Teacher Aiyoyo

I admit that we have the best educational system in this part of the world (Southeast Asia). But the culture here in Singapore dictates that we can never stop improving. Yes, complacency is bad, but so is not knowing when to stop. In an attempt to outdo their predecessors, educators set more and more “challenging” questions in order to show that the system is progressing under their watch. But how much is too much? When does one go overboard and start drawing legs on snakes when they finish first?

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This experiment tests the capillarity of three different materials. The student is asked to choose the material that is most suitable for making a school bag. Just see how carelessly the question was phrased. The materials must be different. There is no point comparing if they were identical. In this case, you’re comparing three different materials with equal dimensions – not three identical materials.

Aiyoyo, teacher. Please try to get the basics right before you start drawing legs on snakes.

© Chan Joon Yee


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Teacher Aiyoyo

I admit that we have the best educational system in this part of the world (Southeast Asia). But the culture here in Singapore dictates that we can never stop improving. Yes, complacency is bad, but so is not knowing when to stop. In an attempt to outdo their predecessors, educators set more and more “challenging” questions in order to show that the system is progressing under their watch. But how much is too much? When does one go overboard and start drawing legs on snakes when they finish first?

This is question for a listening comprehension exercise. While we can all understand that it’s only a hypothetical case meant to test the student’s listening and understanding ability, I feel that the example is a really bad one. If there are so many changes to something as important as an exam timetable, would you dictate it to the class like that? Yao mo gao chor ah? You would print out a new timetable and have the parents sign to acknowledge the changes, wouldn’t you? Aiyoyo!

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Slimming Cups?

Cupping is a recognised form of treatment in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Many of us are already familiar with it. Even if we haven’t tried it ourselves, we would have seen the bruises that result from the procedure on men and women we see on the streets. According to TCM literature, cupping has the following functions:

1. free channels and dredge collaterals
2. promote qi and activate blood
3. relieve swelling and pain
4. dispel wind and scatter cold

This may sound like a lot of hubris to the layman, but it makes perfect sense in TCM theory, especially when combined with other forms of treatment like acupuncture. Most TCM practitioners use cupping and acupuncture to treat pain, swelling, asthma and flu. Sometimes it works. Sometimes the results fall far short of expectation. Taking a pill for a transient, acute headache could have been far more effective and convenient.

Let’s put matters in perspective. Before modern medicine was available, our ancestors had to resort to needles and unpalatable herbal brews to treat all sorts of ailments, including life-threatening ones. In those days, infant mortality rate was high and life expectancy was low, but being the best form of treatment available then, people accepted the pain, inconvenience and unpredictability. Fast forward to the present and we life in the age of super machines and drugs. Along with affluence and hectic work schedules, came ailments associated with stress and the lack of physical activity. While there are drugs for hypertension, insomnia and hyperlipidemia, there are no specific prescriptions for cellulite, obesity or longevity. Sure, obesity can be managed with strict diet and vigorous exercise, the ever-busy modern man/woman is easily persuaded that there’s some secret formula that works quicker and requires far less effort. Ironically, as cynical people begin to doubt the safety and efficacy of modern medicine, they become intrigued with “ancient secrets”.

Singapore’s latest slimming fiasco began with blogger queen Xiaxue trying out a slimming programme that involved cupping. The slimming centre that did it for her claims on its website that it has won awards and “consults with” one of my mentors in the TCM college. Xiaxue was engaged to do an advertisement for this company. She became really excited when they told her they had clients who had lost 6, 10 or even 15kg after one month. To make it more “convincing”, other “lifestyle bloggers” who advertised for the company swore by the treatment. All they had to do was lie down for treatment and eat a healthy diet after that.

There are two client testimonials on that company’s website, but frankly, I don’t believe that cupping can slim a body down. Acupuncture and herbal medicine may work if there is some underlying pathology like “stomach fire” or “dampness” or fluid retention, but the effect of cupping is localised. There are studies to support it, but the results are quite inconsistent. I don’t see how cupping can make people lose weight.

