Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Notable News on the (Singapore) Education Front

The national daily had a report on Higher Chinese, which I think is a good follow-up to this. The only two surprises I got from reading this article are the existence of "Higher Chinese" centres, and that of China nationals taking HCL for the choice in using their HCL grades to replace EL when computing scores for JC entry.

Feb 15, 2006
Perks a pull for Higher Chinese students
by Liaw Wy-Cin

TWO afternoons each week, 170 students from 17 schools make their way to Beatty Secondary in Toa Payoh North.

It is the fourth and newest centre for those keen to study Higher Chinese, but who cannot do so at their own schools because there are not enough students to form a class.

Three other such centres - Ang Mo Kio Secondary, Commonwealth Secondary and Ngee Ann Secondary - each attract 160 to 370 students for these classes, held outside of school hours.

Overall, the number taking Higher Chinese at secondary level has risen over the years. It is now offered at 68 secondary schools, up from 42 schools in 2002.

The Ministry of Education says 29 per cent of Secondary 1 Express and Special stream students doing Chinese as their mother tongue took Higher Chinese last year, up from 23 per cent in 2000.

Almost 40 students interviewed said they were interested in deepening their knowledge of Chinese language, history and culture, and, given China's ascent, they appreciate the importance.

But many also point to perks that come with passing higher-level mother tongue - Malay and Tamil included.

Top of the list: Obtaining a grade of anywhere from A1 to C6 at O level brings two bonus points to the calculation of O-level scores, which are based on six subjects and which determine entry to junior college.

A student who scores A1 distinctions for all six subjects gets a perfect raw score of six points. Two bonus points from Higher Mother Tongue would lower that to four points.

Scoring the minimum passing grade, C6, also means never having to study mother tongue again. Those who fail, and all those who do the ordinary-level mother tongue must carry on with the language even at junior college.

For students who are weak in English, Higher Chinese offers another attraction: The mother tongue grade can replace English when calculating their O-level scores.

This last perk explains why there are so many China nationals enrolled at the four language centres.

Said China national Wang Liqin, 16, a Secondary 3 student at Admiralty Secondary in Woodlands, who attends Ang Mo Kio Secondary for Higher Chinese: 'My English is poor, so I'm hoping to use Higher Chinese to replace English in tallying up my score, to help me get into JC.'

She is the younger of two daughters of hawkers from Fujian province. It is a different motivation for Charis Hao, 13, a Secondary 1 student from Bedok Town Secondary School who travels to Ngee Ann Secondary in Tampines for her Higher Chinese lessons. All she wants is an O-level pass that will put an end to her having to study the language.

'I can then concentrate on my other more demanding JC subjects,' said the only child of a hotel supervisor and kindergarten teacher, originally from Xian, China.

About 20 years ago, only the top 10 per cent of pupils leaving primary school could do higher-level Chinese - at a Special Assistance Plan school, or in the Special stream. Today, those in the top 11 to 30 per cent can also do so, provided they scored an A* in the PSLE in their mother tongue language, or at least a merit in Higher Mother Tongue.

In addition, anyone else who is keen can apply, and schools will decide through selection tests or interviews. Most of the Higher Chinese students interviewed were good in Chinese, having scored A or A* in the PSLE, and most had also done Higher
Chinese at Primary 6 and scored a Merit grade.

Lessons at the four Higher Chinese centres are free. Each session lasts two hours, with students in classes of 20 to 40. Lessons are categorised into themes like love and nature, and there are discussions on Chinese history, literature, culture, and current events.

Commonwealth Secondary's subject head for Higher Chinese, Mr Ng Thian Lye, said two afternoons a week is not enough to master the subject. 'Sometimes, the students also have remedial lessons at their own schools which clash with Higher Chinese lessons. So they end up missing Higher Chinese lessons,' said Mr Ng, 42.

Commonwealth Secondary, in Jurong East, has been a Higher Chinese centre since 1997 and has 161 students from 24 schools this year. Ang Mo Kio Secondary, a Higher Chinese centre since 1995, has 372 students from 40 schools this year.

Its head of mother tongue languages, Mr Koh Chee Keong, says it is a pleasure to see the extra effort put in by students who come all the way to learn. Students can study the language in their own schools if there are at least 15 to 20 to form a Higher Chinese class. The trouble is, many schools do not have such a number competent
enough for the demands of going deeper into the language.

