Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Non-grad in Singapore Confessions

Letter sent to ST Forum on 12 Sept 2014

Since the formation of ASPIRE, there was a great amount of discussion by one and all about one's educational aspirations and how the society can be shaped to slow down the 'paper chase' etc.
Below are the views and comments from a retired person who began as a non-grad but finally ended as a grad in the 'autumn' period of the career as an education officer.
After O levels in the late 60s, I went to Polytechnic instead of Pre-U as I realized that I was not that academically  inclined after spending 3 months in a Pre U centre. There, we learnt at our own pace with a lot of hands-on experience. Much time was spent doing Society work and lazing at the club house besides going to the library for further readings. After graduation, many of my classmates went overseas esp to Strathclyde U in Scotland to read their degree in engineering. They were exempted from the first year of the 3-yr engineering course on the strength of the Poly diploma. I could only envy as my home economics didn't allow me to go further. There was nothing I could do as I still have a 7-year bursary bond hanging over my head and that I have to help my family financially. Lost opportunity? Anger at my condition? I knew that it was impossible to fulfill that 'degree aspiration' then.
After NS, I joined MoE as an education officer. Being a diploma holder, I was between the non-grads and the grads in the school. 80% are grads. The non-grads like me were teaching the Craft & Technology subjects (Art, Home Econs, Technical). There were some PE teachers and Mother Tongue teachers who were later deployed to the primary schools in an exercise (during the 90s). Externally, there was really no differentiation between grads and non-grads in the schools I were in because we didn't discuss the paper qualification. The only sore point was the renumeration and the promotion prospect. Regardless of how we performed, somehow there seemed to be a perception that non-grad could go no further. I was fully in charge of the school soccer team, my fellow non-grad colleague was in charge of the softball team......somehow, sometimes, while performing my duties, I often wondered why some of the grad teachers who were better paid were not given such duties. They should be doing more than me...... the devil part of me told me. What about my 'degree aspiration'? I could not take full-time off to study again since, by now, I have three young children to feed.
I guessed 'hard work' paid off sometimes. I was soon promoted to be a Head of Department in a school. Maybe the Principal was enlightened or someone was needed to fill in that post. Whatever it was, I have to deal with a spectrum of people, some without education (the school servants), some with degree.
I was holding the post for about 5 years before I realized, after seeing so many of my grad colleagues being promoted to higher posts, that I MUST fulfill my 'degree aspiration'.
The breakthrough came when SIM started the part-time OUDP in 1994. I was in the first batch of mostly teachers who were in their 'autumn period' of their career, signed up paying our own fees. Many were holding senior post in their respective schools. MoE required us to submit our yearly results but there was no guarantee, in written or oral, that we would be emplaced in the graduate scale upon completion of the course, but we soldiered on for 5 years (some finished in 3 or 4 years at a faster pace). True to some of our beliefs then, we were told that we would not be emplaced in the graduate scale (see attached letter). Imagine the anguish and frustrations at our mother employer who didn't recognize our effort and the certification of an authentic institution!!! As a group, we wrote in to appeal but no avail until about 3 years later before they emplaced us in the SEO 1 graduate scale. The question asked then was that: Did MoE view a non-grad HOD at the same level as a grad HOD? Weren't we performing the same duties? In fact, an enlightened school P would & should not be looking at the paper qualification, but in one's performance when evaluating an officer. However, how many enlightened school leaders are there in the schools? I have seen P who were in awe of 'scholars' who came down to school from the ivory towers of MOE for 'school experience'. These are future administrators and planners of the civil service, 'white knights' whose career paths are clearly marked out. Naturally, they were ranked high in the list of teachers as they have 'high CEP' (Potential) though in reality they might not make it as a 'bread and butter' classroom teacher.
How about now? In schools, the only non-grad classroom officers are the AEDs who are mostly Poly diploma holders. I knew that their career path is very unsure at this moment. They need a degree in order to be converted into education officers. Will ASPIRE really 'help' the outstanding ones to realize their dream without going through the paper chase?
I commend the recommendations and the aspirations of ASPIRE. Their lofty aims can only be fulfilled when there is a siesmic shift in the mind-set of people, starting from the civil service. This mind set that the degree is the most important piece of paper in one's life, will take a long time, maybe a generation or two before it changes. The paper chase is not the one and for all and you are done for life.....

Mindset change on paper chase will take time

Published ST Forum online on Sep 18, 2014 12:15 AM                           

SINCE the release of the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (Aspire) report, there has been much talk about educational aspirations and the paper chase.
After my O levels in the late 1960s, I attended a polytechnic instead of a junior college because I was not that academically inclined.
After leaving polytechnic, many of my classmates went overseas for their degree studies, but I could not continue my studies because of my financial situation. Besides, I had a seven-year bursary bond to fulfil.
Following national service, I joined the Ministry of Education as an education officer. Most of the teachers were university graduates. The non-graduates were assigned to teach craft and technology subjects like art, home economics and technical work, as well as physical education.
Other than that, there was no differentiation between graduates and non-graduates in the schools I taught in. The only sore point was the remuneration and promotion prospects. Regardless of how the non-graduates performed, there seemed to be a perception that they could go no further.
Despite this, I was soon promoted to be a head of department. I held the post for about five years before I realised, after seeing many of my graduate colleagues being promoted to higher posts, that I had to fulfil my degree aspirations.
The breakthrough came when the Singapore Institute of Management started running the part-time Open University Degree Programme in 1994. I was in the first batch, which comprised mostly teachers in the "autumn" of their careers.
The Education Ministry required us to submit our yearly results, but there was no guarantee we would be placed on the graduate track upon completion of the course.
True enough, we were not. Imagine our anguish and frustration at not having our efforts recognised. It was only three years later that we were placed on the graduate scale.
What about the current situation? In schools, the only non-graduate classroom officers are the allied educators, who are mostly polytechnic diploma holders.
Will the latest policy shift really help outstanding non-graduates to realise their dreams?
Aspire's lofty aims can be fulfilled only if there is a seismic shift in the mindsets of people, starting with the civil service. The thinking that a degree is the "most important piece of paper in one's life" will take a long time to change - perhaps a generation or two. The paper chase is not the be-all and end-all of life.

Woo Peng Fei

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