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Benjamin Yang
Making a difference in this world 1 student at a time
Making a difference in this world 1 student at a time

Benjamin's posts

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Most if not all of my students are fixated on entering into the local universities. But the odds are stacked against them.

Entrance criteria is like a toilet roll long for local universities ( NUS vs. Cambridge). Even though NUS has not topped any league tables to date.

So to the local students. I say don't close the door on gaining admission to foreign universities. And if you do plan that. You can actually skip all the nonsense project work, CCAs, donation drives, CIPs and other unnecessary extracurricular responsibilities forced upon you by your school teachers and spend those times freed up to gain mastery of your subject or explore you passions or even internships.

One viable option for example is HKU (disclosure: I did not come from this school and this is not a sponsored post). It is much cheaper compared to US/UK/Australia. And there are many scholarship options for Singaporean students. It's closer to home and is even in the same timezone (+8 GMT). Entrance requirements? 3H2s.

As a Singaporean student entering into a foreign university. You have the Ace card in your hand. These universities want Singaporean students because of their international reputation as being some of the best performing maths and science students. They in turn draw more students to university therefore and the international visibility increases. So if you do well, you call the shots. You set the admission terms. Instead of the other way round. Why are you on your knees begging when there is somewhere else in the world ready to roll out the red carpet for you?

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One of our education ministers recently said the following “skills would be sought after by employers in the new economy, and not paper qualifications“. Says someone from Raffles and LSE.

Yes that is true for general degrees but not for careers governed by a professional board. Like the medical doctors by the Singapore Medical Council, dentists by the Singapore Dental Council and both by the Ministry of Health, lawyers by the Council – The Law Society of Singapore and Ministry of Law. Teachers by the National Institute of Education and Ministry of Education. The list goes on.

For gaining admissions into the field, one cannot just have ‘skills’. They need to undergo a formal education always accompanied by a professionally recognized degree before they can even be considered for work in the field. Frequently (not always), their remuneration is higher than average, their employment opportunities are more secured. University programs associated with these careers are highly sought after and the most competitive.

So raising up the point about skills is completely moot.

Yes one need to have skills AND a university degree and this is what employers are looking for. Not either one of them. Definitely not just skills alone. And I don’t think anyone will believe what he says as he continues to justify why the need to cap university admissions to 30% of the uni-going population unless he goes on to support the point by having the government take lead and bring a skillful politician without a degree qualification to prove that it’s more important. 

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So I mentioned in the last post that I have 0 miles and 0 frequent flyer programs (FFPs) under my belt.

Whilst I am still figuring out the ins and outs of collecting miles, I have now registered for 2 FFPs.

FFPs are essential because that's where you transfer hard earned miles to. When the miles accumulate you can then redeem them for premium cabin (business or first class) flights. And I have already have one in mind for late June which is slightly less than 2 months away.

After searching around the internet, I narrowed down to Alaska airlines to join. Yes, I said it right and I think some eyes just popped. Alaska airlines doesn't even have flights to Singapore. And that's a good thing actually! Because they don't belong to any alliances, they have direct agreements with many airlines from different alliances instead. So if I collect Alaska airline miles, it can be redeemed in any (most) of the partner airlines.

That's not the only plus point though. Using their miles, I can get a free stopover for the price of 1 ticket. Very few airlines allow that (without requiring more miles or money upfront). For example, if I fly from Singapore to city X. I can book a trip to city Z, explore Z and then book the 2nd flight from city Z to X.

Also, and most importantly, they actually sell miles (very few other airlines do) with bonuses. Meaning if you buy a number of miles, with their promotion you can get a maximum of 40% (offers abound and differ) on top of the number of miles you bought. This makes the purchase cheaper. So why would I buy miles. Collecting miles either through credit card spend or flying is an arduous process which I am about to begin. This is a way to 'cut the queue' and jump straight pass the 'entrance'. Especially since I have already had a trip this coming June in mind.

But why would I not buy the ticket outright? I hear some of you asking. Well, let me do a quick calculation using google flights. Say I choose to book a business class flight to Japan flying Japan airlines for 1. I am required to pay $3545.60 all in (SGD). The same flight on Japan airlines redeeming Alaska miles means I pay $1510.29 (for points) + $72 (for taxes) all in (SGD) (it can get cheaper than that but for simplicity's sake and using the most conservative numbers). I save $1963.31 right off the bat.

Well. This is an exciting beginning to my travel hacking journey. I can't wait for the rest to unfold for this year. 

