Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Education systems between Singapore and Canada

Why I prefer Canada’s education system – world-ranking or not

Sunday, 29 November 2009, 1:39 pm | 125 views
Wing Lee Cheong / Canada

“Singapore’s ranked 1st in quality education system in the world” – Global Competitiveness Report 2007–2008

“Singapore ranked one of the world’s best-performing school systems” – McKinsey Report, published September 2007

“Singapore students ranked among the top in Mathematics and Science” – Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2007

“Singapore ranked 4th among 45 education systems” – Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2006

Those are very impressive achievements that one can be proud of. Dr.Ng Eng Hen, then Education Minister of Singapore, cited a 2007 survey by the Fraser Institute that shows 94 per cent of Ontario students were dissatisfied with the Canadian public school system. Dr.Kishore, dean of public policies of NUS proudly claimed that educational leaders around the world are flocking to Singapore to copy Singapore’s successful educational model. He said that some North American schools are even using similar textbooks in their schools.

Canada may not have a perfect education system but I seriously doubt the reliability of the survey cited by Dr Ng. One has to question the criteria and sample size used for the survey.
If the Canadian education system is that bad, just remember that Canada has produced 21 Nobel Prize laureates and Singapore has none!

Most Canadians are proud of their education system and will not trade it for the aggressive streaming system of Singapore where one’s future and career is based solely on academic results. Studies have shown that passing standardized examinations with good grades do not necessarily mean that students with better grades are more knowledgeable on the subject than other students with lesser or failed grades. In most cases, it simply shows that the students are better at the art of taking examinations. 

In Singapore taking examinations has become a science where tutors will study through ten year series of each subject and pick out probable questions for the year, i.e questions that appeared the year before would be unlikely to be repeated again this year. It is like a game of
roulette where picking the right questions make you a winner.

There are controversies amongst Canadian educationists if standardized examinations can accurately assess students’ subject knowledge and the application of that knowledge. Not knowing how to apply the knowledge is no knowledge at all.

In the pursuit of academic excellence, Singaporean parents force their children to study long hours to make the grade. In the fierce process, Singapore children are denied the joys of childhood. This explains why Singapore children are more stressed and tensed than the carefree and happy attitude of Canadian children. Children of Singapore friends who visit me in Canada tend to be more reserved and do not interact well. More interestingly, almost all of them would bring their school work during these visits. The parents made sure that their kids did certain hours of studies everyday despite the fact that they were on holidays. It is a strange trend amongst Singapore parents who want to be one-up on others. It is a reflection of the typical Singapore “kiasu” and "kiasi"culture.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint

Canada is one of the few countries that do not have a central or federal education ministry. All the thirteen provinces and territories have their independent education ministries to coordinate the national system through the Council of Education. This system is has worked well for the country. Canada’s literacy rate is 99 per cent and placed at 19th in world standing, while Singapore’s is 94.4 per cent and placed at 74th, according to UNESCO in its 2007 annual report.

Canadians believe that life is a marathon and not a 100-meters sprint. Children are encouraged at a young age to develop at their own natural pace. There is no streaming. Mentally-challenged children are put in the same class as the normal and gifted children. Exceptions are made for severe mental cases. Under this environment, Canadian kids learn to develop compassion towards the less fortunate and realize that the world comprises different kinds of people. Hence they grow to be less arrogant and less prejudicial.

It is mandatory for students to do part-time jobs or perform volunteer duties at seniors’ home and other charity organizations in order to graduate from high schools. The students get marks for doing charity or part-time jobs. It is not uncommon to see volunteers in the hospital reception areas, families picking litter on the streets, distributing food/clothing to the needy, volunteers in senior homes, even the mentally and physically challenged are taken care of by volunteers. In Singapore the handicapped are considered an embarrassment and kept in the homes by their families whereas in Canada volunteers bring them out shopping and they are encouraged to participate in recreational activities. Canada host annual national handicap games.

Canadians constitute less than 1 per cent of the world’s population but provides 10 per cent of the world’s peacekeeping forces in its selfless and unceremonious way. Volunteerism has become second nature to Canadians.

Singapore – just study and get good grades

This is in contrast with Singapore where an increasing number of parents would have maids attend to every need of the children. The maids carry the school bags, bring the drinks and food. All the children need to do is to study and get good grades. It has come to a point where many kids cannot do without maids. I have friends whose kids would scream to their maids to do simple chores like getting a drink. Few of these kids know how to make a cup of tea let alone a simple meal for themselves.

