Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The discourse of giftedness

I couldn't believe my eyes when I read this letter in Today newspaper (21st Nov 2005), which is about the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) in Singapore! Let me quote some of the interesting sentences for you....

(1) "You see, GEPers (as we call ourselves) are more mature than most mainstreamers, the result of being in the GEP. The mainstreamers think we are snobbish — when they stereotype us, they are being immature......Being in a specialised class lets us interact with people like us."

(2) "....I didn't have many good friends because I found my classmates to be immature. But when I entered the GEP, I was impressed with my classmates and now we can't bear to part ways."

(3) "Most of us found it boring in mainstream classes, as we knew most of the curriculum and it was easy to get good grades. But when faced with someone at our own level, we step up our efforts to compete."

(4) "The GEP broadens our experience. Nobody minds if a girl mingles with a bunch of boys, or if she is interested in DotA, Final Fantasy VII or PS2 games. We accept each other. Would we be able to do that in the mainstream, where everyone follows the trends or the person who is the "coolest", and everybody starts gossiping if anyone talks to someone of the opposite sex?Nobody except us, the GEPers, could know how much fun we have being in the GEP."

Do I even need to do a critique? :) I can't believe that Today actually published it! I think the writer of the letter needs to see a counsellor.... :)

Let me say that there are too many assumptions involved in this whole 'gifted education' debate. Instead of re-typing everything I've posted as a comment somewhere else, let me reproduce it here:

(1) Against the assumption that "motivated teachers prefer to teach classes full of bright kids rather than classes full of kids who are seen as disruptive wastrels". This is not true...There are good as well as average teachers in all streams. One cannot assume too much about what motivates teachers. Teachers who are more motivated when they see a bright kid and disinterested/demoralized/unmotivated when they see a not-so-bright kid shouldn't be in the education profession.

(2) Against the assumption that "children left in these [Express/Special/Normal stream] classes - the vast majority of children in the educational system - face an environment that makes it harder for them to learn." If that is the case, then the problem is classroom discipline, rather than anything else. Discipline and punish. :)

(3) Against the view that a gifted student must/should be placed in the GEP. It could be bad for his self-esteem, if he's not the most gifted among the gifted (e.g. if he belongs to the bottom half). He might shine and develop more if he goes to Express stream. And yes, there seems to be an assumption that all Express students are nowhere near gifted students in terms of academic cleverness - this is not true: the very good or top Express students are (or can be, as I've seen) as smart or smarter than the bottom half of the GEP.

(4) This leads me to the next point: bear in mind when the test was conducted, and what questions those tests involve. The kids are all so young then. Those hundreds(?) of kids who narrowly missed the 'cut-off point' and then entered Express stream (possibly in top high schools) may well develop faster when they are 13-16 years old, resulting in Situation (3) described above. I think some kids from GEP are indeed 'gifted'. But in principle, I would hesitate to equate test-taking ability with giftedness.

*Due to my lack of giftedness, I wasn't too sure how the 'comments moderation' function works at first and turned it on. Then for 2 days I was wondering 'how come no new comments'? After seeing so many interesting comments 'pending approval' in my account (which I have not checked for years), I have decided to turn that function off! All the comments have been published now - apologies to my friends, fans, and readers! :)

Monday, November 28, 2005

What is an apartment?

What is this thing called an 'apartment'? Is it an asset, or is it an expense item? What exactly is it for?

Many people think that an apartment is an asset, but I think it's not. To me, getting a leasehold property is not very different from renting an apartment. You have to pay so much for it, and in the end it's not even yours forever....

Consider an apartment that costs $200,000 or more: this is really an extremely high amount to pay for a small living space, if the family earns a combined income of about $7,000 or less. I have encountered many people who say, 'But the flats are so nice!' My reaction is, 'Of course they are nice! Look at the price tag!' Expensive goods are always nice!

I personally treat my own apartment as a rented apartment. How can I consider it mine, when I can only finish paying for it 30 years down the road? The looming 'balance to be paid' exerts a great psychological pressure on me every day. I ponder quite often about the possibility of downgrading to a one-room flat, camping by the East Coast beach, or migrating to a developing country for my retirement...All of which then turn out to be unrealistic options, unfortunately. The second option is also not allowed in Singapore; I think some creative local folks have thought of camping as a good way to save $$, but the local police force is too smart for them! ('want to camp by the seaside and save money right...?!! We'll catch you!!)

