Alan Soh

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

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The university degree debate

In recent months, there has been some lively debate on university education in Singapore, more on the subject of “why a university education is unnecessary”.

For many students particularly those pursuing pre-university education in Junior Colleges (JCs) or Pre-University Institutes today, getting a university degree is akin to getting a 100% guarantee in securing a good job with excellent career prospects. They want a job with high pay. In actual fact, students are more of wanting the prestige that comes with a university graduation. They thought others will feel impressed if they introduced themselves as university graduate from XXX University.

Early last month, National Development Minister, Mr Khaw Boon Wan said that “fuelled with ambition, a university degree is not vital for someone to become successful in life”.

Singapore does not have natural resources. Hence it places premium on education to build its human capital. People with tertiary education qualifications are often seen as being more capable, more desirable and “more respected members of the society” relative to other groups of people who are not-so-highly-educated.

1. For men, many of them think that getting a university degree is necessary because they want to attract potential attractive spouses. Likewise for women, some of them are more drawn to men with university degrees who have higher disposable incomes, thinking that these men are “intelligent and charismatic”. These women feel that such men are ideal husbands, for they have the capability to bring food on the home dining table.

Singapore women today want more than an average lifestyle.

To put it in plain words, it means a university graduate is able to earn more MONEY!

2. As I’ve mentioned earlier, in many Asian families, they feel that it is honour and glory to have a university scholar at home. A more respected member of the society. University graduates will then be able to enter senior management levels in companies and organisations. Asians believe that a university graduate will be given more opportunities to propel ahead in life, as compared to a typical office worker.

3. In Asian societies, there is also a common perception that with a university degree, he or she will be looked upon as a successful symbol, telling surrounding people that he or she “has the ability to excel further in society in future years.”

To me, what matters more is self-discipline, passion, honesty, integrity, diligence, positive attitude, high EQ and resilence, and the desire to keep on improving one-self. Also not  forgetting —  having the right moral values.

Lack of tertiary education qualifications should not be a deterrent to success in life.

As I’ve written in my earlier post on the PSLE Debate, people develop at different paces at different life stages. Many of us are late bloomers.

Bill Gates? Steve Jobs? Ray Kroc? Sim Wong Hoo?

These are famous personalities who have made it big in life despite not having a university degree. They made many mistakes but they did not give up. They worked hard. They persevered.

Each and everyone of us are born with unique strengths and talents. When someone is not good in academic studies, it does not mean that he is also not good in other areas.

On a separate note, I feel that Singapore would be heading for trouble IF its policy-makers (particularly Ministry of Education) do not recognise the fact that our society as a whole will prosper and flourish only when more spaces and acceptance are given for different groups of talents to develop and grow. 

Talent or intelligence comes in different forms. We should not be so narrow-minded to look at “how far in life a person can go by just looking at his/her academic grades”. Does he/she has a university degree?

Grades don’t really prove anything. It only tells me that this person is exam-smart for all those papers which he/she has sat for.

If I can have my own definition, I would put it this way –> Academic grades (15%), skills (35%) and attitude for self-improving (50%) would come together to make a person successful….


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My thoughts on the “Great PSLE Debate”

Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) 2012 results will be released today.

Yesterday, the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) has announced that it will no longer publish names of top scorers in national examinations (PSLE, GCE O-Level, and GCE N-Level) as it wants to balance previous over-emphasis on academic results. It was a move made in alignment with its focus on giving students a more holistic education, putting less emphasis on the degree of competitiveness within our education system.

GCE A-Level exam top scorers are never named.

MOE wants parents and students to start seeing academic performance as “just one aspect of a student’s overall development and progress”. Hence it will start with the release of PSLE 2012 exam results today. Unlike past years, the press media will not be told who are the top scorers or given a list of primary schools making good academic progress.

Honesty speaking, since 1998, I’ve been waiting for this day to come.

Firstly, let’s talk about the recent moves made by MOE to introduce changes in the award structure for Singapore Youth Festival 2013 (SYF) inter-school arts assessment to put the focus on participation, rather than awards. In future, certificates of excellence will be given instead. And also the abolishment of its 8-year old system of banding secondary schools based on academic results.

