Bottom-up, aspirational education system – Parents’ change in mindset necessary too!

Acting-Miniser Ong Ye Kung made his first speech as the acting minister for education today. He spoke about the tensions that exist as our education system evolves – between the integrating and diversifying, collective and individual, change and stasis. He explained that “the objective of education is that each of us has innate talents, abilities, and interests, and the higher education system must help people uncover and pursue their passions, and chase their respective rainbows. Such a system is bottom-up, aspirational, changing and diversifying.”

I think that Ag-Min Ong explained it very eloquently and provided very clear vision for the future development and evolution of education and skills training for Singapore and Singaporeans. This is a vision which I hope all involved in the education of our children – the staff in MOE HQ, the school leaders, the teachers, and, perhaps most importantly, parents – will eventually align themselves to.

And it is vitally important that parents are aligned to this vision too. Because regardless what the Government tries to do, it will be a Sisyphean task unless parents are convinced and acknowledge that the economy and society are different from what they are used to. That there are jobs today that did not exist in the past. That there will be jobs in the future that do not exist today. Jobs that existed in the past may not exist today or in the future. That the way people work for a living and the way people live has changed and will change even more. Parents need to be convinced a quality education their kids need, a quality education that would form a strong foundation for a good meaningful life is very different from what they have gone through.

The change of mindset for parents, I think, will take time. I experienced this recently. A friend, SK, was telling me that her Aunt, let’s call her Mrs A, felt really terrible about herself. This was because Mrs A’s daughter, let’s call her C, was apparently not doing well in school.

A bit of background. C is in a fairly reputable school in Singapore. She is in secondary 3. She had apparently failed a number of subjects in the recent end of year examinations. Mrs A has a law degree, her husband got a government scholarship. So they both believe that their daughter should do well in school. But because she isn’t, Mrs A felt that she has failed as a mother.

So my friend SK asked me what can be done to encourage C to study harder and do better in school.

I probed a little more and found out that C had actually set up an online bakery. Even though it is a one-person operation and is still considered very small-scale, it was apparently a profitable business already.

When I heard that, I thought to myself that this young lady, C, is actually quite amazing. She sounds like she is enterprising and street-smart. She is self-motivated, learning how to set up the business, bake products that people would buy, promote her products, make money. If I had a daughter like that, I would be really proud. Why would Mrs A be upset and think that she failed as a mother?

That said, I do believe that there is value in C studying. Knowing about chemistry and physics would be useful to a baker. Having good language skills would be useful in crafting good marketing materials. Having a good sense of numbers will help in pricing and analysis. Just like what Steve Jobs said in the commencement speech he gave at Stanford, there are things you learn and pick up that may not seem to be useful, but, as you move on in life, and you look back, you realise that the dots connect.

So I suggested to my friend, SK, to tell her aunt, Mrs A, the following:

First, affirm C. I suggested that Mrs A should really be proud of what C has achieved on her own. Mrs A should be proud of the discipline and motivation that was needed for C to have set up a successful business, small-scale as it may be. I suggested that Mrs A should let C know how proud a mother she is to have such a daughter.

Second, I suggested that Mrs A then find out if C is really passionate about baking. Passionate, not merely interested. The root word of “passion” is a Greek word that means “to suffer”. So Mrs A should find out how much C is willing to suffer to become an expert baker-entrepreneur. I then suggested that if C is truly passionate, then Mrs A should support C in her journey.

Third, I suggested Mrs A to watch the Steve Jobs speech with C. Then explain to C that while it may not be immediately apparent how the things she is learning in school now will be useful to her as a baker, it is always better to have more knowledge than less. So C should approach studies in her school as ways that can help her be a better baker-entrepreneur.

Lastly, I suggested that Mrs A once again affirm C’s self-discipline, motivation and maturity. Mrs A should then let C have some time to think through what she really wants. Mrs A should also tell C that her and her husband trusts C to be matured enough to make the right decisions. Mrs A should reassure C that Mrs A and her husband will support C wholeheartedly.

I’m not sure what the outcome will be: will C’s education be the bottom-up, aspirational type that Ag-Min Ong talked about? I don’t know. I hope so. It seems that C’s mother, Mrs A, may actually help to make that happen. How many parents would be like Mrs A? I don’t know. But for the sake of our children, I hope more will be.

[Featured image: photo from MOE]

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