I found myself bewildered by the impasse
An entire generation of parents was expressing their frustration over the education system
They were demanding that MOE act to stop the tuition disease, to stomp it out like a cancer
Yet the Minister had proclaimed that the education system was designed so that no student required tuition
Then how does one explain that 97% of Singapore primary school students have after school tuition?
Speaking to some teachers and parents, it seems to me that both sides were well meaning
MOE didn’t intend for parents to send their kids to tuition as a norm
And the parents didn’t intend to spend thousands of dollars on tuition but they felt they had no choice
And I believe them both
So who is to blame for robbing these children of their childhood?
Can it be possible that this impasse was due to nobody’s fault?
After some reflection, I thought we are perhaps caught in the Prisoner’s Dilemma which explains why 2 individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in the best interests to do so
The cause was as much structural as it was cultural.
For the sake of our discussion, let’s assume there are only two parents.
Parent A doesn’t know if Parent B is going to send his kid to tuition. Assuming tuition gives children an advantage in school, parent A will act in his self interest and send his kid for tuition, because that is the dominant strategy when there is lack of information. Parent B will do the same.
Thus, with a lack of communication and trust between parents A and B, the tendency is that both parents will send their kids for tuition.
Multiply now the number of parents. The communication and trust problem worsen. Parents will end up sending their kids for tuition, because otherwise, their kids will lose out. They are compelled to do so. They feel that “they have no choice”
And we ended up with frustrated parents and a whole generation of burnt out kids
Unintended impasse by well meaning parents and schools.
So the question now is, how do we break the impasse?
Based on the prisoner’s dilemma, we may consciously choose to break from the natural order of things by collaborating, in our case, boycotting the tuition centres.
This way, we level the playing field, save the money that would otherwise be spent on tuition and most importantly, give back our children their childhood but in reality, which parents would take the risk of pulling their kids out from tuition centres which they have grown so dependent upon.
If what Education Minister said is indeed true
‘..no amount of changes in the education system can alter the reality of each of us chasing after material and positional goods. We cannot have broader definitions of success in education without our society accepting broader definitions of success in life. In many respects, the education system reflects societal norms and expectations’
Perhaps a more lasting solution for breaking the impasse will require us to look into the fundamental, to redefine success and the way we measure it which will then invalidate the prisoner’s dilemma
This will require us to rethink what is education and probably a whole generation of re-education.