Sunday, March 04, 2007

About Anglo-Chinese School and why diversity is good

Dear Friends,

The ACS family of schools just celebrated its 121st Founder’s Day on March 1st 2007.

On thinking back, the 10 years I spent in ACS were indeed the best years of my life. Those who are mathematically inclined would have realized that 2 years are missing from my school-life. Those two years I spent at National Junior College (but that will be the subject of another post).

In the ACS of my time, boys were allowed to be boys. We lived life with abandonment and spent much time and energies on extra-curricular activities and friendships (and some on their studies).I was involved in Athletics, Rugby and several societies.

Our teachers were legendary for their dedication and love of the school.

There are few schools which can boast of teachers who have touched the lives of 3 generations of any family but ACS can. Many of my teachers taught my sons.

Kind acts and other Mushy stuff

I came from a poor family.

From the second day in Primary 1, I took the public bus by myself. My mother, who was a nurse, accompanied me to and from school on the first day (on the bus also of course).

Miss Tan, my Primary One form teacher, somehow found out about this later on, and volunteered to send me home every day. Of course, I sat in her Ford Anglia quiet as a mouse each day!

This skinny boy will never forget such acts of kindness nor take them for granted.

Miss Tan was later to marry Mr. Ong Ai Teik, another legendary teacher who influenced us ACS boys greatly. God bless you Mr. and Mrs Ong. Thank you.

These acts of kindness were by no means confined to my teachers only.

One day whilst rummaging through old stuff during spring cleaning, I came across a note from my son, C’s Primary Six teacher. In this note was written words of encouragement and prayer for his (then) upcoming PSLE examinations. They were truly inspirational words and must have spurred him during his stressful exam period.

It is no wonder that C kept the note (and not discard it as is his habit).

Other teachers that have influenced me (for better or for worse) include:

Secondary school:
Mrs Lee Gek Kim, Mr. Ong Ai Teik, Mr. Ernest Lau, Mr.Ang Cheng Kim (deceased),Mr. Tan Soo Hian (my athletics teacher) (deceased), Mr. Ying ( with wry neck problems), Mr. Andrew Yuen, Mrs.Kee,Mr. Wee Kim Cheng.

Primary (Pr 1-2)/Junior school (Pr 3-6):
Mrs Ong ( Miss Tan), Mr. Ng Kim Liang, Mr. Navaratnam, Mrs Retnam, Mrs Huang ( who was also my aunt), Miss Ng (who wore mini-skirts).

There are numerous others that have touched my life but whose names just escape me now. Best wishes and good health to all.

ACS : according to my son

We, parents, are always wondering if we have made the right choices and have done the best for our kids.

It was after C’s O levels and we spent some time talking about his past and future.

I asked him, “Do you regret not going to Raffles Institution after your PSLE, as had some of your primary school mates?”

He answered, without hesitation, “The four years of my life in ACS ( ie secondary school) has been the best years of my life. ACS is the best school that any boy can hope to be in!” ( I vouch these are C’s true words and not some shameless plug for ACS)

I think those comments were only partly influenced by the fact that my alma mater takes a “balanced” attitude to academic results. Great emphsis was placed on character building.

For instance, I still remember who the champion athletes were but would have difficulty recalling who the top academic students were (ok, just sour grapes). But of course, the true blue heroes were the Scholar Athletes! Good in sports yet excel in studies!

I am sure that my other son, T will also have similar things to say once his days at ACS are done.

I agree with Philip Yeo! ( a rare situation)

Parents should diversify children's education experiences: Philip Yeo

(By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia Posted: 23 February 2007 1941 hrs)

SINGAPORE: Singapore's top civil servant Philip Yeo said Singapore cannot afford to have its best and brightest students only in a few top schools receiving the same system of education. The Chairman of A*Star said the greater the diversity of backgrounds and talents, the better Singapore would be able to respond and compete in this new world. This is because children will face new and as-yet-unknown technologies, industries and jobs.
(click on link to read more)

Trend not promising

Schools will tell you that it is a lost cause trying to retain their top students.

ACS (Primary & Junior), St Michael’s (now called St. Joseph Jr),Catholic High, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, CHIJ all face the grim prospects of losing their ablest and best.

