My thoughts run free here...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

True Education Is Lost

For the past few days, i've been thinking about the education provided in Singapore to kids nowadays. Especially with regards to my sister. It deeply worries me that we all study for the sake of getting good grades in our exams, and not because we want to study for the fun of it. We also constantly worry about what's in the syllabus and what's not. Not to mention, we are only willing to study what's in the syllabus.

At least, i can agree with the rationale for having a syllabus at different levels of education. We need boundaries and rubrics to guide us in what to study from a broad subject content. But in the actual learning process, i believe that we should study as much as we can, if that subject matter interests us. We shouldn't put a full stop in the process of acquiring knowledge and say "that's not in the syllabus, so i don't need to learn it."

In A Devil's Chaplain, Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science and Love, Richard Dawkins expresses my worries articulately with reference to a book that he constantly quotes from, The Story of a Great Schoolmaster: being a plain account of the life and ideas of Sanderson of Oundle. His essay is titled "The Joy of Living Dangerously: Sanderson of oundle":

"It is not just the joy of childhood that is threatened. It is the joy of true education: of reading for the sake of a wonderful book rather than for an exam; of following up a subject because it is fascinating rather than because it is on a syllabus; of watching a great teacher's eyes light up for sheer love of the subject."

How true this is in Singapore. But it's not only in Singapore. I can say that this is true in many of the countries like India, China, Korea and Japan. Western countries also foster the same education values. True education is lost. The joys of childhood is also lost. Richard Dawkins says here:

"I hear horror stories almost daily of ambitious parents or ambitious schools ruining the joy of childhood. And it starts wretchedly early. A six-year-old boy receives 'counselling' because he is 'worried' that his performance in mathematics is falling behind. A headmistress summons the parents of a little girl to suggest that she should be sent for external tuition. The parents expostulate that it is the school's job to teach the child. Why is she falling behind? She is falling behind, explains the headmistress patiently, because the parents of all the other children in the
class are paying for them to go to external tutors."

The same is happening to my sister. She has to go to tuitions for math and english separately, so that she could 'keep up' with her classmates. I sometimes wonder whether all this training and tutoring really reflects my sister's true hardwork and knowledge in her progress in education. I sometimes wonder for myself too. Because i went to tuition too, until the age of 14, after which i stopped and started studying for myself. My classmates in JC also had private tutors who would help them in their tutorials. So they got their 4 distinctions because they had private tutoring. I am more satisfied with my performance than them, because i got 3 distinctions without having any private tutors.

All the schools here ever care about is ranking. How well is the school ranked depends on the academic performance of the students. Principals fightwith each other if one school loses it's best student to the other school, like divorced parents fighting for the custody of their child. Parents here are also a step more competitive than their children. They set the expectations for their children. They tell the children that they should get such-and-such grades and that they should enter such-and-such school.

I would very much like to imagine a world where there are no examinations and no syllabuses. In a world, where students are given the freedom to choose what subject interests them and excel in it. But such an utopian world will never come about in existence. All we can do is some changes in the education policies here and there and just hope that students are doing what they really want to do, and not what they are told to do.
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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Song I Sang

Hey! I was quite free at home and so i did this. Please listen to it. Hope you will like it. It's a song i sang. I recorded it with a karaoke track. I sang the male voice too, in my voice of course. You can listen to more by clicking the link in the sidebar. Thanks!!:)

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Saturday, November 25, 2006


While i was travelling in the train today, i felt like: "When am i going to get down this train? God, pls help me?" Oh my God, i just couldn't stand it. Those Indian guys! Sometimes its Bangla guys. I can't stand them anymore. To think about how they are thinking of me, it is just irritating. I'm so pissed off!

I was travelling alone. Maybe that's why. But can't a girl travel alone nowadays? Maybe i'm exaggerating because they didn't approach me or anything. But sometimes it's really irritating. These guys were standing quite faraway. But they purposely came and stood at the opposite side of the pole near which i was standing. And they were obviously talking about me and making signals. Goddamn it! I wanted to move away but the train was so crowded. I tried my best to ignore them. I even took out my handphone and pretending like talking to my "brother." Can you imagine?

