Slowing the Paper Chase.

There are many things I know squat about. Like Romantic Love. Like Goddess Housekeeping. Like how to stay married beyond the 7-year itch. Like how to travel on a shoestring budget.  Or how to make an omelet in a ziplock bag while travelling by van without a stove. Or simply color-coordinating my clothes. (My principle for getting dressed is : (1) Is it clean? (2) Does it fit? (3) The more colors the better.)

Let’s cut to the chase. This is a post that gives me one of those, “I Told You So” moments.

I don’t usually read Malaysia MSM (mainstream media) but today I decided to buy the papers. On page 35 of the Nation section of The Star I saw an article that got me excited to post about : Slowing the Paper Chase.

The article begins with :

IN THE face of a changed labour market, Singapore may have decided to keep the local university population from increasing beyond current levels. The more cautious approach to higher education emerged from private talks that a senior education ministry official had with a US diplomat several years ago, according to WikiLeaks.

Key words : several years ago.

Let’s examine what this means. If you’re in college now you have confirmation that it’s a waste of time and you will never see ROI. If you graduated within the last 5 years you now know that even while you were daydreaming of a better tomorrow a country that is considered a pretty advanced Asian country when it comes to education is talking to a leader in education, the US, about how irrelevant your then-pursuit is to the realities of your future now and your future soon. You will never see ROI.

If you graduated from college 10 years ago you probably know the truth yourself. A degree or a PhD teaches you nothing you could use to monetize your potential in life. Even if you’re a professor who got the job on the back of an academic qualification the realities of that inbreeding (hiring what they produced) has settled in and disillusionned the student you once were.

A lot of people I meet with degrees will justify their sense of deflation with this, “Well, if I didn’t have a degree I would’t even have this job I have now. At least it’s something.” But what makes you think you couldn’t have been doing something else that better suits you, that monetizes better if you had had enough faith in yourself without needing the security vest of a degree?

To economists, however, there are wider fundamental reasons for it. The demise of the manufacturing era has significantly altered the job market.

Many of the newly created jobs today are in services that do not require formal four-year university training. “A degree is nice to have, but we need something else,” is a regular employer comment.

For example, the opening of the two resorts required some graduates to be retrained as casino dealers and roulette operators.

Let me tell you what this means for the ESL industry. If you’re busy designing Academic English courses, college preparation courses, Cambridge ESOL test preps, IELTS, TOEFL  – start worrying about your income going from Glorious to Zero in the next 5 years. When the wave comes it’s going to be swift and merciless. If you’re busy teaching to the test where your main income comes from teaching essay-writing and other exam techniques to do well in primary, secondary school (because the ultimate goal for acing these tests is college, right?) you better have enough skills to match the realities of a very near future market where what you’re offering right now is no longer worth the bits it takes up online nor the atoms in real life.

How much English does a person in the service industry really need? Probably a 3.0 – 4.0. And how difficult is it to achieve that without expensive ESL classes? Not difficult at all. So what will be in demand? Ahhh………if you’ve read enough of my blogs you might know what I’m talking about.

In the past decade, thousands of retrenched middle-aged professionals have become property or insurance agents. Others are driving taxis.

This has evidently made the government worried about producing more graduates that the market does not need, especially with the global economy turning dismal.

If you’re either a student, a parent or a teacher who is too shocked to understand what this really means, here’s what it means in Simple English :

For the past 10 years we (governments, employers, markets)  have known that graduating with a college degree or higher is not necessary and is a waste of time and effort. 

Started to feel cheated yet? I don’t like sounding like a broken-record but I’ve been saying this for at least 20 years. College is not necessary. My first semester at college my Marketing Lecturer asked me, “Just what are you doing in college paying so much? You already know what it takes.” And the same message was repeated to me over and over again by at least half a dozen more lecturers. I didn’t feel cheated because I didn’t care about graduating anyway and my family could afford the lifestyle I was having at that time. No one was missing meals or mortgaging homes or making loans to help me unfold an interesting social evolution.  As far as I’m concerned I had graduated even before I enrolled and my lecturers have confirmed that. I have never felt a  need for a piece of paper and a glorification ceremony to validate my metacognitive processes or my self-worth when it came to my ability to learn, unlearn and relearn.

But how many of us go to college without really giving a damn what the whole experience would mean for our future in the labor market? There were friends who couldn’t afford to go to college and they romanticized it as some ticket to a Promised Land. Their own thinking trapped their imagination and locked down their potential. There were friends whose parents had to make significant financial sacrifice to put them through college. Imagine the guilt they will carry into their adult lives believing their parents had done all their parents could so the only person to blame for not living up to their own potential was themselves.  – I went to college at least 17 years ago but fastforward a couple of decades parents and teachers are still not willing to call a spade a spade.

