This blog is managed by Song Hock Chye, author of Improve Your Thinking Skills in Maths (P1-P3 series), which is published and distributed by EPH.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wrong way to motivate, Mdm Principal!

I support the school system in Singapore. I always tell parents that our teachers and principals are well trained and children and teenagers in Singapore a lucky lot. No matter what the shortcomings of any teacher or principal, I have always stood for them, explaining to parents and students that they are just doing their job.

Of late, I have to admit that this job I have undertaken is not easy, considering how some of the very educationists I have been supporting, are doing the education system and themselves a big disfavour.

Last week, a principal from an unnamed girls’ school told her Sec 5 students to take the ITE route. What probably hurt the girls most was that their results were flashed in full view, using an overhead projector.

The principal’s reply was that it was to “motivate” the girls. In my opinion, that reply is hollow. As an educationist, she should know that is no way to motivate her Sec 5 students.

Nothing is more demoralizing for a student, already streamed in a class that is considered weak, than for a principal to tell her, that she cannot make the grade.

An overhead projector was used, allowing detailed results to be seen in full view for everyone to see. It was also stressed that a 100% pass from the girls was expected. The girls cannot be faulted, if they read the message, that the school’s image of getting a 100% pass, is more important than the individual girls’ results.

No amount of explanation given by the principal after such an incident can repair the damage done.

It now appears that the unnamed girls’ school is not the only school that has the principal who is trying to discourage Sec 5 students from attempting the O Level route. (I have inserted the article in full at the end of this post.)

It may be true that some schools advise the Sec 5 students to take the ITE route, because in the opinion of the teachers and principal, these students may be better off at ITE. However, there is a right way of giving advice and there is a wrong way of giving advice.

The manner of “advice” given by principal of the unnamed girls’ school is very telling. She has made it known she expects a 100% pass. Furthermore, her words, 'Some...who don't qualify for poly will end up in the ITE anyway, so they might as well go direct to the ITE', indicate that she was more interested in her school’s image, rather than the girls’ welfare.

Educationists are supposed to be the professionals in our education system. As professionals in the education system, how a principal or teacher speaks, advises, or even carry out his or her duties, must be done in a professional manner.

For years, I have been defending teachers and principals whenever parents pick their shortcomings. Today, I have to draw the line. If a supposed professional acts unprofessionally, I shall not defend her action. The parents of the Sec 5 girls have every reason to be fuming and complaining.


From the Straits Times
Jan 16, 2008

4 in 10 in Normal stream can't get into poly

Parents are upset by schools' advice to weaker students, but principals say they mean well

FOUR in 10 Secondary 5 Normal stream students put through the O-level mill each year fail to make it to the polytechnics.

This comes to 3,600 out of 9,000 such students who do not make the cut.

Of the 3,600, half end up at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), with the rest hitting the job market, going to private schools for diploma courses or repeating the O levels.

These figures explain why schools advise their weaker Normal stream students to take the ITE route even if they have made it to Secondary 5.

Following a report in which the head of an un-named girls' school was said to have told one of her Sec 5 classes they might as well apply now for places in the ITE as they were unlikely to do well in the O levels at the end of the year, more than 20 other angry parents wrote to The Straits Times saying their children had also been told this by their principals and teachers.

The parents were upset, saying advice put in this way could further dent the self-confidence of Normal stream teenagers who, as it is, take a year longer than Express stream students to reach the O levels.

The principal of the girls' school said she was merely trying to give the girls a 'wake-up call' and impress on them the need to work hard to make it through the O levels. She also said the weaker ones among them were really better off going direct to the ITE.

One parent, Mrs Katherine Lim, a 48-year-old shop manager, realised on reading the report her Sec 5 son was not alone.

She said his teacher had 'poured cold water' on his ambition of studying sports management at a polytechnic by saying 'he was wasting his and her time in school'.

Mr Bryan Tan, 51, whose son was also advised to go to the ITE, said there was 'absolutely nothing wrong' with the ITE - his nephew had done well there - but he did not think his son was technically inclined.

Like some parents, he said he wished the school principal had not battered his son's self-confidence by predicting his failure in the O levels.

Principals told The Straits Times they mean well when they tell a student to go to the ITE.

Northland Secondary principal Gan Chee Hau said his teachers study a student's profile first. If students come to Sec 5 weak in mathematics and science, they are 'probably better off going to the ITE'.

Strong grades in maths and science are crucial for entry to the polytechnics.

But he added that his teachers guard against demoralising students and focus instead on their strong points when explaining why the ITE is better for them.

At Northbrooks Secondary, students more clearly cut out for the ITE are counselled even before they sit the N levels in Sec 4, said the school's vice-principal Yee-Toh Gek Khiaw.

She said students and their parents may be in the dark about the courses available there. They could also be unaware that some ITE students do make it to the polytechnics.

But principals point out that the tougher criteria for promotion from Sec 4N to Sec 5N will ensure that those who make it to Sec 5N are academically stronger and more likely to qualify for polytechnic places.

From next year, Sec 4N students must do well in at least five subjects including English and maths - up from three including English - to move on to Sec 5.

Parents like Mrs Lim welcome these changes, but say their effects will be a few years in coming.

She said: 'I agree most teachers mean well, but I hope once the parent and child decide on the O-level route, the school will give all the help and encouragement the child needs to do well in the O levels.'


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