March 27, 2017


by -
0 0

by Suhaile Md

MOST of the 6 per cent of Singaporeans who used their SkillsFuture Credits for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were below 40, reported SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) on Sunday (Jan 8). Busy with work and with little time to spare, it’s no wonder that MOOCs, which allow users to learn at a time and place of their choosing, appeal to the busy working Singaporean. Given its flexibility and eligibility for credit use, you might want to consider it too.

The Middle Ground needs your support to continue serving up credible, balanced and independent news. Help us make a difference by being our patron! Thanks!

SkillsFuture Credits cannot be used for just any MOOC though. It has to be one that has been approved by SSG. Still, there is a wide variety of over 2,000 courses that SSG has identified on its website. The three most popular courses were on business administration, Python programming language, and web development.

Currently (Jan 09), there are 2,212 MOOCs on the list. The courses range from general topics in problem solving to specialised ones like how to code and develop apps.

Here’s a breakdown according to course categories, costs, and duration:


All 2,212 courses are categorised into 36 areas. The top 10 subject areas, shown in the graph above, make up nearly 92 per cent (2032) of all courses. Most courses are provided by either Coursera or Udemy.

Information and Communications by far has the most number of courses at 829 offerings (37 per cent). It includes courses on web development, programming languages like Python, Javascript, and C++, among others.

Business Management stands at second place with 325 courses (14.7 per cent). These include project management, foundations of business strategies, and conflict resolution, among others. There are some topics, like learning how to use Excel spreadsheets, or making a PowerPoint presentation, that some would consider under Business Management. But on the SSG site, these fall under “Administration”, which is a separate category on its own.

Likewise, subjects that can fall under advertising, sales and marketing, or accounting and finance, have separate categories of their own. They do not fall under the generic Business Management grouping. If these areas are considered business-related topics on the whole, then a total of 586 (26.5 per cent) of courses are available.

Beyond the top 10 categories, the remaining 26 make up only 8 per cent (180) of all courses. Some areas like fashion, sports, real estate, and marine and port services, have only one course each. 



The most expensive course ($795, before GST) on the site is a 100-hour business and financial modelling course. It’s a five-module course, created by the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania in the United States, offered on the Coursera platform.

The cheapest costs $20 for about four to 12 hours of courses, on varied topics from learning how to use Excel, to launching social media marketing campaigns.

You can search for courses according to price range, but the values are preset on the site. The ranges are: Between $0 and $10, $10 and $50, $50 and $100, $100 and $500, $500 and $1,000. It goes higher, to $5,000, but there are no courses that reach that price range.

Note though, that the G gave $500 worth of credits to those 25 years old and above. Exceed the credit in your account, and you pay for the balance out of your own pocket. Also, there are plenty of free courses on Coursera and Udemy that are not reflected on the SSG site.



How much time do I need?

You can also search for courses according to the time commitment required to complete it. Like the price range search function, the time values are preset to specific ranges: Less than a day to one day, one day to one week, one week to a month, a month to six months, six months to a year, and over a year.

However, there is no clear definition of what “a day” actually means. Courses listed “a day” long range from 8.70 hours to 11.70 hours, the last of which is in effect longer than a full work day. However, you don’t have to complete the required hours in one shot, so you can spread it over a week, for instance. The shortest courses are three and a half hours long, and are considered “less than a day”.

The longest courses take 280 hours – there are only two of those. These fall under the one month to six month range. Search for courses longer than six months, and nothing turns up. So, assuming 280 hours over six months amounts to about 11.5 hours a week, or about one and a half hour per day, every day.

Yet there are also 90-hour courses that are categorised between the one week to one month range. Even if a full month is taken, it amounts to 22.5 hours a week – no small commitment if you’re working!

Basically, course duration is a very rough guide. Read the details of each course to find out more.


Featured image Julia Roy – Gmail Mastery Photoshoot by Flickr user Julia Roy(CC BY 2.0)

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.


by -
0 0

by Daniel Yap

IT USED to define a person, this “graduate” label. Especially so in the civil service, which until Jan 1 classified all staff under Divisions I, II, III and IV, with Division I being graduates, and the other divisions being lesser mortals without degrees and with stunted pay scales, promotion prospects and a clearly numbered class divide.

