Render with joy to your Mater her due

This is my opinion, based on my own deduction of the facts available on the internet. I am employed by the Ministry of Education. These views here are my own and should no way be attributed to that of my employer.

Recently, ACS (Barker) made national headlines with a “report” first appearing on the gutter citizen journalism site STOMP of a mother who felt that the principal of the school placed unnecessary pressure on her son to sell fun fair tickets for the school’s fundraising activity.

I am not an ACSian, but I have in a way benefited from an ACSian education being on the other side of the fence – I taught in ACJC and admittedly, I was the “other side” of the story – i.e. a member of staff who, in the mother’s words, “forced” my students to sell these tickets.

I don’t blame the mother for feeling the way that she did – it all comes down to a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding that has, in my opinion, been exacerbated by a divide in the psyche and cultures between Government and Government Aided schools here in Singapore. I say this based on my own experience, having benefited from 10 years of education in Mission schools run by the La Salle brothers; as well as being privy to the financial workings of our schools.

Government aided schools – as the name suggests, are schools which are “aided” to an extent by the government – i.e. these schools do not receive full funding from the Singapore government – though they can be funded up to 90% of their operational costs. The school and its board would have to make up that 10% or more.

Rationally, if a school receives 90% of funding from the government, the school’s leadership would have to allocate these funds for “core expenditure” i.e. the day to day expenses to keep the school running – utility bills, consumables, equipment (for science labs and PE) etc. These are core because they school requires these items to run the basic school programme – i.e. a core education (without the frills) for its students. Schools can raise the 10% through various means like miscellaneous fees and ad hoc activities like fun fairs e.g. Funorama (Which is happening next year! – shameless plug).

What isn’t covered by the core? I would think elective programmes such as student development programmes over and above those mandated by MOE have to be funded through fundraising. These include your leadership, entrepreneur programmes etc. Like it or not, these programmes are likely to be the reasons why parents choose to send their children to these schools in the first place. Take for example the classic brand name schools, ACS, SJI, RI. You would here parents saying that they want their children to be in these schools because of the “brand” of education. As the name suggests, the “brand” is backed by a unique blend of experiences which are provided for by the unique programmes that these schools run. And how do they fund it – you guessed it, not by the funding provided for by MOE, but mainly through fund raising activities. That is why, in my own experiences, both as a student and as a teacher in mission schools, Principals ALWAYS rally their students to do their best in these fundraising activities – not because we are obligated for the mere fact that we were students/staff but we were morally obliged to because we ourselves were beneficiaries of past fund raising activities. The SJI and ACS campuses weren’t build in a day – they were built over generations. Alumnus will often say oh our fundraising in year XX paid for this building and so on. As current students, I would say that it is only right that you pay it forward because we enjoyed the fruits of our seniors’ labour.

And as alumni, not one of us will ever say, lets stop donating to help our school. We who have gone through an education in our own schools would want the students who come after us to benefit from the same type of education that we had – if possible, the same programmes or better. Whenever St Anthony’s Primary School students appear at St Mary’s (they do literally appear, because they are otherwise never involved – something that should be CHANGED – HELLO SCHOOL STAFF AND CHAPLAIN), I would grill the student on what they were raising funds for before parting with the largest note in my pocket (caveat, sometimes, times are hard, and $5 is all I have, but I part willingly). And this is where another point comes through – these fundraising activities do allow students to go out of their comfort zones to convince someone else, relative or not, to part with their hard earn money. What other better way to teach a child about the life skill of being able to sell your ideas?

So, dear Madam, who have chosen to hide behind stomp. Yes, I see where you are coming from. However, you chose to place your sons at ACS because you believed that having them there would be beneficial to their growth. Your sons are benefiting from the fruits of labour of their seniors. They should be, doing their part in return for their juniors. If you don’t believe in this, then imagine if everyone doing the same as you, what would happen to the programmes that make ACS special? The ACS experience will fade in the future – and future generations will be denied of an experience your sons would have had.

Whenever I can, I would try to support my schools whenever they reach out.  I do so, because I am thankful for what I have learnt in these schools, for the teachers who guided me and for who I have become.

