Sunday, February 18, 2007

Education- Be fair to alternative routers and lifelong learners

Hi Friends,

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Mark Twain said, “I have never let schooling interfere with my education.”

Education does not stop with schooling- in fact, sometimes education has nothing to do with schooling.

Education is a life-long process.

My observation is that in the past many Singaporeans stop substantial learning after attaining their professional or vocational qualifications.

This mindset is slowly changing and nowadays, thousands of students enroll for courses from the many private educational colleges scattered throughout our city.

Students who take alternative routes

Many who enrolled for the bachelor programmes are polytechnic diploma holders who feel that a degree will give them a leg-up in their careers and others are post-A levels students who have missed out on places in the local universities.

A small majority are actually degree holders considering mid-stream changes in their career paths. Some rare ones, like me, are just bored or are undergoing mid-life crises (partly joking). I attended the University of London external degree programme at the Stansfield College in 2005-6.

Many private colleges, of varying reputation, host programmes from UK/Ireland, USA and Australia. Most of these colleges have sound management although we had a few negative examples like Informatics which left bad tastes on many students’ mouths.

Truth be told, I had a economics lecturer, MH, who was one of the best lecturers I have ever had for any subject, ( and I assure you I have studied many subjects in my 40-something years). He obviously has a passion for teaching Economics( and also loves a good smoke). The last I heard he has left Stansfield- a real shame.

About the UOL external degree

The most well-known programme is of course the University of London-external degree programme.

Most employers may not know that the UOL examinations in the external degree are of the same standard as the ones taken in London. In fact, candidates sit for them on the same day (as in London) but the two sets of papers have some variations to prevent cheating. More importantly, the papers are scored by the same pool of markers.

So, for all intense and purposes, any successful candidate in Singapore would have passed if he had taken papers in London.

My ex-classmates (and me) spent as much as three nights a week and struggle through very difficult examinations in May, and yet often not get the recognition that they deserve.

Yet, Singaporeans and employers, in particular, frequently hold in disdain degrees attained through part-time studies.

Prejudice against alternative routers inexplicable

Singaporean society has an inexplicable prejudice that says any knowledge not obtained through mainstream educational institutions ( ie 3 local universities and certain branded overseas Uni’s) are not worthy of recognition.

My personal conviction is that life is a journey of continuous learning and if these alternate route students are so motivated to overcome their perceived lack of paper qualification by sacrificing good time and money, they should be rewarded instead of being penalized!

Granted most can and do complete formal education in an uninterrupted spurt (with hiatus for National Service in the case of boys), a substantial minority need more time (sometimes due to extenuating circumstances beyond their control).

I hope all employers look beyond the paper and more into the potential employees' motivations and abilities.

I cannot speak for the other courses/programmes, but there is no reason why they should be sub-standard.

About the Post Secondary Education Accounts ( Budget 2007)
(see link)

I am obviously delighted that Tharman (2nd Minister of Finance) has seen fit to top up post-secondary students’ account up to the tune of $400.

This,I am happy to note, includes the UniSIM (the 4th university) which caters mainly to alternative routers that I was ranting about above.

But $200-400 too low and mere token

However, the amount ($200-400) is tokenistic and is a mere drop in the ocean for these students who have to fork out more than $20000 for a 3 year degree (UOL).

Also other private colleges which offer the same programmes offered by UniSim are excluded.

This is clearly unfair. These students suffer a double jeopardy.They already pay higher fees than NUS/NTU/SMU and are yet not even given the few token bucks.All post-secondary students regardless of institutions should be allowed to cash these tokens.

In the meantime, I guess private colleges like Stansfield, SIC and others competing directly with UniSIM would have to discount at least the same amount to retain their students.This will hit their bottomline.


I hope that all employers,esply the civil service- Singapore’s largest employer, would keep an open mind and judge each employee by his/her contribution and potential and not by the route taken to obtain that paper.

Better still, look beyond the paper! Help correct the obsession with the paper chase.

NB: BTW,I have moved on and am in an MBA programme. (That is the subject of another post)


Gerald Tan said...

On the other hand, the Ministry of Health is rapidly expanding it's list of "recognised overseas medical degrees", which has now hit 120 (and counting...), and includes world reknown ones like Universita Degli Studi di Roma La Sapienza (Facolta I and II), Uppsala Universitet, Ruprecht-Karls-Universitaet Heidelberg, Erasmus Universiteit and Universita Degli Studi di Firenze.

Now I'm not saying anything about the quality of these universities, and I'm sure medicine is fairly universal throughout the world, but I just wonder if graduates from these places would be in touch with the local Singapore languages and psycho-social aspects of diseases (e.g. TCM, etc)

So perhaps it isn't wrong to restrict graduates for certain disciplines to local universities, or at least administer some form of proficiency testing or conversion course.

