Thursday, August 22, 2013

Heng: Parents' mindset key to change

Finally  have time to read the papers!

For years the government had been preaching to us to change mindsets. They even sell the message to themselves! But people change their minds slowly if at all. This is no bad thing. Imagine how unstable and unpredictable society would be if people can be persuaded easily.

What Mr. Heng needs to do is to show in simple and clear terms what is rewarded and punished in our education system. He will discover that we are very fast learners, very adaptable. Mindsets will really change in a hurry.

We must try our best to be fair but also recognize that despite our best efforts life is never fair. Lady luck is often partial and in ways beyond fathoming. Those who are out of luck often petition the government to make things fair but up to a point even the government is powerless here. In fact they might even make matters worse. Once you move away from paper test scores luck will feature more prominently. Persuading people to accept this would be quite difficult especially given that who your parents could give you a leg up or cause you to be handicapped even before you begin to compete. Structural bad luck which we have become locked into can only lead to social bankruptcy.

Years ago LKY had often worried aloud that society will become more stratified but he accepted it as the natural order of things. I wonder if he was prepared to accept its consequences, which must lead to the demise of this place eventually. Then as now people look to education as a leveler or more accurately as the primary means to level up. Any overhaul to the system must bring back this hope and promise. If people can see that they will change their mindset faster than you can blink.

We must also make sure our system is independent of who you know otherwise this will become a cancer to meritocracy. This is yet another devilishly difficult challenge. Many will try to game the system when objective tests are replaced by subjective judgment.

It is both very easy and very hard to change parents' mindset about education. We must make all paths promising but no path is a sure path to success. Random luck must be allowed to work and structural bad luck must be abolished. Sure paths must allow more uncertainty to feature. E.g., we simply cannot allow becoming doctors to be a secure path despite the huge amounts it cost to train them. Similarly being a scholar must be seen by parents as not a sure bet for success, only extremely promising. Then you will find that only the right types of people would opt for a doctoring career, becoming a lawyer or even an admin service officer. Other careers starved of talent would receive more interest. We must not make America's mistake which was to scoop up the smartest for Wall Street. Their promising young were seduced into a sure path when in life nothing is sure. As they stay long enough on the Street they eventually learn this truth but for many that discovery would come too late. Not everyone got out as quickly as Michael Lewis.

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