An open letter to the Education Minister from a Secondary 4 student studying at Nan Chiau High School

Jul 14, 11 An open letter to the Education Minister from a Secondary 4 student studying at Nan Chiau High School

There was quite an interesting open letter on Temasek Review that’s written by a Secondary 4 student griping about the Singapore education system.

Not to take anything away from her, I will only quote the first 2 paragraphs:

I am a Secondary Four student at Nan Chiau High School, and am due to take my O Levels this year. Being shown first-hand what the education system is like, especially from a fairly unflattering point of view, has made me realise much about the education system that I do not like. Of course, I am fully aware that no education system is perfect, yet in the spirit of transformation the PAP has hopefully adopted since the 2011 General Elections, I write this letter to you in the hope that some of these problems with our system will indeed be changed, or if not, at least reviewed.

I speak just for myself, and not for all other graduating students in Singapore when I say this, but I do feel strongly about many methods being employed in secondary schools, especially for graduating classes. For one, I have come to realise the serious emphasis the education system has placed on factual memorisation. Perhaps it is just used in my school, or maybe even a method most autonomous or government schools apply, but based on personal observation, I have come to the conclusion that students are often not taught to ask ‘Why?’

More can be seen from her facebook note post.

I first read it last night, and by that time, it was already on the web for several days (hurhur, in internet time, several days means the news is outdated!) and thus there were already a big chunk of comments. Personally, she reminds me of Nicole Seah: Angsty, and maybe sidelined by the current system.

I commented that, It’s already been said before last time.. In Singapore, students are not taught; they are trained. Trained for performing a certain role/job for the bigger purpose of being a productive worker in Singapore.

Questioning is inefficient and ‘unproductive’. Thus, not encouraged. Which is why a lot of bigger MNCs like to hire Singaporeans to do the dirty work, but not the upper management type of work which requires more innovative thought processes. But that’s the way of life right? Every CEO will have 10 senior management, 100 managers and 1000 trained workers.. So if we (as in parents) are able to teach our children how to think/lead, they can be the top 11, rather than the bottom 1000. Any education system would probably have to cater for the ‘production’ of the bottom 1000 more than the top 11.

Unfortunate truth of life, but I guess that’s the way it is..

I also think informal education and lessons taught by parents plays a big part in developing a person’s character, rather than formal education in school. Things she mentioned about social graces and moral ethics should be values taught by family.

Wait till you read about degree holders that can’t even find skilled jobs in their country! Oh wait, that sounds familiar. I think I used to have a Filipino maid that was a degree holder.

PS: TODAY newspaper had an article that I can relate to when I read this open letter, “When You Shouldn’t Listen to Your Critics“. I think all change owners,  management, and directors (and ministers should read.


  1. Fergus /

    To qualify my views, I would like to say I am not a scholar. I was quite a slacker in school. I had a good childhood, having fun with classmates and friends. I was quite a goody two shoes in that I didn’t zao classes, and I have not slept in class before in Pri sch, Sec sch, JC.

    I was not lucky in my job search right out of uni. I sent out more than 30 resumes, with less than 5 replies for interview. My starting pay was 40% below my peer.

    I am a constant learner. Most of my friends like to come to me for advice because they find me knowledgeable enough. I believe this is from the effort self-initiative in learning because learning about new things is my passion.

    I come from a traditional teochew family. I would say, my moral values and ethics were built up strongly in my younger years. Family connections has always been a strong link for me.

    I may not have benefited from the Singapore system like the scholars, nor am I severely disadvantaged like the arts type people. I’m just your typical Singaporean, striving for a better future for my kids.

  2. Fergus /

    I realise I keep having more and more to write about this topic. One of my traits is that I like to observe people. I have seen very rich people, and people living close to ‘poverty’ in Singapore. One of the things that I have always wondered is, “What’s different?”

    Granted that 2 people came from the same education background, with the same job opportunities in life, and similar family upbringing. Why is it that some people, after 20 years, can go from $2.5k a month to $40k a month, whereas some are still stuck at $3-5k a month after 20 years of employment? The truth is, the $40k a month people exists. The other truth is, there is only 1 of them for every 50 or 100 or even 200 of those stuck at $3-5k a month. But the question to ask is still the same.. “What’s different?” Why do some people make it, yet most don’t?

    I have a cousin, she started out as a customer service in Singtel, earning less than $2k a month. That was 15 years ago. Now, she’s a regional HR director earning more than $20-30k a month. Yet there are people who hold degrees that are earning around $4k after working for 20 years. What’s different?

    Is it the job of the education system (or government in general) to make sure you earn $20k a month? Or is it the job of the education system (or government in general) to make sure others don’t earn more than 10 times what you earn? What exactly is the problem?

  3. Dennis Tan /

    I googled a search with regards to the letter to the minister by the NCHS girl and I stumbled across your site or blog, whichever you refer to it as. I took interest in reading it. And I’m quite sad to say I pity how you think. Not in any way to judge your perspectives, but to raise an opinion and some food for thought, don’t you think that the successes, in terms of salaries in these cases you have mentioned, is contributed by a state of mind?

    I mean, submitting to the presetted minds of the current society isn’t going to change anything at the end of the day. If it’s just because that’s the way of life, and everyone is gonna accept it, and just follow through with it, nothing’s gonna EVER change. It’ll just be a vicious cycle. From your generation, on to the next generation and so on and so fore. If there is no feedback, no challenge, the world will never change. And I respect those, even those younger than me, who have the courage speak up to the world and challenge the leaders of our world. In my opinion, too many people have turn their emphasis towards only monetary returns. They have forgot what is their purpose of being.

    Are we making the world a better place? Maybe you should start observing that, rather than how the riches is earning more and the poor getting worse. Observe the behavior and the lives all around you. Money must not rule over one’s mind. We need people to change the world. And I believe the world has much unspoken seeds of hope.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *