The education system in Singapore has been hit by a series of sex scandals, involving:
A former school principal who had sex with an underage prostitute.
A former teacher - who was said to be active in grassroots work - who faces a similar charge.
A former female teacher who was investigated for allegedly having sex with an underage male student from a top school.
A former teacher jailed for installing pinhole cameras in school toilet cubicles to capture video footage of female students.
A former Ministry of Education (MOE) scholarship holder convicted in Britain of possessing child-pornography materials.
A National University of Singapore law professor charged in a sex-for-grades case.
It was reported in the media in February that Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said one or two incidents should not be allowed to tarnish the image of the teaching profession, and that there will be a couple of black sheep from time to time.
While I appreciate his public- relations efforts in maintaining the good name of Singapore's education system, I disagree totally with how MOE handles such matters.
There have been more than just one or two incidents being reported within the span of a few short months.
The parents of children in the affected schools would be greatly concerned about the well-being of their kids.
What about similar scandals that may have happened and affected students, but were not reported in the media? Should we have in place better procedures - with input from all stakeholders - or simply maintain the status quo?
I see many flaws and potential hazards in the current school system.
The operational policies and practices of MOE and schools have been mostly out of bounds to a major group of stakeholders - the parents of students.
When a crisis hits, MOE and the schools are usually not forthcoming when it comes to providing information, but adopt a reactive approach instead.
This is unhealthy and undemocratic, and goes against the building of an all-inclusive society.
It will also stir anger among those affected.
We should strengthen the ecosystem of our schools by having more transparency, from the ministry level down to the school level.
Surveillance systems should be installed in classrooms to help monitor real-time teaching and learning performance, as well as detect unusual behaviour.
Every parent can be empowered to do "national service" in school, while all teachers and students can help to police the system, becoming whistle-blowers when necessary, in order to mitigate risks.
Cover-ups - such as restricting what students can tell their families - would only raise more doubts about an institution's ability to handle such issues.
Those who cover up issues that warrant public attention should be subject to the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code where appropriate.
When stakeholders are informed of a crisis should be determined by the principle of prudence.
It may be difficult for those with a top-down perspective to appreciate the problems faced by teachers and youth on the ground, as well as those of parents, who are not involved in policy- making and do not receive performance reporting.
On issues like teaching performance, accountability, curriculum and assessment methods, it is time for re-examination and reform. Against a backdrop of rapid globalisation and intense competition, making incremental improvements may not be enough to address problems in our schools today.
Learning should be fun and students should be encouraged to engage in school with open, honest communication and without fear.
This is how we build world-class leaders and a better Singapore.
my paper reader Dr Raymond Ng
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