On Receiving the Holy Eucharist

This post will be a little different from the usual posts that I am used to, so bear with me as I attempt to ramble along this subject.

I have been an extra-ordinary minister of the Eucharist at my parish for about three years now and have previously served in the same role when I was a part of Newman House, the Catholic Chaplaincy for students in London. While there are some debates on the role and legitimacy of the role that extra-ordinary ministers of the Eucharist plays, my intention is not to discuss about that today but instead focus on the behaviour prior to and during the reception of the holy Eucharist.

Unlike our protestant brothers and sisters, Catholics believe that Jesus is present in the bread and wine made holy at the table of the Lord that is the altar in each church, each time the Eucharist is celebrated.  As responsible Catholics (we ought to be), we ought to prepare ourselves, mentally, spiritually and physically for receiving our Lord and Saviour in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

How we prepare for the reception of the sacrament of the holy Eucharist matters! How do we prepare for it then? Well, the hard (and most correct I think) answer would be daily prayer and in our daily actions. To be called a Christian, we would need to live out Christ like values and principles. We need to be coherent in our actions – as Christians, we are called to daily conversion, not just a weekend conversion. We need to live out Christian values every day of our lives! It is not an easy task to do and we often fall (we have the sacrament of Reconciliation for that).

In addition to living out a Christian life, we would need to prepare ourselves by nourishing ourselves with the word of God.  Not all of us can attend Mass daily, kudos to those who do. For those of us who can only make it for our weekly obligation, we could pre-read the readings and Gospel before mass each week. Just google for them in the course of the week and read maybe one reading a day, you just need three days! Why do I think this is important? I often feel that some readings take a bit more unpacking than others, i.e. they aren’t too straightforward for me to digest them in the time allocated for the mass. The readings for each week also relate to each other in deeper ways than one can imagine. Taking the time to read the readings prior to mass allows one to reflect not just on individual passages but the readings as a whole – how the old testament relates to the new and then to the Gospel message.  Many young parents in my church have been encouraged to read the readings together with their children prior to Mass so that the young ones will have some understanding and context during the mass.

Be attentive during the word. It prepares our soul for the liturgy of the Eucharist.

I will skip the whole Eucharistic prayer bit because it does require some more study for me to unpack everything – notice I have skipped a large portion of the Mass as well. But I want to zoom in on the reception of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is Jesus. Simple Bread and Wine becomes divine as the celebrant (in the person of Christ) consecrates them. This has an important but often misunderstood element. That although we see a wafer being raised before us, it is Jesus that we are receiving. When the priest says to us “the Body of Christ”, it is not a prompt. It is a declaration that we are in the presence of our Lord and saviour.

As an extra ordinary minister of the Eucharist, I have seen many people not fully understanding the gravity of the sacrament. How do I know this? Their body language and their eyes. When the minister declares that “the Body of Christ”, the divinely inspired response should be “Amen”. This response cannot be a conditioned response because we are standing before the Almighty. We are creatures before our creator, before our Lord and Saviour.

As we are introduced into the presence of our Lord, our eyes and hearts should be fixated on the treasure that we are about to receive.  It is the ultimate treasure. Many children understand this, as with older members of the church. Perhaps they have the gifts of innocence and realization. It is us, the “adults” that often struggle with the true meaning of the Eucharist.

We may struggle with the theological understanding of the meaning of the Eucharist. Perhaps a good first step would be to change our physical response. I suggest that as we process towards the Eucharist, we fixate our eyes on the gift that we are about to receive.

As the minister lifts the Eucharist up and declares “the Body of Christ”, let our eyes dwell on the consecrated host and if we are receiving the host in our hands, to present them in submission to the holy presence of Jesus.  We declare “AMEN” not because it is the “right” answer but because our Amen is but a feeble affirmation to the declaration that our Lord is indeed before us.

As the consecrated host is placed in our palms, take a moment to give thanks that we are in the presence of our Lord and then place it in our mouths knowing that as we consume the consecrated host, we are being filled with the most valuable treasure of all.

The Lord fills us up with his infinite Mercy, Grace and Blessings each time we approach the altar for communion. We must remain ever grateful and ever reverent.

South Africa’s World Cup Illusions

Four years ago, the world was glued onto South Africa and deafened by the constant irritable sound of the Vuvuzela.