For now, the Education Ministry says, it is sufficient to have Higher Chinese taught at 68 secondary schools and the four centres. Although some readers of The Straits Times wrote to the Forum Page recently to complain about the bonus points policy for students who do higher mother tongue, the ministry has made it clear that the system
will stay. It concedes that offering incentives alone is not enough to motivate
students, but says the bonus points help to 'encourage students and to recognise their achievements in the subject'.

Perks aside, some students say delving into the intricacies of the language remains the biggest draw. Bus driver's son Kelvin Sim, 13, a Secondary 1 student at Tampines
Secondary who goes to the Ngee Ann centre for his Higher Chinese lessons, said: 'It's fun, it's a privilege.'

China national Liu Jun Hua, 17, a Secondary 3 student who goes from Bedok Town Secondary to the Ngee Ann centre, waxed lyrical, saying: 'It's a beautiful language, like a picture we can look at, with every part of the word having its own meaning. Not every language can boast that.'

Elena Owyong, 19, who is waiting for her A-level results, remembers the days when she rushed to Commonwealth Secondary from her school, Jurong Secondary, and how tired she felt sometimes.

'But I learnt a lot, so it was worth all the trouble,' said Elena, who went on to do Higher Chinese at Nanyang JC.

With her command of the language and deeper understanding of the culture and heritage, she hopes to be a Chinese media journalist one day.


Huichieh's attempt to clear the fog on our tertiary education enrollment figures is laudable.

Interested readers might also want to have a quick look at the Ag MOE's statement to parliament in 2004.

Several paragraphs stood out:

24. Mr Low Thia Kiang raised the issue of MTL requirements. The UAC's reasons for recommending that MTL not be a mandatory components of university admission scores were sound. I have explained yesterday why the Government agreed to the changes and I will not go through that again. I have also explained MOE's approach to ensuring that students take MTL seriously in the school system, and why we needed different strategies at the tertiary level. But in relation to Mr Low Thia Khiang's question, I would emphasis also that it is important for the universities themselves to decide on the admission criteria. If the universities or any of their faculties were to decide that MTL is important for a particular course, they will make it a requirement. Indeed, some faculties at NUS and NTU already do so. We see this in the degree programmes for Communication Studies and Chinese Studies. What the UAC recommended, which we agreed to, is to stop mandating that every student counts his MTL grade as part of his admissions score for every course.


26. Mr Low also asked why General Paper should remain a requirement for university admission. I should first clarify that GP is not an English language paper as such. It seeks to develop students' logical reasoning and analytical skills. It requires students to read more widely and take an active interest in current affairs. These are important attributes for university education. However, it is for our universities to decide if GP should remain relevant in future.

which should tie in nicely to Mr Wang's post.


The third and last notable event on the local education scene for the past several days would be the announcement of fee hikes in the 3 universities. Expect more on the way, and on a higher frequency.

32. We should therefore review if undergraduates should bear a higher share of the cost of university education, as Dr Gan See Khem has argued. Our universities students are subsidised much more heavily than other students in the education system. They also earn more than poly and ITE graduates. Compare what each of them earns, with how much they are each subsidized during their education, and it is clearly out of sync. MOE will therefore review the cost-sharing formula and study carefully the proportion to be borne by the undergraduates.

I am not so sure about the part on "...also earn more than poly and ITE graduates." With the exception of a few (professional) majors (like law, medicine etc etc), the starting wage differential of say a run-of-the-mill Arts/Sci grad (with no honors) and a polytechnic diploma holder in e.g. engineering is probably not significant (especially in the private sector). Remember, Singapore's workers also face downward wage pressures with the influx of cheap foreign talents and the outsourcing of jobs to India and China and other developing countries.

I daresay, if you don't have any interest in the course that you are given an offer in and the economic prospects aren't that great, you are better off learning a trade (via the poly route). This, of course discounting the "intangible benefits like social status, vanity etc etc" that supposedly comes with being a degree holder. Already there are some who gave up places in the local Us and be gainfully employed based on their poly qualifications. Seems to me a harkback to the days when university students were the rich folks who could afford the time and money for gentlemen pursuits like "investigating the mysteries of nature" or "philosophizing over the hows and whys of this world".


Huichieh said...

My apologies but my post has moved to a new URL (because I changed the title). Please update. Thanks.

takchek said...


Peishan said...

wait a min - i thought you need at least b3 to skip out of chinese at jc level?

Anonymous said...

well, dun stereotype.