Alan Soh

I am my own columnist, sharing my own thoughts and recent experiences!


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My reasons in supporting removal of streaming in Secondary Schools

Secondary School in Singapore

A major education policy shift in Singapore was announced by Minister for Education, Mr Ong Ye Kung during the Committee of Supply (COS) Bill debate session in Parliament yesterday (Tuesday 5 March 2019), which followed the Singapore Budget 2019 speech delivered by Minister for Finance, Mr Heng Swee Keat on Monday 18 February 2019.

Come 2024, streaming in all secondary schools will be scrapped. It will be replaced by subject-based banding. Following that, GCE N-Level and O-Levels examinations will also be consolidated into one common national certification examination, which will co-branded by Singapore and Cambridge.

The subject-based banding, or SBB will replace the current system of putting our students into Express, Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical) streams based on their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results.

Yes, there will be no Express/Normal Academic/Normal Technical stream classes.

Streaming in primary schools was already scrapped in 2008, with the removal of EM1, EM2 and EM3 streams.

In this new system, upon entering Secondary 1, students will be able to take up subjects at different levels in accordance to their learning abilities. They will take a combination of subjects at 3 different levels based on their PSLE scores: General 1, General 2 and General 3.

The new PSLE scoring will be implemented in year 2021.

This new education policy will apply to pupils who enter Primary 2 this year.

According to Ministry of Education (MOE), these 3 levels are mapped from the current Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic) and Express standards respectively. This concept is similar to how Junior College (JC) students today take up GCE A-Level examination subjects at H1, H2, and H3 levels, and how Primary 6 PSLE students take up subjects at Standard or Foundation levels.

Speaking during MOE’s Committee of Supply Debate yesterday, Mr Ong said streaming which was implemented more than 30 years ago, has successfully reduced school attrition rates from about a third of every cohort to less than 1 percent currently. But he noted the downsides to streaming.

“In its original form, streaming assumed students needed a certain pace of learning in all their subjects, wheras many students, in fact, have uneven strengths across different subjects. More importantly, entering a stream that is considered ‘lower’ (Normal Academic or Normal Technical) can carry a certain stigma that becomes self-fulfilling and self-limiting. Students can develop a mindset where they tell themselves, ‘I am only a Normal Stream student, so this is as good as I can be.”

 

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Ong Ye Kung.

Long overdue but finally in year 2024. It is late but it is better than never.

1. Stigmatisation

As a former Normal Academic stream student, I think streaming does create a bit of damning effect on the self-esteem, growth mindset and learning motivation of students who are weaker in academic subjects, as compared to Express stream students.

Especially in Asian context, parents and others would place labels on students of varying abilities. Often, people in Singapore presume that Express stream students are academically gifted, and shall “rise among the ranks to become successful individuals one day”. Talking about intelligence quotient (IQ).

Remember how people used to say “its the end” for students of Institute of Technical Education (ITE) who go for vocational training?

Many Normal stream students would think they will not become successful in life.

This is not true.

I believe everyone can become a capable someone.

Ingredients of success include: self-awareness, diligence, a positive growth mentality, a reflective mind, self confidence, self-discipline, good time management, an outward-looking approach and a keen desire to become the best version of oneself.

As parents, friends, and elders, we ought to give them encouragement.

No one in this world likes to be given a negative label.

2. Social Inequality

We must be aware that students of varying learning abilities also come from different family backgrounds. Most Normal stream students grow up in middle to lower-income households.

In the aspect of gaining access to learning resources such as enrichment classes or tuition, students from poor backgrounds may be at a disadvantage, as compared to affluent ones, due to financial constraints and family issues. Thus these students must be given more care, time, and patience by giving them extra coaching in their weak subjects.

We must help them to get their foundation studies solid.

Despite these hardships, it is also essential that we must motivate them to stay focused on studies, keep up a fighting spirit not to give up, making sure that they do not lose the passion and motivation in learning (in order to get out of poverty trap), so why must we stigmatise the academically weaker students, and worse label them as “stupid, you just cannot be as good as Express stream students”?

If necessary, lend them a listening ear to listen to their problems. Help them to sort out their thinking.

I know Normal stream students are already trying very hard, to the very best of their learning ability.

3. Different abilities during formative years

When we are born into this world, we are all wired differently.

Our strengths are at varying levels. As such I don’t think it is an effective idea to expect a class of 30-40 students to master a subject at a particular benchmark set by the MOE school syllabus.