Even our much respected MM Lee, despite all the fine education and good grades he had, did not know that one needs to peel off the egg shell before a hard-boiled egg can be eaten. (As related recently by his daughter in a Straits Times article.)

It is a common practice for Canadian university students to take a year or two off to travel the world and return to complete their studies later. My daughter took a full year off to backpack in Australia two years ago. With another classmate, they bought a used car and drove all over Australia. Most of my friends in Singapore thought I was crazy to let a young girl postpone her studies and travel aimlessly for a year.

Perhaps to most Singaporeans, it was a complete waste of time and money. My two other boys similarly backpacked in Africa, South America, Asia and Europe during their summer holidays. They learned more from their travels than from text books. Most importantly, they enjoy their lives. It is difficult to reconcile how forcing our children to go on a relentless paper chase can be the right thing to do.

Canada may not compare well with the Singapore education system in world rankings. Canadian students may not compete well in mathematics and science tests against Singapore students. Despite these, however, Canada has produced twenty one Nobel Prize winners (year 2011) , 44 Olympics medalists, with 9 Gold Medalists in the last three games, plus hundreds of world-renowned entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, writers, actors, singers, etc. By population ratio, Singapore should produce at least three Nobel Prize winners and scores of artists and writers, etc. Even Hong Kong and Taiwan each managed to have one Nobel Prize winner, many Olympic medalists and entrepreneurs.

Trade-off and compromise

The Canadian and the Singapore education systems are built on different premises. Singapore trains its students to be 100 meters sprinters for fast results to show the world whilst the Canadian system train its students to be marathon runners for the long haul in life. Canadian public education is free for all its citizens and permanent residents - from kindergartners to high schools. Tuition fees for most universities cost an average of C$6,000 per year.

The unscientific assumption by Singapore’s leaders that if you are not good at passing examinations with good grades, you are unlikely to make good for the rest of your lives, is laughable. History has shown us that there are scores of high achievers without degrees, i.e Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Richard Branson, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Frank Lloyd Wright, etc.

History teaches us that we cannot get something for nothing. If we push our children hard to be super human beings, we may push most of them over the edge. There is always a trade-off and compromise. Most Singapore parents are proud to have children that score straight As and awarded with prestigious scholarships and less concern about their long term future and happiness.

These children tend to grow up to be arrogant and blinded by materialism and money, potentially resulting in a lack of compassion, failed marriages, poor social interaction skills, aggressive behaviors, and so on. No one has managed to social engineer a super society. There are already signs Singaporeans are stressed out before retirement. If the people are pushed at an early age, they will wear out at an early age. Few people can last being stressed for their entire working lives.

Singapore may have a better education system (according to certain rankings and studies) and the citizens are proud of it regardless of the social cost and damages done. However, I still prefer the traditional Canadian education system where we are taught to be human beings rather than human machines. We may not be high in world rankings but we are happy. That is what life is all about. All the millions of dollars a year would not necessarily bring you genuine joy and happiness.

We were born with nothing and we will leave with nothing.

Cartoon by the author.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

Why ex-Singaporean has the right to speak about Singapore

October 8, 2009 by admin
Filed under Forum

Leave a comment

I would like to response to comments regarding my article. (read here)

1. I have no right to talk about Singapore as I have emigrated-

I am now a Canadian citizen and my allegiance is to Canada but that does not prohibit me from speaking or writing about Singapore or any other country.

That is freedom of speech as stated in our constitutions – Singapore and Canada. MM Lee and many Singaporeans have expressed their opinions about other countries, i.e that the British healthcare is inferior to Singapore’s and how superior the Singapore system is compared to other countries, etc. etc. If they can speak on other countries, why can’t I? Do they have more rights than I? Let’s be fair and debate on a level playing field.

Let us be civil and not treat anyone with opposing views as public enemies. Canada has about half a dozen former prime ministers and they treat each other with respect even though they have different opinions. None was ever put in jail nor threatened with it. That is 1st World democracy.

I was raised in Singapore and have friends and relatives there. I am concerned about Singapore because a friend of mine committed suicide because he could not pay for medical treatment after his Medicare ran out.

