Lousy JC teachers/school environment [advice] I hear this question from many JC students al the time. What do I do if I have got lousy JC teachers? Lousy JC teachers, let me explain As much as the ministry want to paint the picture that all schools are good, this cannot be further from the truth. I have students routinely telling me how they have lousy JC teachers and school sucks. Some even go on to tell me some horror stories of things that happen in school. Like in one JC, different teachers give different answers to the same question. When students ask for clarification, the friendlier teacher cannot provide a clear explanation. The other teacher on the other hand is angry that students dare approach and proceed to give them a verbal trashing to the point of tears, before sending them away. Most importantly, without providing any response to the question. Events like this occur in many JCs and on a daily basis. They come from lousy JC teachers who do not care about students. Even though their students are sitting for the most important exams in their lives to date. This is especially true in 2nd/3rd tier JCs. Why you may ask? That’s because the really good teachers gravitate towards the top schools. Lousy JC teachers? Move aside! The principals of these top schools always have an eye out for the best teachers. Whom subsequently produce results for the school. And these schools frequently place more emphasis in learning so teachers get better recognition for their craft. Indeed, these teachers are happy that they get recognition for their craft and they strive harder creating a positive feedback. A quick look at the 2nd/3rd tier JCs and one would quickly realise they spend more time trumpeting their CCA accomplishments than exam results (which are dismal). Splash photos like these are common place in school websites. In addition, good teachers know that having a good school teaching experience help build their resume. This is especially pertinent in Singapore because a large number of teachers routinely leave service and join the tuition industry. Having the school experience would mean it is far easier to get students to tutor. As students equate top school teaching experience with quality. So these teachers shout out their credentials as a means to attract students. Lousy JC teacher, students lose out As much as it pains me to say this, one should look out for your own interest by looking for tutors (good teachers) who have plenty of experience in rehabilitating weak students. So that he/she can guide you in your learning journey instead of the lousy JC teachers. Your school will not look out for your academic performance and will push you to all kinds of CCA involvement. That leaves little to no time to prepare for the biggest exam in your life. And nobody in the school will be accountable to the lousy grades at the end of the JC journey. Joining the group setting that many good tutors provide is advantageous on the other hand. Because everyone in the class have the same goals. So this an antidote to the toxic environment in school with lousy JC teachers and compatriots who are nonchalant. Lousy JC teachers are frequently very negative in their life perspective. Unfortunately, they pass this negative on to their students. Negative emotions adversely affect the learning outcomes. Lousy JC teacher, bottomline Ironically in my experience, it is the top students that are seeking extra academic help even when they already have the best teachers. So they leave the students who are in dire need of help in further behind. Those students with lousy JC teachers who really need the help on the other hand seem to be the most unaware they can do something to pull themselves out of the rut.
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No PSLE? A really bad idea [opinion] There have been calls to have no PSLE for primary schools. No PSLE? Thread carefully Luckily, there have been a push back. In the context of the Singaporean eduscape, I think the idea of no PSLE will be deadly. Whilst some ‘kind soul’ want to alleviate student pressures, they are not themselves subject to the situation. It’s easy to talk and talk is cheap. But they don’t have to clean up after the fact. Most importantly, it will not affect them directly. No PSLE? Why I think it is not a good idea Currently in Singapore, there are a growing number of JC students who are on a through train program from secondary school. At the end of the 4 years of their education, they bypass the O levels and head straight into A levels or IBs. When I am in class with these students, I see that they carry on their shoulders a world of burden. Not only do they have to pass, they also have to do well enough to get into a local university. Otherwise all they have for show will be a lowly PSLE certificate (if they fail). This can only mean they quickly run out of options afterwards. That places even more stress on these students as they enter the exams. As is, it is not uncommon to hear about students who end up with psychological scars. With some even continuing down the path of suicide as a way to find release from the stress. This is in addition to a hard cap on local university admissions. No PSLE? It will be deadly to students! Imagine a no PSLE environment for a moment. This will mean that these students if they don’t do well in A levels will end up with nothing at all. Instead of focusing on the idea of no PSLE, why not try to improve the teaching quality in schools? That way students will have better preparations for exams isn’t it? Otherwise, open up to the idea of accepting students into the university without prejudice of grade performance? Bottom line: No PSLE, find new solutions rather than introduce new problems But alas, this will never happen. I talked about why the universities will not open up the floodgates. Also, because this will mean that MOE as well as NIE have to focus on actual teaching and teacher training instead of relying on the system to sort itself out. Not to mention the God complexes some teachers develop in their career – I call them the unteachable teachers. These people think they are the best even though they are receding in teaching quality every year. Which is why whatever the MOE dictates, the tuition centers have to pick up the slag. Because we are frequently the last hope for the students tossed about according to the whims and fancy of the education minister. In the messy messy world of the Singaporean education system.