When I finished my diploma, I knew that I could not take to joining the civil service as a second-class employee, and I had no intention of pursuing a degree course that simply repeated what I learned in polytechnic, albeit with expanded theory. If I had graduated today, I would have seriously considered the civil service: I had confidence that my skills and potential were at least equal to a uni grad’s.

Now that system has been done away with and civil servants will only be classified according to their grade, which reflects their responsibilities and remuneration. This dismantling of an outmoded system was announced in 2014 and was put into practice gradually since 2015, with uniformed services and the civil service beginning the practice of hiring non-graduates into graduate career schemes.

What will these changes bring about in reality?


A different way to get ahead

Now, a polytechnic diploma holder will typically have a two or three-year career head start over a degree holder. This is a huge boost for those pursuing non-specialist management roles.

Although there’s still practically no way for someone to “become” an accountant or maritime engineer just by plugging away at work, some management roles can be trained up easily on the job. Employees should ask their supervisors which skills they need to work on and take the feedback seriously by asking about short courses that would help.

With the glass ceiling removed, everyone is incentivised to perform better and even innovate, if no other bureaucratic constraints come in to squash new ideas.

Patrons of The Middle Ground enjoy priority access to our best stories. To become a patron, click here.


Slow mindset change?

Today, those with the will and the skills need not feel that there is a bureaucratic barrier holding them back from rising up the ranks. But certainly some vestige of the old way of thinking will still be left inside and certainly outside the civil service. Some people do cherish their often hard-earned status as a “graduate”, even if it means little in practice.

Habits die hard and worldviews die even harder. If someone has spent their life preaching (and hearing mother preach) that a degree is THE path to success, they will be loathe to change their bearing, even when the tide is against them.

It will be the middle and top managers with this dated mindset that will be a drag on culture change. They could potentially hold back thousands of capable individuals and trigger a loss of confidence that the civil service really wants to change. The organization will be accused of hypocrisy and reform will be grindingly slow.


Private sector change

Surely, one of the hoped-for effects of the civil service change will be for the private sector to embrace a skills-based future and tone down on paper-chase hiring practices.

But Singapore’s largest employer will probably have a more robust assessment and review system and good HR practices, compared to many smaller companies. Their promoting managers are going to be guess-timating level of performance and, sad to say, guess-timation often regresses to the lowest common denominator – that piece of paper earned 10 years ago.

But for small companies, simple solutions like having an annual or bi-annual review checklist will help greatly. Ask questions such as whether the employee enhances his team’s performance, whether his attitude is positive and productive, and make a list of skills that he has and a list of skills that he needs to improve on. Then plan what new responsibilities he will have to take on in the coming year and when (and how) you expect him to pick up the skills for the new responsibility.

When hiring, look for a culture fit, chat about the industry and administer a simple (and practical) knowledge test. Even outsourcing part of the hiring process can be financially prudent, relative to the cost of hiring (and the cost of hiring a poor fit for the job). If you have no HR experience, there are short courses that are available via ASME, SNEF and public and private institutions. You could search the SkillsFuture course directory too.


Education must offer more

I’m not talking about the fact that the salary structures for grad and non-grad teachers have merged since October 2015. If and when skills, knowledge and gumption become the hardest currency in the career game, then education will have no choice but to evolve to produce students with exactly those characteristics.

Education and career guidance will help sharpen students’ skills development pathways even when they are still in school, and with such centres already in every polytechnic and ITE, students will be better equipped to meet employer and industry skill demand right out of the box.

Universities, both private and public, would have to justify that two or three year delay to starting a career by imparting skills and knowledge that puts their students four years ahead of the curve. Is it even possible?

Let’s answer the question with another question: do graduates succeed because they are intrinsically talented, or because they used their talents to earn a degree?


From flipping burgers to the corner office

I’d love to see the day when some gutsy post-secondary school dropout climbs from an operations support role into management (like they sometimes do at companies like McDonald’s). It would signal that on the job training is very strong in the civil service and that any person in the system has a chance of realising their full potential, even if they had a bad start.

