Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Private Educational Organisations- Accountability needed in the system

Hi friends,

I have written to Straits Times Forum about the ongoing debacle that has struck Singapore’s Private Education System.

I have strong feelings about this as I had enrolled in 2 Private Educational Organisations (PEO) in the past 3-4 years ( and I enjoyed it).

The first PEO was an University of London accredited college and I spent one year on the London School of Economics (external program). I then jumped track after one year and embarked on a PEO which helped me get my MBA with a university in south Australia.

I guess I was lucky as I was not fleeced by PEO’s who were degree-mills ( unlike Brookes Business School).

I made many friends in both institutions and what struck me most was that these students who are already disadvantaged ( as most of them are there by default as the official Uni’s -NUS/NTU/SMU, had either rejected them or made it not practical to enroll in), now face risks of wasting time in degree mills and being victims of scams.

In the Bachelor’s program, my classmates were mainly polytechnic graduates (20-30 years olds) trying to advance their careers with a recognizable degree ( UOL-LSE) and despite the gulf in age, we had a great time. I had to do Maths/Stats/Econs/Marketing/Accounting with people less than half my age! I think only one or two lecturers were older than I. haha.

In the MBA program, my classmates were a mixture of locals and foreignors, degree holders as well as mature polytechnic graduates. Only Mr. S.A. was older than O and I! Projects and presentations were the order of the day and we survived it and most of us convocated in Adelaide last year. ( we also had wine and song ( no women) there!).

However,there are many who are not as lucky as us and we read about them in the Brookes saga and in so many horror stories that I cannot recall these PEO's names as they come and go as surely as the wind.

I honestly feel that if some people were not sleeping on their jobs, there would have been less broken hearts and dreams.

To those in the PEO system, please fight on. Don’t let the system's failure distract you from your dreams and aspirations. Yes you can! ( even pass Statistics & Accounting)

The letter to the Forum page demanding accountability

July 26, 2009

Dear editor,

Singapore’s reputation as a hub of educational excellence had been dealt a serious dent, by what I can only describe as, a string of gaffes which I do not expect from our efficient civil service and government related bodies.

Involvement of Case;EDB;Spring Singapore;MTI

I refer to Sunday Times’ write-up yesterday (Academic checks not our job: Case), where Case (Consumer Association of Singapore) disavowed any responsibility for ensuring academic excellence in the Private Educational Organisations (PEO) who pay money to be accredited with the Casetrust mark, without which these PEO’s would not have been able to enrol foreign students.

Case’ executive director, Mr. Seah Seng Choon, also explained that in 2004, Economic Development Board (EDB) developed the Education Excellence Framework which consisted of three components: organizational excellence; academic excellence and excellence in student protection and welfare practices and that Casetrust’s purview was limited to the last component. Organizational excellence was run by Spring Singapore and most tellingly, an accreditation council which was supposed to be set up by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) to oversee the academic component, ensuring delivery of quality programmes by the PEO’s, did not “materialize” despite official EDB press statements.

In essence, one leg of the tripod was missing, hence contributing to the present pathetic saga amongst PEO’s.

Involvement of MOE

Furthermore, Australia’s RMIT had officially complained to our Ministry of Education in April 2007 about Brooke’s false claims and Senior Minister of State for Education, Mr. S Iswaran, revealed to parliament recently, that apart from warning Brookes two months later, no further significant action was taken by MOE.

Accountability and explanations please!

Although the main culprit is obviously Brookes, Singapore’s public and students left in the lurch by the Brookes saga still deserve a coherent explanation of how the implementation of a much heralded public policy had failed and the interests of stakeholders of Singapore’s private educational system were left unprotected.

I totally understand why these students feel let down. After all, they had put their faith in Case and other official bodies only to find out after the fact that Singapore’s reputation as an efficient and well-oiled city-state was to them, more imaginary than real.

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Feeling like the least favourite child by Nur Dianah Suhaimi

Nur Dianah Suhaimi: Feeling like the least favourite child
August 17, 2008 (The Straits Times)

As a Malay, I’ve always been told that I have to work twice as hard to prove my worthWhen I was younger, I always thought of myself as the quintessential Singaporean.

Of my four late grandparents, two were Malay, one was Chinese and one was Indian. This, I concluded, makes me a mix of all the main races in the country. But I later realised that it was not what goes into my blood that matters, but what my identity card says under ‘Race’.

Because my paternal grandfather was of Bugis origin, my IC says I’m Malay. I speak the language at home, learnt it in school, eat the food and practise the culture. And because of my being Malay, I’ve always felt like a lesser Singaporean than those from other racial groups.

I grew up clueless about the concept of national service because my father was never enlisted.He is Singaporean all right, born and bred here like the rest of the boys born in 1955. He is not handicapped in any way. He did well in school and participated in sports.

Unlike the rest, however, he entered university immediately after his A levels. He often told me that his schoolmates said he was ‘lucky’ because he was not called up for national service.

‘What lucky?’ he would tell them. ‘Would you feel lucky if your country doesn’t trust you?’So I learnt about the rigours of national service from my male cousins. They would describe in vivid detail their training regimes, the terrible food they were served and the torture inflicted upon them - most of which, I would later realise, were exaggerations.

But one thing these stories had in common was that they all revolved around the Police Academy in Thomson. As I got older, it puzzled me why my Chinese friends constantly referred to NS as ‘army’. In my family and among my Malay friends, being enlisted in the army was like hitting the jackpot. The majority served in the police force because, as is known, the Government was not comfortable with Malay Muslims serving in the army. But there are more of them now.