A friend of mine was once persuaded by his tuina master to go through a pinching session to reduce his tummy. That fool let the quack grab a thickness of his flab between his fingers and throw out as hard as he could. At the end of the screaming session, he was left with a badly bruised tummy. The only thing that vanished after two weeks was the bruising. Not surprisingly, Xiaxue was disappointed after her baguan session. Not only was there no effect on her weight, she suffered painful bruises which she said were even worse than filler injections on her face.

I think not. Filler injections in the face are more painful than the bruises, but the pain doesn’t last long and the injection sites are relatively few. For cupping, the pain can drag on for days – especially if skin is broken and if the area is extensive.

Well, Xiaxue decided to be honest about it (unlike some other “lifestyle bloggers” who photoshopped the bruises away and who knows what else they’ve photoshopped) and posted her bad experiences on her “dyre”. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m guessing that it’s probably some blog or forum managed by the slimming centre in question. Xiaxue later realised that she probably shouldn’t have done that and removed those posts. Unfortunately, someone from the company had seen them and threatened legal action!

At this point, I have to say that I’m more amused than shocked. Yao mo gao chor ah? Haven’t they learned anything from the Roy Ngerng saga? True enough, Xiaxue refused to back down. She went to her own blog and told the whole story as it is. She said: “Without real, true opinions, a blogger has no credibility. A blogger with no credibility cannot sell ads…”

Very true, but let’s not kid ourselves. The most popular bloggers out there are all the lifestyle bloggers. They are the ones most sought after by companies dealing with lifestyle products and services. Let’s not kid herself. Can the business of advertising through bloggers even exist without all the hype and complicity of all parties with vested interests?

Yes, it’s good that Xiaxue has chosen not to do the ad under such circumstances, but there is a fine line between promoting a product/service “ethically” and praising it more than it deserves. It is almost impossible to be totally honest about a product when you are paid to promote it. After a fiery start (with the usual colourful Xiaxue imprecations), the latter part of Xiaxue’s blog posting became a lot more civil:

I’m not saying the company isn’t ethical or the bloggers aren’t. This is just a factual review of my experience with the place.

Before we get prepared to crowd-fund Xiaxue for a possible lawsuit, let’s take a look at something interesting. Below is an advertisement for a slimming tea which Xiaxue posted on her Facebook profile.

The “hey Wendy, here’s your edited caption…” shows that she had merely copied and pasted the supplier’s message (addressed to her) wholesale without assessing the efficacy of the product objectively. As Xiaxue mounts the moral high horse while commenting on this slimming centre’s service and other bloggers’ approach to marketing, we should be aware that Singapore’s blogger queen has been influencing young, impressionable minds for many years. Had she been as selective and discerning with the products she had promoted like she claimed to be? There could be other reasons for Xiaxue to fall out with this slimming centre. Anyone who is not a naive and impressionable fan of these “lifestyle bloggers” (who are said to earn tens of thousands of dollars a month) should be at least vaguely aware that they are probably under even greater obligations towards their sponsors than mainstream media journalists.

© Chan Joon Yee


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China Crapping

In 1993, Longman’s Dictionary of English Language and Culture was banned. Its entry for “Bangkok” described Thailand’s capital as a city known for its Buddhist temples and “a place where there are a lot of prostitutes”. Thai authorities said that the publication had eroded the good moral standards of the Thais. The Thai Foreign Ministry had demanded that Longman delete the offending reference but only received some clarification not amounting to an apology.

I’m not sure how many people have been sabotaged by such a description from an authority on definitions, but certainly, an entry like that would not only have ruffled more than a few Thai feathers. Imagine how our Farang guys visiting Thailand regularly are going to explain to their wives. Imagine what the guys and girls at the office would think when their boss goes to Thailand on holiday yet again. Sadly, Thailand already had a reputation and Longman’s Dictionary baldly reinforced it.

But let us not forget that it’s perfectly possible to avoid the places that you see above. Bangkok is a favourite shopping destination for many Asian women. The city is also the true hub for medical tourism. Thailand earned a whopping US$4.31 billion in revenue from medical tourism in 2013. High profile private hospitals in major cities pamper tourists with VIP treatment at affordable rates. In comparison, Singapore’s highly regulated medical tourism sector brought in only a tiny US$216 million. It is unfortunate that prostitution attracts far more attention than ornate temples, shopping centres and high tech hospitals.