Can a dropout beat a scholar? In Silicon Valley they can. Will a “nobody” rise through the ranks and join the Admin Service? Become a Perm Sec? Or are the paths of PSC scholars still closely guarded, and excluded to everyone else?


This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:


Featured image from Pixabay user Pexels. (CC0 1.0)

If you like this article, like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Wan Ting Koh

TO MR Jerome Lau, the KiasuParent controversy was “a bit blown out of proportion”.

Whether the mother chose to withhold the Nintendo DS from her son is entirely up to her, as it’s “the right of the parent”, the father-of-two said. Besides, the child’s score may not be the reason for withholding his toy.

“Whether you score or don’t score may be one of the reason but the main cause is the kid doesn’t know how to control himself. If you don’t know how to control, [even if] you score 280, I would also take your DS,” said Mr Lau.

Mr Lau is one of the filmmakers of Juanzi2: PSLE-Go, a 25-minute film revolving around two PSLE students coping with their exams. One of the students, 12-year-old Zihui, is stricken by the fear of disappointing her parents.

Juanzi2 was first screened on Nov 10, some two weeks before the actual PSLE results were released last Thursday (Nov 24). Mr Lau said he and fellow filmmaker Stanley Yap wanted to bring across the message that understanding a child is important, and that parents and educators should not judge a child’s success based on examination results.

Mr Lau is one of an emerging group of parents who feel that too much focus is being put on PSLE results and other academic pursuits. Recently, another group called 100 Voices came together to spread the message that there are more ways to achieve success outside of academics. Mr Lau joined the group in the second week of November, saying that it was sending “the right message”.

As for the film, it was a personal project for Mr Lau in more ways than one. The 39-year-old’s son was also one of those receiving their results last week. His son did “okay”, said Mr Lau, with a T-score of 243, which fell within an expected range. He added, however, that his 12-year-old son could have put in more effort in his preparation.

But beyond its message, the film gave Mr Lau an opening to talk about suicide with his kids. “It gets the conversation started and they are more aware and they know that we are always there for them and that they can always talk to us,” said Mr Lau.

We asked Mr Lau five questions about the film and what he hoped other parents can learn from it.


1. What is your takeaway from making the film, and how will it change the way you teach your children?

One of the key takeaway from making this film was that the topic of teenage suicide is a taboo subject that our society should really open up and discuss more. There are many factors contributing to the increasing trend of teenage suicide and one of which is the academic pressure faced by our children and expectations weighed on them by the parents which we covered in our film.

In terms of my own parenting, it doesn’t change how I will teach my children which is to raise them with the right values and character.


2. What do you think is needed to change the mindset of parents and children?

I think many things are needed but the important thing is to have the parents themselves see that they actually do have a choice in how they want to raise their children and not compare with others and trying to meet or better the “norm”.


3. How important do you think PSLE is for children, and why?

For all who have gone through the Singapore education system, at 12 years old, all of us knew that PSLE was the most important milestone at that age. It’s still important because it’s part of our education system and it allows our children to evaluate themselves at that point in their journey so they can choose how to continue their education journey at a pace where their potential can be best fulfilled.

This sounds like some motherhood statement but there is wisdom in the system simply because like most things in society, we have limited resources and we need to maximise what we have to benefit the most people.


4. What would you say to parents who insist that PSLE and academics are the only indications of a child’s success?

My advice is that no one factor should determine a child’s success. In fact, I don’t believe we should even judge our child at all. A child is still developing and learning things every single moment and it’s unfair to say if they are successful or a failure.

In fact, I don’t believe we should even judge our child at all.

To me, a child is a reflection of the parents yet the parents cannot be fully responsible for their child’s development. All the parent can do is to teach and guide their child and help them grow and discover themselves.


5. What advice do you have for parents whose children will take PSLE in the future?

For parents, please spend time to understand your child and their strengths and weaknesses and their interests. PSLE doesn’t mean the child has to stop doing everything and only focus on the preparation. Just like us adults, we need our own space and time to do the things that we like and enjoy doing.

