Perhaps I am not in a position to comment much, but the principal of a girls’ mission school had been defended for her statement to Secondary 5 students, where she told them not to bother with sitting for the O levels examination since they are unlikely to fare well and that she wanted 100% passes in her school. She was defended by Minister of State for Education Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui Tuck Yew that she meant well and that the message was meant to give the students a wake-up call. He continued to condemn students who feel demoralised, saying that this is just an excuse not to do well. In addition, he noted that 40% of Secondary 5 students will not do well enough at the O levels to qualify for polytechnic.

In my personal opinion, I would have believed that those were harsh words meant for the better of the students. However, when the principal had to bring in the statement that she wanted 100% passes in her school, I began to doubt a little because it seemed to betray her true intentions. Of course, this really is personal opinion. Moreover, it is understandable that people do not usually take harsh comments well, but should we continue to condemn them? It seemed like our dear MoS just did.

Since it is known that about 40% of the students do not make it to the polytechnics, I wonder if this corresponds to the lower 40% of a cohort of if there is no correlation to the N levels results. If there is a correlation and if the principals are so concerned about their students wasting valuable time, why not do the favourite Singapore past time and stream off the lower 40%? In this case, the principal will not be lambasted for any insensitive statements and students will no longer have to "waste time" prepare for their O levels which "they will fail anyway".

And I thought it takes more to be an educator.

THE tone of a principal’s message to Secondary 5 students may not have gone down well, but it was one that had to be delivered, for the students’ sake, a minister said yesterday .

This message was that Sec 5 students who stay on to do the O levels instead of applying to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) will find it a tough road ahead.

Minister of State for Education Lui Tuck Yew said students and parents need to know that 40 per cent of Sec 5 students will not do well enough at the O levels to qualify for polytechnic.

The Straits Times had reported on Saturday that the principal of a girls’ school had told students from one Sec 5 class they should apply now for places in the ITE as they were unlikely to do well in the O levels at year’s end.

Some parents became upset. The story also drew more than 20 other responses, with parents saying their children had also been told this by their principals and teachers.

Speaking to reporters after a teachers’ investiture at the National Institute of Education, Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui said it was important to separate the ‘tone’ from the ‘substance’ of the message.

‘We can calibrate the tone. We can soften it, improve on the presentation, but there is a lot of work to be done between Secondary 4 and Secondary 5.’

He said principals needed to do their job of conveying this message to the students, and to teachers to do their part to challenge them, set high goals and to help them achieve these goals.

Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui said the educators meant well and had wanted to make sure the students were ‘on a firm footing’ for the path ahead.

The greater danger would have been indifference.

He said it would be a great injustice to principals to insinuate that they wanted good school results only because their own performance appraisal – and performance bonus – was linked to the results.

He added: ‘I have interacted with enough educators… they are by far more ambitious for their students than they are for their career advancement.’

On concerns raised that episodes like last Saturday’s would shatter students’ confidence, he said that if that were the case, he would be worried about just how fragile young people were.

‘We can take the approach where you cringe, your confidence is affected and it impacts you negatively, and it’s an excuse. Or you can stand up tall, with resolve and say that I am a better person than you think I am and I will do better and I will show you I have what it takes to achieve the results.’

He added that it was necessary to build that resilience in students, because when they go into the real world, they are going to have to face circumstances well beyond their control.

A parent, whose daughter is in the school involved, said he was upset with not just the tone of the principal, but the timing of the the message.

‘The students could have been told earlier, even before their N levels, not when school has started and they were elated about getting to do their O levels,’ he said.

Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui said the Ministry of Education preferred not to prescribe to principals what they can or cannot say, or what their tone should be, since they knew their students better.

‘There are students who need to be told that if you don’t work hard, you won’t make it. So you must not take away some of these tools from our educators,’ he said.

Article obtained from on 17th January 2008

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