Foolish to think that the old ways of planning education… “It would be foolish to think that the old ways of planning education will continue to be effective” says the education minister Ong Ye Kung. Foolish to think that the old ways of planning education will continue to be effective? Well of course he will say that since the ministry places a hard cap on university admissions. What he is trying to do is to dissuade people from attaining a university degree. But he is not one of the hopefuls trying to gain admissions into a local university. Neither is he one of the IP students who only have a PSLE certificate to show if they don’t do well in A levels. For these students, grades are everything. Because that’s the first thing that local universities consider for admissions. Just look at the indicative grade profiles of students who successfully gain admissions. Even a very decent BBB for the H2 subjects, will mean more than half of the courses offered by the university to be out of reach. Limited Choices for those who cannot gain admissions into a local university That is terrifying for a JC student. Because career options are few and far between for the A level holder. Whilst the JC student studies very hard, the subject coverage are mostly not technical in nature. A level graduates do not gain technical skills unlike the polytechnic counter parts. Of course there are other options available. Frequently this involves the plethora of private university options. The most notable is SIM. These institutions frequently run courses for other universities. Let me do a cost comparison for you between the same course run by SIM for a University of London program: Then an equivalent in SMU. As you can see, private university options do not receive any MOE training subsidies. Consequently, the fees are much more expensive. Unfortunately, this may be another bottleneck for someone who comes from an average middle class family and who cannot qualify for the local university. And that is also considering that not all courses are available for students in such institutions. Frequently, the courses that are not available are also those that directly qualify students into the profession. Courses such as Medicine, Pharmacy, Architecture etc. Foolish to think that the old ways of planning education will NOT be effective! So the old ways of education planning is not foolish but effective. Unless the university starts changing their admissions rules. What I think the education minister really meant is that gaining a university degree does not mean one may find a job after graduation. But he does not want to say that outright, because that places the burden on the government. To create enough jobs to hire all the graduates afterwards. And this task is getting harder by the day. It is easier to say, ‘look you chose the university route and this is your plight now. Your choice, your fault, not mine’. How do JC students navigate the education landscape in this backdrop? Foolish to think that the old ways of planning education can be changed If you want to get ahead, you got to take control of your academic future. You gotta design and maximize your own learning journey. For many, relying solely on school is insufficient. Which is why many seek out tutors with exceptional experience to guiding them to academic success. However, time is of essence so the JC student have to pick great tutors with care. This checklist I created may be helpful. In addition, look for opportunities to allow you to gain skills that will differentiate you from your compatriots come university admissions time. Unfortunately, many JC students think that these skills can be acquired through CCAs, I think that is unwise and lay out my thoughts and recommendations here. All the best for your JC life and I hope that you will achieve your desired grades as well as qualify for your course in the future.