The eduscape in Singapore is abuzz with the big news announcement of 8 JC mergers resulting in the closure of 4.

All 4 JCs that are due for closure are those that take in some of the lower if not lowest scores from O level graduates (i.e. poorest performing).

So how does this affect students? Those students who are less academically inclined but still would like to pursue the A level curriculum will have less choices and less chances of entering into a school who would accept them. I see this as MOE's way of subtly pushing more into the polytechnic education, and subsequently having more students enter the SIT programs that are more niche and specialized. Better to have them equipped with a lifeskill then not, especially if they continue to do badly with subsequently admission rejection from the local universities.

All the IP programs and schools remain because these are where the crème de la crème studies. Their enrollment numbers are healthy and admissions will intensify now that everyone is aiming for lesser number of overall spaces for prospective students. I see that the PSLE will be the most important examination because majority of the seats for the IP/JC programs are secured by secondary 1.

So how does this affect tutors? The elitist are going to get more elitist where the bell-curve practice is maintained. Meaning it becomes harder and harder to get good results because of the bottom rung of performing students being taken out. I would see tutor demand for JC to increase in the near future. Having said that the demand on the tutor will increase as well. How good are you at the subject? What else can you bring to the table that will move the needle for your future students? Because frankly, there will likely be an exodus of teachers coming into private tutoring. If students can't differentiate you from another, then they will likely not come to you. Because for them, this is their most important exam in their life, in their quest for university admissions.

Below are statements about pie, but one can easily take a perspective of education to reinterpret these sentences. Instead of writing about an idea this week, why don't you interpret them and make your own lessons?

“This is all the pie I received, but that’s okay.”

“I have a small piece of pie, but others have an even smaller piece, so I’m sharing mine.”

“The pie isn’t big enough for all of us, I’m going to work to make it bigger.”

“I have the biggest piece of pie, want to see?”

“I have the biggest piece of pie, but that’s not enough, so I’m going to work hard to take some of yours.”

“If I can’t have a big enough piece of pie, I’m going to put my fist through the entire thing and no one gets any pie.”

“If I delay gratification and wait a bit, my piece of pie will be bigger.”

“Jone has a bigger piece of pie than I do, so I’m going to go deep into debt so I can buy more pie.”

“Apple? I hate apple. Why can’t we have blueberry?”

“I’m able to skirt the rules and end up with two pieces of pie when everyone is only supposed to get one.”

“Pie? I don’t eat pie.”

I have seen so many JC students being overwhelmed with CCA in school so much so that they jeopardize their studies and when the dust settles, no CCAs are there to compensate for the lousy A level cert. And of course the teachers who forced these students into the CCAs in the first place will not take responsibility for it either.

My students routinely tell me how they are forced into CCAs with the teachers threatening them with failure to enter into University without.

That's a load of bullcrap if you ask me. For the average student, the time is much better served gaining mastery of the A level content. Where time allows getting committed to activities outside of school is more fulfilling, pragmatic and has real world advantages because of the network gained as well as the opportunity to really make a difference.

CCAs in school is just a means for the teachers and school management to hit their KPIs and to brag about their achievement to the other schools. There is no concern over real development of their students in a holistic manner outside of academics which is the original intent. Instead, students are pushed into competitions.

For students who come to me asking for advice, I will direct them to various non-profit organizations that's looking for volunteers and avoid school CCAs completely. There are so many of them. Some are academic, others are special interest groups, sports, activism, or those that help various types of less fortunate members of the society (the very young, old, single parent, poor, suicidal...) etc. These activities allow one to be engaged and the organizations are happy to write testimonials and provide certificates proving contributions. Most importantly, volunteers can decide how much commitment they are willing to contribute.

The school teachers and management will never tell their students these things. It's in their interest not to. Otherwise they cannot justify the millions of dollars spent on the school facilities, the hour allocation for teacher duties etc whilst having an empty report card when MOE HQ officers come knocking. Or when the performance bonus is about to be distributed. No where in the grand scheme of things is there concern about student welfare and student interests.

If the school really cared about their students, I wouldn't have made a career out of tutoring and caring for these students used and abused and discarded by the schools in the first place.

We are all built to be 'lazy'. Because no effort means we can shut off and consume less resources. This worked in the age of cave men, because resources were indeed hard to come by. When the food opportunity arises, everyone springs into attention and give their best effort.