No one can work for long hours, seven days a week for a long period of time doing the same thing over and over again. Balance is key to PSLE preparation!


You can watch Juanzi2: PSLE-Go for free here


Featured image a screenshot of  Juanzi2:PSLE-GO film.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Natassya Siregar

THE journey towards success is as vast as the sky. There is no telling what you will face on the journey. Being equipped with more skills helps you overcome and weather obstacles, and will allow you to soar high.



This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

  1. Poly vs Private degrees: It’s not the money that matters
  2. Private degrees: data needs to tell a fuller skills story 
  3. 5 new jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago
  4. SMACK IN THE MIDDLE: Keys to success
  5. 5 skills employers want you to have in tomorrow’s job market
  6. Don’t underestimate ‘soft skills’ in your career
  7. 50 Faces: What is success to you?
  8. Got an F in school? There are still ‘100 ways’ to be successful


Featured image by Natassya Siregar.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

Photo of clock face with hands pointed to half past eight.

IT HAPPENS every year. On the day the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results are released, parents flock to KiasuParents, an online forum, crashing the website.

On the forum, which has more than 125,000 members, parents submit and compare their children’s scores with everyone else’s, hoping to pin down which schools did better. “Every school is a good school”? Yeah, right.

It happened again yesterday (Nov 25), with the website crashing three times due to “capacity problems”, said Madam Soon Lee Yong, 43, a co-founder.

She may be the kiasu-est of them all. Consider her response to her son, after he collected his results yesterday – the teenage boy had scored all As, but only achieved a T-score of 229. She had expected him to score about 250. T-scores, short for transformed scores, are calculated to reflect how well a student does in relation to other students.

He texted her: “Are you angry?”

Her reply: “You can forget about getting your Nintendo DS.”

That was what she had promised to buy him if he scored 250, said TODAY.

Yesterday’s results showed a record 98.4 per cent of students qualifying to move on to secondary school – up from 98.3 per cent last year. About two-thirds can opt for the Express stream; the rest will go to Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) courses, said the Ministry of Education.

A total of 38,808 students took the exam. About 1.6 per cent, or 620 students did not qualify for secondary school.

In other news, the Ministry of Trade and Industry gave its report card for the year, shaving this year’s economic growth forecast from 1 per cent to 2 per cent, to its new estimate of 1 per cent to 1.5 per cent. The ministry added, however, that it expected next year’s figures to be slightly better – probably 1 per cent to 3 per cent.

It’s not just the economy that’s looking a little grey. Expect heavy rains and flash floods from next month, with the north-east monsoon coming this way. Between December and January, there are going to be plenty of brief, thundery showers – mostly in the afternoons and in the evenings on some days.

People who live in low-lying areas, watch out for flash floods when heavy rain coincides with high tides. To see a list of flood-prone areas in Singapore, click here.

Speaking of gloomy, a new survey has found that millennial Singaporeans are among the world’s gloomiest youngsters. Around half reported feeling pessimistic about their career prospects, saying that they probably would not be able to find a comparable or better job if they became unemployed.

The survey by the ManpowerGroup, a human resource consultancy, also found that Singapore millennials worked more hours in a week than the Japanese, who are notorious for putting in long hours. On average, Singaporean respondents said they worked 48 hours a week.

This was second only to India, whose young workers topped the list at 50 hours a week.


Featured image from TMG file.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by -
0 0

by Suhaile Md

TEN years ago, a cloud was just a cloud. Today, the word is used as part of a skill set employers can’t do without. Cloud-computing, along with search engine optimisation, marketing campaign management, data mining, and information security were among the skills most sought after by employers, said LinkedIn. The professional networking platform analysed recruitment activities on its portal and published the results on Oct 19.

It’s a foregone conclusion these days that workers need to adapt and upgrade. And displaced workers need to “let old jobs go and get into new jobs”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a labour movement leaders dialogue on Tuesday (Nov 1). That’s because “technology and markets are moving fast and Singapore cannot fight this change”. The dialogue was held at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) headquarters.

But if you’re unsure about which skills to develop, you may want to consider those identified by LinkedIn.

No one becomes an expert in a few days, but the introductory courses listed below give a head start. You can then decide if it’s something you wish to pursue further.