But make no mistake, it is an issue and a very big one too. Over the last 30 years, I’ve not had a single Thai friend who would qualify as a full-fledged prostitute, but there are more than a few “borderline” cases from social classes ranging from farmers to accountants. I have literally written books on the culture and mentality that spawns and propagates this industry. There are apologists and other folks in denial who claim that prostitution represents only a tiny, insignificant part of their glorious culture. Sure, these folks may be antique collectors, muay Thai enthusiasts or meditation junkies, but I still beg to differ. Looking objectively at the social phenomena which contribute to the oldest profession in this country, it is difficult to conclude whether Thailand deserves its reputation.

Now let’s shift our focus to ugly Chinamen (women) crapping in public. Be warned that what you’re going to read next may affect your appetite or your ability to hold down a heavy meal.

I first visited China in 1995 and as my father had already been there to visit our relatives long before that, I was mentally prepared for the adventure. One of the most shocking things for the average Singaporean would be the public toilets. One would simply crap into holes in the cement floor. Sometimes, the holes are housed in cubicles but there are never any doors. There is usually a big drain under the hole. Once in a while, the drain would be flushed. In winter when water supply is low and when the shit gets viscous, it could pile up like ice cream and extrude from the hole. People would gladly crap in the open when they see that.

Then, in 1997, I travelled on the Silk Road from Beijing to Kashgar. I took public transport all the way on my month-long sojourn. It was summer and flies were all over the place. The smell of the toilets was stronger and travelled further. I tried as far as possible to “keep” it for the hotel, but when it was not possible, I was somewhat relieved that there was no toilet in sight. Whenever we were given a toilet break on a long bus journey, people just peed and crapped by the side of the road. It was such a pleasant experience compared to crapping in a house of shit and flies.

On the 18-hour journey between Lanzhou and Jiayuguan, the bus stopped several times in the middle of the Gobi Desert and we disembarked, men on one side of the bus, women on the other side and left our excrement on the road. At some small outposts in the desert, the owners of teashops would lock up their toilets to prevent travellers from using them. Need to relieve yourself? Do it on the sand. In China, crap like the Chinese do. Everybody was baring his butt and the whole thrill of voyeurism was completely lost.

Now let’s get back to Singapore where the culture of crapping in the open is completely lost after mobile toilets became available to our army boys. I suspect that little has changed in most parts of China outside the coastal cities. Having read all this, would you be surprised that some of the millions of folks who travel this way on long-distance buses in China might find it perfectly natural to crap in the open?

calvincheng

Mr Calvin Cheng has NEVER seen this – just as a meditation junkie might declare that there is no prostitution in Thailand. Somehow I’m not surprised. It makes the ivory tower analogy so appropriate. Or is it simply another case of 睁着眼睛说瞎话? Seriously, do only mentally ill people in China pee and crap in the open? I’m sure we know better, especially people like me who had to crap like a mainlander for a month. Mr Cheng owns us an apology. He is insulting all the perfectly sane people who leave their trails outside the filthy toilets all over China.

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Sweet Distraction

When China’s President Xi Jinping pledged to fight corruption, he probably meant it. Once powerful former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang is now under investigation after it has been revealed that when Zhou was in charge, his department spent more money than the military.

Conspiracy theorists speculate that Xi is just trying to get rid of a very unpopular figure to boost his own popularity. Meanwhile, another investigation is going on. This time, it involves a very popular Chinese internet star who can’t be more different than Zhou. Before I introduce her, let me tell a little story about an organisation she claimed to work for.

Some years ago when I was working at Lucky Plaza, my landlord put up a signboard bearing a red cross to indicate where the medical centre was. They were immediately asked to take it down. The reason given was that people may mistake the medical centre as one run by the Red Cross! So typically Singaporean.

Well, it seems that only the Red Cross has the right to use the red cross and they’re probably afraid that their reputation may be tarnished if the sign can be used by just anybody. Interestingly, China’s internet star Guo Meimei (not to be confused with HK singer Jocie Kwok) associated herself with the Red Cross in China, claiming to be the organisation’s general manager.