Many of their top Primary students (to different degrees) will continue their secondary education at the Raffles Institution or Raffles Girls’ School and later Raffles Junior College ( the R-schools). All the more since the “through-train” Integrated Programme allows them the luxury of skipping the O levels.

Many will argue ( with good reasons too) that this is after all what meritocracy is about. If you are good, you get to choose where you want to go. I do not disagree.

However, as Philip Yeo has alluded to, in the long run, the lack of diversity will not be healthy and the students exiting from these schools risk being trapped by “groupthink” and having a homogenous outlook to life and public policy. And many of these students in the R-schools are high achievers slated for prominent roles in government and industry.

We cannot (and should not) prevent parents from sending their children to schools that they feel may help their children fulfil their maximum potential. But the mainstream media can help highlight the achievements of other schools. This positive publicity can help them retain their better students as well as attract applicants from other schools. This would help prevent talents congregating only in a few schools.

Resources (manpower and capital) should be made available for schools to allow them to build on their strengths so that their programmes will be part of their unique brand (what marketers call USP- Unique Selling Proposition).

Hopefully in time to come, we will have a diverse population with varying outlooks to life’s challenges. With future leaders getting heterogeneous but rich school experiences, there will then be less groupthink in government and more willingness to try new ways of running this little red dot called Singapore.



The Best Is Yet To Be,

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan


Gerald said...

As a fellow ACSian, I totally agree with your sentiments! I still recall my years in ACJS, ACS and ACJC with great fondness.

I remember I was in Sec 1 when the school rankings first came up, and people were shocked to learn that ACS was ranked 25th (most assumed that we were up there with that "institution" with the PAP-looking uniforms :-). Many ACSians (including my parents) weren't surprised though, as we were grateful that our school gave boys an "all round education", even before that became fashionable in S'pore.

One thing that I did notice is that the level of loyalty to the school (when I was there) was sorely lacking compared to previous generations of ACSians. Many chose to leave for "greener" pastures once they got good PSLE or O Level results. I don't know if that says something about the values of my generation. I'm not sure how it is now, but my guess is that it isn't much different.

ex-R said...

Dr H quoting PY: "...having a homogenous outlook to life and public policy"

I can only speak of my years in an "R" school before it became independent and before MOE chased out the foreign teachers. We had dedicated teachers and principal (Mrs KS Chee) -- both locals and foreigners -- who cared and also had a sense of humour. The pranks and fun initiated/organized by students on April's Fools, Teachers' Day, etc. Office bearers campaigned to be voted into service by their fellow students. In those good old days, Literature was a compulsory GCE 'O' subject regardless of one's stream of study. What fun we had in Literature! Being challenged to express our feelings & thoughts, and argue our opinions... parroting model answers was not accepted.

In uni and thereafter, I met many ex-Rs who choose alternatives lifestyles. E.g. At uni, I met an ex-R whose ambition was to be a full-time parent because of her strong belief in being there for her next generation. This despite the norms and societal pressure for graduates to pursue a full-time career. E.g. Another who opted for long-term part-time work to have more time with her children. E.g. Another exited from her comfy corporate world position to pursue independent advisory role for her belief in being the client's advocate. E.g. Friends who agree to disagree in discussions on public policies and societal trends.

IMHO, "having a homogenous outlook to life and public policy" does not apply to my generation of ex-Rs.

Anonymous said...

Today, with modern modes of travel and a shrinking globe, the world is a University.
The ablest and the smartest if not constrained by finances should do their tetiary education in overseas universities, so that we will not have narrowed minded beauracrats running Singapore. You cannot get any more exposure to diversity than having an education overseas.
My good old English teacher of Irish descendant was always propounding this.

nofearSingapore said...

gerald & ex-R:
All who go through good schools will experience wonderful and memorable experience. But in a way ( sometimes subtle sometimes not), these are different and help mould the student's character and attitude towards life & challeneges.

I would not like all ( or even majority)of future policy-holders to come thru same experience be it the R-experience or the ACS system.

