22 March 2012

Training Geniuses

"HOT NEWS!" screams an unsolicited SMS sent to my mobile phone; the penalty, I assume, for buying pay-as-you-go rather than a contract, but I use the damn thing so little I'm blowed if I'm going to give Singapore's appalling and near criminal mobile phone companies any more cash than I must.  The SMS goes on; "My 9yr old scored A in Cambridge exam.  Email/SMS for workshop SECRETS TO HOW EVERY CHILD CAN BE GENIUS".  With literacy of that standard, I can only imagine the 9yr old has had no communication with its parents since birth.  There again, perhaps the Cambridge exam to which reference is made has nothing to do with that famous UK-based qualification-awarding body.

I wonder if any parents are so utterly stupid and devoid of intelligence to follow this up.  If the imbecilic "arthurkoh" who sent the email gets a single response (other than the simple Greek expletive I sent him by return) that will surely justify the low birth rate in Singapore.  If parents are so thick, thank goodness so many young adults choose to avoid parenthood. 

 My intolerance with such blatant lies and unsolicited rubbish may be slightly heightened by the fact I am still getting over a heavy night's carousing in the company of a team of visiting ABRSM music examiners.  Top of their topics of conversation was the complete lack of ability shown by the vast number of candidates they had heard.  Showing them a photograph I had taken of a huge poster outside an HDB block which listed no less than 50 students who had "attained distinction at ABRSM exams" they more-or-less rolled about with laughter; "I don't suppose we have heard 50 between us worthy of distinctions for the past six weeks" was one comment.  The idea that children in Singapore, 9yr old or otherwise, are exceptionally gifted is just plain daft to anyone remotely connected with education here.

 Education in any Chinese dominated society is regarded as important.  And so it is in western countries too.  The difference is in perception of what Education is.  Here, it's seen as the passing of exams with high marks – and it's that mentality which allows the ridiculous "arthurkoh" to splutter out his incoherent recipe for genius and the music tuition centre set amidst the uninspiring wilderness of serried HDB blocks to promote itself on the strength of a similarly serried rank of numbers ranging from 130 to 146. 

In many western countries education is all about amassing knowledge and equipping one for life away from the sheltered confines of an academic institution.  Western students are generally taught to think for themselves, even if they have problems passing exams. 

 Neither is the ideal, and you only need look at the social problems in so many western countries to know that the education systems there are not serving the communities particularly well.  But if anyone is stupid enough to think that unsolicited SMS messages or unsubstantiated claims on large posters in public areas are indicators of a good educational environment, perhaps they, themselves, are sadly lacking in education.

My ABRSM friends leave Singapore, as they always do, exhausted from the sheer number of indifferent and downright bad performances they have heard.  As one put it; "Why do they insist on subjecting us to these ghastly attempts to play music.  Have they no idea what it's all about?"  Music teaching in Singapore is not good by any standards, and while there are one or two gifted and inspirational teachers, there are vastly more sub-standard and incapable ones.  How to tell one from the other?  Well, an unsolicited SMS or a huge banner would lead to the pretty safe assumption that the teacher responsible falls very firmly into the latter category.

1 comment:

  1. Very true about the sub-standard piano playing/teaching that's going on here in Singapore. Do you mean that the ABRSM distinction holders really aren't worthy of their distinctions? I guess the exams are really easy to get through because so many thousands have ABRSM certificates, but can't really play well. Many also think that having a cert is prestigious and therefore pursue it just for the sake of getting the certificates. The process is not important. Just the goal (certificate). Then, some of them who manage (barely sometimes) the Grade 8 realise that they can use it to earn $ easily, giving rise to the sub-standard teachers. The cycle will go on and on. Do you have any solution to that?

    I grew up in this system. I had several teachers, which in retrospect were substandard by your definition. My parents didn't know any better. They just got teachers who were recommended by their friends as responsible and affordable. My passion and a string of distinctions - all the way to G7 - kept me going. But in my final grade, I fell. Fell badly in fact. I couldn't understand why, despite my practising so hard (several hours a day), I could still fail. I was providentially recommended to a real teacher. Thankfully my parents were willing to fork out double the fees of the previous one. It was only then that I knew there was such a thing as a good teacher. I had to literally start from square one. But because I started so late and had formed numerous bad habits, I'm unable to correct many of my bad habits even to this day. Contrary to my previous teachers, this teacher told me I needn't practice so many hours! My friends were jealous that my teacher didn't require me to put in hours and hours of practice.

    Although I'm no pianist, I have developed a critical ear for good vs bad playing (and teaching, of course). Therefore, your blog is very interesting to me because I can identify with your opinions about teaching and exams, and your observations of society here with respect to music education (actually there's very little music education going on here, just learning piano/violin).

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