Coming from a single-parent family, Guo Mei Mei’s father was imprisoned for fraud when she was still a baby. Her mother’s sister has also been incarcerated for pimping and an uncle of hers has been executed for drug offences. Her mother operated shady massage parlours in Shenzhen and amassed considerable wealth when Guo reached adulthood. From a young age of 20, Guo Mei Mei (real name: Guo Meiling 郭美玲) shot to fame on the internet when she flaunted her wealth and distinguished family background on social media.

Like many female “lifestyle bloggers”, she irked some netizens by bragging about her background, the elite schools she went to and showing off her Lamborghini, Maserati, luxury bags and clothes. She even called herself “princess”. While some of her detractors were probably just jealous, others raised questions about Guo Mei Mei’s source of wealth. They also raised concerns that Red Cross donations might have been misused. The more netizens chided her outrageous online behaviour, the more attention she drew. Like ants to honey, advertisers and sugar daddies flocked to her.

Donations to the Red Cross quickly plummeted, prompting the organisation to publicly declare that Guo Mei Mei was no employee of theirs. In response, Guo Mei Mei clarified that she didn’t work for the Red Cross but a company with a similar name. Regardless, the damage to Red Cross’ reputation has been done.

This being the age of the citizen journalist, Guo Mei Mei’s former schools were soon identified. Not only did she not attend elite schools, she often played truant and didn’t even turn up for her examinations. A former teacher testified that she was timid and often bullied.

Worse, a highly resourceful netizen found out that the Shenzhen-registered yellow Lamborghini Guo Mei Mei was photographed in belongs to a man by the name of Wang Jun. It was not known who Wang Jun is, but there happens to be a Deputy Minister of Finance by the name of Wang Jun. As if that weren’t telling enough, this Wang Jun is also the Chairman of China’s Red Cross Society! I guess it won’t take long before Xi Jinping orders an investigation but interestingly, many online discussions and microblog postings on Guo Mei Mei had mysteriously disappeared.

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Like many female “lifestyle bloggers”, Guo Mei Mei also flaunted her beauty and her figure. Many netizens suspected that her pictures have been cleverly photoshopped, but it was soon revealed that she had spent a bomb on plastic surgery after an employee at her plastic surgeon’s office leaked her photos taken before and after surgery.

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When Guo Mei Mei finally appeared in public and was photographed by reporters, the rather unflattering pictures confirmed that the pictures she showed online were all heavily edited and she was going all out to fool everyone. Undeterred, she announced her intention to enter the entertainment line. Her detractors investigated and revealed that no film or recording company would pay her to perform. Below is her self-funded MV.

Yes, it’s harder to fool people with videos than with photos. And with a voice like that, it’s no wonder that nobody in the entertainment industry would finance her. Apart from this, Guo Mei Mei also shot an audacious self-promoting documentary entitled “I’m Guo Mei Mei”. She unabashedly opined that there is no such thing as bad publicity. But to any astute netizen, Guo’s rise to fame/infamy was carefully planned and orchestrated. An average girl like Guo Mei Mei couldn’t have been able to earn so much as a blogger and have the means to engineer this whole scheme. Who could the person behind all this be?

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Guo Mei Mei was finally arrested last month, not for impersonating a Red Cross employee but on charges of operating a gambling racket. So what’s the source of her staggering income? She admitted to prostituting herself, but then again, that might not be true as she could be shielding her sole sponsor. The truth may be a little too awkward for the Chinese government to handle. Will this saga draw our attention away from Zhou Yongkang, or are the authorities digging up a bigger scandal in what seems like a frivolous, sweetly distracting case?

© Chan Joon Yee


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Teacher Aiyoyo Part 2

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Have you spotted this? The enemy of something good is the quest for “perfection”. There are numerous examples of fixing something that ain’t broken and breaking it in the process within our much-lauded educational framework.

“The veins transport waste materials to the organs that can remove them from the body, such as the kidneys.”