I thought our tamil guys are quite harmless and if tamil girls are in trouble, they will help us. Atleast that is how i view them. But there are certain people, who are quite the opposite; they are the troublemakers.

Once i was in Mustafa centre, by myself and i was looking after my sister, while my mother was shopping nearby. She was looking for some clothes actually. So i was simply standing there and minding my own business, not being interested in all those clothes. Then came these two decent-looking guys. I'm not kidding. They looked decent. From the way they speaked, i understood they were telugu-speakers.

But you know what they did? They followed me around the whole day. And this particular guy, one of the two, kept bumping into me and said sorry for like more than ten times. Hello!! Pls come on man. My parents are with me, goddamn it! And I was not even looking good on that day! I looked tired and all. I was wearing a normal polo t-shirt. Looking pretty normal.

And the other guy was helping him look for me, can you believe it? Some kind of teamwork hah? This other guy looked a bit like Harish Ragavendra, if you know who he is and how he looks like. Pretty decent-looking fellows. But the way they behaved!! I just hated them and the day.

Some of the guys here are categorized by us into un-jacks. Girls are un-jills. by the way. They have a pretty typical appearance. Un-jacks are dark/fair, with spiky hair sometimes coloured, earrings, and wearing chains. Sometimes you can tell them by the way they walk. And un-jills are these girls who are dark/fair, coloured hair, funky dress sometimes with mini-skirt, and can be told from the way they stand and walk. These are just generalizations and stereotyping.

Sometimes, we think that un-jacks and un-jills are bad, indecent people. This is not always true. And sometimes, this is very true. We can't actually say. But when we first look at an Indian, we will categorize them, you see. So that is what i meant by saying that these two guys were decent-looking. By the way, this incident happened a few years ago. They looked like 20-something and i was just 17, i guess! They behaved quite stupidly. I still can't forget that incident and i never will. Well, maybe.
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Friday, November 24, 2006

YEY!! It's over!!

YEY!!! It's over. Exams are over. Sleepless nights are over. And a lot of things are over. I'm glad that i don't have to step into that college again and see all those faces that i don't like. Of course i miss my friends badly. But i think i have more irritating friends than good friends. Haha;)

I guess we'll be going to school once or twice for gym and swimming. And that's because we paid that stupid $40 as sports complex fees from september to december!! One thing that ACJC is so good at, is to collect so-called "donations" and "fees." Everything is $10 for them. From school t-shirts to the book called ACS Story (It contains AC's 120 years of history). I knew that they are a rich school, but this is simply too much.

But who cares about all of that now. It's over. And i'm happy with the way i've written my papers. Although i wasn't that confident that i could definitely get an A as i was when i sat for my O'levels 2 years ago. If papers 1 and 2 were easy, paper 3 turns out to be difficult. Or it's the other way round. So you're never sure how your grades will turn out.

Happy partying and thinking about your futures for all those who have finished your A'levels!! I'm so happy that my parents have become lenient overnight! They let me stay up late at night yesterday. And they're giving me quite a bit of freedom to do my own stuff. No complaining anymore that i have to go and study!! My parents have always been quite reasonable and i have to thank them a lot for supporting me throughout this period of exams. Haha:D
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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Nice local song

I want to put this song here because 1) i love this song very much, not so much the guy (Shabir) who sang this song and 2) my friends would like it:) So here it is. Singapore's Vasantham Star Shabir's hit album: Alaipayuthe. Hope you guys like it.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Expectations imposed upon women

Society imposes a lot of pressures on both men and women. The society has expections on women. According to them, she must be all or most of the following to be considered as someone worth mentioning:

1) Get good grades when she is in school
2) Be a career woman
3) Get married and have kids
4) Be a good home-maker

I might be generalizing here because not every succesful women in this world today fulfill all or most of the above-mentioned criteria, right? No matter how successful a woman becomes, if she lacks in any of the last three criteria stated above, she is always criticised or sympathised by others.

That is why most of the women judge themselves based on the values imposed by the society. Elizabeth Perle McKenna, author of the book "When Work Doesn't Work Anymore", says it clearly:

"Unbeknownst to me, however, i was judging my life by standards that weren't my standards and coming up woefully short. I had internalized these value systems over the years without knowing it and they measured the same fabric (my life) in completely different and mutually exclusive ways. There was the work standard, which told me that anything less than total devotion to my profession was failure. There were voices of the women's movement that said, 'Don't let us down. You can't drop out. Your're a powerful example. Get in there, hang in there, and change things.'

