An Anonymous Teacher’s Note About The Education System

Known for documenting the lives and opinions of Singaporeans, the Facebook page The People of Singapore received a submission from a disillusioned teacher. In the untitled note, the anonymous individual detailed his misgivings and grievances about the profession. Here’s his note in full:

The Teacher’s Note

After 20 years in education, I’m leaving.

It’s very hard to leave something you love so much. But I feel the academic world in Singapore has gotten completely out of whack. There is too much focus on grades and exams and people have lost sight of the bigger picture of educating kids.

Years ago when I first started, I was in the public school system but found the experience less than fulfilling. So I left and got involved in the “learning business” in order to teach what I thought was missing in schools. By good luck I found a job at an Enrichment Centre that was keen on filling the same gaps I knew existed: critical thinking and creative writing. And for the first time I really loved teaching and felt I was doing good.

For many years, this was wonderful work and very fulfilling. But then things started to change. More and more parents started telling us that they had no interest in critical thinking classes: they needed people who could help their kids pass exams.

Exam Stress

This started happening about 10 years ago but it wasn’t that common. But then about 3 years ago that changed drastically: there was suddenly mass panic to get kids help with exams.

What happened was that the schools started implementing a less structured curriculum. This should have been good – but the exams continued to “test the structure” so to speak. So the unstructured learning in the classroom was leaving many kids unprepared for exams.

Previously when parents were confident the schools were meeting the kids educational needs, enrichment programs were exactly that – a chance to explore, grow and be enriched. But the term “enrichment” has been hijacked now to simply mean exam preparation. It’s a sad irony to us that as the schools tried to be more creative, there was less time for creativity.

It’s Always About Getting As

The thing is, I think what the schools want to do is fantastic. Their vision is to build a more lateral and creative education system. Whoever came up with it is brilliant. I love this vision. But the implementation is not working.

The curriculum has evolved in line with the vision but, in large part, the exams have not. The tests are not testing the curriculum. And so parents end up with the short end of the stick.

And we still live in a society where grades are extremely important – where there is no room for failure. We have all that social baggage. Every parent still wants their kid to get an A.

What We Should Do

Getting rid of the PSLE would be a good start. That would be a major improvement. Primary school should be a time to explore. They should wait until the kids are more mature learners before starting these standardised tests. 14 is a much better age. By then kids are more independent and parents won’t feel under the same pressure to get their kids through the exams. I’m not saying completely get rid of standardized exams – they serve a purpose. But 11 & 12 is just too young.

And schools should not test so far above the level of what is taught in class. This doesn’t happen at all schools, but many of the schools that market themselves as “elite” do tend to test far above the level of what’s taught in the classroom.

The Detriments Of Our Education

I have a huge problem with this educational philosophy – that you kill a kid in exams so they don’t become overconfident – so that they are forced to work harder. But this can have completely the opposite effect on some children: it can kill their confidence and their love of learning. Then these kids feel they are just not capable of succeeding academically and lose motivation. It’s hugely stressful for both the kids and their parents. Kids are going home with bad marks and the parents get upset. The kid will say, “but everyone did badly on the exam” which is true, but the parents just want to see As – they don’t care what the class average is. So everyone gets stressed out.

And these are genuinely hard exams. No joke. I’ve seen these papers and they can be killers.

So to make a long story short, I’ve decided to leave. It’s a real milestone in my life. I will miss the kids and I have a lot of good memories. This is more than just a job to me. These people have become my close friends – they are family. But I have no regrets. For 20 years, I’ve been very lucky and now it’s time to move on.

It’s actually a good time to be in the tuition business for those willing to do it. There are lots of people spending huge amounts on tuition for their children. But the reason I got into this was because I was interested in teaching critical thinking and helping kids grow. If I were to continue, I would eventually have to succumb to the pressure to teach exams.

So I’ve decided to get out now before I sell my soul.

It’s Easier Said Than Done

The teacher’s complaints are not new—these issues have been plaguing the system for a very long time. The fact that the note has more than 900 likes and counting shows that many agree with him and believe that something has to change.

Although our education system was established with good intentions, what has been implemented falls short of the vision that all of us have hoped for. What we need to do is reform the system, but it may be easier said than done as many of us believe that good grades are a key to a “successful” life.

We should do away with exams, and stop basing student’s self-worth on his grades. We can also take a leaf out of Finland’s education system, like having a smaller teacher-to-student ratio and abolishing classrooms for “better” students—maybe then students will have the freedom to learn at their own pace, and truly be themselves.

After all, people are not remembered for their grades but what they can accomplish in life.


Featured image via SGAG