Study productivity and diffuse learning [technique] Do you know that diffuse learning is important to increasing study productivity. How many times have you been working on sometime but not really concentrating? After spending 3 hours for example and coming out of it like nothing is done. And chances are those 3 hours have been constant with distraction from the notification tones from your smartphone. I want to help you drastically improve your study productivity. But in order to do that, let’s talk about the brain behavior first. Why your brain wants you to procrastinate For a lot of students, studying is joyless. I don’t blame you, because many schools and teachers take the joy out of education. Then couple that to doing something fun like checking the phone during study time. The brain begin sending out dopamine. The pleasure neurotransmitter. Or the neurotransmitter of ADDICTION. It becomes a positive feedback. And you want to check your phone more and more. That brewing right there is procrastination. Studying is joyless and the procrastination feels awesome. And thus it is no wonder the brain will choose the latter everytime. For a student that is disastrous making studying unproductive. How to improve studying productivity Instead of focusing on pain, make the brain’s attention go somewhere else! Which is why the Pomodoro study technique works. The technique diverts the brain to thinking about time avoiding thoughts about pain. In doing so, helps the student steer away from finding something else more fun. This also means switching off the phone to silence during the period. Below is a great summary of the technique. After implementing this for my students, they #1 comment is how productive they become. I tell them to keep focusing on the positive thoughts and it will help them achieve more sessions. It is also important to keep other negative thoughts out during the 25 minutes. So I tell my students to NOT focus on the items they need to complete. And to trust that increasing productivity will lead to completion. This way, my students find even more success with the study technique. What do I do in the 5 minutes? Diffuse learning! In the 5 minutes of break, DON’T study. The idea behind the break is that it gives time to the brain to rest after an intensive period. By doing so it gets you ready for the next 25 minutes. This can be a short walk, nap, shower, stretch, drink. Anything except what you have been doing in the 25 minutes previously. Anything to take your mind off the 5 minutes. Interestingly, during this period of time, your brain is doing another form of learning. It’s diffuse learning. What is diffuse learning? Remember the time when you just cannot find a solution to a problem and went go to bed instead. Then the next day miraculously have a solution? That is diffuse learning in action. This is a pattern many educators are beginning to see as an important to learning and successful exam-taking. Let’s start by talking a bit more about the Singapore-Cambridge A level exams first. The exam is hard. And how do the examiners make it hard? By introducing new scenarios students are unlikely to encounter in school. But they are frequently solvable using basic concepts that one learns from the classes. The problem is that many educators do not teach the application skills and scold students for not applying. This results in frustration on both sides. Studying harder will not result in any improvement. And Babara Oakley, a professor from Oakland University explains this very clearly. (Learn more about it in her book: how to excel in math and science) Focus and diffuse learning There are actually 2 different types of learning taking place. Focus mode of learning happens during learning of facts. And subsequently neural connections establishes in a part of the brain that helps to transfer this to memory. When a student encounters an exam question that is a direct recall of the very same facts, an area lights up. And an answer comes to the student. This is focus learning/exam-taking in action. When the student is given an unfamiliar scenario in A level exams on the other hand, the same area doesn’t light up. When students stare at the question therefore, nothing will come up. The very act of ditching everything and going to bed, is an example of diffuse learning. The other way that we learn. Students have to move away from focusing to anything else. This allows the brain to survey the landscape of what concepts it can harvest information from so as to answer the question given. This in essence is the solution for students who want to problem solve during exams. Or during study periods when they are trying to figure out the difficult concepts. Let me repeat this again. If students want to solve problems they have to NOT focus on it! This can occur during the 5 minutes in the Pomodoro technique mentioned earlier. Unfortunately teachers who are not aware of the modes of learning continue to drone on the importance of focus learning. Instead of helping students develop the diffuse learning, they start to teach more. Expanding their coverage every year to include the new scenario that appears in the exams. Overwhelming students and creating immense stress. I am from the camp of teaching the man how to fish rather than giving