And the good news: You can use your SkillsFuture credits. If a course is subsidised, the credits can be used on top of the subsidy.


1. Cloud and distributed computing

Simply put, cloud computing is about storing your data and computer programmes online. Storing your pictures on sites like Flickr, documents on Google Drive or Office Online by Microsoft, the Apple iCloud, Dropbox, and so on, are examples of cloud computing services.

It’s a growing field. According to PC Magazine, an American computer magazine, the global market for cloud computing was US$100 billion ($122 billion) in 2012. By 2020, it’s expected to be worth US$270 billion.


Cloud computing concepts, Coursera.
Duration: 32.5 hours, part-time, online.
Cost: $49.

Legal and Regulatory consideration in Cloud computing, National University of Singapore.
Duration: three days, full time.
Cost: $3,000. $900 after subsidy.


2. SEO marketing

In 1994, there were 3,000 websites. By 2014, there were over a billion websites. That’s a 33 million per cent increase. If you have a business, how do you make it visible to customers online?

That’s where search engine optimisation, or SEO, comes in. It makes websites more visible on search engines like Google. You may sell the cutest pet clothing online for example. But if someone googles “pet clothing” and your website does not appear on the search results, he’s not going to see what you have to offer. Much less buy them. SEO skills will help surmount that challenge.


SEO marketing training, Marketing Institute of Singapore.
Duration: two days, full-time.
Cost: $1,200.

Essential SEO training for successful web marketing, Udemy.
Duration: nine hours, part-time, online.
Cost: $60.


3. Statistical analysis and data mining

What do people buy and when do they do so? Is there a pattern to when most people come down with the flu? What do people surf online at eight in the morning? How different is that to eight at night?

Every time the cashier scans what you bought, or when you register at the polyclinic, or clicked that link on Facebook, data is captured. Data mining and statistical analysis is about organising and analysing that data. This can reveal useful patterns and relationships which help to answer questions like those above.


Business intelligence analytics, National University of Singapore.
Duration: three days, full time.
Cost: $3,000. $900 after subsidy.

Fundamentals of data mining, SIM University.
Duration: 36 hours, part-time.
Cost: $1,180.


4. Marketing campaign management

Marketeers help businesses win over and retain customers. And a marketing campaign is a series of activities that help a marketeer do just that. It requires an understanding of how customers behave, the needs that you’re trying to fulfil, the features that would attract them and so on.


Develop digital marketing campaign, Singapore Institute of Retail Studies.
Duration: three days, full time.
Cost: $2,150. $645 after subsidy.

Marketing management, SIM University.
Duration: 36 hours, part-time.
Cost: $1,180.


5. Network and information security

The private information of over half a million people were leaked online thanks to a security breach at the Australian Red Cross. The leak came to light last Friday (Oct 28). Besides addresses, the information breached also included personal details like whether or not someone had engaged in sex work, gay sex or had taken drugs.

Closer to home, karaoke company, K Box, was hacked two years ago. Over 300,000 customers had their identification numbers, addresses and mobile numbers published online. The role of an information security expert is to guard against such attacks and keep data safe from prying eyes.


Learning network technology and security, Udemy.
Duration: Nine hours, part-time, online.
Cost: $60.

Information security management, SIM University.
Duration: 36 hours, part-time.
Cost: $1,180.


This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

1. Poly vs Private degrees: It’s not the money that matters

2. Private degrees: data needs to tell a fuller skills story 

3. 5 new jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago

4. SMACK IN THE MIDDLE: Keys to success

6. Don’t underestimate ‘soft skills’ in your career

7. 50 Faces: What is success to you?



Featured image Central Business District by Flickr user Jan. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Natassya Siregar

HAVING good grades isn’t the only way to success – explore different life skills which can then unlock different paths to success.


This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

1. Poly vs Private degrees: It’s not the money that matters

2. Private degrees: data needs to tell a fuller skills story 

3. 5 new jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago

5. 5 skills employers want you to have in tomorrow’s job market

6. Don’t underestimate ‘soft skills’ in your career

7. 50 Faces: What is success to you?