If the WikiLeaks report is accurate, Singapore seems to be breaking ranks with countries whose universities keep churning out masses of students for jobs that often do not exist. Reuters reported this week that China’s colleges are pushing out graduates in numbers far exceeding demand.

Key words : for jobs that often do not exist.

Some Singaporeans are, however, supportive of being cautious. “It is important to maintain a balanced, orderly labour market for the sake of social order,” said one writer.

Society does not only need graduates, she said. Who is going to work as a mechanic? Or cook?

Speaking of cooking, while other girls my daughter’s age are just recouping from the pressures of UPSR, (Key Stage 2) and finding the realities of secondary school nothing like what it’s made out to be (except less of what they liked and more of what they disliked) I’m in discussions to design a Master Chef curriculum with a wonderful international chef I had just met. (Google Laily’s Kitchen). I met her at a dinner outing and I suggested for her to do something that would lead to a Junior/Teen  MasterChef Academy sort of idea. She immediately appointed me to be in charge of her A&P.

By 2020 you’re going to have a sea of graduates with no jobs while unschooled kids like my daughter would have had time to discover their passion, developed great self-esteem and have a killer skill they could monetize on on any scale they wanted to. As the income gap widens people in higher income brackets would be willing to pay top-dollar for personal chefs if they’re not already doing that. Do the math. Visualize that future.

In an observation on Asia’s chaotic past, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew spoke of the dangers of educating hordes of graduates and being unable to provide them jobs.

He noticed that many unemployed graduates often ended up roaming the streets, making violent revolution.

In a recent related comment, Lee remarked that Singaporeans were not getting smarter, only better educated.

People like to compare Malaysians with Singaporeans especially when it came to intellectual prowess and economic progress (as if the 2 must always be coupled) labeling us  “the poor cousin” but Strong Man Lee agrees with what I’ve been saying all along : Singaporeans are not superior to Malaysians in smartness. Especially not in English. The assumption arose from the fact that people were comparing the stereotype of a Singaporean (upper-middle class) with the stereotype of a Malaysian (rural or working class urbanite).  True, they are better educated but what’s the end game? They’re not smarter.

Conclusion : going to a better school does not get you a better education. Both are mutually exclusive. Come to terms with that reality.

I went to a virtually unknown school. In fact, it’s so unknown it’s closed down more than 10 years ago and you can’t even find anything on Google on it. My schooling did nothing for me but more importantly, because it’s an unknown school, it did nothing to me. And not being as severely damaged as a child in one’s personal integrity and personal sense of self-worth in learning goes a long way in today’s world.

Later on in the article :

More than anyone, he (Lee Kuan Yew)  knows his people’s readiness to sacrifice for their children’s education.

Many families are prepared to set a huge monthly budget to pay fees to private tutors to give their children the edge in exams to make it to university.

Just three months ago, a father angrily wrote how he had to sell off his prized house to finance his son to study medicine in Britain because he was rejected for a place in Singapore.  This was despite scoring 4 “A”s and a Special Paper in his A-Level examinations.

I doubt he is the only one. How many more of you are out there? For context I was a school teacher as well as an ESL teacher – people need English to make their transition into private colleges so I hear these stories ALL THE TIME. On a daily basis. I listen with reticence as these know-it-all parents let their own pride and ego take over their intelligence. I listen with reticence as Malaysian parents accuse the Malay-majority UMNO-led government of racism when their kids can’t get into public universities. They blame the government for their having to pay taxes ON TOP OF barely affordable private college tuition. But who can Singaporeans blame? Unlike Malaysians they can’t blame the Bumiputera (Malay) quotas for everything that goes wrong in their own unthinking lives.

Whenever you blame and complain you’re focusing on the problem rather than what caused it and what the solutions could be.


In my daily interactions I meet 2 kinds of parents. The first kind, the minority, will listen to me and ask for a private consultation to map out their children’s education and future prospects. They’re willing to read the books, attend the seminars, discuss the questions, participate and collaborate and they’re willing to listen because they know something’s wrong and all they care about is FINDING A SOLUTION THAT MEETS THEIR NEEDS. They’re willing to take responsibility for their lives.

A majority of parents, however, about 95%, stick to Complaining. Your child’s education is no small matter. I don’t care if you use your energy to complain about the haze or your neighbor’s dog. But when it comes to the well-being and happiness of your child’s future using all that energy to blame and complain instead of focusing on solutions????…..

I would not be surprised when years down the road parents would come up to me and say, “Why didn’t you tell us all this?” I did. I even culminated all the conversations you were willing to have with me in a blog. Two blogs.  The effect when all this does wash over would be akin to the feeling of missing out on putting a bet on a winning horse after the fact.

Read the full article for context here : Slowing The Paper Chase


Leave a comment

Filed under Context : the thoughts behind the blog., Danger School, Downstream Parenting, Education 2.0 for 2020, ESL in Asia, Future of Education, Rethinking Parenting & Teaching, schooling, Up the ante on teaching

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s