A group of us regularly send money to his wife as she could not get any financial assistance from the government. Why do we care about Singapore? It is because we care about our friends and relatives in Singapore and we are not ashamed of it. Yes, we care and we cannot turn our faces from it regardless whether we are called quitters or losers.

2. Myths about us being treated as foreigners and second class citizens in other countries -

In Canada, all citizens have the same rights and privileges regardless of race. There are more than 20,000 ex-Singaporeans in Canada who will stand by what I said. To illustrate my point, the previous Governor-General of Canada – a position equivalent to President Nathan of Singapore, was a Chinese lady who came to Canada as a refugee from China.

The Police Commissioner of Vancouver Police Force is a Chinese from Hong Kong, the Solicitor General is an Indian and the list can go on and on. A Singapore friend who has a special need child was paid more than C$1,000 a month to help the kid’s living expenses. He did not get any help when he was in Singapore. Is that second class treatment? I suggest those Singaporeans check their facts before they make fools of themselves.

3. In Canada, the immigration program is well calibrated and managed. Canada has a population of 33 million people and a land mass of 9,093,507 sq km which is about 15,000 times the size of Singapore. Even with such a huge land mass, it takes in only 250,000 immigrants a year from all over the world.

Singapore, on the other hand, took in more than one million PRs in the last few years mainly from China and India. Singapore’s infrastructure could not support such an huge and sudden influx of people. There will be a breakdown of social order.

In Canada new immigrants are given free lessons in English or French to assimilate into the Canadian society. Immigrants from Africa are even taught how to use modern facilities like toilet bowls, hot and cold showers, ovens, etc. I have nothing against Chinese or Indian PRs into Singapore but it must be well planned like the Canadian system.

I am not writing to ridicule or hope for the demise of Singapore. Contrary, if you read with an open mind, I pray that it will improve and continue to be in the 1st World status in every meaning of the world. However, it cannot be done when opposition members are being intimidated, jailed or fine just because someone wanted absolute and perpetual control of the government.
Cheong Wing Lee

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Singapore from 3rd World to 1st World to Lost World.

Singapore - from 3rd world to 1st world to LOST world.

It has been 50 years since Singapore has been governed by the PAP under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew.

Is Singapore better off now than it was 50 years ago?

The answer from most baby boomers is that it is worse. Despite all the gains in materialism and wealth in the country, the majority of the aging population is feeling no better than five decades ago. Many are stressed out by the anxieties of the absence of a dignified retirement plan, the affordability of healthcare and the uncertain future for their children.

Fifty years ago, Singapore was a British Colony under British rule. The majority of the population neither liked nor disliked the British. They had no opinion and took it as part of life. During the colonial days, most of the population then were born to accept that the white people were superior. The population then were mostly poor working class, lost without direction and living from day to day.

Fast forward fifty years to present day Singapore and we find the majority of the aging population also neither like nor dislike the PAP and can't do anything about it. Most of them were born to accept that the "Men in White" are superior. The PAP has over the years designed policies and safe guards to ensure that the party remains in power indefinitely. The indiscriminate use of the ISD, rezoning of constituencies, formation of GRCs, monopoly of the mass media and liberal use of defamation lawsuits against opponents practically destroyed all oppositions. The aging population are generally poor, lost without direction and like the population fifty years ago, living from day to day, praying that their savings will be adequate for a decent retirement.

To PAP's credit, during the past fifty years,the old guards of the PAP and MM Lee manage to bring Singapore from an impoverished third world country to the first world status. I remembered I was then living in a small rented room in a Chinatown shop-house with only one kitchen, one make shift bathroom and one pull out bucket toilet. The shop-house was shared with 4 other families with a total of 22 occupants. Within fifteen years I was able to buy a 5 room HDB apartment and own a car. For that I was grateful to the PAP, especially the old guards.

Back then in the seventies, Singapore was bustling with economic activities brought about by Dr. Goh Keng Swee, then Deputy Prime Minister, who led the Singapore industrial revolution. For the next few decades, Singapore was hailed by the world as an economic miracle . A country without natural resources and yet able to propel itself from 3rd world status to 1st world status with one of the highest per capita in Asia. The country achieved so many "Number Ones", i.e. No 1 airport, No.1 container port, No.1 airline, etc, etc. that I lost count. We were proud as citizens of Singapore. We were proud of the PAP and we were proud of MM Lee. Many of us would have died for the country and him. MM Lee would have left a great legacy for generations to remember.