I think MOE has done the right thing. In today’s school landscape, I believe the problem of stress overload mainly comes from the academic scoring aspect. Co-curricular activities (CCAs) are good for students, for they are supposed to be stress-relieving and teaching us life skills which are not taught in textbooks. But sad to say, CCAs have now become another stress points – everything become so award-oriented. All because students and parents feel that these are plus points which can be put into report books to create that oh-so-impressive academic track record for advancing to polytechnics, to JCs, to Universities. Double stress. What a mad rat race. 

Therefore I believe it is a good move to take away the award focus away from school performing arts CCAs when they participate in SYF. One is supposed to enjoy doing the CCAs, not to be pressurised to excel in it due to whatever upcoming competitions. Having said that; of course for students, I agree that hard work and excellence are to be recognised. 

In Asian context, parents place alot attention on academic excellence because they believe that by achieving good grades, one is able to get out of poverty and become outstanding in life, thus providing a good life for oneself and his/her family.

Fellow Singaporeans would agree with me that many of our students today (and their parents) have become self-centred, kiasu, obsessed with academic excellence, thinking scoring AAAs is more important than anything else. Some may become selfish till the extent that they can go tear other schoolmates’ textbook notes to get ahead in exams. Where is that conscience and moral values?

Why do we need to know the top national scorers? I do not see such a need.

Personally I believe if you want to have a benchmark, one can still use his or her school’s previous year top scorer grades as a goal to achieve. Provided if one is super intelligent, let’s admit it, most of us can’t reach the top national scorer’s grades isn’t it??

I think those super kiasu parents and their offsprings are going to whine at this news announcement.
No chance to become famous. :p

Come on, Primary Six students are still children. They are 12-year olds only. Yes, I agree with parents that they should study hard for PSLE but I strongly feel that they should not be purely motivated to study hard ONLY for the thought of being publicly recognised as national top scorers. Are you aiming for just that moment of fame?

Looking back, I tried my best when I sat for PSLE 1991 exams. I did not manage to get into Express stream by about 20 points. I was alittle disappointed at my results and aggregate score. Although my parents did not pressurise me but when I read news about the top PSLE scorer and his/her grades, it only made me feel more lousy about myself when I compared myself to them.

How many Primary 6 students out there are like myself? Does MOE still want to make them feel demoralised? Why do we still want to keep on comparing ourselves in terms of academic grades? Hence MOE did the right move to stop naming top national scorers.I learnt from my Secondary School form class teacher Ms Sumathi Krishna to “compete with just myself, and count my blessings by comparing myself with those who do not do as good as I am.” And continue learning from the best people whom I can identify. I realised: If I keep on comparing myself with the most outstanding ones, I will only create more undue stress on myself, setting unrealistic benchmarks and worse, feel super lousy about my weakness when I cannot achieve them.Regardless in Express or Normal (Academic) or (Technical) streams, go assess yourself in terms of your abilities. Rather than focusing too much on your weakness, why not shift your full attention to playing your strengths? People are generally happier when they do things they are best at. Be an expert in your strength areas.Trust me, this is where your confidence starts to blossom like a flower.
Remember to challenge yourself constantly in new areas, so as to further expand your capabilities at the same time. Don’t bother what others say — listen to your heart — go for things which you love to do! 🙂

As we grow up, we are all evolve to become the best self we can be. Right?
So why are parents placing too high stakes on PSLE?
Please look beyond PSLE.
There are many stories about 
Singaporeans who did not do well in PSLE but went on to excel later in adult life.

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Youth Mentorship

4 years since providing mentorship to students doing community service projects on Young ChangeMakers Youth Panel, I’m at it again – I am among the 18 youth mentors on my alma mater — Yishun Town Secondary School’s mentoring programme starting 26 March 2012, helping 40 under-achieving juniors from Sec 1 to Sec 3 (Express or Normal). Likely to be a 1-year programme. Beginning from Term 2, 1st Semester.

I will be mentoring two Secondary 2 boys – one from Normal (Academic) and the other, Express.

It is a different challenge. Working along side with the teachers involved, I hope I am able to motivate or inspire the 1 or 2 students put under my charge, sharing my experiences so that they will do their best to overcome whatever challenges to achieve good grades in studies this year. 🙂