Alan Soh aka Humourboi

I am my own columnist, publishing my thoughts!


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Inclusiveness. Perception.

A recent survey commissioned by Lien Foundation reveals that in these 1000+ respondents, only 1 in 10 Singaporeans is confident of interacting with a child with special needs. 50% of the adults polled are comfortable with having a child with special needs in their children’s class. And finally, only 8% of the people polled are willing to make a child with special needs feel welcomed.

What does it say about us? Why? Why this discomfort? Is it because of misconception, pre-judgement or stereo-typing? Thinking that people with special needs among us are “stupid”, “unable to contribute to society”, “always depending on others for help”, “can’t achieve much in life” or “better not to be seen and heard”? Why are there Singaporeans not walking the talk about inclusiveness in the Lion City?

In my course of work, my interactions with Singaporeans with special needs often made me go awe. Because I discovered some of them have hidden talents. Most importantly, these people are easy to get along with. They are very friendly people. I feel at ease talking to them.

We should focus at what these people can do, NOT what they cannot do. Like anyone of us, some of them are born with different gifts. From there, we can redesign job-scopes to cater to their strengths. They are a hidden pool of potential talents, if we give them opportunities to develop their abilities. They are raw diamonds.

I always believe disability happens only if I am disabled in the mindset, not my physical limitations. Of course people are entitled to their own opinions at the end of the day.
This is beyond my control.

At the end of the day, it is about our perceptions. How we see this special group of people. It is a matter of our willingness to understand these fellow Singaporeans with special needs.

Let us open our hearts and minds.  They might just surprise you with their abilities. 🙂

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The talk about Scholars, University graduates and non-graduates (Pt 2)

Mindset no.2 – Some kind of smarts matter more than others

This mindset is related to the first one:

If someone has excelled in formal education, he is assumed or perceived to be  intelligent – in every way and in all situations. He can take on almost any challenge thrown at him. While this may be true of that rare, truly gifted individual, it is hardly the case for most people.

People have different strengths, which are suited to different challenges. Yet, we tend to be narrow-minded in our view of intelligence and talent. We have been told to prize talent that can be accounted for through traditional qualifications, as well as through money and status.

Fans of television’s Japan Hour would know how the hunt for the best green tea ice-cream can take multiple episodes to be completed. I am always struck by how one of the world’s most technologically advanced societies can also embrace and retain their traditional crafts. But whether it is tradition or technology, their spirit is captured in the word shokunin – which means craftsman or artisan, but actually connotes a deeper meaning about the joy in doing something to the best of your ability.

Valuing different intelligences will not just make people feel better; it will help Singapore create wealth for all.

For decades, it has been an Asian mindset, having this perception that being a university graduate means one has come to a life stage that “he is to be respectable by everyone, and will become a successful person in society”.

But there are so many university graduates on the streets these days, it has meant nothing. 

That is why I often say – let’s respect fellow Singaporeans of different intelligence/abilities and talents, regardless of educational backgrounds. I believe we ought to embrace diversity of people talents.

We are now in the 21st Century. I consider it “backward thinking” if people still think that formal academic excellence supercedes all other kinds of excellence.

Mindset no.3 – Stinginess with respect to other people’s strengths

This leads me to the mindset that may be the MOST unhealthy of all: a judgemental attitude that looks up to certain professions and look down on others.

Respect is what we all crave for, say human pyschologists and behavioural economists. Economists like Richard Layard, for example, have long argued that it is not income alone that makes people happy but also a sense of belonging. People need to know that they matter to others.

Last year when we interviewed Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, I noticed that the room had several interesting paintings, which we discovered later were the work of prisoners. His choice of decor reflected his belief that Singapore needs to recognise different strengths. 

We need to treat one another better, he said.

Unfortunately, those who have not done so well in school are “very aware of what they didn’t achieve but not enough of them have discovered their own strengths”.

And at the other extreme, are those who are fully aware of their strengths but “are not sufficiently aware of their weaknesses, and not sufficiently aware of other people’s strengths”.

He posted a rhetorical question which I think goes to the heart of the current debate – how we value fellow Singaporeans: “Do you see them as equals?

Shifting mindset is a collective responsibility (among educators/parents). It starts with others – from the establishment and employers (be it private or public sectors) to other organisations.

Yes. I absolutely agree. It involves each and every single one of us as a Singaporean.

As long as it is a decent profession which allows one to tap on individual strengths, get to earn a take-home pay happily, to help himself or herself to make ends meet. Some examples: a hair stylist, a professional sports athlete or a restaurant waiter.

Yes I may be rich; and I may be a scholar or a company CEO but what right do I have to look down or condemn another fellow Singaporean’s profession? So what if he or she is not a university graduate?

High EQ thinking, job-ready skills, and a proactive work attitude counts alot more at the workplace today.

It also boils down to basic respect. And humility.

 


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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 learning..to 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.