What’s lacking in the Singapore Education System

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‘If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.’
– Gail Sheehy

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Yes. On paper we look pretty good. 

Out of the three full-fledged & local public universities, the two oldest (NUS and NTU) are constantly ranked in the top 100 universities globally. NTU dropped the ball a few years back but bounced back pretty quickly.

The third, SMU, though pretty new, is gaining traction and popularity with both potential undergraduate applicants and employers with the adoption of the American-style university offerings. Not to forget the partnership between its undergraduate business school and Wharton School.

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One sentence to probably sum it up: Singapore usually does quite brilliantly at International Mathematics or Science Olympiads, but not that well during the Olympics.

But still, is academic excellency sufficient for success in the corporate world, or life for that matter?

There are some areas which some of us might need to seriously learn, but unfortunately these topics aren’t taught in schools.

1) Learning to Say ‘No’ to Some Superiors

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Always Being Compliant Since Young.

Its hard-wired through our education system way before tertiary levels (since primary school in fact) about listening to everything the teacher says, not questioning their statements or challenging existing ideals and beliefs.

Maybe this ‘compliant’ behavior preached in schools is a mere reflection of the Singaporean society itself. Follow orders, shut up and listen.

No U-turn Syndrome.

Singaporean entrepreneur Sim Wong Hoo compared traffic rules in Singapore to those found overseas, to describe this social behaviour phenomenon.

In Singapore, drivers are not allowed to make a U-turn unless a sign specifically allows them to do so, while in some other countries drivers may make U-turns freely so long as the ‘No U-turn’ sign is not present.

These values about compliance and total submission to superiors that have been ingrained in our minds since our education journey and probably permeated the working environment thereafter.

Even on occasions when we know that our bosses seemed to be thinking from their asses, we sucked it all up like vacuum cleaners.

Some Examples 

I have heard instances of people undergoing these situations below, and I’m positive these won’t come as a surprise to many of us. Mind you, I’m not talking about just front office bankers or management consultants.

  • Working every single day of the week including weekends
  • Working every single day till past 12 am
  • Working whilst on medical leave at the behest of superiors
  • Managers ‘influencing’ subordinates that doing over-time is a standard practice or the norm in the company

Lets Put a Stop To It, Shall We?

How long can we, or do we want to put up with these sorta nonsense? Though this may be common in our society and many of us have been conditioned to accept it, doesn’t mean its right or equitable.

During a secondment in London during my old job, the American colleagues who I stayed in the apartment with queried why I was doing so much over-time‘Just screw it and tell your boss you can’t complete it!’, retorted one of them. ‘Its way too much work and beyond the point of reason’.

Another friend who was educated overseas also challenged his superior, albeit respectfully, who pushed all the work to him. He told me: “What could she have done? Is she going to get me fired for not being able to do what is obviously meant for 2-3 people to accomplish?”

No doubt, some of the examples that I mentioned may sound a tad extreme to some, but you get my drift.

Stand Up & Say ‘No’

Admittedly, I will be the first to raise my hand and proclaim that I find it difficult to say ‘no’ to my superiors. Swallowed a lot of crap and sucked it up.

But like everything else, there comes a saturation point beyond which, superiors shouldn’t expect anything less than real repercussions from their subordinates, be it a highly concerted response or a rash reaction.

Once, quite some time ago, I hit that saturation point when a superior blatantly wanted me to oversee an off-site event (which is NOT compulsory) during the weekend, despite the superior having absolutely no intentions of attending it himself.

How I spend my weekend is my prerogative, I thought. Not his. I declined and simply said ‘No, I won’t be going’.

And I’m happy about it as I got to enjoy my weekend with loved ones. Though I still have to be respectful and tactful about conveying any intentions to any superiors.

2) Learning to Create A Job instead of Just Finding One

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Prepare for the Rat Race. Is that All?

We all went through quite some tough times to earn that coveted degree, albeit in varying forms.

Incessant amounts of tutorials, case presentations, reports, academic papers, FYP, mock interviews, training in professional decorum etc.

All that.. to give ourselves some chances of landing jobs with the top, global blue-chip companies and earn some $$$ (join the rat race for the next 40-odd years)

Where’s the Entrepreneurial / Creative Side?

Yes. There are entrepreneurship courses in school available and strong governmental support from statutory boards for those who want to strike it out on their own.

Unfortunately, with a society and education system preaching incessantly about compliance, I’m not sure if creativity, tenacity and guts have been snuffed out or stifled to some extent among some students. After all, entrepreneurship can be viewed as pushing boundaries and challenging the norms.

Lets not stop at just making entrepreneurship as a minor or elective. Make it a compulsory module for all students. Integrate that into the minds of kids when we are young. We might find some surprises and strokes of brilliance.

Maybe the ‘push’ can really stoke the flames and ignite more ‘entrepreneurial’ fires under our asses?

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3) Imparting Us with Financial Management Skills

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Some are Managed by Money.

At some point in time when we all have our own families, we will be responsible for managing the finances in our households. It’s a freaking heavy responsibility.

The ability to managing these numbers will largely affect our quality of life, like it or not. Some of my friends who ‘hate’ numbers (typically humanities students) will still have to face that burden one day.

  • Have you heard of people who took MASSIVE housing loans to finance their little fancy condominiums?
  • Or people delaying their retirement plans due to their desires to get new cars or < Insert expensive liabilities here >?

These are cases where money will dictate what they have to do. They are ‘slaves’ to their loans and mortgages.

But well, I admit to making such mistakes myself, squandering away a huge amount of my savings back in University. Luckily, I came to my senses as covered in one of my previous articles: https://wealthnlove.com/2013/10/12/every-single-dollar-counts/

Its not Enough to just Earn. We need to Manage the Earnings too.

Budgeting, elementary financial projections and basic investment knowledge may be topics that allude many of us throughout our entire education life.

Kindly add these courses in, please. It’s important for everyone to earn to budget, manage finances and grow them via investments.

Okay, if we don’t want to teach everyone the hardcore aspects of these subjects, certainly seminars and ad-hoc lectures on managing personal finances would be a great step forward?

These are life-changing skills!

Whatever values that are embodied in our society begins taking form when we are young. And since we spent a great deal of time in schools from a tender age, change can thus start in schools.

I for one, will also teach my future kids at home about the differences between cash cows and the normal piggy banks.

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Cheers & Stay Cool Guys!

Nicholas

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4 thoughts on “What’s lacking in the Singapore Education System

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