I know it is not gonna happen but they should be a way to encourage smart kids ( not that I am biased against less academically-inclined) to have different schooling experience. On the macro-level, diversity is good for Sg's future.

In the past, students from other schools still can get into top schools either at Sec 1 or JC 1, but with the IP thru-train, this has been cut-off. So boys and girls go thru the same "baptism of fire" from 13-18 years old.

From micro-level, it is good that students from different backgrounds are allowed to mix . Hence I am strong supporter of ACS ( Independent) and Dr. Ong Teck Chin and the system that allows many non-ACS boys to come into the family in Sec 1. Diversity strengthens us. But the losers in this are the primary ACS boys who cannot get into ACS(I). But a happy compromise is that ACS (Barker)that takes almost all ACS(Pr&Jr) who want to have ACS education.
If we force ACS(I) to take all ACS primary six boys who want to come, it would be difficult to improve standards ( academic and sports).
I speak from experience as parent of kids from both ACSI and ACSSec ( Barker). BTW, Ng Eng Chin (Prin. ACS Sec Barker) is going a great job and many underachievevers and late bloomers are helped by his teachers.

anon: Yes, the most diverse education system would off course be one that is totally separate from the local system. I think that's why govt scholars ( who are the cream) are sent to good Uni's overseas. But I think the govt is fearful that if these students go any earlier ( eg sec school or pre-U), there would not be enough "rootedness" and they will be lost from our shores forever.


takchek said...

Just curious, have you read this?

nofearSingapore said...

Hi takchek,
Thanks for the link.
Very interesting personal perspective of educaton from the author.
It is rather long n I need time to digest it.
I will comment on it either here or on your blog.
Have nice day.


medstudent said...

Dr Huang,

I believe that there is diversity when non-affliated Pr 6 kids join ACS in secondary school. But i also believe the diversity is slowly eroded by the moulding of a common School Culture- ACSian-ness. Thus by sec 4, i think we are more homogenous than in Sec 1- and this is achieved through the cumulative effect of repeating "The Best is Yet to Be" for 4 years.

However, JC is a different story. The annual intake is almost 1000 vs 500 in Secondary School and of cos there are FEMALES.

Yes, we do need diversity but i do not think we are getting it if we spend 10 years in ACS. Personally, i encountered more diversity in JC, Army and University. In fact, I liked my army experience more than anything. Serving in 1 SIR, i got to see the other spectrum of people that i do not interact with in my 10 years in ACS. My Hokkien improved dramatically in those 2 years, much more than my Chinese ever did in 10 years of ACS.

Bottomline: I did benefit from ACS but i am ambivalent about sending my children to ACS. ( One thing for sure, i really hate the constant call to make donations - is it ever necessary ?? )

nofearSingapore said...

Hi medstudent,

I partially agree with you.

Ironically, our ACSianess is both a strength and a weakness.

Our unity and the support the Family of schools get from its alumni is well known and envied by many.
Every school needs funding and without this ready source of funding, it is very difficult to build a consistent brand to attract good students. Without good students and track records, most schools will die inevitable and natural deaths.

As I see it, for ACS to excel and do better than it had in the past, it faces a dilemma. It must attract new boys/girls who would come in and raise the standards. Unfortunately, vacancies are limited. So I more non-ACS feeder boy into Sec 1/JC1 means I less ACS feeder boy. I am sure it is heart wrenching for the Sec schools ( esply Barker) to reject any ACS primary six boy, cos this means that that is the end of ACS education for that boy.

I feel that our ACSsianess has made us complacent and contented. When Dr. Ong Teck Chin tried new approaches, he got much resistance from the old boys.
Sometimes we fail to benchmark ourselves against high and new standards and before we know it, the world has passed us by. I feel that too much attention had been given to producing the superstars of the top class and the other classes may have felt neglected. ( Let me say that I was from the top class, so this is no sour grapes).

Medstudent, although you are hesitant to send you kids to ACS, there are many out there who would gladly change places with you and send their kids to ACS. Frankly, the main reason might be that being in the ACS feeder schools allow the boy to get into at least ACS Sec ( Barker) and if he is good enough, ACSI.

But I have no quarrels with my ex-classmates who send their boys to other schools including RI. It’s a free world after all.