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MOE says Children should be encouraged to pursue dreams

Singapore dreams?

MOE says Children should be encouraged to pursue dreams

MOE says Children should be encouraged to pursue dreams

The minister of education, Mr Heng Swee Keat made the remark in his speech at the opening of Montfort Secondary’s new campus that children should be encouraged to pursue their dreams no matter what these may be. ‘Pursuing one’s

dream’ is not a traditional concept in the Asian culture that values conformity above diversity. But people’s mentality is changing. The forces of globalization have brought in the ‘western air’ of individuality and boldness to pursue what one wants to do in life. Will the ‘western air’ stay in Singapore? How should our educational system take advantage of it? The comment of the education minister, though brief, has much significance in the present context where Singapore education system is under scrutiny by various stakeholders of our society.


The 10000 hours rule

First, by pursing one’s dream, the child is likely to excel in his or her area of talent and expertise. According to the author of the book Outliers, one only has to keep doing something for 10000 hours in order to excel in it. Pursuing one’s dream is equivalent to investing time in the undertaking. It makes positive use of one’s talent and energy and improves one’s confidence and self-esteem. Under the pressure of the standardized tests at various levels, children tend to be judged by their test score that is an extremely limited way of assessing their potential. Since there will definitely be high scorers and low scorers, how do we enhance the motivation of the low-scorers while reminding high scorers that tests aren’t everything they should go after? Encouraging them to pursue their dreams is an excellent way to dilute the effect of standardized exams while giving children opportunities to express their talents and let them be seen, be heard and be appreciated. Hence, the culture of ‘pursuing dreams’ is essential in developing a healthy and motivated schooling population who know the importance of exams, while not forgetting the greater importance of ‘finding one’s voice.


Spillover effect

Secondly, the minister argued that the joy of learning one discovers in one area can spillover to other areas of learning. It is a common observation among children. A love of building airplane models may spark the interest in physics, an interest in military weapons may lead to a passion for history and a talent for cooking and culinary art may persuade one to study chemistry. The complaints about conventional subjects being not interesting or useless may be reduced if the learners themselves become interested and find value and relevance in what they learn. Moreover, such spillover effect is very spontaneous. Educators cannot possibly create such an effect by, for example, letting students participate in airplane design competition hoping they will become interested in physics in the end. There is no guarantee. But what we can do is to provide as many opportunities for pushing one’s passion as possible so that children are more likely to see the link between what they do for leisure and what they do for study.

Lifelong learning

MOE says Children should be encouraged to pursue dreams

MOE says Children should be encouraged to pursue dreams

Lastly, the minister also emphasized the importance of having a dream because that will encourage students to become lifelong learners. Since his perspective is lifelong, the ‘learning’ here is not restricted to academic study in school. It is

about the constant upgrading of one’s skill set and knowledge base in an ever-changing economy so that he will stay relevant and competitive in the workforce. And one will only have the motivation to learn for a lifetime if he is doing something he likes. ‘Nothing outlasts passion’. That is why we see adults attending vocational training, reading books or simply working hard in their jobs. They do not think learning is a painful process. It may have so much fun that it may even lead them to proclaim, as the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius did two thousand years ago, ‘I have no leisure’. Why does one need to have leisure when he wants even more pleasure of learning? As more and more individuals have a positive working attitude and a lifelong learning awareness, the whole Singapore society stands to benefit from a more skillful, more competitive and happier workforce.


Come back to reality

Having talked much about dreams, we also need to focus on reality, which is the educational system itself. Is it flexible enough to accommodate a variety of interests? A mature educational system not only allows individual pursuit of interest, but actively rewards it. Do we recognize adequately students who are excellent in dancing, singing and arts? Do we identify students good at cooking or other niche interests? We may not make all forms of talents criteria of admissions, but recognition can definitely go beyond that. Probably provide funding to a culinary club in school? Probably hold more arts festivals and invite parents to attend? Probably note down a student’s personal achievement in the yearly report written by the form teachers? All these little gestures go a long way in encouraging children to pursue their dreams, while not compromising the meritocratic system in which standardized assessment still plays an essential role.

The concept of ‘American dream’ is about personal freedom and boldness to do what one wants to do. Under the influence of western countries, will Singapore have its own ‘Singapore dream’? It is not some big idea. It is just about individuals having the conviction and courage to follow their heart and a system that allows and rewards such individual expression of one’s worth and value.

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