Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The Kampong Spirit Dies In The HDB Flat: Want To Regain Your Humanity?

When I was a young boy, I saw a common sight along the corridors of HDB flats which no longer exists today – neighbours standing outside their homes talking to each other. This happened between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m every day. From our flat, we could see people standing in the corridors of the other flats. We didn’t know it then, but these were the dying moments of the kampong spirit in Singapore. By 1980, it was gone. The TV had been purchased by most residents and like a powerful magnet, it pulled family members into the apartment, discouraging them from communicating with their neighbours in the corridor. The TV succeeded and we lost.

Today, our HDB corridors are empty, devoid of life, sterile. It is just a passageway to walk from our apartments to the lift and vice-versa. What we have lost is more than our kampong spirit . We have lost our humanity. Our young (and many young adults) do not realise what we have lost.  We have lost that connection with humanity, our neighbours. 

It is written in the New Testament – “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12: 31). Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said, “A man is not a believer who fills his stomach while his neighbour is hungry.” Do these words mean anything to the HDB apartment dweller? How can we, materialistic Singaporeans who hide ourselves in our strong concrete homes, understand the ties of humanity beyond the immediate family? What we do today would be considered blasphemous in past times – like sending our aged parents to special homes to live out their last days. Intelligent as we are, we produce convincing excuses to explain away our so-called modern behaviour. It is actually a symptom of a disease in our heart. We are losing our humanity.

Yet there is hope. There are still, outside the national boundaries of Singapore, hundreds of thousands of villages in the world. Though attacked by modern technology, these villages still possess that strong bond that binds humanity, that intangible warmth that unites our hearts. But you should not visit the villages as a tourist. To feel the bond, one needs to be a part of their community, marinated by their stories, hopes, fears and love. Wealthy and safe Singapore appears pale when placed beside a village. My social work in the region, teaching village teachers how to teach, gives me plenty of opportunities to connect and re-connect with humanity whenever I want to. I feel blessed to have this.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Does My Child Require Tuition?: A Tutor's Candid Thoughts

The CA1 is just over. When the results are out, some parents begin to panic. "My child needs a tutor!" "Where do I find the right tutor?" "My friends send their kids for tuition. Should I do the same?"

The tuition industry is booming and it feeds on the fears and hopes of such parents. In reality, we can categorise students into 2 groups – those who need tuition and those who do not. Yet when we study the clientele in the tuition industry, we realise that sometimes those who need tuition do not get tutored, and those who do not need tuition are enrolled for many sessions with tutors. Common sense should guide how parents decide. What should clueless parents do? Simple – ask yourself sincerely whether your child needs help with his studies? If your child is scoring As, is tuition really necessary? 

I remember a parent telling me, "My son scored almost full marks for Math last year." My uninhibited response was, "So why do you think he needs tuition?" The question stumped her, and I believed her thinking was reoriented. She did not sign her child up for my course. Some entrepreneurs may think this runs counter to good business sense. Well, in my opinion, common sense and good business sense complement each other and  do not oppose each other. To convince a parent whose child does not require tuition to sign up for a tuition course is unethical. It may also create an unnecessary hurdle for tutors, especially if the child is coerced by his parents to attend the course. The lack of motivation and boredom on his part may be disruptive.

Unfortunately, easy money blinds some centres and tutors to the extent that they sell a service, which is like selling ice to the eskimos. The clueless parent, who has not thought through the needs of her child, buys the non-strategic services. These tuition sessions are non-strategic for her child not because they are poorly planned and executed, but they are simply not necessary for the child because her child does not need tuition. However, many tuition centres and tutors are not candid about this with their clients. They think it makes poor business sense. 

What is sad and ironical is the fact that many kids who are failing do not get tutored. The problem should have been fixed by the school. Given the vast resources Singapore has and the number of training teachers get yearly, what excuse is there for a significant number of kids to fail or enter the Foundation stream (Primary level) and Normal Technical stream (Secondary level)? I have interacted with many such students and I testify that many of them do not suffer from learning disabilities; they are intelligent students whose potential has not been harnessed by our so-called great Singapore schools. Schools should fix this problem (and it is a problem). Unfortunately, such streams are not seen as a failure of our education system. How can we explain that we are living in a 1st world country with efficient national schools and yet our kids still underperform to the extent that we dilute our curriculum (example, mother tongue) to accommodate our failings? We are not first world at all. We only appear first world because our neighbours perform worse than us. 

This is where tutors and tuition centres should pick up the burden of the nation. Help those who need tuition succeed. For me, I even attempt to do what is thought impossible by some in this examination-oriented industry – I attempt to produce holistic minds in an unlikely industry. It is an uphill task but some efforts have borne fruit. For example, my inclusion of a 1-minute impromptu talk by each student during English class has been enthusiastically embraced. Why is this significant? Haha! I am teaching real communication skills, thinking on one's feet, which should really be taught in schools. Such efforts please me so much because I know I am making a difference, even a small one like this one, and it is a life skill that is not examination oriented. 

I call on teachers and tutors to reflect about their roles and methods. Realise that you have the freedom to craft real lessons that can empower students beyond the exams. This may be a challenge in examination-oriented Singapore, but trust me, it is possible. Singapore needs this. Our kids too.