Friday, March 02, 2007

On Song

Well, finally performed with the SAJC choir after months of talking the talk, but not walking the walk.

The first time was last Friday for their CIP at the SGH. Just went out there and whacked at the two chinese pieces. I tried to get as loud as I dared, but somehow it didn't seem loud enough. Maybe I should howl at the moon more often, to get back the volume that I achieved back at NS when on guard duty at the detention barracks(military prison), since we howled at the moon every three days(I'm not joking...). Then again, I can still be very loud. When I want/need to.

And then there was chapel the last two days, for the J2 and J1 assembly periods respectively. It was fine, pretty good actually, except on Thursday when our principal Mrs Lim told Mrs Wong to introduce us the teachers, when Wincy and moi were safely ensconced in the 2nd row in uniform and undercover (Oon Hui's cover was blown early on when she played the piano). Elroy and Zhicong(IIRC) dragged me out. Dudes, you are going to pay for that.

So when I talked to Mrs Lim this morning to protest(timidly), she insisted on our introduction, because she felt SAJC students were too timid and mousy, and we teachers should set a good example by being proud of what we're doing.

Excuse me, but the last thing SAJC students need is more courage. I'm sure Mrs Lim prefers a student population that's outward looking, daring, adventurous etc, which SAJC students certainly are, for the most part. There's also something to be said for keeping your peace and reflecting inwardly too. The balance, I feel, has been skewed towards the former, and not the latter. The atmosphere is completely different from my own JC experience at National. After talking to many, many teachers, I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Being open and fun isn't a bad thing. NJC, for a fact, was boooooring. Maybe that's why I joined so many CCAs: choir, soccer, chess. Because there simply weren't enough events to keep hyperactive youths occupied. Back to this issue in a while.

Anyway, for this morning, it was better. The songs were sung(no mistakes for Little David!), audience enjoyed it, but Ji Hyun commented dynamics were poorer for Little David today. Maybe I should have blasted at 100%, which would have really annoyed poor Sam. Methinks the tenors have got to learn how to blast. When it's acceptable to do so, of course. It's almost true that conductors have never asked for less tenor in a forte passage. Almost, because I vaguely remember the section being asked to hold back a bit... when was it... maybe when I was in JC2 under Ms Tham?

Anyway, chapel was a blast. Took a picture with the tenors too.
From left to right: Sam, Kubaren, Chin Yan, Me, Rong Ming, Steve

I look stupid in uniform, but at least not as stupid as ten years ago. That was when I looked super-duper nerdy. Not wrong... after all, I AM a nerd. One who plays soccer and does a whole lot of other things... but still a nerd.

Oh well. Hope all the tenors stay on, and we get some more recruits. 3 more tenors would make up the section very nicely. Of course, Albert gets final say in the composition of the choir.

So back to the matter of SAJC students. Playing hard is fine, but they're simply not working hard enough(at least it seems to me). And if they're working hard, they're not working smart. Typical example was on Wednesday, when I asked some of the comm members about their homework. To a person, they said they would slog through the tutorials before going to sleep. I told them it was not productive nor efficient. It's easier to do work when you're not tired, and faster too.

Let's say you have 9 hours to spend after reaching home from school at 9pm. It takes 2 hours to finish a maths tutorial when tired, and 1 hour when you're fresh. You're already tired upon reaching home. Isn't it better to sleep for 2 hours, then wake up refreshed to finish the tutorial in 1 hour, and go back to sleep with 6 hours(for total 8 hours of sleep), then to slog through the tutorial in 2 hours, and have only 7 hours left to sleep?

Maybe I'm wrong, and some people work better when they can finish their work in one shot, but working efficiently that way is what me and my sis did when we were in JC. For me, I grabbed my sleep wherever and whenever I can. One eye closed during lectures(maths especially, but I somehow managed to copy all the notes; weird), on the floor in a corner during breaks and while waiting for assembly, on the bus. Wolfing down my lunch in just ten minutes so I can use the rest of my break to do work or sleep. Etc.