"Then there was society's measure of womanhood, which told me that the home was my first responsibility and that my child would be an ax murderer if i didn't make him my top priority. Everywhere, i read that if i worked too hard, my marriage would suffer. On paper these might be outdated concepts, but they weren't when i was growing up; they were the operative value systems in creating a definition of a successful woman, I swallowed them whole. The consequence was indigestion in my soul."

And then she says in another page, which i would truly question later on, :

"The goal was to transform that culture [male culture of business and success] so both women and men could have family/personal lives and work. But this is most definitely not the message I heard when I was younger and forming my expectations for my life. Like many of my friends I clearly got the feeling that not only could I do it all, but I should do it all. There was almost a moral imerative: to succeed at everything because we had been given these unprecedented opportunities."

So is there really a need to follow the society's definition of what success is? Let's look at this practically. Every women is geared, or shall we say socially engineered, to think that having a career and then getting married is a must. Nobody questions this value system or even considers it as a possiblity only. In the western society, this might only be partially true. But in the Asian society, i would say that this is mostly true. But i don't have any statistical data to support this claim.

The problem is not that whether we women should follow this value system or not. Nor is there any debate here on whether the above criteria are right or wrong. But what i think is that, we should all follow our own set of beliefs and standards, rather than relying on the society to define what a successful woman should do. Because when we follow our own set of principles, we might find greater satisfaction in both our work lives and personal lives. However, it is not always as easy as it can be said than done.

Elizabeth Perle McKenna puts it cleary:

"We grew up being assessed, evaluated, and graded and our first impulse is to look outside ourselves for a reflection of how we're doing... If you are a genius in stock market, the world compensates you for it. But if your gift is in physical therapy, you tend not to value that as much because you aren't getting rich from it... When we pay the therapist so poorly in comparison, we send the clear message that he or she isn't as valuable to society-that being the head of a corporation is a higher, more worthy aspiration.

"Women know this isn't true. But all too often we live as though it is. Moving from a culturally approved value system to a more personal one seems almost impossible-especially when there are no real role models for us to follow. But if we don't do it, no one is going to do it for us... Until we redefine success and value more broadly to include balance and meaning in our lives, we will stay stuck in careers that ask us to weigh one artificially divided world against another."

Set your own principles and values in your life. Make them your core ideology and make sure you always follow and retain them no matter how much you change your outlook on life. For example, one of my principles is to always follow my interests. I believe that i can't really enjoy doing something unless i have an interest in it, a natural drive. I put this principle in practice, when i chose my subjects in JC and when i chose my CCA (Co-curricular activity) in guitar. While lot's of other people just picked a CCA just for having one for their year-end credits.

Like what McKenna said, you might be really interested in doing physical therapy. But according to society's defintion of success, being a physiotherapist doesn't earn you much money and recognition, compared to being in an executive or managerial position. That shouldn't stop you from redefining your own success. If success is for you to be able to help handicapped people to recover, then follow it. Not to mention, it takes a ton of courage to go against the expectations of the society, and follow your own set of expectations.
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Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Familiar Feeling

Have you ever had that kind of a familiar feeling to a particular place, person or event? You might have never even encountered them before, but you still felt those feelings? Something like deja vu? It happens to a lot of people. Or so they claim.

Actually i don't believe in all those things. But why do i have such feelings? I have been in a lot of situations where i've felt that this has happened before. I feel weird at those times. For example, when i went to Orchard road once, i had that kind of feeling. In my mind i know that a person in orange shirt will walk in this way, and a red car will drive in that way. And the same things will happen! Maybe i'm being paranoid or whatever. But it's true. I've been in those situations a lot.

Two years back, i was really very determined in getting into National Junior College after O'levels. But when i visited the ACJC open house, i felt something very familiar about that place. I felt like i've been there for a long time. I ate my lunch in the college cafeteria and i loved the food there. Then later that night i dreamed about the school and that i was studying there.

