The movie, I Not Stupid Too, dramatically presents the academic and emotional stress students in Singapore schools face from their parents, teachers, and themselves. As a nation that claims its only natural resource is its population, the situations presented in the movie feed some rich questions regarding the role of education in different cultures.
I am attracted to the idea of viewing a population, a people, as a natural resource. It sounds very Humanist. It seems to say, “people matter.” However, though natural resources exist outside of any human manufacturing, once discovered, they can be hard to cultivate and easily abused. Population like any other natural resource can also be harmed by over regulation and inattention to conservation. There are also potentially hazardous byproducts just like coal or crude oil.
I Not Stupid Too presents some of the hazardous byproducts of mining and refining the “human resource”; disenfranchisement of youth, lack of attention given to family matters, extreme stress and hopelessness. The Legal Janitor writes critically about the Singapore government’s cultivation and over regulation of its resource as being a guise for creating a citizenry addicted to unquestionable reliance on governmental intrusion into personal affairs.
I am writing from the opposite side of the mirror. I am writing from the United States where there are abundant natural resources. They are depleting but they still exist. I am from the US, where Singapore’s ongoing high achievement in international mathematics tests has drawn the envy of educational theorists, governmental Departments of Education, parents, and critics.
While benign on the issue of “Singapore’s only natural resource,” the November 2001 issue of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics newsletter, Dialogues, presents a quick and digestible overview of the effectiveness of Singapore’s government centralized education system to positively impact scores in the Trends International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The piece concludes with a cheerleader’s cry that “Singapore has made considerable progress during the past ten years, primarily because all parties make a concerted effort to promote education and student achievement.”
I would question: At what costs has success come to Singapore? What will America be willing to pay to be as successful as Singapore?
According to Wikipedia, critics of Singapore’s education system claim it is “too specialised, rigid, and elitist… with little emphasis on creative thinking.” These critics point to the US as one of the nations rich in what Singapore is lacking. However, with the advent of increased emphasis on high stakes testing, No Child Left Behind, and local programs like New York City’s Child First reforms, the US is trying desperately to imitate Singapore.
I do not believe the statement that US students are behind Singapore students in math and science. It is inaccurate. I believe the only true statement that can be made is that US students are behind Singapore students in math and science testing, which does not include any expectation of applying math and science skills tested to greater real world tasks.