Thursday, September 20, 2007

the first degree: a publication on scholarships

i was quite surprised to receive a copy of "the first degree" today, together with today's edition of TODAY. [siah lah, there are 3 "today"s in the last sentence...] it caught my attention because the girl on the cover looked like sun yanzi for a moment, but actually it was a Mrs Leong-Ho Hil May, a MOE post-graduate scholarship holder.

according to the color-printed guide (on page 35), "the first degree" has been established since 2001, and i feel quite obiang for not knowing about this free magazine/guide until today. i was quite aware about the scholarship special the Straits Times has once a year, but i wasn't aware that there was a free version being distributed by TODAY.

first thing i noticed about "the first degree" is the scholars depicted in the magazine are all quite chio or yandao (especially this probably-PRC babe on page 26). maybe this is the first thing everybody notices. of course this has no bearing on the reader when deciding whether or not to take up scholarships right? right?

the second thing i noticed was that the timing of the publication was kind of weird. why September? the JC2 students are in the midst of preparing for their prelims and A Level results now. while they might be considering about options after A level results, they are more likely thinking about integration by parts and the first law of thermodynamics. well, if you think they are really really nice guys, maybe they published at this time to serve as motivation to JC2 students to spur them on to do well. if they are really really really nice lah.

the third thing i noticed was that the articles on scholarships only run from page 7 to 34. from page 36 onwards are articles (and advertisements) on SIM, APMI Kaplan, MDIS, NAFA, MIS, Hartford Institute, SHRI, RTRC and Informatics Education Singapore. hmmm i wonder why there are no articles on NUS, NTU and SMU. there are also two content pages. page 4 is the scholarship contents page, while page 6 is the "education" contents page.

the above three points i noted above lead to one conclusion. this is a commercial enterprise. this publication actually is, not unlike the Straits Times scholar special, one large collection of advertisements. it is not public service, articles about Public Service Commission (PSC) scholarships notwithstanding. maybe SPH might partially motivated by altruistic concerns, but i think if not for the money the advertisements bring in, this colorful and glossy publication would not exist. similarly, expensive photographers and photoshop-ing (a la xiaxue) is but basic marketing strategy, a September edition is a promo for the March edition (and the extra revenue doesn't hurt), and there exist articles on private institutions because private institutions paid for it.

now, there is nothing wrong with it being a commercial publication. just because it is a collection of advertisements doesn't mean you must not patronize the advertisers. i happen to not think very highly of the current M&Ms commercial on TV, but this does not affect my consumption of M&Ms one bit. my point is just this: just don't take this as an authoritative source of information about your available options after A levels. you may decide to go for a scholarship still the same, but let it be after you have really contemplated the implications and considered all the options available, and not just all the options that appears on "designed-for-scholars" publications like this and the Straits Times scholarship special. it is not in the best interests of scholarship agencies (and SPH is one of them too) to publicize the various other options available, so you just won't see them on such publications.

if you are a JC2 student and a potential scholar (or a parent of one), you may want to look into these links, as well as this more recent article on Singapore Angle, so that you can make a more informed decision about your future.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

not unreasonable to ask otto fong to take down letter

I'm tight for time, but I feel really inclined to write something short about all this furor going on about Otto Fong, and his taking down of his open letter. I've been trying to find the official MOE press release about this incident but failed to locate it [can somebody help me?]. I read an excerpt of the press release on a comment in an article on TOC, but that article has been deleted (in view of updated information) so that comment is lost, and also that excerpt of the press release. Here is another excerpt, by Mollymeek, which is from Fridae.

Even though I am somewhat sympathetic to Otto's cause, I think it is not unreasonable for RI, or MOE for that matter, to ask him to take down his letter. There has been some sentiments on the blogosphere about how MOE and RI are gay-hating bigots, and I have no evidence that proves them otherwise. Nevertheless, I think what they have done is not unreasonable. Bear in mind that Otto Fong has not been fired, and I doubt he will be. I have no idea to what extent he has been reprimanded or in other ways punished, which is why I need to look at the official press release.

Here is why I think MOE/RI are not totally unreasonable: this whole incident is creating a lot of unwanted attention on RI and Mr Fong himself, and this in the long run, will hurt his students more than help his students. Please bear in mind that Otto Fong did not write an open letter as a political protest. He wrote his letter, and admirable step of courage no doubt, to "confess" to his friends and his colleagues. Perhaps he was not aware of the online frenzy his blog would cause. I suspect that if he knew, he would not have blogged or he would have blogged differently.

Issues about homosexuality are complicated. Or at least I think so. A good deal of Singaporeans, perhaps even the majority, are still not too receptive to the idea of homosexuality. [All the more reason why there should be more gay activism? Perhaps. But Otto Fong wasn't trying to be an activist. Or so I believe.] So what happens when you say "I am gay, and I teach in RI." in this backdrop? There will be a public outcry. Parents will call the school and demand an explanation. Maybe some parents will threaten to take their kids out of the school. Colleagues will be harassed by their own peers. The 12-16 year old students, even though more mature and probably more liberal minded than their peers, will be confused and pulled in different directions. End-of-year exams and O levels are coming up in just weeks, and this happens to them.

I think like any true educator, Otto Fong places the interests of his students first, and he realizes that the controversy he has created may probably harm students more than help them. I think that was why he was convinced to take down the letter, to minimize the damage caused. There are other ways to educate the young about tolerance, discrimination, human rights and gay rights as a teacher. I just think putting up a blog and saying "I am gay and I teach in RI" isn't the best way to do so. I think he thinks so too. Read what he says carefully.

[addendum: Singapore Kopi Tok seems to have some inside info that Otto Fong's letter was intended to be political after all.]