Moreover, secondary school students are in their teen years. They are in the midst of self-discovery, to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, likes or dislikes. So it is not a good idea to “penalise” a student heavily for failing a subject.

Back in my former secondary school days, I loved history but I hated geography. Because I just couldn’t understand those theories of how mountains are formed, or earthquakes take shape etc. Hence my geography sucked. (Of course the teacher was one of the contributing factors. Haha!)

History was more interesting because it was like a storybook to me.

I also realised I am more a language person than being a science person.

Hence I am glad that future secondary school students will have the freedom to take up different subject combinations pegging to their own learning levels. This will sustain their learning interest in the long run, until their graduation year.

And please don’t forget there are late bloomers. Life is full of surprises.

For example, there could possibly be people who don’t understand basic accounting for in secondary school years but can later develop competency in accounting at tertiary level, thus become certified accountants!

You just never know what will happen in future.

4. Peer Influence

Presently, the concept of a traditional form class is where our secondary school students are grouped rigidly according to whichever stream they are in.

By taking away Normal Academic/Normal Technical and Express streams in year 2024, schools can exercising flexibility in organising classes.

The good scenario is that students across all classes at same level will now be looked upon “equally as peers”.

Here we can take reference from Edgefield Secondary School where Secondary 1 students from the Normal and Express streams are placed in the same form class, which I think is an excellent example.

There are 8 Secondary One classes.

In Euclid class, there are 24 students from the Express stream, 10 from the Normal (Academic) stream and five from Normal (Technical). Each of the seven other Sec 1 classes in the school has a similar mix of students across the 3 different academic streams.

According to a Channel NewsAsia report, these students are split into different classes for each subject – for example, Normal (Academic) students taking Express-level science or mathematics will attend classes together with their Express peers.

But they will attend lessons such as art, design and technology and physical education together as a form class.

I like this class arrangement because I somehow believe the academically strong ones can help to assist their weaker classmates without peer labelling.

The positive feedback from teachers at Edgefield Secondary School?

“Students tell us they enjoyed mixing with their classmates, and they find that some of their best friends are from different streams.”

“They also found that those who do well may not necessarily be from the Express stream, and they’ve learned a lot from one another.”

Isn’t this better? 

It is time to break down the walls separating the streams.

Apart from that, I think at the end of secondary school education, students will really have achieved some of the outcomes set by MOE, for example: 1) be able to work in teams and show empathy for others, 2) take responsibility for their own learning, 3) believe in their own abilities and adapt to change, and 4) appreciating diverse views and able to communicate effectively.

For the boys, it helps further when they are enlisted for National Service, several years later after post-secondary education.

Key stages of Education

As one grows older and upon stepping into the workforce years later, he or she would slowly realise that academic grades are not definitive in measuring a person’s level of capability or a predictor of life success.

If you are recognised as an asset in your organisation for your diligence, good attitude and work performance, your employer will not bother much about which educational stream and school were you from previously.

Learn to overcome labels which people may put on you.

Break free! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Military Training Safety

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I am saddened and shocked when news broke out on Wednesday night (23 Jan) that actor and fellow Singaporean, Aloysius Pang had died due to his crush injuries at an military exercise in New Zealand. It has sent shockwaves across the island state.

It is the 4th military-related training death occurred in 18 months since 2017.

The Chief of Defence Force Melvyn Ong Su Kiat , and Chief of Army Major-General (MG) Goh Si Hou held a press conference shedding light to media on its preliminary investigation findings on Thursday 24 Jan.

At the time of incident, what were the other 2 personnel doing?

If all three could see each other in the cabin, then the two men should reasonably be able to answer the 2 burning questions which everyone is now asking – who was the one who pressed the button, and why was it not clearly communicated in the cabin and getting the “all clear” before the button push was made, causing this unfortunate trauma to Aloysius?

I am not pushing blame on the other two but I feel strongly that they are the ones who probably are the best people to provide these answers.

A young life has been taken away mercilessly.

I firmly believe Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) had already gotten the answers from the two men. Perhaps SAF probably feel that it is not the right timing to reveal the real truth, or simply wants to craft their so-call PR speeches or worse, hoping that time will pass, Singaporeans will forget and it will be another day for everyone? I hope not, and I believe SAF would not do this.

SAF can provide PR-crafted answers but honestly speaking, Singaporeans expect transparent answers. This is what we all want to hear. Not beating around the bush and go back to square one.

