Hey guys! Sorry for the severe lack of updates. :X
Recently there was the Anton Casey saga, and I was chatting with two other Singaporeans over whatsapp about it. Weixiang–an extremely brilliant law student based in UK– held the view that idiots say idiotic things all the time, so there is really no need for Singaporeans to make such a hoo-ha towards his insensitive remarks. Well, this set me and Jiayan thinking, and we all agreed that something fundamentally changed in the core of Singapore society that made people really insecure.
So…today’s post is to do with education, and I never did once even think I’d blog about this topic. I guess I never did once questioned my own assumptions related to education, but the Anton Casey case really got me thinking. And via this post, I’d present my personal convictions on why the Finnish style of education is perhaps more holistic–and relatively sane-r– than that of Singapore’s.
I’m sure you’ve read it somewhere before– If not, read here — there are tons of articles claiming Finnish Education System to be Number One, AND by definition, better than Singapore, America, Korea and Japan. And after one month in Helsinki (Wow, congratulations to ME!), you’d hear my experiences today. My stand is that Finnish education is probably the best for training of life skills, but NOT academically (judging by relatively low world ranks for their public universities and slipping PISA rankings).
Let me share two reflections with you.
1. Finnish Society and Education System are Egalitarian in Nature.
The Finnish Education system has a strong emphasis on equality, from educational institutions to education-based companies. And by equality I mean based on human rights, not efforts. The result is a society in which people live to enjoy life.
I find the need to define “equality” because if you think about it, the appeal in Singapore’s education system is “meritocracy”. In essence, “meritocracy” is a type of equality too, isn’t it? Regardless of family background, if you are prepared to work hard, you’d have the opportunities to make tons of money and have success in your career. This is what has been presented to every Singaporean since kindergarten.
What meritocracy doesn’t tell you is that this implies that you have to either:
- Be smart AND excel academically; and/or
- Have rich parents who support whatever you are doing
to enjoy life in Singapore. As I am typing this, I have to pause for a bit because it DOES sound ridiculous to me. But it’s sort of true isn’t it? People like Anton Casey think that they belong to the first group, effectively ignoring other factors such as family background. “Poor people are probably lazy and do not work hard; that gives me the (false sense of) entitlement to look down on them” <– This is probably his thinking behind those comments.
Anyway, consider Japan– The Japanese education system is extremely competitive, and I have Japanese friends whose fathers own tuition centres (Jyuku) in Japan. Those Jyukus are extremely profitable–and it IS a big deal to get into the top universities in Japan. But you don’t have to excel academically to have a good job–too often Japanese bartenders make the same amount as Japanese salarymen, aged 20-30. And being a salaryman does not mean that you have access to a good career, against the backdrop of fiscal austerity, liquidity trap and the crazy rate of quantitative easing, you don’t.
But even against all that stress, Japan has one of the lowest GINI coefficient in the world. And you can find a lot of places to spend your money. Big MNCs and small SMEs happily co-exist with each other, giving a wide-range of consumer choices.
I guess in Singapore, we lack these consumer choices, and hence are forced to qualify standard of living in terms of salary. So you better earn enough. But in Singapore how much do bartenders earn? Or the average waitresses, or designers, or singers? You think everyone is like CHC’s Sun Ho who gets a yearly bonus of SGD$500,000 ?
Actually, why have we, as Singaporeans, even resorted to using earnings to justify standard of living?
In Finland it’s egalitarianism at play–Equality rules! This means that if you are born not as academically inclined as your peers, in Finland it’s perfectly okay. Why? Because the variance in wages is relatively small, and it’s effectively a welfare state, so you can enjoy learning as a student and enjoy working as a professional. It’s even OK if you work as a bartender/waitress/singer here; your pay won’t differ so much as an engineer at entry-level, for instance.
In Finland, if you drive and flout a traffic rule, you’d be taxed progressively, according to your income level. Seriously, Singapore should consider implementing this law.
Yes, taxes are uber-high, but you enjoy a lot of space, and in general interact with people who don’t make racist or sexist remarks, etcetc. I guess this is motivated by again, the egalitarian ideology.
But point Number Two is why I think raising a kid here is good–
2. Egalitarianism inspires honest and secure Finns.
In my first week of school, I lost my iPhone and discovered that I’d lost it only after 15minutes.
First thought, “SHIT!”-How on earth am I going to communicate with my parents via LINE and whatsapp?
Obviously, I panicked and went back to school to search. After 10minutes of searching, I gave up and asked the janitor where the lost and found box is. He asked me what I’d lost. After I said a “green Tsumori Chisato iphone”, he handed me MY iphone and smiled at my confounded expression.
In Singapore I lost a lousy Nokia once in NUS, and it was never recovered okay. Haha. My assumptions when it comes to phones is “once gone, always gone”.
So yes, I thought wow, this is great, I’m in a country filled with honest Finns in general! Impressive but okay, life goes on.
And indeed, just yesterday, while doing grocery shopping with the BF, there was this cute little girl queuing up behind him with her dad at the cashier. She was about seven years-old.
And it turned out that she stole the chocolates. Her dad discovered it when she got home, and drove her back to the supermarket to not only pay for the chocolates, but to ask the staffs to lecture her.
I was quite shocked at that! Personally, if I were the parents, I would just scold her at home very very badly and throw the chocolates away. I’d never have brought my daughter back to the shop to let the staffs publicly lecture or scold her, for instance. Most likely, she’d be too precious for that, and this might affect her school records, which is just terrible!
But this dad actually drove the kid to the supermarket in the cold snow, explained to the staffs what happened, and PAID for the chocolates that the kid would probably not eat anyway!
I applaud such parenting, honestly!
And I think this is the ultimate secret to why an education in Finland would probably be the best– Come on people, it’s not the education SYSTEM; it’s the parents too. I’d read so many articles on ST online on over-protective parents, bad teachers and educators, and now even crazy kids who scold and beat their teachers.
But ultimately, it’s a security issue, no? The belief that you’d never be good enough. And what/who causes this thinking? Society. And how do you change society? You can’t, because Singapore is bounded by geographical and resource constraints. We are forced to be competitive and meritocratic–the very day we become egalitarian is the very day we are doomed. Egalitarianism is a luxury–not an entitlement, so let’s just suck it up as Singaporeans.
And yes, do suck it up even more, if you hate this fact and find no compelling reason/have no guts/have no good opportunities to leave the country.
I really don’t see the point pushing blames on various parties when it comes to education. I guess it is on the onus of individuals themselves to adjust their expectations, or really…to just suck it up.
Admittedly though, because the whole Finnish society is relatively more secure than Singapore’s, Finns are okay with a lot of things. If you make mistakes, you learn; even if you learn slowly, the state will support you as long as you are not unreasonable in your efforts towards learning. You can even drop out of mainstream school, be schooled in something non-academic, and eventually have a good career. And Finns in general believe that as long as you are a human being, you’re entitled to a good education, yes–even if you are not academically inclined. Which explains why there isn’t a bell curve in Finland.
Food for thought, yea? And yes, this is why I feel that Finland’s Education is the best in the world. Not academically obviously; but it terms of character development and training of life skills.🙂