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    The PISA fallacy in Singapore: insights from the NIE

    Walter Barbieri
    By Walter Barbieri
    Community contribution / August 14, 2017

    Editor's note: Regarding the review previously posted here of the National Institute of Education's 2017 conference, the Department of Education Singapore completely refutes quotes attributed by the author to Director-General of Education, Mr Wong Siew Hoong. Below in our comments section is a Ministry of Education-provided link to video footage of Mr Wong's presentation and a full transcript of the presentation. In light of the evidence presented, and in the absence of alternative evidence to support the author at this stage, EducationHQ has withdrawn the story and apologises without reservation for any offence caused.

    This story appeared in the August 2017 edition of Australian Teacher Magazine.

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    harish / August 29, 2017

    It seems that the quote attributed to Siew Hoong is being denied - see this: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/article-carrying-moe-remarks-on-singapores-culture-of-compliance-is-fake-news


    harish / August 29, 2017

    Can you please fix the following:
    a) Wong Siew Hoong's last name is Wong and his given name is Siew Hoong. There is a reference of his name as Wong Siew which is the wrong usage and does not make the article credible.
    b) Could you provide links to the original event where this happened?

    Thank you.


    Jay / August 29, 2017

    This article is spot on. I used to work in NIE. During my tenure with them, I lost faith in Singapore's education system and decided to migrate elsewhere to give my kids a more well rounded education. I have a friend who is a school principal. He told me then that Singapore produces some of the brightest kids in terms of academic, but also students with the lowest self-esteem ironically. One of the reasons this is so has more to do with the people running the system than the system itself. Even today, kids are rewarded for the right textbook answer rather than for their ability to think critically. I have friends whose kids scored an aggregate of 80 marks (out of a 100) and the teacher will tell them it's not good enough. It's no surprise that we hear more of kids feeling depressed even though they scored 5 distinctions out of 6. Singapore is a society, by and large, which is brutal against people who have failed. But we have forgotten that failures and mistakes is an inevitable part of life. Instead of encouraging kids who have failed to stand up again, we "chucked" them aside to a lower echelon of society which dampens their self-esteem. Take ITE for example, an institution which primarily houses students who didn't do so well in their studies with the aim of training them in a skilled vocation instead. I taught there as a relief lecturer for 3 months. During the 3 months, I have came into contact with hundreds of students. I struggle to name you one who has a healthy self-esteem. Most of them saw themselves as failures whose future only seemed bleak. The reason why I could say all these is because I actually spoke to them individually. I took time to listen to them.

    Looking from hindsight, I understand why so few innovation came out of Singapore. Right from school, we are taught that to memorize textbook answers. We are taught that failure is a dead end. While we don't utter those words blatantly, how we responded to those who have failed is telling.

    Today, we need more than academic prowess to survive in the real world. Singapore has only 5.5 million people. We are a tiny speck relative to the world's population. We have no land and no natural resource. The only way a small number could make any impact is through innovation. But to breed innovation, we have to cultivate an environment that allows people from all walks of life to fail and stand up again. And what makes this extremely difficult is that the folks running the system are chosen primarily based on their academic results. This is no fault of their own. This system of stronghold has been around for decades. For any real change to come, Singapore needs another visionary and a true leader. I sincerely hope that day will come.


    We would like to clarify that the Director-General of Education did not make the statements quoted in the article above. This is fake news.

    We are disappointed that your website would circulate such false comments. We would appreciate it if you could remove the article immediately or at least print a correction. Thank you.

    The full transcript and video in the following link:

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