3 Dangerous Beliefs the Singapore Education System Instills in Students

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The Singapore education system is great at churning out top-scorers, later to become doctors, lawyers, bankers and civil servants.

For the rest of us, it might be better to unlearn many of the things we were force-fed throughout our years in the MOE system. The very fact that the MOE has seen fit to start to revamp the education system amidst worries that we’re producing robots, not innovators, says a lot.

Here are three counterproductive things the education system has been drumming into us for decades, that we should forget if we want to thrive in the new economy.

 

Your grades determine your ability

Getting good grades is the be-all and end-all for so many students that childhood no longer looks fun, which could be why the birth rate has plummeted accordingly.

As evidenced by the occasional suicide over grades, more children and teens are stressed out these days. Children sacrifice sleep and their freaking childhoods because they spend all their time in tuition classes, all in pursuit of a few more marks on that PSLE/O level paper.

In the past, students simply chose the most prestigious tertiary course they could get into, “prestigious” invariably meaning one that would lead to a high-paying profession. So it’s tempting to think that, having emerged from the examination system triumphant, you’ve got your life cut out for you.

These days, the ones making big bucks are data scientists, software engineers and start-up founders. When you work in these fields, your grades at school count for squat if you can’t come up with creative solutions and, that dirty word: innovate. A computer science degree is worthless if you’re mediocre developer.

The same goes for everyone else. If you’re not motivated enough to continue learning and upgrading someone throughout your career, you’re in danger of obsolescence and retrenchment, no matter how good your grades were.

 

Follow the rules at all costs

Remember (fondly?) those ridiculous school rules about what kind of socks you were allowed to wear, what colours and styles your hair was confined to, and how far in you tucked your shirt?

Worse still, there were very rigid rules on what constituted a “good” exam answer. You were taught a formulaic way to write your mother tongue compositions that began with some sort of stilted description of the weather, and ended with the moral of your mind-crushingly boring story.

In real life, following all the rules to a tee ensures you end up with the same life everybody else has. Get a safe office job, work your way up, get married in time to pick up the keys for your BTO, then pop out a few kids. Not that that’s a bad thing, if that’s what you want!

But for any career or life aspirations outside of the sanctioned narrative, you’ve got to dare to forget these rules and play by your own.

Want to start your own business, become a location-independent freelancer or work in the non-profit sector? Dream of taking a sabbatical from work to learn how to make gelato in Italy? Or do you want to homeschool your kid, or work remotely from Thailand? Then you’ve got to forget everything a “good student” is supposed to do when he grows up.

 

Always play it safe

If the quality of social media comments left by netizens is any indication, more Singaporeans could benefit from learning how to analyse texts and craft convincing arguments.

Unfortunately, the reverse seems to be happening, as fewer and fewer students take English literature for fear that they won’t be able to score well—this despite the fact that a growing number of students speak English as their main language at home.

Students tend to pick only those subjects they think they can score in regardless of interest. And apparently some teachers exacerbate the problem by trying to discourage students from taking subjects they think will be too hard for them.

In life, always playing it safe could be far worse than taking calculated risks—because the desire to play it safe pushes us to remain in jobs and relationships we don’t find fulfilling.

Sacrificing career satisfaction for stability, when taken to the extreme, leads to unengaged employees who view their careers as nothing more than a way to put food on the table, like three quarters of the Singaporeans polled in this survey.

What did you learn at school that is still useful in your daily life? Tell us in the comments!

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.

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