As such, I sincerely hope that SAF can be truthful, transparent and honest in the upcoming Committee of Inquiry (COI) findings in Pang’s case. If personnel are proven negligent which directly or indirectly cause the death of Aloysius Pang, please mete out appropriate punishment penalty.

To be fair and objective, the fault does not lie with National Service (NS) policy. NS is here to say. Given our small country size, I support the notion that we must have a strong, effective military force to create deterrence for any group, or any country which harbour thoughts to attack us. NS is important because we Singaporeans are the only ones who can protect ourselves, our possessions and loved ones.

Rather, I believe the fault lies more of negligence, disregard of safety rules, peer pressure, lack of vigilance, not exercising check, care and concern for one another, miscommunication, poor attitude towards safety, and false assumptions.

Heavier punishments should be imposed. It seems to me that current levels of safety awareness among national servicemen may not be high enough. What is the point in calling for more doctrinal change if safety rules are not followed seriously by national servicemen at bottom levels? How would senior NS officers know? How many NSFs (Full-time National Servicemen) do not something properly but then tell their NS superiors that they claimed having followed all safety guidelines?

It can be just another day for you and me but not for his parents, family, girlfriend (actress Jayley Woo Jiaqi), relatives, friends and even unrelated strangers of Pang.

This case hits home harder, partly due to Aloysius’ celebrity status. It hits the heart of every Singaporean Son and even more so for parents who have growing-up boys.

Safety is paramount in SAF. There must be stronger safety culture. Encourage a whistleblower/feedback policy on anyone who is suspected flouting safety rules, regardless of NS ranks. Otherwise, Singapore could face a worrying scenario of having worried parents who hesitate to send their boys for National Service and subsequently, reservist duties (till the age of 40 years old for NS ranks below officers).

It is the people at the bottom who end up suffering the most for the lack of safety awareness, who among us cut corners on it in the first place.

Regrettably, the 28-year old boy was flown home to Singapore but in a lifeless state. He will be accorded a full honours military funeral at Mandai Cremation Centre today (Sunday 27 Jan).

I went to pay my respects last night (Sat 26 Jan).

Given his age, he can be my younger brother.

His young life is cut short abruptly. This shouldn’t have happened, at all.

No words now can relieve the pain of his parents and loved ones.

I hereby express my deepest condolences to his Noon Talk Media manager, Dasmond Koh, his parents, family members, relatives, colleagues and fans.

To our fallen brother, rest in peace Aloysius.

We will miss you deeply.


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Bye bye 2018, Hello 2019!

Best Nine 2018

I am happy that I was able to achieve what I had aimed for in 2017, in terms of academic course. Went for it, stuck to it with faith, self-discipline and a positive attitude. Fortunately, I was able to juggle it with other commitments. Graduated successfully in June. To me, it was a big step forward. Of course, there is still room for greater improvement in the coming year. Thank you, SkillsFuture SG.

Service awards gained taught me lessons of integrity, diligence and commitment to the responsibilities in which you are entrusted with. I am humbled by these recognitions.

Relationships are important. Nobody can be an isolated island. Having said that, I am also aware that people change over time. Feelings/personality change. People come and go. Some may drift away slowly from me. As much as I cherish relationships, I also have to let some folks go. Well, this is life. It may be painful. I have to respect their choices. I make it a point to catch up with random people over an occasional meal or tea. I am quite a sentimental person, so that explains why I like old vintage stuff.

Being a communications graduate, I also hope to do my part in increasing public awareness of social campaigns which I believe is important. As a fellow Singaporean. For example: the SOS campaign for Suicide Prevention Week 2018. Will continue to do so this year.

Show Luo Zhixiang make it to my Best Nine list in IG? Thanks to popular China chinese drama serial “The Story of Yanxi Palace”. Did anyone watch the drama serial last year? lol.

Moving forward, I do have new plans which I hope I can execute in 2019, in which I will share over the next few months. Quick updates will be up on my Instagram as well.

I hope to travel abit this year, for I believe travelling expands my horizons. And learning more things about others and myself.

I wish everyone of you a happy smooth 2019 – success and good health! Spend more time with your loved ones! 🙂


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“Bridge The Gap”: A Youth Discussion On Inequality And The Class Divide In Singapore

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Yesterday morning, I attended this discussion session on inequality at *Scape Centre to expand my thinking, and to hear more in terms of perspectives of other young Singaporeans on this current hot topic. This is good because this closed-door event is not organized by any other governmental organizations, with a “government statement”. There was no media coverage. The discussion was organised under the rules of Chatham House, where all participants and speakers involved agreed that everything that has been said during this event will not be used for reporting. Hence, everyone who turned up was able to share his/her most honest insights based on observations and growing-up experiences.