Like other sporting events, the World Cup promised to bring economic prosperity through much needed investment in public infrastructure and tourism.

The New York Times (http://nyti.ms/1lmyAQK) have argued that “South Africa’s experience four years after hosting a successful World Cup is a cautionary tale for Brazil, which has also spent heavily on building brand-new stadiums, often in remote areas, that may rarely be used again.”

It continues “The stadium has also become a strain on the public purse, costing the city at least $32 million since 2010. These funds could be better spent on the city’s more urgent priorities, such as providing sanitation and houses for the poor. The lack of such services continues to be the spark that periodically ignites protests.

The city government says it wants the stadium to become a mixed-use venue, with a few long-term tenants to keep the crowds and revenue coming in during lean times when concerts and festivals are in short supply.”

I had a discussion with my students a few weeks back regarding Singapore’s choice of hosting the Youth Olympics in 2010, the same year of the previous world cup. The YOG debate in Singapore primarily revolved around how much the ministry or the minister spent over the budget.  Less attention however is being directed at the economic spillovers (or lack thereof) that resulted from hosting the YOG.

Of course, we might not be facing the issues that South Africa and Brazil are facing, but we do have our challenges – the poor and the elderly. Have they benefited from the country’s choice to host the games or have they been unnecessarily sidelined as a result?

The Fall of Spain

In Soccernomics, journalist Simon Kuper and sports economist Stefan Szymanski show robust causal relationships between a nation’s international football success and four factors: home-team advantage, historical Football experience, GDP per capita, and population.

Today, Spain crashed out of the World Cup. Let’s look at Spain’s GDP performance for the last 4 years:

 

Spain GDP

 

Coincidence? you be the judge.

Status Quo at Elite New York Schools: Few Blacks and Hispanics

This New York Times Article reports that of the 28,000 students citywide (in New York City) who took the Specialized High School Admissions Test, 5,701 (just over 20% success rate) of them were offered seats. Although 70 percent of the city’s public school students are black and Hispanic, blacks were offered 5 percent of the overall seats and Hispanics 7 percent — the same as a year ago. Asians were offered 53 percent of the seats, compared with 50 percent a year ago; whites were offered 26 percent of seats, compared with 24 percent a year ago. Entry to these “elite” schools are determined by a standardized test.

There has always been a tension between equal opportunity and access as well as the scarcity mentality. If the school that I am running is a good school and hence application to my school is oversubscribed then there must be a way to allocate spaces. One of the easiest and foremost solution that comes to mind is a lottery system, similar to the balloting that we have in Singapore for our primary schools. 

However, the school system in the US is an entirely different system. Unlike Singapore schools with a rather centralized system for resource allocation (in terms of a national curriculum, funding and staffing), US schools tend to be resourced at a district and in some cases, at a private level. In summary – a wealthier district would mean that the schools in that district would be better resourced. 

In response to the results, Mayor Bill de Blasio called for increasing diversity at the schools saying “These schools are the jewels in the crown for our public school system,” .He added: “This is a city blessed with such diversity. Our schools, especially our particularly exceptional schools, need to reflect that diversity.” Diversity is good, Diversity would mean that the student experience is enhanced through interactions with people that have difference experiences from you.

However, another side of the debate is the “peer effect“, generally “Students who are exposed to unusually low achieving cohorts tend to score lower themselves.” OR  students are “good” peers if they produce positive learning spillovers, so that students exposed to them gain more for each dollar spent on their education, or “bad” peers if they have the reverse effect.

Elite schools like the ones in the article can argue that they are good because they create the necessary conditions for their students to achieve great results, any loss in gains associated with a more diverse school environment would be negligible. How fair is this argument?

Coming back to Singapore, where the reality is that some schools are known to be “better” then others, how successful would MOE’s push for “all schools a good schools” be, considering the prevailing attitudes of both parents and students?

 

 

Dear ACJC Class of 2013

(A special SHOUT OUT to SC1,SB1,SB3 and AD3)

It was nice to see some of you yesterday, although I did not get to see all of you, I want to assure you that my thoughts and prayers are constantly with all of you.