Back to the point, because they're either not working hard or smart enough, SAJC students end up with less than desirable results. Case-in-point: today. 'A' level results were not bad, but it wasn't too good either, in that given the quality of our student intake, they should have done better, most of them. Every teacher in SAJC had considered the question: what the heck is wrong with us? Is it us the teachers? The school? The administration? The students? Parents? What exactly is/are the factors that make us underachievers?

Waitaminute, are our students underachievers?

The grading system from PSLE to the 'A' levels works by using the gaussian curve(La Griffe Du Lion's Occam's Razor for any sociological statistical study), so there's always somebody better and somebody worse, assuming you're in the big fat statistical middle.

SAJC students, by and large, are roughly in the upper 10-25 percentile of their cohort. I've arrived at this figure by calculating the rough number of J1 students in the top five JCs(about 6000?), and then use the population of the 1988 cohort(roughly 53000) . SAJC is strictly 2nd tier(I think), so that gives us students that are mostly in the next 6000 after the first 6000 that go to the top five. 6000/53000 = 11.3%. So the next 6000 are in the 11.3-22.6 percentile, which, according to this site, corresponds to an IQ of at least 110. By any measure, these are bright kids!

The problem with all this is the percentile thingy. If you apply the same system to results, many of our students will somehow backslide in terms of their percentile measured against their peers. For example, let's take a student who scored abt 8-9 points for L1R5 for his Os, and comes to SAJC for his 'A' levels. Let's put him in the 18th percentile(my rough guess; too lazy to do the maths now) of the cohort.

For the past few years, that 18th percentile student will exit at 19th, or even the 20th percentile of his cohort as measured by his 'A' level results, which is why SAJC has not won any value-addedness award recently. Value addedness, like what Meridian JC has achieved, often means moving say, 25 percentile students to the 20th percentile. So if somebody gets better, somebody will have to get worse. It's a zero-sum game.

Guess who's getting the short end of the stick then? That's why we're underachievers.

Some of you will say that it's all relative, and furthermore, it measures only academic ability. And that's exactly the point. It's all relative. In absolute terms, all our students have improved. Sure as heck, they have learnt a great deal of stuff in their two years here academically(they'd better!), and hopefully in other things as well. But at the end of the day, it's the academic ratrace that matters most. In Singapore.

What is our college's goal? I hate all the vague statements I hear all the time from the school management about making our students better. I would want something concrete and definable, a metric which gives us a number we can use. So I'd make it simple, damn simple.

Students should leave at the same percentile at which they came in. Let's not even think about value-addedness. Just make sure they're not losing out. And we should keep on doing all the things SAJC is pretty well-known for: sports, band, dance, CIP etc. And we must keep in mind, there's a limit, especially of time. Yes, we should push the students to study more, but for every student, there comes a breaking point where a choice must be made: CCA or studies?

So far, the answer for our students is CCA, or simply not studying even when the prelims are impending. In that case, don't expect our students NOT to backslide when people at MJC are studying and working till 8 or 9pm to get that extra edge over our own students. And our students are that way exactly because they're overconfident and not reflective enough. They certainly do not need us teachers to make them even more so!

Sorry for the long rambling rant. But I needed to get that bit off after giving out the 'A' level results in the afternoon.
Still working on the education post. Need to organize my thoughts a bit, as well as do some research on vouchers and subsidized education systems.


Blogger mosquito said...

well relax dude! i think for now our kids just need to wake up for their As.. i believe as long as they're working for themselves, the whole situation will improve. we just have to work harder for now :)

7:48 AM  
Blogger The Wobbly Guy said...

Uhm, that's what I was told last year by the other teachers. Frankly speaking, miracles ain't gonna happen this time round either. You know the old saying about insanity and repeated acts of futility...

I'm going to compile a list of my classes' BT1 and BT2 results last year, and finding the percentages of As and Bs for each grade.

Of course, all the data will be shown to the students. Information is ammunition. Oops, I mean, information is power.

8:07 AM  

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