Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An Education In Spending

"Which country spends billions for defence to nurse the
paranoia of a freak election result?"
“I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords,’’ declared Jeopardy! superstar Ken Jennings as he conceded defeat to Watson, the follow up act after IBM's Deep Blue defeated the world's best chess player in 1997. Watson’s remarkable natural language ability to understand the nuanced, pun-laden language of humans demonstrated that given enough time, money, and human input, there are few tests that modern computers cannot pass with flying colors.

The much-publicized development is guesstimated to cost IBM between US$100 million and US$2 billion (actual figure is a closely guarded secret) over a three year period. Let's hope it doesn't give the Ministry of Education any bright ideas - like paying big bucks for a software to mark essays.

The Criterion software, developed by American company Education Testing Services, was tested, measured, and found wanting. It was supposed to be able to comment and make recommendations on grammar, usage, mechanics, style and organisation, but ended up just correcting errors of spelling and grammar, i.e. what your average spell checker does for free. English teacher Clarinda Choh at Hwa Chong is not alone in maintaining that software "will not be able to detect nuances in language and style." Well, definitely not without Watson's 2,880 cores and 16 terabytes of memory anyway. Criterion was reportedly tried out by thousands of secondary schools students here since 2006, at $55 per student. Which begs the question - why is MOE even wasting money to evaluate such stuff? It would do education more good if they had brought in the Jeopardy! program instead of the public service broadcast (PSB) crap that was excuse for the $110 TV and Radio Licence fee collected all these years.

MOE is allocated 23% of the pie, right after the biggest slice for Defence. The 2011 budget comprises $$9.77 billion for Operating Expenditure and $1.14 billion for Development Expenditure, funding meant for Primary, Secondary, Polytechnic and University education (includes JC/CI, ITE, NIE but excluding independent schools). One can understand that Leopard 2A4 battle tanks and F-15SG Eagle fighter jets cost a bomb, but how is the money spent at MOE? For instance, how much (tuition, food, board & lodging, plus $400 per month pocket money) is given to foreign scholars who are depriving Singaporeans of the limited places in the various institutes of learning? The Education Statistics Digest 2010 numbers at the MOE website don't reveal much except that there's a $103 million entry for "Others". Let's hope they are not using the same accountant who cooked the YOG books for Vivian Balakrishnan.


  1. Great post once again.

    I would venture a large sum is into scholarships but equally curious what % are given out to foreign vs local students.

    Perhaps too, some goes to ergonomic furnitures by Herman Millers.

    On a different side note, can anyone explain what's the barcode on the voting slip for? It seems good for some sort of high tech scanning, one just hope that it is not done post-election. Otherwise, I could understand why it's worth billions to ensure non-freak election then.

  2. MOE spent millions engaging Mickinsey & Co. to study on educational excellence and the report came out that the teaching force(all levels) needed to be degree qualified to bring it higher and further.

    However, recently MOE started recruiting O level chinese language teachers to teach in primary schools while advocating that mother tongue emphasis will not be reduced/slighted.

  3. I hope there will be more transparency in how the budget allocated to MOE is spent. Please be mindfull of the basic critical need to ensure the good moral standing of teaching staff.

    I would dread to think our tax payers' money is used to fund extravagant and wasteful feasting sessions, extravagant and unmonitored purchases of unutilized software, machinery or equipment, providing infrastructure to support porn surfing, unethical social networking activites like sex soliciting during office business hours or worse, contributing to someone's fund to buy fast cars or personal apartments aka SLA incident.

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