Another dot in the blogosphere?

Our cat belly

Posted on: March 29, 2016

If you follow a recent hashtag, you might get the impression that the edu-world seems to be visiting Singapore for ICTLT 2016.

It is not, of course, but the biennial event does attract some truly Twitter famous, some wannabes, and zombies.

But this reflection is not about edu-celebrities or the undead. It is a hard look in the mirror.

Our friends from near and far are attracted to our shores because of the reputation Singapore has in schooling. This is in no small part due to our PISA scores and ranking [BBC] [OECD] [ST].

They come here wanting to know how we consistently get good test results. Even without ICTLT, delegates visit our schools and universities to gain insights from snapshots and showcases.

When I was a professor at the National Institute of Education, Singapore, I hosted visitors who wanted to learn about us. I would advise our visitors to get balanced views. One of the things I recommended was they did not just visit the usual suspects of schools.

I had no problem being part of a public relations machine and tooted our horn politely when it was deserved. But I had a moral obligation to make sure that the time, money, and effort our visitors spent was to get accurate snapshots, not severely photoshopped or Instagram-filtered ones.

There is true and there is too good to be true.

What does all this have to do with a cat’s belly?

Cats generally do not like you to touch their bellies because that is their most vulnerable spot. In a fight, damage there will incapacitate or be fatal.

It is a great sign of trust if a family cat or a very friendly stray presents its belly to you. The message it sends is: I trust you not to attack me at my most vulnerable.

ICTLT delegates should know that Singapore has a collective cat belly. Our schooling belly is a combination of exam focus and exam smarts. This stomach is fed by excessive tuition. Such tuition is so rampant that is has been described as the shadow schooling system here (see 2015 graphic, backup).

I have a Diigo collection of resources on the state of tuition in Singapore. Here is a small and more recent sample:

Other Diigo links on Singapore tuition are available here.

Do we trust our educator friends enough to show them our underbelly even as we show off all that is new and shiny? Will they be blind to what lurks in the shadows or might they choose not to see what lies beneath?

I say we be honest about all factors that contribute to our test-smart culture. Schooling has a role and home support in mostly affluent Singapore is another factor. The statistics and news articles about our reliance on tuition — we are the Tuition Nation — cannot be ignored.

Look at it this way. You cannot claim to have visited Singapore if you have only seen the Marina Bay Sands area. You also need to visit a kopitiam or hawker centre. You cannot assume that our architecture is only like the award-winning Interlace. You need to see how 80% of our population lives in HDB flats.

You will still find a few stray cats in HDB void decks (ground-level open spaces underneath the apartments). Will we present how the majority live and what the majority do? Will we expose our collective cat bellies?

1 Response to "Our cat belly"

SzeYee: RT @ashley: Dare we expose our collective “cat belly”? #edsg via


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