Veins are blood vessels that drain blood from organs and return the blood to the heart. They do not transport waste materials to the organs. The lungs excrete carbon dioxide. The kidneys excrete urea. The pulmonary arteries which carry blood to the lungs contain more carbon dioxide than the pulmonary veins that drain the lungs. Similarly, the renal arteries which supply blood to the kidneys contain more urea than the renal veins which drain the kidneys. The renal arteries are the ones that transport waste materials to the kidneys – not the veins.

Anybody who has passed his O Level Biology should know that. But wait a minute. This is PSLE. O Level is 4 years away even for the “Express” stream.

In this PSLE revision book (the company publishes school text books and runs an MOE-recognised teaching portal), the writers have scratched the surface of O Level Biology, making themselves ostensibly more advanced and impressive. But the result of not being able to teach a complex subject in a simple way is confusion and misinformation, pretty much like drawing legs on a snake during extra time.

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Teacher Aiyoyo!

The following page was taken from a PSLE assessment book from a reputed publisher of school text books. Check out their summary of organs and their relationship with the circulatory system below:

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Go through the lines and see if you can spot the mistake. This is what happens when you try to scratch the surface at a much higher level to make the lower level look impressive. You end up teaching the wrong thing. Teacher aiyiyo!

The answer is here.

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A Spellbinding Tale?

Twelve years ago, ATV actress Erica Choi (蔡曉儀) suddenly disappeared from the entertainment scene after returning to Hong Kong from a promotional tour in Thailand.

Erica was one of ATV’s leading actresses in the 1990s, and her last project was a guest appearance for the ATV drama Law 2002 <法內情2002>, which also starred Anita Yuen (袁詠儀) and Felix Wong (黃日華).

Erica’s mysterious disappearance led to many conspiracy theories. Rumors said that Erica was mentally unstable and was struggling with a mood disorder.

“Yes, something crazy did happen that year,” Erica confirmed in her interview. “When I was still with ATV, I traveled to Thailand to do some promotion. I met a Thai-Chinese, who pursued me, but I rejected him.

“Afterwards, someone cursed me with black magic. I lost control of my emotions, and I felt like dying. I was always feeling down, and I also attempted to commit suicide several times.”

In her first suicide attempt, Erica tried to swallow pills, but her family members saved her just in time. In her second attempt, she tried to slit her wrists with a knife, but fortunately, the knife was too dull.

According to a report on Jayne Stars, Erica spent some time recovering in the hospital and under the care of her family.

“My elder sister was there to support me in my darkest times. She cried a lot because of me. She was also my economic support in the last few years.”

Asked why Erica chose to disclose such a private matter in her life to the public, she said, “I want to share my experiences. I want to say that even if you’re faced with difficulties, you must clench your teeth and work through it.

“Circumstances will change with the passage of time, and you will eventually see your sky. We should not give up when we are troubled. After suffering comes happiness.

“I am ready to make a comeback,” the 42-year-old said in a recent interview. “I will face my life positively.”

http://www.lollipop.sg/content/actress-who-disappeared-12-years-ago-says-she-was-cursed-black-magic

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This story should sound familiar to many of those who have read my book, Spellbound in Chiangmai. Folks who have been charmed by a friendly stranger into buying over-valued gems tell their friends that they couldn’t have done something so stupid if the swindler hadn’t used black magic on them. Businessmen who have put their life savings into a botched investment in Thailand insist that their evil competitors must have cast a spell on them. Respectable gentlemen (or ladies) get duped into doing silly things by bimbos who have only half their IQ. Why? It has to be black magic. I have this to say. Thai black magic is seriously over-rated.

The science and art of the “occult” is something that is exclusive to an extremely tiny group of unworldly practitioners who do not unleash their powers at the request of any Patpong girl. What these “victims” suffered from was simply a serious case of hallucination. Most of us in Singapore who had a rather sheltered upbringing tend to equate friendly, seemingly altruistic behaviour with honesty, responsibility and commitment.

I hate to speculate on Erica Choi’s case (even though I definitely won’t get sued for it), but the story behind all this “black magic” might be a good source of inspiration for any new movie she may contemplate starring in.