I haven’t read the book titled “This Is What Inequality Looks Like”, written by Ms Teo You Yenn. I will find an opportunity to search for it to read one day.

I believe there is a certain extent of inequality in all countries, including Singapore. The crucial point, is how do we acknowledge it, tackle it as a community of Singaporeans, and take concrete actions to uplift others who are struggling to scale up in life, due to their disadvantaged backgrounds.

During break-out group discussions, I gave my own inputs, from the angle of someone who is from a low-middle family background, neighbourhood school, Normal (Academic) stream, EM2, ITE, hard-of-hearing, late mature honours degree student-to-be-next-year.

Speaking from the point-of-view of someone who went through the education system in the 1980s, I always thought MOE had a bit hand contributing to inequality among Singaporeans as they grow up. There is some degree of educational stratification, resulting from the effects of Primary 3 streaming examinations.

I guess I must be the only one who could be from a low SES (socio-economical status) background, in a room full of university students, civil servants, academics, editors, lawyers etc. Thankfully there was one media professional who understood fully what I meant because we are the same age-group! Haha..

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There was one speaker who spoke on 3 elements which are needed to beat inequality – choice, circumstance, and community.

On personal basis, I think we must always remember this – we always have a choice to decide becoming good or bad. Once in a while, it is okay to whine but to make a complaint every time is totally pointless. Developing the resilience muscle is what we need to do. A positive outlook is essential.

Being aware of own circumstances, I say, it is a life skill. Look at where you are now, with a macro view. With a calm rational mind, I believe we can strategize with a plan, and with a never-give-up attitude, we can aim to go to where we want to go. Adversity would only make us stronger.

The odds might stack up against us. In my growing-up years, I learnt that when our parents are unable to provide us with the resources we need, we should all the more think about how we can go out to get them, using our own ability.

If you can visualize it, you can achieve it definitely. The warrior mentality.

Community wise, I think it will be good to be aware of the available avenues one can turn to, for help. A community of supporting hands. To navigate smoothly through the seas of life, it matters too when it comes to whom you know.

Your inner circle of friends.

Your inner circle of influences.

Are they able to support and challenge you intellectually, to elevate you to a higher level?

I am a firm believer of positive peer influence. I often emphasize this heavily to the younger ones – You have to be selective with friends whom you mix around with. Like that saying goes, “If you want to fly like an eagle, don’t swim with the ducks!”

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The questions posed are difficult. This should spur us all to think hard about inequality in Singapore.

What kind of Singapore do we want to see in 15 or 50 years’ time?

Kudos to Clarence and Jin Yao for doing this grounds-up initiative!

My own viewpoint is that to beat inequality, it is not a matter of how fast you progress ahead of others but more of how well you improve and soar higher in life. Do bear in mind that there are some Singaporeans among us, who are late bloomers.

To tackle this issue, for a start, I think we ourselves can really start sharing our personal stories on online media platforms about how we overcome odds/challenges to beat perceived inequality on our own, to go where we want to go, to be a source of inspiration and encouragement to fellow Singaporeans who are currently struggling at their disadvantaged backgrounds, and could fall through the cracks.

And for those of us who succeed eventually, please do give back and assist those who are now in similar situations as you were before.

 


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Trump Kim Summit

 

Trump Kim Summit

It has been a while since I last penned some thoughts.

The hottest topic of the town this week, is Trump-Kim Summit where President of United States of America, Donald J.Trump and Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong Un have animously chosen Singapore as the venue to hold the historic talk– the first ever between a current sitting US president and a North Korean leader.

Thanks to the summit, Singapore has gotten a tremendous amount of global attention, hoping that there is a positive outcome on the denuclearisation of Korean Peninsula issue.

Check out the rest of the article which I have written on my LinkedIn profile here.


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Social Media Influencers & Singapore Budget 2018

influencers

Singaporeans do it almost 24/7, particularly the millennials who are born in the 2000s.

According to a 2016 annual report compiled by social media agency We Are Social, there are 3.6 million active social media users in Singapore. There are 4.65 million internet users.

The top 3 social media platforms used among Singaporeans are Whatsapp (46%), Facebook (43%) and Instagram (18%). In terms of media consumption habits, Singaporeans spent an average of 4 hours 14 minutes on internet via computer or tablet device daily and 1 hour 39 minutes on social media via any mobile device daily.

It is no wonder many service providers, advertisers, public relations agencies are leveraging on the power of social media to promote awareness of their services, products or events among Singaporeans these days.

This probably creates a greater need for influencer marketing, of which it is a form of marketing in which focus is placed on social media personalities who have a substantial number of followers; whereby they can be “tasked” to persuade or convince their followers to buy a product or patronise a service on their social media channels. Globally, it is expected to be a growing industry projected to reach US$5billion (S$6.6million) in 2018.

Depending on their own personalities, these influencers could be into arts, sports, travelling, fashion among others.

 
Singapore Budget 2018 falls on 19 February.

Based on current economic conditions, Minister of State for Finance, Mr Heng Swee Kiat will be delivering his Budget Statement in Parliament, announcing a number of monetary measures for businesses, and for the ordinary Singaporean on the street.

In an efffort to reach out to younger Singaporeans, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) has engaged over 50 social media influencers to do an Instagram campaign to promote awareness about Budget 2018. In a press report, its spokesman said the social media campaign which lasts a month, is estimated to reach 225,000 instagram users. Its spokesman also said it paid “market rates” to the hired influencers.

 

Is it a good tactic for MOF to tap on the influencers to generate interest about Budget 2018 in Instagram?

I understand the Government is trying to do an effective outreach to young Singaporeans about budget and financial planning. But personally as a mass communications student and a former public service servant, I do not think influencers are the best people to create the right buzz for government policies.

Firstly, are they the right people with the relevant knowledge? In other words, are they qualified enough to be spreading word about Budget 2018? Seriously speaking, it sounds not convincing if say, one engages a fashion influencer with a performing arts background to spread word about budget/finance. The subject requires some knowledge in economics or a flair in analysing facts and numbers. Get what I mean?

Often, these influencers are perceived to be young people who are very much into branded items, clubbing, luxury lifestyles, looking fashionably trendy etc. For serious topics such as Budget, it will be more appropriate to go for an influencer who exerts a professional image. For example: a somebody whose real profession is an economist?

Secondly, the number of social media posts these influencers make pertaining Budget 2018 may not translate into higher levels of public awareness. Because they can just simply click a “like” because they like the influencer. Will these followers read those crafted messages pertaining Budget 2018? Very likely, no.

There is a high tendency that these messages could “fall on deaf ears”. This is because majority of their followers are of a much younger age group who may not be in tune to government policies. In terms of preferences, they are more likely into fashion, IT games, Starbucks, smartphone games than profound subjects such as GDP, economic forecast, inflation, and politics.

I agree totally with this statement made by Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon, Business School, NUS in the ST article titled “Can influencers create the right Budget Buzz?” published on Sunday 21 Jan 2018. She said: “If the influencer’s personality is not a (right) fit, then the buzz becomes about the misalignment instead of the Budget process”.

I am aware that this Instagram campaign could be just one of the tactics in MOF’s integrated marketing communications strategy to raise public awareness about Singapore Budget 2018.

However, I’m afraid it could putting taxpayers’ monies to waste..


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A little note of self-encouragement

self loveI was updating my LinkedIn profile when I came across this note written by a career strategist. Which I think it would be good for me to share it here with everyone.

Not just for myself.

The first post should be a positive one.

I believe the importance of self-love because we are our own best friend till the end of our lives.

 

2018 has just started. Happy New Year! Hope it has been a good start for you so far. 🙂

I’ve always believed that any person with a little bit of talent, a little bit of passion, a little bit of courage, some drive, and some perseverance could achieve whatever he or she could dream of.

Nothing is impossible unless you close the doors on your own.

Don’t let the whole staircase scares you, just focus on lifting up your leg to the next step. And then the second, and then the third.

Each of these steps is a completion of your milestone. And once a step is completed, give yourself a pat on your shoulder.  

This pat is actually a physical recognition of a job well done and it is a form of subtle encouragement to trigger your inner-motivation. Try it. 

Start to discover yourself a little bit more, and you will be amazed on how these little actions you take will eventually lead you to the dream you want to achieve.

Take each challenge as it comes and celebrate the successes along the way. No matter big or small. Celebrate our abilities. Work out something to overcome our weakness.

We are in control of our own efforts. Have a growth mindset.

We strive to be better persons hence we shall not compare ourselves with other people unnecessarily.

Do rest if necessary but please do not give up.

A self note – You will continue to grow if you can take whatsoever life challenges in your stride on one day, one step, one action at a time.

You are a start-up….The next great business is you —– Hugh Howey