Throughout my life, my father has always told me that as a Malay, I need to work twice as hard to prove my worth. He said people have the misconception that all Malays are inherently lazy.I was later to get the exact same advice from a Malay minister in office who is a family friend.When I started work, I realised that the advice rang true, especially because I wear my religion on my head. My professionalism suddenly became an issue. One question I was asked at a job interview was whether I would be willing to enter a nightclub to chase a story. I answered: ‘If it’s part of the job, why not? And you can rest assured I won’t be tempted to have fun.’

When I attend media events, before I can introduce myself, people assume I write for the Malay daily Berita Harian. A male Malay colleague in The Straits Times has the same problem, too.This makes me wonder if people also assume that all Chinese reporters are from Lianhe Zaobao and Indian reporters from Tamil Murasu.

People also question if I can do stories which require stake-outs in the sleazy lanes of Geylang. They say because of my tudung I will stick out like a sore thumb. So I changed into a baseball cap and a men’s sports jacket - all borrowed from my husband - when I covered Geylang.

I do not want to be seen as different from the rest just because I dress differently. I want the same opportunities and the same job challenges.

Beneath the tudung, I, too, have hair and a functioning brain. And if anything, I feel that my tudung has actually helped me secure some difficult interviews.

Newsmakers - of all races - tend to trust me more because I look guai (Hokkien for well-behaved) and thus, they feel, less likely to write critical stuff about them.

Recently, I had a conversation with several colleagues about this essay. I told them I never thought of myself as being particularly patriotic. One Chinese colleague thought this was unfair. ‘But you got to enjoy free education,’ she said.
Sure, for the entire 365 days I spent in Primary 1 in 1989. But my parents paid for my school and university fees for the next 15 years I was studying.

It seems that many Singaporeans do not know that Malays have stopped getting free education since 1990. If I remember clearly, the news made front-page news at that time.We went on to talk about the Singapore Government’s belief that Malays here would never point a missile at their fellow Muslim neighbours in a war.

I said if not for family ties, I would have no qualms about leaving the country. Someone then remarked that this is why Malays like myself are not trusted. But I answered that this lack of patriotism on my part comes from not being trusted, and for being treated like a potential traitor.

It is not just the NS issue. It is the frustration of explaining to non-Malays that I don’t get special privileges from the Government. It is having to deal with those who question my professionalism because of my religion. It is having people assume, day after day, that you are lowly educated, lazy and poor. It is like being the least favourite child in a family. This child will try to win his parents’ love only for so long. After a while, he will just be engulfed by disappointment and bitterness.

I also believe that it is this ‘least favourite child’ mentality which makes most Malays defensive and protective of their own kind.

Why do you think Malay families spent hundreds of dollars voting for two Malay boys in the Singapore Idol singing contest? And do you know that Malays who voted for other competitors were frowned upon by the community?

The same happens to me at work. When I write stories which put Malays in a bad light, I am labelled a traitor. A Malay reader once wrote to me to say: ‘I thought a Malay journalist would have more empathy for these unfortunate people than a non-Malay journalist.’

But such is the case when you are a Malay Singaporean. Your life is not just about you, as much as you want it to be. You are made to feel responsible for the rest of the pack and your actions affect them as well. If you trip, the entire community falls with you. But if you triumph, it is considered everyone’s success.

When 12-year-old Natasha Nabila hit the headlines last year for her record PSLE aggregate of 294, I was among the thousands of Malays here who celebrated the news. I sent instant messages to my friends on Gmail and chatted excitedly with my Malay colleagues at work.

Suddenly a 12-year-old has become the symbol of hope for the community and a message to the rest that Malays can do it too - and not just in singing competitions.

And just like that, the ‘least favourite child’ in me feels a lot happier.

Each year, come Aug 9, my father, who never had the opportunity to do national service, dutifully hangs two flags at home - one on the front gate and the other by the side gate.I wonder if putting up two flags is his way of making himself feel like a better-loved child of Singapore.

My comments:

Hi Friends,

The Sunday Times Forum Page published a truncated version of my letter about Malays and SAF.

The editor chose to keep some salient points about how ST journalist Nur Dianah Suhaimi's father felt when he was not enlisted into the SAF on account of his race but left out my point that yes, things have improved, but there is strong evidence that there are still places in the SAF where certain races are kept out as a matter of policy.

I believe that if we want to change, we should go the whole hog; we should go the full 9 yards! No half-measures; no tokenisms.

We are all Singaporeans-all the races. Chinese, Malays,Indians,Eurasians,ex-Malaysians,ex-AngMo's,Ex-filipinos etc. Faham? Comprehende (pidgin Spanish) You get the idea now?

Security vetting for sensitive posts should be on a case-by-case basis;personnel should be vetted based by race-blind basis. I do not think I can make it any clearer than this.

I have chosen to republish Nur Dianah's letter at the top of my post as I have realised, naively, that the average attention span of netizens is about one paragraph long. Many would have just glanced over her letter the last time and all my effort of trying to bring about change by highlighting how hurtful SAF policies have been to Malays would have come to nought!

Since the Straits Times/Sunday Times has so kindly quoted Nur Dianah's article by its proper title, and by publishing it has imlicitly endorsed it ( Yes-I think so), I sincerely hope that "gahmen leaders"; policy makers and community leaders can read her very signficant and poignant letter.

I recall that when Nur Dianah's letter was published last August (2008), Professor Tommy Koh ( whom I admire much for still trying to change things from within) made an online comment supporting her viewpoint.

I still hope that Prof. Tommy Koh would become our next President!


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan
PS: I'm going cycling after this ( to ventilate my brain)!