Ironically the past two decades had eroded that admiration. The addiction of absolute power has made MM Lee developed a deep craze to perpetuate his control of Singapore. It was no longer our country. Singapore has become his country, his personal property. Our pledge for justice and equality for all is only but an aspiration according to him. To MM Lee, only he and the PAP can effectively govern Singapore. All others outside of PAP with opposing views are treated as Public Enemies. Under the disguise of self renewal and recruiting new blood, the entire group of old guards were retired except for himself. He brought in young bureaucrats, technocrats, and scholars who will obey and above all fear him without questions.

This dream team and MM Lee initiated a series of social engineering. MM Lee's dream is to create a perfect society based on meritocracy. There will be no room for complacency. He wants Singaporeans to be the best of the best. In the process of social engineering, Singapore becomes a nanny state where the government dictates to its citizens what, how and when to do in every minute aspect of their lives. The ideal dreams of the ordinary citizens turned to nightmares. The citizens are hard pressed to perform to the government's requirements.

The education system was revamped time and again to filter and segregate the slow learners from the ordinary and the brightest students at a young age. The brightest students are given the best education, priorities and scholarships with promise of top government jobs and top salaries upon completion of their studies. These super students are primed to be future leaders of the country. The slow learners and the ordinary students are thrown to the lower rungs of the food chain.

The numerous new education policies cause panic amongst parents who do not want their children to be labeled as slow learners or mentally challenged. There is a huge surge for private tuition whereby children are forced to endure hours of extra studies to keep up or be one step ahead of the others in their pursuit of academic excellence. The joy and happiness of growing up as children was robbed. There was no time for children to be simply children. The segregation system is based on an unscientific assumption that if students do not perform well in examinations, they will not do well in all aspects of their lives.

Maids are hired by almost every household in order for parents and children to devote more time to studies. The repercussion of the overuse of maids results in a generation of children not knowing how to do simple chores like boiling water, washing dishes, cleaning, hanging a picture frame, change a tyre, etc. Few children learn or do anything outside of textbooks. The children are simply not street smart.

Perhaps the biggest mistake was the "STOP AT TWO" or "Two is Enough" campaign where citizens were encouraged to stop at only having two children by curtailing all medical benefits and educational privileges of the third child. The successful campaign resulted in a sharp drop in birth rate and a mass exodus of emigrants who have more than two children. Even more severe repercussions surfaced two decades later resulting in the present huge influx of more than one million "Foreign Talents", mainly from China and India.

Just when the local citizens thought that they have met the worst by working as janitors, food courts cleaners and other low paying jobs, they are now challenged by foreign talents from China and India who are prepared to work for less. This challenge now spread to include regular higher paying jobs like engineers, surveyors, healthcare workers, etc. which are traditionally held by local born Singaporeans. Companies are openly advertising and recruiting the new foreign talents in preference to the locals. The reason being that companies need to stay competitive and be more profitable. New immigrants or foreign talents are not burdened by national service and reservist duty which put additional cost to the companies. Furthermore, new immigrants are willing and able to work for less pay and longer hours since most of them come to Singapore by themselves and have no family obligations like the locals.

The entire working environment is working against the local born Singaporeans. All of a sudden they have become strangers in their own land. The country they have sworn to protect has betrayed them. In desperate times like this, when help and reassuring words from the government should be forth coming, instead the local Singaporeans receive advice telling them to lower their expectations. This only add insult to injury. What the dream team and high salaried ministers fail to understand is that the people cannot go lower than low. Just try to survive on a salary of $2,000 a month or less with a family, then maybe they may understand the plight of the average Singaporeans.

For those frustrated Singaporeans who wants to emigrate to other countries to escape their present hopeless predicament, they are walking into another brick wall.

Unknown to most of them, new emigrants to countries like Australia and Canada are also foreign talents who have recently obtained their Singapore citizenship. It must be heart breaking for locals to find out that even the last escape route from their desperate predicament is being challenged by foreign talents who use Singapore as a stepping stone.