Featured image by Natassya Siregar.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Felix Cheong

This week, a fictitious young man, Jack Leo, is confused by smoke signals fanned by the G. Is he supposed to study engineering to please the economy? Or maybe he’s supposed to step up as a cyber security expert? Or a criminal lawyer? You’d need to be chameleon to satisfy the G’s aspirations for you.

CAN the Government please make up its mind what exactly it wants me to study? Stop sending so many crossed signals, like the train fault screwing up the East-West Line four times this week.

In July, in a Youth Day message, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told young people to follow their dreams. “Your dreams today can become your passions tomorrow,” he said.

Inspired, I signed up immediately for a workshop on clowning, which involved eight hours of watching Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump speeches, played simultaneously on a split-screen.

But then, in the same week, Mr Lee also said, at the 50th anniversary of the Institute of Engineers, the country is in dire need of engineers. “One can argue that Singapore was built on the backs of engineers,” he said.

I knew he was hinting, in no uncertain terms, for me to take up engineering. So I retooled my passion by sending out applications to the engineering schools of NUS, NTU, SIT and UniSIM. It didn’t matter if I was intellectually suited for the field. If my country needed my humble cog well-oiled for the economy, I’d roll with it.

But then, at the end of July, an article in The Straits Times, which I read more religiously than the Bible, said that Singapore needs more R & D scientists “to study cutting-edge tech to make a difference”.

Something clicked and everything, even my Mom, fell into place. This was my dream at last, what I was meant to do for my “One People, One Nation, One Singapore”. Even though I had no idea what biotechnology is – I figured I’d know soon enough when classes start – I immediately sent out applications to NUS, NTU, SIT and UniSIM.

But what has detoured my pursuit of my country’s dreams for me, are various newspaper reports this month pointing out shortfalls in the job market. First, UniSIM said its new law school – Singapore’s third – will produce much-needed lawyers in family and criminal law.

Even though applications have already closed for the upcoming academic year, I decided my dream was really to make it as a criminal lawyer. Engineering and R & D could wait.

So, with encouragement from my Dad, a lifelong learner who’s never worked a day in his life because he’s too busy attending courses, I put in an application to study law next year.

But then, an ST article on Sun (Oct 23) reported that Singapore needs more cyber security professionals. Fearing I’d miss the boat if I didn’t act soon, I sent out applications to the usual suspects to study IT.

This was before I read another article in the same edition that the social service sector also faces a shortfall of about 500 people a year.

Ah, I could be of some use here. Or so I thought. Before I could put in another application to study social work at NUS, yet another ST article, on Monday (Oct 24), talked about a manpower shortfall in the community care sector.

By now, you’d be as bewildered as me. What does my country want of me? What does it want me to study? What kind of passion should I have? And what – or whose – dreams should I follow?

A clown can only juggle so many balls.

Jack Leo


Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Bertha Henson

WE DON’T talk about suicides because there’s plenty of evidence that this will invite copycats. But sometimes we have to. So Mainstream Media (MSM) broke some editorial guidelines on reporting suicides when it covered the case of an 11-year-old student who fell 17 stories to his death in Sengkang.

MSM did the right thing – and kudos to The New Paper (TNP) for covering the coroner’s inquiry earlier this week. It’s too heartbreaking for words but I’ll attempt to re-cap what happened in May to the boy and his family. They can’t be named because of his age. Nor can his school.

Before you ask, he didn’t leave a note. His father, 47, a customer service engineer, wanted to believe that he fell out his bedroom window at first. In other words, an accident. Although why the boy would be leaning out of the window while he was getting ready to go to school isn’t answered. But the immediate reaction of his mother, a housewife, on finding their son’s body at the foot of the block was illuminating. A police officer on the scene recalled that she was lamenting that she “only asked for 70 marks” and that she didn’t ask for 80 marks. That, plus the fact that he would be going to school to collect his results slips to show his parents.

The boy already knew how he fared for his mid-year Primary Five examination even before he received his result slips. He had failed two subjects, getting 12 marks for Higher Chinese and 20.5 marks for Mathematics. He scraped through English (50), Chinese (53.8) and Science (57.5). His teacher noticed how upset he was at failing two subjects. This isn’t surprising given that he used to score 70 marks and above in the previous four years.

