schools, housing, etc.

Would this resolve the issue of misbehaving and disrespectful children?

We were actually having this heated debate at dinner table when husband said, "We made the mistake of giving free education."

When education became an entitlement (free textbooks, free exercise books, free stationery, etc) parents lost their stakeholder function, and quickly lost their interest.

Discipline at school is such a huge problem that teachers cannot teach and the able students -- and I believe there are gifted children in every school, whatever their biological parentage, because God is fair -- cannot learn and so, yes, they don't get to Oxbridge.

Wherever you find good schools (state or private) you find it is the parents who make a difference.

In paying schools, parents would not only push their own children. If other people's children stand in the way of their own children progressing, They would have words with the teacher/head teacher. No fear.

Selection by good behaviour is social engineering, you say?

The welfare state is social engineering on a mega scale, full stop.

And the chickens are coming home to roost. See: It should pay to be thrifty

[It's New Year's eve and I've not been as stringent as I usually am with the use of language here. Apologies.]

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Homeless in London, who cares?

My clients yesterday included a 44-year-old mother of four who suffers from incontinence and told me that "I am claiming [benefits] for them [husband and sons]".

She's one of the thousands the government is trying to move off Incapacity Benefit (she was classed as severely disabled) back into work (JobSeekers Allowance). However because no one in the family works, for her to lose her benefits would mean the family would struggle to survive.

This is despite one son and husband also claiming benefits. She "claims for them" in the sense that she is entitled to most. When I probed further she said that she is a bit embarrassed by her problem and so does not feel that she could work.

She also mentioned depression. I wonder if the depression is a result of her not working or her reason (excuse?) not to work. Similarly her son who trained as a plumber could not find a job -- and is depressed -- and so has signed on.

Before I met this lady I didn't think incontinence is such a big problem that it would be categorized as "severely disabled". Let's put it this way: us women are "incontinent" for a week in every four, dripping blood, and we manage to remain in work.

It appears that this lady is not using the right kind of support, using sanitary pads instead of incontinence aids, to control her problems (smell, eg). She's only 44. She has another 27 years, possibly more, to state retirement age.

Twenty-seven years! That is a long time. She could do so much during this time.

Her grown up son who trained as a plumber, he's sitting at home waiting for a job to come to him. Is this a symptom or a result of the welfare state?

Why does he not go to solicit for business? Everyone is looking for a good plumber. Why not ask to work for someone for free, a charity for example, helping to fix plumbing for old people? He sits at home collecting his JSA, and gets depressed.

Worklessness in this country contributes to poverty, not of the pocket, but of the soul.

Another client arrived from France and went to claim benefits the following day. And was rejected. He had been thrown out by his wife*. I don't know the details.

Nepali woman who does not speak a word of English wearing very "blingey" glasses. She applied for pension credit and was awarded it for several months. Then some hardworking civil servant (hurrah! there is at least one) finds out that she is not actually eligible.

Her daughter has sponsored her visa. Her daughter has undertaken to maintain her. Somehow someone told her that benefits were to be had if she applied. Now she's slapped with an "overpayment" bill. We advised on how she could settle the bill.

I had to warn her that if she made too big a fuss, they could just deport her.

Student next, paid an enormous amount of money to a "college" offering something like an "MEP" (Masters Entry Programme). This young man spoke with such a heavy accent I could hardly understand him. The college threw him out, saying that he was not a good enough student. They also dismissed about half his class. Student wants his money back. This is, believe it or not, a consumer issue.

Room got a bit cold, so I shut the window. Big mistake.

My next client was a man who has been sleeping rough. He had not washed for two weeks. He came in and promptly removed his shoes to show me his problems.

He arrived in this country on a spouse visa. His wife is supposed to support him. But somehow he managed to antagonize her enough she threw him out*, and this man has also been given conditional police bail -- whatever that means. He had come in two weeks ago and another volunteer tried to help him. And now he's back.

[*Women are so keen to throw out their husbands, it seems. Why?]

Because he has "no status" in the country he is not entitled to any benefits. So some "charities" would not touch him as their costs could not be recouped from government departments. We rang around, my manager and I, and I finally found a nice young lady who advised that he could get to a day centre the following day where they would give him some food, he could have a shower, wash his clothes, and they might even be able to give him shelter.

"Uhm, what if he has a history of violence?" YMCA has rejected him on that basis, so I thought I should check.

Lady checked. "Uhm, yes, it's OK. We love everyone here."

I managed to stop myself asking, "Are you, by any chance, a Christian charity?"

CEO gave us permission to give him money for a night at a B&B. Manager had also made him a cup of tea and given him some food.

I hope this man managed to get to the day centre and I hope they are able to shelter him. But it led me to think: If his wife promised to be responsible for him, but is not, should she be given the bill when he is finally sorted out?

Why should I, as the taxpayer, pick up her bill?

I came home and looked up the day centre and discovered that they are indeed a Christian charity. There was something in the way that lady spoke, or something she said, which gave the game away.

I also cannot get over the smell.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Ouch! Singapore society slammed by Apple co-founder

This morning while working at my computer pre-9am I heard BBC interviewer quizzing Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computers, about the counter-culture that Steve Jobs apparently embodied.

Steve W talked about creativity, and noted that -- especially in schools -- the length of one's hair is not important relative to how creative that person is.

You may or may not agree with him. I say, it should be entirely up to you. But then I sat up as he went:

"... look at structured societies like Singapore where bad behaviour is not tolerated. You are extremely punished.

"Where are the creative people? Where are the great artists? Where are the great musicians? Where are the great singers? Where are the great writers? Where are the great athletes?

"All the creative elements seem to disappear. Of course everybody is educated, has a good job, a lot of pay and a nice car.

"You know, some rituals in life, you are never going to get away from all rituals. 'Let's sing and cheer to our school,' you're taught in school, you know, 'My school, right or wrong, and I'd always oppose the other.'

"'And the referees if they make the call that is against our team, the referee made a mistake ....'

"That's not really what it's about. You're just taught this 'nationalism', not to think about what is right and wrong but to take a side, just like in politics at an early age ... and that's not lined up with creativity.

"And they will take a side because [of] other people, it's the thing to do. Somebody else made that rule, not you. You did not think for yourself. So thinking for yourself is creativity.

"And that goes right down to what we were talking about dress, the clothing that you wear. It's like you wear what you want to wear."

Clearly Steve W knows enough about Singapore to talk like that. (And this is going to be broadcast to all of Britain later on tonight.)

I am so embarrassed. But he is right.

This is exactly what my husband has been saying about Singapore. So "thinking-inside-the-box", so sticking to rules, so toeing the line, we are unlikely to produce a Nobel Prize winner.

Talk about a wake-up call. I'm not sure my breakfast sat very well after this.

Singapore the laughing stock -- again.