There are potential problems looming on the horizon with this huge influx of foreign talents, permanent residents and newly minted Singaporeans. The total number is between 1.6 million to 2 million people under these categories. These people have no allegiance to the country. Their allegiance is to money. If they do not get employment, they will not get the money to send back to their countries to help their families. The local born Singaporeans are largely of the "kaisu and kaisi" non-violent type who only complain but continue to vote in the same government election after election. However, the new immigrants are more vocal and hostile. These people will not be easily intimidated and bullied by the authority. The threat of jail to them is like going to a holiday camp with free food and shelter. They have endured much harsher penalties and hardships in their own countries. They are battle hardened and not afraid of dying.

If these people do go on protest riots, it will be a security nightmare. Logistically, the police does not have enough manpower to cope with such numbers. Singapore has less than 10,000 regular policemen. Each policeman has to deal with 200 violent protesters. No matter how efficient the policemen are, it is an impossible task even if the reservist NS are called in to help. On the assumption that these people are contained, there are simply not enough jails to lock them in. Changi Prison will have to be increased at least one hundred times in size. The government has only one solution and that is to keep them constantly employed to maintain peace.

So when it comes to the question of whether Singapore is better now than it was 50 years ago, should we be surprised at the answer?

Cheong Wing Lee
Email: retiredwing@gmail.com
North Vancouver, BC

(2) Swiss standard of living

(5) MM Lee - I will destroy all Oppositions

(5) MM Lee - I do nothing but to forecast and get paid $4 million a year.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Replies to Eric Brooks

The following is a letter by Mr Cheong Wing Lee, a Canadian, in response to
Mr Eric Brooks's letter in the Straits Times titled, "Be grateful, Singapore".

Dear Editor,

As a fellow Canadian I am embarrassed by Mr Eric Brooks' remarks to
Singaporeans. Mr. Brooks is a visitor with a superficial knowledge of
Singapore history. He should refrain from making such ridiculous sweeping

I was born shortly after the Second World War and raised in Singapore before
immigrating to Canada. I have worked and lived in more countries than Mr
Brooks. There is no doubt that most Singaporeans deeply appreciate the
outstanding work done by the Singapore leaders in bringing the country from
third world status to the present world class status. However, gratitude
evolves with time and social changes. Singaporeans are now better educated.
They travel, see, learn, compare and adapt. Singaporeans are not stupid or

Singaporeans now have a higher level of thinking and are more demanding.
This demonstrates progress. Higher aspirations, greater expectations come
with evolving progressive social changes. A society that remains complacent
and stagnant deteriorates and eventually collapses. No country can excel
with a mindless society of puppets. The Singapore government should be
grateful that its citizens are matured and not treat anyone with opposing
views as public enemy. Most of them are as passionate as the government in
making Singapore a better society.

Singaporeans are smart enough to see through spins and propaganda and
evaluate the truths for themselves. It is difficult for most Singaporeans to
remain silent whilst government leaders lecture them to be thrifty, not to
be materialistic and not to demand for higher pay. On the other hand, the
leaders reward themselves with pay packages that exceed the leaders' of the
eight richest countries in the world combined.

The Singapore ministers' argument that their pay package is only a small
fraction of the country's GDP is weak and debatable. The Canadian prime
minister draws less than 10 per cent that of the Singapore prime minister's
but he governs a country 15,000 times the size of Singapore, with a
population that is eight times larger and with a GDP that is ten times more.
Vancouver in Canada is constantly voted the best place to live in the world.
This example put the Singapore government's argument out of context.

The government gives S$360 a month as financial support for the poor and
needy. If such an amount is computed by the government as enough to survive,
why then do they need to pay themselves by millions?

I cordially invite any member of parliament and/or news media reporter to
come and stay with me for a period of time and I will show them that it
takes only a small tiny fraction of their salaries to live happily and
healthily in a beautiful environment with a good standard of living.

Is it a surprise that Singaporeans are discontented? It is just human
nature. Confucius was quoted as telling the emperor on good government:

"How can the emperor be happy when the people have nothing? How can the
emperor not be happy when the people have everything?"

Does Mr. Brooks know that 79% of Singapore students after studying overseas
do not return to Singapore? Are they not grateful too?

So Mr. Brooks, before you further make a fool of yourself in Singapore, be
grateful to Canada and not complain because of a temporary disruption in
garbage collection in Toronto. Be thankful of the good healthcare system and
the generous old age pension. If you truly like Singapore you should be a
citizen. There are lots of Singaporeans who are willing to trade your
citizenship if it is possible.

Yours truly,

Wing Lee Cheong