So what happened?

The school said that students at Primary Five usually see a dip in results because of changes to the examination format to prepare them for the Primary School Leaving Examination the next year. There was a parents’ briefing earlier in the year for teachers to tell parents about their expectations. It seemed the boy’s parents did attend the briefing or other parent-teacher meetings.

You wonder about how drastic the changes were to let an average student move 70 marks to a mere 12 as the boy did for Higher Chinese. You wonder if his classmates fared in the same way or whether he was unique. You wonder if he had asked about his other classmates’ results and discovered that he was not alone. If he did, perhaps he wouldn’t have felt so bad.

All these questions are moot because the fact remained that he killed himself. It’s tempting to point fingers at the mother, who kept a hawk eye on his results and employed a carrot and stick approach. How many parents do the same? Obtain marks beyond a certain grade and you get an iPhone or bicycle; go below and get caned for every mark that was missed.

The coroner’s inquiry was told that she was “flexible” in this regard and would take into account the level of difficulty of the examination papers. You wonder if she had known that the format was different.

Every parent who has read this sad story would probably be examining their own attitudes to their children’s education. And it would be difficult for any parent to accept that it could be their own attitudes that have pushed their child to take such an extreme step.

Although she didn’t refer to the suicide Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin wrote in her Facebook yesterday: “We were all children once. We all do remember what it was like to open a result slip and see that glaring red mark or to hear that passing comment ‘You could have/should have done better’.”

“In that horrible moment, that result doesn’t feel like it’s just a result, it feels more like a judgment of who you are. And if that moment is not dealt with, not openly talked about, it can become a part of your identity.”

When I was 10, I failed two subjects. It was Chinese and History, which was being taught in the mother tongue as an experiment then. From being a top student to actually failing not one subject but two was so traumatic that I started crying even before I got home. I lived through the blasting from my mother. At age 10, the idea of killing yourself simply doesn’t cross your mind. Rather you’re thinking about ways to lessen the impact that will come, even wishing that there was some way to forge your parent’s signature.

But statistics on teen suicides today are alarming. Last year, 27 children aged between 10 and 19 killed themselves, according to the Samaritans of Singapore. Two years before, it was 13. I can only imagine how hard it is for investigators to probe a family on the probable cause of a child’s suicide. Imagine asking: “Did you scold him earlier in the day?”

TNP reported that a questionnaire will be developed for such investigators. They will have to look into salient factors such as depression, schizophrenia, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, impulse control and rage issues.

Some many theories have put forward for the surge with the usual scapegoat being the education system. Parents will say that they pressure their children because that’s the way to succeed academically. They find it hard to believe teachers and officials who say that they’ve already changed enough of the system to reduce the stress to be “exam-smart”.

No parent wants to drive their children to death. They want their children to succeed. They want children to fear failure, forgetting they too have had failures in their past – and that they are still on their feet.

I like what Ms Kuik said in her note:

“The uncomfortable truth is that the only way we can teach our children such emotional resilience in the face of failure is to ensure we ourselves have dealt with our story about failing and feeling like a failure. If we are uncomfortable dealing with failure in our own lives, the chances of passing on those self-destructive stories to our children is much higher.

“If your child brings you a terrible report card or shows you a shocking grade for some spelling test, emotionally centre yourself before you say anything. Take your time to figure out what to say. If you can’t speak it, write it. Writing forces you to be more careful.

“The words of a parent are profoundly powerful. Somehow they always impact identity. That’s why it’s worth measuring out, weighing out, calibrating our words thoughtfully for good effect. Remember words once said, can never ever really be taken back.”

“Remember words once said, can never ever really be taken back.”

Yup, the words of a parent are powerful.

They can raise you up – or cut you to the quick.

It remains for me to offer my condolences to the family – father, mother and 16-year-old daughter. May your son rest in peace.