him fish. So part of my curriculum is to focus on helping my students get into diffuse mode of learning. As I try edge my students towards successful exam performance. One of the things I do is to give lists to my students and ask them to write poems from it. Something that is corroborated by Prof V.S. Ramachandran towards the end of the interview here. This is a very fun thing for me to do. Reading my students submissions even though they complain about it. In fact many of them are very poignant. And I feel all their emotions. Their angst. And so I am presenting one of them here. The list assigned was connect 1 thing the students know to be true and 1 concept in A level biology. Tip of my hat to my student Ryan Tan Tze Wang and also for graciously allowing me to post this original work. Survival of the Fittest Our basest of desires was once merely the passing of our genes, but since we passed the caveman years, there’s another primal dream. “Buy a bungalow! Make more money! Secure a spouse before thirty! You don’t want to reach that dreaded menopause too early!” And to that I say “Pah! Achieving material gain is fine, but even the most gorgeous Ferrari will not survive the test of time.” Like the lytic cycle, reproduction is effective, yet primitive and bland: degrade the host DNA, synthesis viral proteins, and then I’ll lyse the host when I can! So friends and countrymen! Lend me your ears! We shouldn’t aim to live on through the next generation. Instead, be remembered through our words, our thoughts, our actions that surpass the realm of procreation. Curie, Lincoln, Luther King- are all names you know! Remembering their deeds as if they didn’t live hundreds of years ago. Like the lysogenic cycle, they bide their time, letting their influence permeate, until the annals of history sing their praises, which out-live any offspring they create. But you retort “Ensuring legacy is your opinion, hardly a proven fact! You hammer us across the head with the concept, without any tact!” Of course! Continue on your merry way after all, you reap what you sow. But when my poem joins the ranks of Frost, Angelou, and Shakespeare, then I’ll let you know! Diffuse learning: bottomline I hope you enjoyed it as much as I do. The stories I weave as I tell my students what to do. Hoping that next year they come back to me triumphant and proud. With the A level cert in hand crying out loud. That all the effort was worth it getting to this point. And nothing can erase the memories of how we all engrossed with the ‘checkpoint’.
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No PSLE? A really bad idea [opinion] There have been calls to have no PSLE for primary schools. No PSLE? Thread carefully Luckily, there have been a push back. In the context of the Singaporean eduscape, I think the idea of no PSLE will be deadly. Whilst some ‘kind soul’ want to alleviate student pressures, they are not themselves subject to the situation. It’s easy to talk and talk is cheap. But they don’t have to clean up after the fact. Most importantly, it will not affect them directly. No PSLE? Why I think it is not a good idea Currently in Singapore, there are a growing number of JC students who are on a through train program from secondary school. At the end of the 4 years of their education, they bypass the O levels and head straight into A levels or IBs. When I am in class with these students, I see that they carry on their shoulders a world of burden. Not only do they have to pass, they also have to do well enough to get into a local university. Otherwise all they have for show will be a lowly PSLE certificate (if they fail). This can only mean they quickly run out of options afterwards. That places even more stress on these students as they enter the exams. As is, it is not uncommon to hear about students who end up with psychological scars. With some even continuing down the path of suicide as a way to find release from the stress. This is in addition to a hard cap on local university admissions. No PSLE? It will be deadly to students! Imagine a no PSLE environment for a moment. This will mean that these students if they don’t do well in A levels will end up with nothing at all. Instead of focusing on the idea of no PSLE, why not try to improve the teaching quality in schools? That way students will have better preparations for exams isn’t it? Otherwise, open up to the idea of accepting students into the university without prejudice of grade performance? Bottom line: No PSLE, find new solutions rather than introduce new problems But alas, this will never happen. I talked about why the universities will not open up the floodgates. Also, because this will mean that MOE as well as NIE have to focus on actual teaching and teacher training instead of relying on the system to sort itself out. Not to mention the God complexes some teachers develop in their career – I call them the unteachable teachers. These people think they are the best even though they are receding in teaching quality every year. Which is why whatever the MOE dictates, the tuition centers have to pick up the slag. Because we are frequently the last hope for the students tossed about according to the whims and fancy of the education minister. In the messy messy world of the Singaporean education system.
