What Michael Gove should know about going to school in Singapore

Children make their way to their class r

I like to tease my friend Wei about being a tiger mother. She once told me of an incident where her daughter Shu was making an artwork for a friend as a birthday present. Shu doodled for a few minutes, then showed her mother a sketch of a funny face. ‘I told her to knuckle down, spend more time, and come back with a far better drawing,’ said Wei. ‘It just wasn’t good enough.’

I said that was a bit harsh on her eight-year-old, especially since it was not schoolwork but part of Shu’s leisure time. Wei snorted. ‘It was a gift for her best mate, yet she hadn’t put any thought into it,’ she said. ‘She needs to know that you must make an effort for the things you really care about.’

Of course, Wei isn’t a real tiger mother. Truly tigerish mums are terrifying and probably don’t want their children to muck about with doodling in the first place. But I’ve been reflecting on my friend’s words ever since Michael Gove expressed the wish for British schools to emulate eastern ones.

My first reaction was to shudder — does the Education Secretary know what he’s talking about? I completed my secondary and tertiary schooling in Singapore, one of the countries he admires. Does Gove know how boring and soul-sapping rote-learning can be? Does he know how the emphasis on science, maths and IT can turn students into little robots, affecting particularly those of a more creative bent? Does he know the savagery to which competition in Asian schools can descend? Recently, there was news that the head of a kindergarten in China had put poison in the yogurt delivered to a rival school, in order to destroy its reputation. Two children died.

That’s an extreme example, I admit. Usually the downside of Asian schooling manifests itself in more subtle ways. The intense pressure to excel means students often study not for the joy of succeeding, but from the fear of failing. In Singapore they have a term for it — kiasu, which means ‘scared to lose’. It’s a self-deprecating, catch-all phrase used for all sorts of hyper-competitive behaviour, from hogging a buffet spread or the karaoke microphone to, yes, slaving for exams in order not to lose face. It’s one of the least attractive traits of an eastern education.

 18 May 2013
to read more, please refer to the link : What Michael Gove should know about going to school in Singapore


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