But i still had my eye on NJC. I put NJC as my first choice and ACJC as my second choice. Eventhough i had the points to get into NJC, i didn't get a place there because of a lot of competition. I got into ACJC. I really started liking the school after a few months and really felt better for not getting into NJC.

Maybe this event was a chance event and my 'dream' and 'familiarity' have got nothing whatsoever to do with it. But still, such things happen in life i guess. However, it doesn't make any sense. How can you feel something 'familiar' about something or someone you have never encountered before? No matter what, i still don't believe such things can happen.
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Thursday, November 16, 2006

My JC Experience

I have reached the end of my life in Junior College. Well, yes it was a fun time i had in college. Not to mention the new experiences and the meeting of pretty weird people. I had a shock on the first day i went to school. Everyone were talking in English!

For those readers out there, you would be saying right now, duh! I know. In my secondary school, most of my Chinese friends spoke Mandarin and i sometimes spoke to my Indian friends in Tamil. But it was not the case when i went to Junior College (JC). I was quite shocked at how refined their language was. My English language skills improved greatly while i was there.

I met all kinds of weird people in JC too. This was the first time i really met "nerds"! People studied really hard in JC. This was also the first time my so-called friends started to talk behind my back. I soon left these back-stabbing people and moved on. I really started enjoying JC only after the first three months. My best friend Kasturi came to the JC and things started to brighten.

I don't know the real reason until now why some people back-stabbed me. I thought i was generally a nice and friendly person. But this girl in my class said that i gave a don't-come-near-me aura. But looking back at it now, we ended up being great friends.

Well, i'm not supposed to be mentioning it here. I don't know what my friends would think if i do. But still it doesn't matter because they know. It's just that this was also the first time i had a pretty long-lasting crush on someone. Well, it's gone now. Totally! It's not that i hate that guy or something. But it was just a crush. Time to move on in life.

I've learned two important lessons in my JC life. First, it is to not to be complacent about life. I was like that the first time when i came to JC. I took it for granted that i could do well in all my subjects and become a top student in college like i did in my secondary school. But it turned out to be a struggle.

Just think about it. School starts at 7.30am. I have to wake up at 5.45am and leave my house at 6.45am. I catch the train and reach school by 7.20am. School finishes at 4.30pm. Sometimes i have guitar practice sessions from 5 to 7pm. The latest i ever stayed for guitar practice sessions was on the eve of a concert. I stayed in school until 10pm, i think. Then when you reach home at around 8pm, when will you ever have time to study?

These two years was like not enough for the most of us. But we managed to finish the syllabus on time and practice a lot for our exams. Not to mention, the stress of getting good passes in physical fitness tests!

Second thing that i've learned is that this is not the end of my journey. In the beginning of this post, i said that i've reached the end of my life in JC. But it's not the end at all. I think of it as the end of the beginning only. My journey will still continue.

During these holidays, in which i have ample amount of time, I'm going to really assess things in my life that i've taken for granted. Things that i've just accepted as facts/reality, my future plans and so on. I'll blog a lot more frequently too, that's something good. I now will also have a lot of time to read books.

And lot's of shopping too. Haha.. I'm not a money spender when i say i love shopping. Shopping just takes my mind off things. It relieves my stress. I think i've gone to Jurong Point a lot of times while i was sad or just needed a break. And i like shopping alone for most of the times. Friends are an added fun.

Lastly, for Kasturi jaan, HaPpY bIrThDaY!! Haha... All the best for all your future endeavours jaan. Have fun today! And i bet you'll have even more fun after next Thursday!!:)
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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Low Fertility Rate in Singapore 2

To me, the conundrum of the declining fertility rate in Singapore has largely attracted my attention. It is a very common phenomenon in countries that have attained a high level of development and standard of living.

Alas, there is nothing new in this issue. The causes and consequences of low fertility rate are quite well known that I don’t have to waste time discussing about them. But I read something interesting in
this blog on the low-fertility trap. Just like the poverty trap, countries cannot come out of this low-fertility trap once their fertility rates plummet below 1.5.