These days we are overwhelmed by resources instead. But our built-in 'lazy' mode never really left us. In fact, now it behaves in a completely different way making us ignore all that is in front of us.

Unfortunately, this trait is particularly dangerous in students. Students who spend the most effort with subject mastery, training themselves to look for patterns and requirements building up this skill all the way up to the exams get rewarded subsequently. Other students spend just-enough effort to pass and most effort on CCA activities get rewarded subsequently in the latter but penalized at the exams.

If you run a hypothetical food delivery company, you need to be the fastest at response. That requires a most effort not a just-enough effort. Anything else is a reason for potential users to switch to competition.

On the other hand, if you're a florist with an online sales channel, a just-enough effort in speed is sufficient. Instead you provide the freshest flowers (most effort) you possibly can because anything else means you will lose customers.

Everyone competes on something. That thing you compete on is your most. The other things you do, those can be just-enough.

The 2 mistakes students make:

They try for 'most' at things where 'just-enough' is just fine, and they waste their effort.
They settle for 'just-enough' when the university is looking for the one with the 'most'.

The only way to maximize your most is to be really clear where your just-enough is. 

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Dr Chee Soon Juan recently talked about Singapore's governance likened to Maggie noodles. And I think this mentality is pervasive in the society. Especially in my field.

There are 2 permutations of the quick fix mentality, they either come to me for help a few weeks before A levels or quit in a short time because they don't see academic progression in school, because of poor performance in a single school test.

Deep within these students is a yearning for the pill, the neck crack, or a part replacement. A quick fix that will yield that desired grade.

Sometimes, it even happens. Sometimes, you find that it is only oil on the lenses and removing it clarifies your sight immediately. And this rare occurrence serves to encourage our dreams that all of our problems have such a simple diagnosis and an even simpler remedy.

Alas we learn that quick fixes never really fixes anything, and we learnt that too late. Especially in education.

Mastery of knowledge takes ( effort and time to acquire and has to be refined constantly.

The ones who appreciate this fact and have the grit and patience are the ones who are ( more successful later in life. 

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I wonder if the government sees the irony in its own practices. Having achieved 154th place in world press freedom, it is actively trying to hone a 1 school of thought out of it's citizens barring any alternative views. Yet on the other side, telling the same citizens ( not to chase after paper grades (i.e. diversify from that 1 school of thought).

To me, the game is still the same. Except the rules to the game have changed.

Yes, for IP schools, they have been told to ( abandon general academic ability tests. Instead they should focus on identifying sporting and artistic talent as well as students’ strength in specific areas such as languages, mathematics or science.

What that means to the layman: the student has to score well overall to be considered. IN ADDITION, he/she has to be particularly good at something (i.e. time to invest in Olympiad training) to secure a place in DSA (direct school admission), T&C applies.

What is not explained is that this exercise is not making it easier to get into good schools in Singapore. Because at the end of the day, the number of places are still limited and applicants frequently outnumber available places. What it means is that because everyone is scoring so well these days, applicants have to bring something extra to the table to secure admission.

Nobody mentioned anything about a straight D student who has gotten model citizen award for helping to save a life and hence be offered a golden ticket into medicine in NUS (which is the whole point of academic results don't matter isn't it?).

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This event (attached report) rocked the Singaporean eduscape in the past week.

I can sympathize with the teacher because when I first started teaching I was hot tempered and short on patience.

Whilst it is easy to just let go and 'fire away' at the students, the outcome is far more damaging. Potentially antagonizing students and disrupting their learning. I have had to learn this the hard way. I too lost control of the class once earlier in my teaching career. Whatever one says in the fit of anger can be very damaging. And our biology is not helping because the rational side of the brain is not given a chance for input. I got complained about and it caused me much misery. There was not a day subsequently, that I wished I hadn't vent my anger like that.

These days whenever I am teetering on the edge of losing my cool, I always think about my student's plight. How is it like being them. How do they feel. Why are they in this situation...

Once I understand them, it's hard to lose temper on them. And it motivates me to keep getting better at my craft.

On the other hand, if I do need to chastise my students, it is not done in a fit of anger but calmly and always explaining what is in it for them and how they can come out of it a better person. That way, students begin to understand that I am picking on the deed, not the person. And that I have their well-being at heart. And that I am not doing it for myself.

A career in education is a journey. We learn a lot about ourselves, just as our students. Sometimes, I think we benefit much more than the students, because in order to do good for and by our students, we have to become better versions of ourselves first. 
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