Featured image Look At All My Designs by Flickr user Daniel Lee. (CC BY-ND 2.0)

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

PSB's new city campus at Marina Square, which will host more than 6,000 students.
PSB's new city campus at Marina Square, which will host more than 6,000 students.

by Daniel Yap

DEGREES from private education institutions (PEIs) are inferior to those conferred by “local” universities. At least that’s what a recent Graduate Employability Survey commissioned by the Council for Private Education (CPE) seemed to suggest: PEI grads had lower employment numbers and lower median salaries compared to NTU, NUS and SMU grads.

But the survey has provoked protests and probing questions. What the survey didn’t take into account and didn’t mention is as important as what it headlined.

For example, no other figures were announced, meaning that there was very little context. CPE said that it did have a breakdown of figures for the nine schools it surveyed, but would leave it up to the schools to announce them. Will they ever see the light of day?

Even if those numbers eventually get published, what remains missing is the very simple question of how prospective students should approach the decision to further their studies.

Is it just for the attraction of a higher salary? Is it to simply have that cert on the wall so that you don’t lose face? Or did you really want to learn something and challenge yourself? Or embark on a career that contributes to society?

Then maybe median graduate salary is not the best measure (it is certainly not the only one). Not all PEI students are holding a fresh A-level certificate or diploma, and not everyone is doing it for a fatter pay package. About half of the students at PSB Academy, for example, are studying part-time while working. CPE’s survey only covered full-time students.

PSB Academy was not one of the institutions covered by the CPE survey, which was released last week.

Its own graduate and employment survey last year found that about nine in 10 students found employment within six months of graduation, while six in 10 students enjoyed pay increments and/or improved prospects in their careers.

“Students need to be equipped with industry-ready skill-sets to thrive in our future economy,” said Marcus Loh, who is Vice President, Corporate Communications at the PSB Academy. He also said that the reputation of the institution and university, depth and relevance of the course and “practical, not just theoretical experience” that they can transfer to their jobs are key criteria for deciding whether and where to pursue a degree.

Mr Ravi Mehndiratta, who is Assistant Director of Sales & Front Office Operations at the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) in Singaporesaid that industry recognition, robust curriculum, programme management and faculty are the most important factors when considering private education. The school also values industrial attachments for real-world learning.

In other words, if you don’t know exactly what you will be learning, and how it will develop your skills, then there’s a high chance you will not be benefiting fully from your course.

If you have a diploma from a good polytechnic course, then you have to look for further education that really upgrades your skills and knowledge, not one that, at great expense, simply upgrades your “last attained educational level”. You may end up wasting time and money, as two years in your industry may be more relevant and valuable, as long as your employer values your skills (and not merely your paper qualification).

As employers are forced to reckon with productivity challenges, the future seems to lie with skills-based learning, which is an area that PEIs can add value in. One good example is the professional development pathway offered by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). Modular, skills-based frameworks like these allow students to get a focused education on industry skills that they can choose depending on their personal development needs (and the needs of their employers).

Prospective students would enrol in an ACCA accredited school such as LSBF in Singapore and take the certificates or papers they need (and are qualified for). These would be recognised by other educational institutions and employers. Could similar frameworks be developed for other professions and be updated frequently enough to match technological change?

Prospective students need more data and they need better data. Judging what CPE’s “better employment outcomes” really means needs deeper metrics than mere salary levels and employment figures, especially in the move towards recognising skills.

Sometimes, employers, the biases they hold and the red tape they have to deal with, are as much a part of the problem to a lack of recognition for skills-based learning as students and educational institutions are, so employment-side metrics will never be sufficient.

But until we can sort out how best to measure how well students have learnt skills, it is ultimately up to the learner to prove that he or she possesses them – industry-specific skills that make a candidate a productive part of a team, as well as soft skills like negotiating with and convincing employers to give you a job or a bigger pay check.


This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

1. Poly vs Private degrees: It’s not the money that matters

3. 5 new jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago

4. SMACK IN THE MIDDLE: Keys to success

5. 5 skills employers want you to have in tomorrow’s job market

6. Don’t underestimate ‘soft skills’ in your career

7. 50 Faces: What is success to you?


Featured image courtesy of PSB Academy. PSB’s new city campus at Marina Square will host more than 6,000 students.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.