For the first option, I'm not sure if I'll be eligible for the one-room flat, which will not be big enough for my stuff anyway (e.g. books, clothes, junk, etc). Sometimes I entertain the wild thought of upgrading instead (!) just so that I'll have a bigger space to store my junk. But then I thought, why pay so much just to store things that you will hardly ever use?

So what is an apartment? A place to store junk? My friend recently told me that her nicely renovated condo is simply a place for her to take a shower, get ready for the next day's work, and sleep. Based on this definition, an apartment is an extension of the workplace, for it merely prepares us (and 'repairs' our body) so that we can continue to work, and thus continue to pay for the apartment. This logic leads one to conclude that an apartment is the raison d'etre of a person's life: we exist for the sustenance of the apartment, not the other way round.

I have yet to find a satisfactory answer to the question of what moral status an apartment should have in my life. If anyone could enlighten me on this, that would be great.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The State of the Blogger

Hello everyone, a few months have passed very quickly. How am I now? Below is a status report:

Career: 4 out of 10 (it's improving, I hope...)
Finances: 1 out of 10
Health: 5 out of 10 (I thought it was 8 out of 10, until my X-ray showed some weird results that doesn't tally with how I actually feel! I feel quite alright!)
Morale: High (but not very high)
Emotional state: Happy (but not very happy)
Kungfu level: Reaching the peak soon.... :) (don't come near me!)

Blogging should be carefree & relaxing...

Singapore is the place for a very peculiar kind of blogger. It is my home, where I feel quite natural to be paranoid...When I think about things to blog about, I will always hear whisperings that tell me: 'eh hey, but you can't write that...!' Why is that so? Examples...

1) I want to blog about my personal life....but I can't....I'll leave too many clues about who I am! And who am I anyway? I'm not a big shot at all. Yet, in feeling that the world might want to nail me down, I acquire an arbitrary feeling that I am actually one! Not bad!*

2) I want to blog about my work (not the work that I currently do for my employer - which is a good employer - but the work I did for some other organizations)....but I can't....Why write things that people might one day use against me despite my intentions? People can twist my words after all, if they know the art of 'words-twisting'. What if someone wants to sabotage me...I have been a nice guy all my life, but you'd never know....Nowadays, who will think twice about destroying another man's rice bowl and bringing suffering to his family if they have the power to? Is there still kindness in this world? I do know that one or two people hate me like crazy. I think they're crazy, but well, they do have a right to be crazy...! It's their choice.

3 I want to blog about how I feel towards important people in my life.....such ex, who is in every way a perfect gal. But I can't, because it will let people know that I have made mistakes before in my life....and this is related to the next point.

4) I want to blog about my thoughts, which often involve a profound sense of ambivalence, scepticism, regret, and melancholy. But you can't let people know that you're not a perfect person. In Singapore, it's very unacceptable to be an imperfect person. I know this because I'm still not happy after spending all my life trying to perfect myself: went to top secondary school and JC, did all the 'right' things like learning piano and passed Grade 8, won sports medals for the JC, and even got some award during army days, then went to a global top 30 university somewhere overseas and topped the uni, went for masters and got distinction, but so what? Look at the state of my finances: 1 upon 10!

5) So what do I blog about? Society? Politics? I will then think: why blog about these when I'm so much of an imperfect speck of a great nation? As Confucius said, one should follow the sequence of first cultivating oneself, then get your family/household in order, before thinking about greater things. Thus I should continue to perfect myself, perfect myself to the point where my CV can just burst into flames on its own due to its unbelievable excellence. (Is that really possible? Obviously not, silly me. But Machiavelli has once told me that one should do as prudent archers do when the goal they intend to hit is too distant; knowing how far the strength of their bow would carry their arrows, they aim for the further goal, so that the trajectory itself will help them to attain the original goal.) Years 27 to 30 of my life have not been shining years of my life, despite the groundwork I've tried to lay for myself in years 1 to 25. And because of that, I have suffered greatly at the hands of sarcastic people. Let it sink in me now - the fact that stumbling and fumbling are not acceptable in this great nation. You can stumble and fumble, but you must rise again quickly.

With that, I return to the practice of my consummate skill, to my well-renovated cave which I have painstakingly paid for with my CPF. Hope to be back again the mean time, take care, everyone :)

*By the way, friends who know me, don't give away my identity lah! I like privacy too, u know :)