The fertility rate in Singapore is 1.24 for now. It might change whenever. Another thing that I’ve learned after reading through the blog is that when the fertility rates have gone so low in some European countries in the 1980s, they have gone up again in the late 1980s. This is due to the decision of women to delay childbearing and then later deciding to have more than one child.

But whatever the Singapore government does, concerning the post-natal policies, it will not work effectively. I’m referring to policies such as more maternity leave, flexibility in working times and so on. While such policies are important, they are simply not enough to convince a typical couple to consider having more than one child.

The government, in my opinion, should focus also on pre-natal policies. The following excerpt from the blog that I’ve read will explain clearly what I want to say:

“Policy could make an impact. Wolfgang Lutz has suggested that we try informing women of the risks involved in postponement(of childbearing), and also make changes in our education system to enable flexibility between being a mom, and say, postgraduate study, or other kinds of career enhancing activities which could be easily combined with the early months and years of parenthood. Housing policy would be another area which could be scrutinised. The interesting thing is that these are pro-natal measures(or pre-natal measures as I say here) which may be effective, but which are not intrusive, since they help people do something they want to do, and don’t try to push them into doing something they otherwise wouldn’t do.”

It all boils down to mindset and individual-choice. The government can change the social and economic policies. But it cannot change people’s mindset, at least in an issue like this. But the government can do something to solve some of the problems and dilemmas that young women, mothers-to-be and mothers face.

Wolfgang Lutz is an Austrian demographer. His hypothesis is that those countries which sustain total fertility rates below 1.5 for any length of time may have fallen into a self-reinforcing low-fertility trap.
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Low Fertility Rate in Singapore 1

The issues of low fertility rate and widening income gap have been fervently discussed in the local newspapers. These issues have really drawn me to the papers and to keep in touch with the updated information, despite the exams taking up most of my time. Finally, I now have the time to discuss and post on issues that I interest me.

This blog was first started with a purpose. Or shall I say, a number of purposes. (1) To discuss some scientific research that has interested me, (2) To talk about things and happenings in my life and (3) To discuss social issues so as to keep in touch with my English.

But as the blog continued to grow in length, width and depth, it has at some times deviated from the above-stated purposes. But it’s alright. This is just a blog, not a news website or something that needs to follow a set of guidelines and purpose.

So coming back to the issue that I wish to write about, after a month-long hiatus. First, there was the issue on the widening of the income gap in Singapore. Because of this and as a solution to this, the government has come up with the rise in the GST from 5% to 7%. GST is short for Goods and Services Tax.

Though it has some economic benefits in general, how will the low-income people cope with such a high tax? I don’t want to discuss about whether the policy implemented by the government is right or wrong here. I don’t have enough knowledge of the economics and hence, if I say something, it would have no basis.

But I was thinking. Is there a connection between this widening of income gap and the low fertility rate in Singapore?

Singaporeans are economically hard-driven and do not even know the true meaning of fun and relaxation. Perhaps, I’m generalizing here. But it’s partially true. Almost everyone here wants to earn a lot of money, buy a condo and own a car. It has become something like a culture.

Then it is not surprising to know that home-ownership in Singapore is 91.7% among the resident owners. The education system in Singapore is also fairly competitive and what every student ever thinks about is results. Amongst all these, there is no wonder why marriage is postponed, in the case of the singles; there is no wonder why childbearing is postponed, in the case of the married couples.

The widening of income gap in Singapore alone is not that significant compared to that in the international level. But still, there is this group of people in Singapore striving to earn a lot of money and upgrade themselves from a 5-room flat to a condominium. Then there is another group of entrepreneurs, constantly accumulating a lot of wealth. The number of millionaires in Singapore is on the rise(1). There is also this group of people struggling to earn enough money to meet the increasing cost of living in Singapore.

The constant drive to accumulate material wealth has caused both the widening income gap and the low fertility rate. I’m not saying that it is the sole cause or whatever. But it has directly or indirectly caused these two conundrums that Singapore is now facing. Of course, I’m not neglecting the other causes.

(1) There are 48,500 millionaires in Singapore. The number of millionaires in Singapore rose at the fastest pace in the world in 2004, according to a report by Cap Gemini & Merrill Lynch & Co. Singapore millionaires rose 22.4 percent to 48,500, the report said.
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