Wednesday 28 December 2011

Education - Does the standard of facilities matter?

Facilities should be appropriate, cost-effective: Education Minister Heng Swee Keat
Minister responds to student's letter during visit to primary school
by Ng Jing Yng, TODAY, 4 Jan 2012

Reiterating the Ministry of Education's (MOE) commitment to provide different pathways for students to succeed, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat noted that it would be unhealthy to compare amenities across the various institutions.

"As part of these multiple pathways, we have to ensure that we provide the appropriate facilities and teaching resources so that those educational objectives can be achieved ... What is important is that we must do all this in a most cost-effective way, in a way that allows us to achieve the educational objectives," said Mr Heng.

Mr Heng, who was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a visit to Chongzheng Primary School, was giving his take on a public debate that was sparked by a letter to this newspaper last month.

The letter was written by a junior college (JC) student who questioned why facilities in Institutes of Technical Education (ITEs) were better than those in some JCs and polytechnics. It drew sharp criticism from the public, with some attributing the writer's sentiment to the education system. The writer has since apologised.

On the episode, Mr Heng noted the "lively debate" and added: "I am always wary about making a generalisation out of one comment from one student. So we have to see it in context."

Mr Heng noted that such comparisons would invariably create a "certain entitlement mentality which I think will be wrong".

According to the MOE, the per-capita expenditure for all three post-secondary education pathways - ITEs, polytechnics and JCs - range between S$12,000 and S$14,000 every year.

The ministry pointed out that the polytechnics and ITEs "focus on market-ready training for specific careers and skills, for both fresh school-leavers as well as adults already in the workforce". It said: "Such training typically requires more specialised equipment and facilities compared with academic education by the junior colleges."

Also, the campuses of polytechnics and ITEs are larger than those of JCs, "to ensure that students benefit from a broader educational experience with access to modules in related disciplines and in more general areas", the MOE said.

Mr Heng also elaborated on the committee behind the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism, looking into the uses of the fund.

He said that it will involve both Members of Parliament as well as a broader cross-segment of the community, including members from the mother tongue language groups and those with a deep understanding of bilingualism.

"I want many people to be involved and to contribute in this effort. This is a very important national effort and not just an MOE effort," he added.

Real difference is in learning paths
by James Tan Jie Wei, TODAY, 27 Dec 2011

I refer to the I Say piece "Disparity in tertiary education facilities" (Dec 26).

While I respect the writer's views on the much-debated subject of Singapore's education system, certain points must be made regarding the Government's strategic approaches towards each branch of the overall educational structure.

Our educational environment is pragmatic: A junior college (JC) path suits the more formulaic and theoretically-inclined, while an industry-based, hands-on polytechnic system, which I am a graduate of, exists for the more practically-inclined students.

The system is not perfect but there is a safety net to catch younglings who are unable to keep up with their peers in highly-competitive Singapore. This is the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), with its seemingly magnificent facilities.

In line with the writer's views, I wonder why the Government would siphon much-needed money to develop this sector of the tertiary education system relative to its nett output and perceived usefulness to society.

However, the ITE is not the only education entity here with big, glorious buildings. All five polytechnics have facilities that rival or surpass the most expensive ITE campus.

These institutions are also in a constant state of expansion, promising more state-of-the-art structures in the foreseeable future.

Our JCs, too, are getting the super-campus treatment. Take a gander at Raffles JC and the land it occupies or the architecturally distinctive Hwa Chong Institution, filled to every square inch with enhancements to the educational experience.

Yet, buildings are mere facades. What makes or breaks an institution of higher learning is the quality of its faculty and students. Can the former successfully impart knowledge to the latter and with what degree of efficiency?

Ultimately, students are captains of their own fate. The best facilities would be wasted if the students have no desire to learn. Buildings, campuses and educational facilities merely facilitate one's learning; the onus is on the individual to seek knowledge.

Therefore, even if our educational spending were to be equalised, who is to say that the best and brightest would come from the JCs, the supposed cream of the crop?

Each learning path is designed for a specific category of students, and the Government is no doubt doing all within its power to maintain and improve upon our edge in an increasingly competitive world.

Never judge a book by its cover, and an educational institution's value to society must never be judged by the eminence of its edifice.

Essential facilities to match learning needs
Letter from Muhammad Nabil Noor Mohamed, TODAY, 28 Dec 2011

I AM saddened that the view expressed in "Disparity in tertiary education facilities" (Dec 26) has come from a junior college student. It is disturbing if a future leader of the country were to favour the best and only the best.

Mr Kwek Jian Qiang's view of the exterior, with the conclusion that brighter students should be given better facilities, did not consider what is in the interior, that is, to compare what the different institutions offer.

Junior College is where students are provided learning opportunities in three areas: Life skills, knowledge skills and subject disciplines to prepare for university. The basis for having a JC education is to attain a degree.

The Institute of Technical Education is where students are equipped with technical knowledge to meet the workforce needs in various industry sectors.

As an ITE graduate now in my final year in polytechnic, I concur with many other ITE students and graduates that its facilities are essential in providing the best learning opportunities to acquire these technical skills.

One example in ITE College East is the state-of-the-art Centre for Healthcare Simulation Training, where students practise nursing care using high reliability patient simulators.

The many engineering laboratories also equip one with industry-relevant skills.

There have been collaborations with established industrial players to provide industry-like labs such as the Industrial Automation and Robotics Lab, which supports capability development in computer numerical control machining, industrial conveyor systems, programmable logic controller systems, etc.

Similarly, polytechnic courses are market-driven and career-oriented, leading to fulfilling and rewarding careers in the industry and preparing students for future education.