Having said that, I do agree that the ultimate test is seen during actual work rather than a paper qualification.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi Gerald,
Thanks for visiting.

Your comment is more suitable for the post on Foreign Doctors.

I will copy/paste it there for further discussion.

Of course I agree with your concerns.


Aaron said...

Dr Huang,

I agree with most part of your analysis. However, if we truly desire to change, I believe that the government have to start the ball rolling. What incentive will private companies have to place less emphasis on paper qualifications if the biggest employer (i.e the Civil Service) is still hung up over the paper chase (and scholars).

By the way, if I didn't read the budget wrongly, I think the PSEA is meant to be credited with money every year, depending on the economy. If $400 is paid every year for 10 - 12 years, it's not exactly tokenism, although it isn't alot either, considering that fees are probably going to rise with the time period that money is being credited to the PSEA. I would ideally like to see around $8,000 - $10,000 in the PSEA by the time a child is ready for tertiary education.

What I'm not sure is whether it would be an extremely expensive exercise to do so (I don't want another GST increase to pay for this.)

nofearSingapore said...

Hi, Aaron,
Happy New Year.
I think education and healthcare is one area that Sg requires investment in.
The people and their brains are unfortunately all we got.


the Stark in Winterfell said...

Dr Huang,

Is it true that there is a shortage of doctors in the local industry? or is this merely a reason to justify the opening of floodgates to more doctors out there?

nofearSingapore said...

Hi stark winterfell,
That is an excellent question.
I am just as shock as you to read from the papers that Sg has about the lowest doctor per capita amongst developed countries.
I never knew that.
When I was in the public servie, we just worked and worked and presumed that that was how it was supposed to be. Now we know we were overworked and underpaid!
I did look up WHO statistics and we do indeed lag behind in both absolute numbers as well as doctors per capita.
I think the figures are further distorted due to the recent massive surge of populations ( due to mass immigrations)
I will read more and hopefully write a balanced piece on this.
The strange thing is that in the private sector, there seems doctors are looking for patients but in the public sector, it is the other way round.
I thought the solution is quite simple. Just bridge this public-private divide.
I do worry alot about the future glut of doctors!


the Stark in Winterfell said...

Thanks for the prompt reply...and a Happy Lunar New Year...

YEah there seems to be a funny situation between public and pte (and the lines between those i feel are rather blurred cuz the public can be run like the pte ) My dad is a GP and he likes to talk about how practice has become worst (his favourite analogy is the one where he started off with 2 docs in the area, now there are 9 clinics)
and he also shares ur concern about the future glut of doctors...believing that this glut could lead to more docs going down the crooked path just to get more cash...

aliendoc said...

Happy New Year to you, Dr Huang! I absolutely agree with you that education is a life-long process, & should be more than just for the sake of collecting paper qualifications. In my mid-life crisis (GRIN) I have taken up Art classes, & am intending to learn Chinese again (after a rather traumatic time of it in my primary/secdondary & junior college days). These lessons will probably not help me as far as medicine is concerned...but I think it will help me be a more well-rounded individual.

aliendoc said...

I also posted an entry on my take of the perceived lack of doctors in Singapore
I haven't looked at the WHO stats on where Singapore stands as far as doctors per capita is concerned. But I think we both agree that there seems to be a skewed distribution of doctors between the public & the private sectors (at least where primary care physicians are concerned).

nofearSingapore said...

Hi stark winterfell/aliendoc:

I have come from the docs tearoom ( Gleneagles Hospital) and I asked what they thought about PS Health's take on Sg having too few docs. Most of them were skeptical and that this was the gahmen's way of preparing the ground for a flood of foreign doctors.

They may a point there but I will reserve my comments till later.
Aliendoc: The WHO stats is found on their website and actually Sg really has fewer doc per capita than most advanced countries ( surprise!!). Will link the page to your blog later?

Aliendoc: Yes life-long learning is fun. Just do what you want to do and not just for any piece of paper. For me that means MBA/ attending lectures on geo-politics/ reading on finance etc. ( Flying low) has an interesting post on how narrow-minded our Shundergrad ( and some post-grad) students are and only interested in learning about exam questions etc.


nofearSingapore said...

Hi all

WHO statistics on number of doctors:
go to:

Then select (all countries)
(all years)

select physicians ( numbers)
and physician per capita.

A little complex but worth the trouble


The Uncharted Waters said...

One thing I wish to comment is the mindset of Singaporeans (or to a certain extent asians) towards education. Most people treat education as merely a paper chase, and are more concerned about the end product (certification) rather than the process of learning.

Moreover, people often likes to equate the value of education to the amount of money that can be earned or the "prospect" of it.

This pragmatic approach towards education may be successful in manufacturing loads of skilled professionals in the past, but it doesn't help in promoting creativity and innovations which are essential to the govt's call for entrepreneurship.