Saturday, November 3, 2012

Fitting The Bell Curve

It used to be easy to spot an educated person, the way he carries himself (with dignity) and behaves in front of elders (respectfully). The mark of erudition was not in the paper qualification, but the humble acknowledgement that he always has more to learn. Those were the days when only 5% made it to university. Then, scholars were not closeted pedophiles or exhibitionistic perverts.

Then came the bell curve, the graphical representation of the probability density of the normal distribution (also called the Gaussian distribution), and a statistical method of assigning grades designed to yield a pre-determined distribution of grades among the students in a cohort. National Institute of Education's Assistant Professor Kelvin Tan tells us it's the wretched T-score that matters, that determines whether one gains entrance to a brand name school. The teachers couldn't be bothered whether the youngster acquired the necessary learning to put him in good stead for a meaningful life.  It's all about fitting a finite number into finite schools, places which are continually reduced to accommodate foreign students, brought in at our expense, to dig spurs into our own.

His analogy of a doctored Olympics bears repeating:
"Imagine a new kind of technlogy for the next Olympics, where there is no bar to jump over. The high jumpers just keep jumping, higher and higher.
At the end of the competition, they are not told the actual height that they have jumped, but who comes first, second and third. This meets the purpose of the Olympics in determining who jumped the highest.
But the actual height is not made known to anyone."

Dr Tan explains that the T-score itself doesn't actually tell the student how well he has performed in each subject or across the subjects. In effect, it is just a queue number.

With such an introduction to the rat race, it's no wonder the end product is an embarrassing parade of miscreants. Lawyers who barge into court proceedings uninvited, doctors who lie and scheme to avoid a traffic ticket, and professors who barter gifts for grades.  It makes one wonder what they learn in the universities. The tragedy here is that our system of meritocracy is protective of the charmed lives of those fortunate to be anointed "scholars". Even when they fail spectacularly in the duties assigned - witness the numbers who hold high office without the relevant qualification or track record - they are moved laterally into another well compensated appointment. No wonder parents go through extremes and jump silly hoops to make sure their charges ace the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). One end of the bell curve promises riches in millions, the other spells "It's The End" (ITE).


  1. I brought up with the understanding that an educated person has manners and is considerate of others. This included being humble and, if you had money, you absolutely did not flaunt it.

    If you were arrogant, rude and did not think of others in your actions, then you were deemed uncouth and uneducated. Based on this, too many people here fall into the uneducated category.

    One of things that is to Spore's Huge disadvantage is that we are being led by scholars who have been mollycoddled all their life. They do not have to admit to mistakes. Someone else picks up the shit.

    Since they are not allowed to fail, they cannot learn from their failures. So they never learn, never do better. It is a very dangerous situation that will be this country's downfall.

  2. Guess getting an education is not the same as being educated.

    That "small" difference would gave explained how quite a few very learned personalities have concluded that giving a loan and receiving one have vastly different consequences to one's liability quite opposite to my humble understanding.

    What's more, their understanding of the English Grammar must have been based on "Beyond Queen English", no?

  3. In Singapore, education is meant to feed the economy's appetite, period.

    1. Education is used to justify the rich getting richer.
      After all. Only the rich can afford private tutors for one-on-one teaching ratio.
      While the poor kids get a 40:1 student-teacher ratio.

      The only thing meritocratic about Singapore is how gullible Singaporeans are.
      The rich really think they are better because they believe in their own bullshit.
      And the poor think the playing field is level.

      It's a tribute to how cleverly we have all been brainwashed.

    2. Anonymous @ 11/04/2012 8:42 AM
      "In Singapore, education is meant to feed the economy's appetite, period."

      How right you are. Minister of State for Education Lawrence Wong: "If everyone can move up, we will not have enough ITE graduates out there in the workforce." Everyone is just grist for the mill.

      Education here is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. It's The End (ITE) is one ending, and the other end is the scholars, after all the culling, with their career paths to the top, if they don't trip up. This is where the rat race starts. Learning for learning's sake is a dead end.

      “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” ― Aristotle

      “To educate a person in the mind but not in morals is to educate a menace to society.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

    3. Educating the mind without educating the heart is breeding monster in Sin.

    4. According to Aristotle and Roosevelt, can we now say Cambridge Uni has failed to educate Lee snr and sons ?

  4. The Country will not fall.
    The Regime will.
    And it is not a question
    of if.
    It is how soon?

    Can You tell?

  5. In the past, our educated elite behaved like village elders who shares the spoils and kept a low profile. The current ones behaves like the mafia, close knit and deprives competition, in fact, killing competition at an early stage, cementing thier hold on power.

    1. How do you spell "POLITICAL CRONIES" ?
      How do you spell Town Council upgrading contracts ?

  6. In the bad old colonial days I was as student at Raffles Institution where a good number of the teachers were young Oxbridge graduates fired with enthusiasm to educate colonial subjects as proper English gentleman. They taught the students that being literate is not the same as being educated. Nowadays, as one emninent writer has said, nothing counts unless it can be counted.Sad.

    1. ".. nothing counts unless it can be counted."
      And what can easily be counted?
      Unless and except when the estate tax was suddenly abolished.

  7. In our system of meritocracy, even the anointed scholars are not meritocratic enough. To have real merit you've got to have superior genes which can only come from being part of the holee familee.

  8. How about those most educated cunning ones jailing their best political opponents so that there is no fair competition left to challenge them?

    Gracious, respect & dignity ? My foot!

    1. To anon above and below.
      In other words, we have to question Limpeh's upbringing or lack of it and hence the same with Lee Jr and siblings.

  9. It is foolish to equate being learned with being morally upright or socially dignified.

    The human condition does not preclude arrogance, corruption and deviousness from also gripping the hearts of hawkers, cleaners and garbage men. These are not different animals from the lawyers, doctors and professors you berate.

    On the other hand dignity and grace may also manifest in the more lowly educated; it is not so much the level of education one receives that determines this, but the upbringing at home.