Foolish to think that the old ways of planning education… “It would be foolish to think that the old ways of planning education will continue to be effective” says the education minister Ong Ye Kung. Foolish to think that the old ways of planning education will continue to be effective? Well of course he will say that since the ministry places a hard cap on university admissions. What he is trying to do is to dissuade people from attaining a university degree. But he is not one of the hopefuls trying to gain admissions into a local university. Neither is he one of the IP students who only have a PSLE certificate to show if they don’t do well in A levels. For these students, grades are everything. Because that’s the first thing that local universities consider for admissions. Just look at the indicative grade profiles of students who successfully gain admissions. Even a very decent BBB for the H2 subjects, will mean more than half of the courses offered by the university to be out of reach. Limited Choices for those who cannot gain admissions into a local university That is terrifying for a JC student. Because career options are few and far between for the A level holder. Whilst the JC student studies very hard, the subject coverage are mostly not technical in nature. A level graduates do not gain technical skills unlike the polytechnic counter parts. Of course there are other options available. Frequently this involves the plethora of private university options. The most notable is SIM. These institutions frequently run courses for other universities. Let me do a cost comparison for you between the same course run by SIM for a University of London program: Then an equivalent in SMU. As you can see, private university options do not receive any MOE training subsidies. Consequently, the fees are much more expensive. Unfortunately, this may be another bottleneck for someone who comes from an average middle class family and who cannot qualify for the local university. And that is also considering that not all courses are available for students in such institutions. Frequently, the courses that are not available are also those that directly qualify students into the profession. Courses such as Medicine, Pharmacy, Architecture etc. Foolish to think that the old ways of planning education will NOT be effective! So the old ways of education planning is not foolish but effective. Unless the university starts changing their admissions rules. What I think the education minister really meant is that gaining a university degree does not mean one may find a job after graduation. But he does not want to say that outright, because that places the burden on the government. To create enough jobs to hire all the graduates afterwards. And this task is getting harder by the day. It is easier to say, ‘look you chose the university route and this is your plight now. Your choice, your fault, not mine’. How do JC students navigate the education landscape in this backdrop? Foolish to think that the old ways of planning education can be changed If you want to get ahead, you got to take control of your academic future. You gotta design and maximize your own learning journey. For many, relying solely on school is insufficient. Which is why many seek out tutors with exceptional experience to guiding them to academic success. However, time is of essence so the JC student have to pick great tutors with care. This checklist I created may be helpful. In addition, look for opportunities to allow you to gain skills that will differentiate you from your compatriots come university admissions time. Unfortunately, many JC students think that these skills can be acquired through CCAs, I think that is unwise and lay out my thoughts and recommendations here. All the best for your JC life and I hope that you will achieve your desired grades as well as qualify for your course in the future.
Study productivity and diffuse learning [technique] Do you know that diffuse learning is important to increasing study productivity. How many times have you been working on sometime but not really concentrating? After spending 3 hours for example and coming out of it like nothing is done. And chances are those 3 hours have been constant with distraction from the notification tones from your smartphone. I want to help you drastically improve your study productivity. But in order to do that, let’s talk about the brain behavior first. Why your brain wants you to procrastinate For a lot of students, studying is joyless. I don’t blame you, because many schools and teachers take the joy out of education. Then couple that to doing something fun like checking the phone during study time. The brain begin sending out dopamine. The pleasure neurotransmitter. Or the neurotransmitter of ADDICTION. It becomes a positive feedback. And you want to check your phone more and more. That brewing right there is procrastination. Studying is joyless and the procrastination feels awesome. And thus it is no wonder the brain will choose the latter everytime. For a student that is disastrous making studying unproductive. How to improve studying productivity Instead of focusing on pain, make the brain’s attention go somewhere else! Which is why the Pomodoro study technique works. The technique diverts the brain to thinking about time avoiding thoughts about pain. In doing so, helps the student steer away from finding something else more fun. This also means switching off the phone to silence during the period. Below is a great summary of the technique. After implementing this for my students, they #1 comment is how productive they become. I tell them to keep focusing on the positive thoughts and it will help them achieve more sessions. It is also important to keep other negative thoughts out during the 25 minutes. So I tell my students to NOT focus on the items they need to