First, congratulations on completing an arduous journey. The A levels will be, I assure you, the hardest examinations that you will take in your life.  As we celebrate the excellent results that God blessed us with yesterday, do allow me, an old man by your standards to share some of my hindsight and thoughts.

All of you did well by conventional measures, yet some of you may be happier than others and some sadder than others. It may be premature to say this now but at the end of the day, how you felt yesterday and some even today, will not matter or be remembered in time to come. If you asked me what I remembered from my own result day, I remember two things – 1) Hiding in the toilet of my company line in BMT speaking to my teacher on the phone while trying to get some hint of my result and 2) The way my sister congratulated me when I first met her after receiving my results.

These two things remain with me for unknown reasons, but that’s all I remember from my own results day. Was I happy? Sure I was, but that is not the first thing that comes to mind when I recall that incident.

My A level results did open the door to a scholarship to study in the UK. I wasn’t the top student in my cohort – I wasn’t even close to it, but it was good enough. But that was it. Brutal as it seems, being a straight A student from Singapore means as much as the formula sticker on your calculators – you only look at it when you are bored.

I will admit that with my new found freedom thousands of miles from Singapore, getting good grades was not the first thing on my mind. I spent my time in the UK doing really random and silly things that didn’t seem to matter – looking for Stonehenge in the dead of the night (impossible), Going camping in winter, joining an LGBT society, learning about and appreciating Anime, and learning to dance salsa just to get a girl (I did!). These “trivial” things will become the memories that I treasure the most and what I base most of stories I tell during lessons on.

Why am I saying this? Simple, while good results are important, you will be a boring old zit if you don’t create stories of your own! Everyone brings something to the table, some interesting experience or skill – nobody slams his/her A level certificate on the table. An A level cert is like a marathon finisher shirt –been there, done that, but what’s under the shirt?

So far, I have been talking about the experiences of good results, but I do have my own share of experiences with bad results. At the end of my undergraduate studies, I did not get what I sought and hope to get (sounds familiar?) and I wanted to go on to do my postgraduate studies on scholarship (also sound familiar?).  I was devastated.

I heard horror stories about my interview panel and news about how my peers with results and university offers better than mine get rejected (MOE only gave out about 12 post graduate scholarships to my batch of 60).  During the interview, I got bombarded about my results and certain modules (I failed one elective I think, but I am sure that there was a printing error). The interviewers went on to ask about my experiences and what I would bring to the table if I were allowed to pursue my post graduate studies. I drew on my range of experiences and argued that these experiences and lessons I have learnt outside my degree programme would help me be a more rounded (pun intended) teacher. Never in my life would I have imagined how knowledge of planning a fashion show can help me frame a line of argument for holistic student development.

Your experiences and attitude frame who you are, not your results.

In the course of interaction with you, I have never used my “impressive” results as leverage. Sure all of you knew where I studied and my success story, but let’s be honest, most of you were more entertained and disgusted by the stories that I tell in class.

The same thing applies in the workplace. One of my good friend is capable not because of his degrees from Oxford, but because of his attitude and persistence. Similarly I have another friend in teaching who just delivered 90% distinction. The latter studied in NUS, scored decently at her O and A levels, but look at what she has achieved! Can I also add that her student “complimented” her for working too hard – hard work and persistence pays off at the end of the day.

Nobody will remember your grades. Nobody will listen to you boast about your grades. Your life will be remembered by your acts.

So you got your marathon shirts yesterday, what will you do now? Will you continue running a good race or would you slacken off, grow fat (oh the irony) and fade into nothingness.

The A levels is really that one piece of paper. Who you are gives value to it.

With that, I just want to say that I am proud of each and every one of you. You do not know how much being able to learn from you means to me. On Baccalaureate last year, I had to fight back tears when SC1 performed the “Cups” song for Zhao Ying and I. Thank you all for being a blessing. Continue to be a blessing.

With my love and prayers,

Philibert

Video

The Wild Economics of Sex

There’s a lot to absorb here, and plenty to debate.

There are clear limits to this study, most notably its inattention to non-heterosexual relationships. But its overall characterization of sex as an economic “resource” rings true for many people. Whatever your reaction, it’s a topic ripe for discussion.