Different polytechnics also offer different niche courses, which are equipped with industry-standard training facilities, too.

In Republic Polytechnic, there is the Raffles Hospitality Centre, an integrated training hotel with a lobby, guest room, restaurant, kitchen and spa labs.

These offer students a hands-on experience and prepare them before they go on to work for companies spanning hotels, events management, airlines, franchising management, listed companies as well as for entrepreneurs and as entrepreneurs.

I hope Mr Kwek realises the effort that educators put in, no matter at which education level or the facilities offered. It is the knowledge and values taught to us that make us what we are.

Misconceptions that need to be corrected
Letter from Chan Cheng Lin, TODAY, 27 Dec 2011

WHILE I agree that our junior college facilities need improvements, I disapprove of Mr Kwek Jian Qiang's attitude, in "Disparity in tertiary education facilities" (Dec 26), towards Institute of Technical Education students.

He alleges that, since ITE students are not Singapore's "best and brightest", they do not deserve to enjoy the state-of-the-art infrastructure in their institution. He also claims that they are more prone to mischief, such as vandalism, than JC students.

These unhelpful impressions do nothing to improve the negative stereotype of ITE students.

I was a JC student but have friends who graduated from ITE. I admire their versatility and hands-on skills which, sadly, JC students lack. While my Advanced Level certificate is economically useless, their ITE diplomas land them well-paying jobs.

My ITE friends are as law-abiding, or even more so, than my JC friends. I have seen JC students behaving as badly as ITE students, such as by smoking and using vulgarities.

ITE students are in no way inferior to their JC counterparts, and we need to correct such misconceptions. The former deserve quality educational facilities; so do the latter.

No excuse not to succeed in chosen educational pathway
Letter from Bryan Chow Weng Keong, TODAY, 27 Dec 2011

Mr Kwek Jian Qiang's I Say piece on the "Disparity in tertiary education facilities" (Dec 26) is uncalled for, as the quality of educational facilities in Singapore is of a decent standard.

Students have no excuse that they are not provided an environment to succeed in, whichever their chosen educational pathway.

A well-endowed school does not necessarily produce high-calibre students. Rather, it is the quality of educational programmes and the gumption of each individual to make the best out of the opportunities given.

Furthermore, meritocracy does not mean rewarding our best students with the sleekest campuses. Instead, funds should be channelled to developing each student's talents and interests.

The long-term benefit of supporting a person's learning needs is far more important than cosmetic enhancement of classrooms or laboratories. Ultimately, the emphasis should be on nurturing our young to scale various peaks of excellence.

The support provided in our schools, through teachers and programmes, will then go a long way in building a culture that challenges each individual to achieve his or her maximum potential.

Reward only according to merit? Not the way to go
Letter from Tan Boon Swee, TODAY, 26 Dec 2011

Although it is sad that some students in Institute of Technical Education College East do not cherish the good facilities in their campus, it is not right to say that all other students are not deserving of these facilities.

I cannot agree with Mr Kwek Jian Qiang's point, in "Disparity in tertiary education facilities" (Dec 26), that only the brightest should get the best facilities and that we should reward according to merit (I assume he means academic merits).

Everyone who wants to learn deserve appropriate facilities and an environment to facilitate their learning. If, in everything, we reward only according to merit, we risk being elitist.

I was a JC student, but would point out that to define someone as "bright" based solely on academic results is too narrow. ITE students may not be academic high achievers, but they could be "bright" in other aspects.

Not only the academically bright can be Singapore's future leaders; the future belongs as much to ITE graduates, who are part of our society. They can and will contribute to building a bright future for Singapore.


Disparity in tertiary education facilities
by Kwek Jian Qiang, TODAY, 26 Dec 2011

Singapore has often been accorded the honour of having one of the best education systems. Our students rank high in their scores, from mathematics to other subjects. There are, though, significant disparities in the quality of learning environments.

When my grandmother visited Singapore this year, one of her most striking comments was when she saw a sparkling, shiny Institute of Technical Education (ITE) "skyscraper" campus.

Her first impression was that, in such a quality school environment, the students would be the best and brightest in Singapore. It took me a while to convince her otherwise and her look of dismay was apparent.

Indeed, a question should be raised: In a system where people are rewarded according to merit, why are our best and brightest not getting the best learning environments?

I once attended a seminar at ITE College East. The interior was like a plush hotel: Sleek floors, plush lecture theatre chairs, high-quality tables - quality exceeding that found in our polytechnics and junior colleges (JC).

From the exterior, with an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a stadium stand, it looked like it was made for the Youth Olympics.

What saddened me, though, was the graffiti on the tables and chairs. Apparently, the students do not cherish what they have. Should any JC or polytechnic student have access to such quality facilities, I have no doubt they would appreciate it better.

There is a need to equalise government spending on school facilities. Campuses such as Anderson JC's and Victoria JC's pale in comparison to ITE College East's.

Our brightest students, who will become Singapore's future leaders, should get the best facilities in order to excel and grow. We should reward according to merit.

The writer is a JC student, posted the following response to his letter in an online comment;

Letter writer apologises
Kwek Jian Qiang, TODAY, 31 Dec 2011

In reference to my letter "Disparity in tertiary education facilities" (Dec 26), I wish to highlight that a personal attack on Institute of Technical Education students was not my objective.

I wanted to highlight the disparity in facilities between tertiary institutions.

I hold each and every ITE student in high regard, especially their dedication in attaining a good education.

I sincerely apologise to anyone who has been hurt or angered by my letter. That was not my intention. I have realised how insensitive my opinions were, and this is a sound lesson.

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