complete. And to trust that increasing productivity will lead to completion. This way, my students find even more success with the study technique. What do I do in the 5 minutes? Diffuse learning! In the 5 minutes of break, DON’T study. The idea behind the break is that it gives time to the brain to rest after an intensive period. By doing so it gets you ready for the next 25 minutes. This can be a short walk, nap, shower, stretch, drink. Anything except what you have been doing in the 25 minutes previously. Anything to take your mind off the 5 minutes. Interestingly, during this period of time, your brain is doing another form of learning. It’s diffuse learning. What is diffuse learning? Remember the time when you just cannot find a solution to a problem and went go to bed instead. Then the next day miraculously have a solution? That is diffuse learning in action. This is a pattern many educators are beginning to see as an important to learning and successful exam-taking. Let’s start by talking a bit more about the Singapore-Cambridge A level exams first. The exam is hard. And how do the examiners make it hard? By introducing new scenarios students are unlikely to encounter in school. But they are frequently solvable using basic concepts that one learns from the classes. The problem is that many educators do not teach the application skills and scold students for not applying. This results in frustration on both sides. Studying harder will not result in any improvement. And Babara Oakley, a professor from Oakland University explains this very clearly. (Learn more about it in her book: how to excel in math and science) Focus and diffuse learning There are actually 2 different types of learning taking place. Focus mode of learning happens during learning of facts. And subsequently neural connections establishes in a part of the brain that helps to transfer this to memory. When a student encounters an exam question that is a direct recall of the very same facts, an area lights up. And an answer comes to the student. This is focus learning/exam-taking in action. When the student is given an unfamiliar scenario in A level exams on the other hand, the same area doesn’t light up. When students stare at the question therefore, nothing will come up. The very act of ditching everything and going to bed, is an example of diffuse learning. The other way that we learn. Students have to move away from focusing to anything else. This allows the brain to survey the landscape of what concepts it can harvest information from so as to answer the question given. This in essence is the solution for students who want to problem solve during exams. Or during study periods when they are trying to figure out the difficult concepts. Let me repeat this again. If students want to solve problems they have to NOT focus on it! This can occur during the 5 minutes in the Pomodoro technique mentioned earlier. Unfortunately teachers who are not aware of the modes of learning continue to drone on the importance of focus learning. Instead of helping students develop the diffuse learning, they start to teach more. Expanding their coverage every year to include the new scenario that appears in the exams. Overwhelming students and creating immense stress. I am from the camp of teaching the man how to fish rather than giving him fish. So part of my curriculum is to focus on helping my students get into diffuse mode of learning. As I try edge my students towards successful exam performance. One of the things I do is to give lists to my students and ask them to write poems from it. Something that is corroborated by Prof V.S. Ramachandran towards the end of the interview here. This is a very fun thing for me to do. Reading my students submissions even though they complain about it. In fact many of them are very poignant. And I feel all their emotions. Their angst. And so I am presenting one of them here. The list assigned was connect 1 thing the students know to be true and 1 concept in A level biology. Tip of my hat to my student Ryan Tan Tze Wang and also for graciously allowing me to post this original work. Survival of the Fittest Our basest of desires was once merely the passing of our genes, but since we passed the caveman years, there’s another primal dream. “Buy a bungalow! Make more money! Secure a spouse before thirty! You don’t want to reach that dreaded menopause too early!” And to that I say “Pah! Achieving material gain is fine, but even the most gorgeous Ferrari will not survive the test of time.” Like the lytic cycle, reproduction is effective, yet primitive and bland: degrade the host DNA, synthesis viral proteins, and then I’ll lyse the host when I can! So friends and countrymen! Lend me your ears! We shouldn’t aim to live on through the next generation. Instead, be remembered through our words, our thoughts, our actions that surpass the realm of procreation. Curie, Lincoln, Luther King- are all names you know! Remembering their deeds as if they didn’t live hundreds of years ago. Like the lysogenic cycle, they bide their time, letting their influence permeate, until the annals of history sing their praises, which out-live any offspring they create. But you retort “Ensuring legacy is your opinion, hardly a proven fact! You hammer us across the head with the concept, without any tact!” Of course! Continue on your merry way after all, you reap what you sow. But when my poem joins the ranks of Frost, Angelou, and Shakespeare, then I’ll let you know! Diffuse learning: bottomline I hope you enjoyed it as much as I do. The stories I weave as I tell my students what to do. Hoping that next year they come back to me triumphant and proud. With the A level cert in hand crying out loud. That all the effort was worth it getting to this point. And nothing can erase the memories of how we all engrossed with the ‘checkpoint’.
9 views ·