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One Voice?

It may make you cringe. It may make you laugh. It made me say yao mo gao chor ah? I guess you make a stronger impression when you make people cringe.

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The Streaming Universe

When you “come of age” and are not in the pink of health, you know that it’s time to write an autobiography – especially when you’re an eminent celebrity scientist like Stephen Hawking. In his book My Brief History, Hawking tells us about his life history (with quite a bit of intimate personal details) in his own words.

Nobody expects a serious science book to be a bestseller, but Stephen Hawking’s 1992 book, A Brief History of Time shot him to fame. Many people knew that it was a great book, but few really understood it. This book reveals that it took him 10 years to write A Brief History of Time. Cynics even remarked that the book would not have sold so well if not for Hawking’s disability. Nevertheless, nobody can deny Hawking’s genius. In My Brief History, however, some readers may be more interested in the story about how his first wife Jane brought a boyfriend to live with the family when his condition worsened! Hawking moved out with his nurse Elaine (when he couldn’t take it anymore) and later married her. Elaine helped him cheat death several times, but she finally couldn’t take it anymore and they got divorced in 2007.

Yes, it’s all very juicy, but in this blog entry, I’ll focus on one aspect of Hawking’s life that would strike a very familiar chord in the hearts of Singaporeans his childhood. But first of all, take a look at this:

Singapore’s 15-year-olds came out tops in a global assessment of problem solving skills, as part of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test conducted in 2012…

The performance of Singapore students debunked criticism of its education system – that it encouraged rote learning at the expense of developing creative skills, said Mr Andreas Schleicher, Special Advisor to the OECD Secretary-General on Education Policy and Deputy Director for Education and Skills.

You can find the full article here.

Really? Where are our great inventors? Where is our Stephen Hawking? Where is our Steve Jobs? Would Mr Sim Wong Hoo have done well in such a test? What about the foreign talent at the helm of banking and other industries in Singapore? Would they have done well in the PISA test? Why do we need them if our students would have beaten them flat in PISA tests? Isn’t our celebration of this “achievement” by the students a stark indication that we are more interested in scores and marks than clever ideas and actual creations?

Now let’s take a look at a segment I extracted from Stephen Hawking’s book.

At the age of ten, I took the so-called eleven-plus exam. This was an intelligence test that was meant to sort out the children suited to an academic education from the majority who were sent to non-academic secondary schools. The eleven-plus system led to a number of working-class and lower-middle-class children reaching university and distinguished positions, but there was an outcry against the whole principle of a once-and-for-all selection at age eleven, mainly from middle-class parents who found their children sent to schools with working-class kids. The system was largely abandoned in the 1970s in favour of comprehensive education.

The UK abandoned this form of streaming in the 1970s and we are still adopting and refining it. While it’s perfectly OK to me that children from working class families are put into the same class as children from middle class families based on meritocracy, it is a cruel and close-minded system that judges our children at a young age and does not treat them holistically. Worse, are the “challenging” questions which are so difficult to answer because they are so lame.

As you may have expected, the young Hawking narrowly escaped being a victim of streaming.

English education in the 1950s was very hierarchical. Not only were the schools divided into academic and non-acedemic, but academic schools were further divided into A, B and C streams. This worked well for those in the A stream but not so well for the B stream and badly for those in the C stream, who got discouraged… This is a tremendous blow to their self-confidence, from which some never recovered.

All those who ranked below 20th in an A stream class were automatically taken out and placed in a B stream or C stream class. Stephen Hawking was placed in an A stream class because he scored well for IQ, but he came in below 20th position in his class for the first two terms. Only in the third term did he come in at 18th position. He almost ended up on the path to being a plumber or mechanic.

I have no doubt that tests and examinations are still required in any educational system. However, both educators and their students must be made aware that the examination system is not a perfectly reliable gauge for determining the proficiency or competence of the student. Yet, exam results, even at a young age, would have such a tremendous impact on a child’s future. Would you as a doctor decide on performing radical surgery based on the results of an unreliable test?

Stephen Hawking is a great thinker. We should all read his book and start thinking for ourselves.

© Chan Joon Yee

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