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We celebrate Singapore’s 54th National Day tomorrow. Kids in school, kids at heart, and kids of all ages at the ND Parade will lustily sing Stand Up For Singapore.

Perhaps we might take a moment to take a critical and humorous look at ourselves.

Perhaps we might also look for different ways to distinguish ourselves. We do not all have to be rats in the same race. We can choose our own paths and be thankful for the circumstances that allow us to do so.


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This is my response to newspaper articles [Today] [STonline] on a study by Singapore’s Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). I also respond in longer form to tweets about the articles or study.

First some background, disclosures, and caveats.

According to one article, the study was “a quantitative look at the views of 1,500 citizen or permanent resident (PR) parents with children in local primary schools on their perceptions about Singapore’s education system at that level”.

I am not linked to the IPS nor do I have a stake in what it does. As an educator, I have a stake in how people process reports of such studies because it reflects our collective capacity to think critically.

My intent is to provide some insights based on my experiences as a teacher educator and researcher. In the latter capacity, I have had to design and conduct research, supervise it, and be consulted on designs, strategies, and methodologies.

However, without full and immediate access to the actual IPS report and data, I have to take the newspaper articles at face value. I also have to assume that the research group implemented the survey-based study rigorously and ethically.

The headline by the Today paper was click(bait)-worthy. It was not the only finding, but the paper thought it would grab eyeballs.

At least two people tweeted and wanted to know if other stakeholders like parents and the students themselves were asked about the impact of the PSLE.


I understand their concerns, but this was probably not on the research agenda. I say this not to dismiss the importance of their questions.

Good research is focused in order to be practical, to manage limited time and resources, and to shed a spotlight on a fuzzy issue. The questions about teachers and students could be addressed in another study.

It might help to view the study as a snapshot of early stage policy implementation. MOE has passed policy of “every school, a good school” and shared upcoming changes to the PSLE. The big question is: What is the buy in?

MOE can more easily manage the buy in among teachers and students. Parents are a different matter, so the study rightfully focused on that group.

The study was not about making any comparison. It was about taking a snapshot of public opinion.

This is also not a question that the IPS could seek answers to in mainstream schools here. Except for international, private, and most special needs schools, all mainstream Primary schools subscribe to the PSLE and do not have alternatives like e-portfolios. Some home-schooled children even take the PSLE.

This is actually a critical question that needs to be asked.

Our Prime Minister hinted at it in his National Day Rally speech in 2013 and MOE responded with some changes — IMO superficial changes — in late 2016.

If enough stakeholders question the timing or value of PSLE, then the followup questions revolve around the WHEN and HOW of change.

According to the ST article, “the sample of parents… had a proportionate number of children in almost all the 180 or so primary schools here.”

Now this could mean that there was less than ten parents representing each school on average. We cannot be sure if some schools were over or under-represented, nor can we be absolutely certain that the respondents were representative of parents in general. This is why national surveys rely on large returns.

That said, surveys, whether voluntary or solicited, tend to be taken by those who want to have their say. You can never be absolutely certain if you have are missing a silent majority or have a data from a vocal minority. However, a large return tends to balance things out.

The survey study seemed to rely on descriptive statistics. At least, that is what the papers focused on. If that is the case, a statistical analysis was not in the design. If it was, there would be specific research questions based on hypotheses.

Not every study needs a statistical analysis. If this was a snapshot or preliminary study, the descriptive statistics paint a picture that highlight more questions or help policymakers suggest future strategies.

Overall, I do not fault a study for attempting to paint a broad picture that no one else seemed to have a clear view of. It sets the stage for more query and critical analysis.

But I do have one more potshot to take and it is directed at the newspapers.

The contrast of what was highlighted by each paper of the same study could not be more stark.

To be fair, both papers had a few articles on the same study to highlight different topics. But what the newspapers choose to tweet is an indication of what they value. This is no different from what any of us chooses to tweet.

I chose to call out the subjectivity of any press that thinks of itself as objective or impartial. Any study and press article has bias, some have more and some less.

As content creators, we should make our bias transparently obvious. As critical thinkers and doers, we should try to figure out what the biases are first.

Singapore celebrates its 49th birthday today.

I wonder how many governments in other countries have songs for their independence, national, or constitution days. That might be like asking for a new birthday song every year instead of being happy with the Happy Birthday song.

Singapore seemed to hit the sweet spot in the 80s (and maybe the early 90s) when songs which were penned then not only rhymed, they also persist to this day. They are so much better that they are remixed and updated today. But like some Hollywood rehashes of older movies, the songs end up sounding awful or their music videos look like soulless monsters.

We do not have a unique national day song this year. We have a “chimera” of two songs that is part human and part crippled horse. When you listen to it, you can tell which part is which.

Our national day songs are meant to bring people together and/or to mark some achievement. But I think we use an outdated approach.

The old approach was to keep going back to the same small pool of talent to churn out those songs. These days we have a wider range of talent and they have different perspectives and agendas. There is nothing wrong with that; that is just how the world is now. I say we take advantage of that diversity.


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This year, mrbrown decided to focus on food, something that is close to the heart (and stomach) of true blue (red and white) Singaporeans. His music video is affectionately titled Jiak Simi (translated: What Are You Eating).


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In 2011, a group shot Run Through Singapore. It was not done by one of the usual suspects with the usual strategy. It featured a runner going past some popular spots in Singapore, and not just the usual tourist hangouts but the heartlands as well.


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That same year we laughed at ourselves with this video. It was not conceived as a national day video, but it was based on one of our most revered national songs. We are turning 49 as a country and we still take ourselves too seriously.

I would like to see the day where we really celebrate what it means to be older and wiser. This means accepting and getting the best from our differences. We already have the economic success story drilled into our heads (small fishing village to thriving metropolis). We do not need to be reminded of that during our birthday.

There are so many things to celebrate. A louder voice, a greater choice. Our own way of struggling with diversity in a VUCA world. These are things that are fuzzy and best left to creative people and a decentralized approach.

Perhaps we will start to see this when we turn 50…

We celebrate Singapore’s 48th birthday tomorrow.


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The video above is the much maligned theme song for 2013. You only have to trawl social media and YouTube to find out why.


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You do not have to search hard to find this collection of complaints. If you do not want to listen to the song again, put it on mute and enjoy the comments.

If anything at all, this confirms that we are a nation of couch complainers.


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Personally, I would rather see independent efforts like the video above.

Or we could have videos where we laugh at ourselves for taking ourselves too seriously. By this I mean intentionally funny ones, not accidentally funny ones where the others laugh at us.


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