Looking beyond the pain over PSLE

Covid-19 has been tough on this year’s cohort, pointing to further action needed as the children go on to secondary school. Parents too need to consider the broader shifts in education and the lessons they impart their children in their responses to exam setbacks.

This year’s PSLE exposed a chasm between what the majority of this cohort of Primary 6 pupils were prepared for, and what they were ultimately able to do. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Laremy Lee
For The Straits Times

So palpable was the pain from this year’s mathematics primary school leaving examination (PSLE) that it even affected those of us who did not sit the exam.

It prompted my 29-year-old cousin to recount, over WhatsApp, her traumatic experience in 2004, when she sat for her PSLE: “For my cohort, our science PSLE was the toughest. Science was my best subject. But I could neither do the paper nor finish it in time. I was quite shaken and on the verge of breaking down. Our teachers confirmed it was the toughest science paper they had seen in years. So how (this cohort of) pupils must be feeling totally resonates with me.”

(Continue reading the full article here.)

(Published as “Looking beyond the pain over PSLE” on 7 Oct 2015 in The Straits Times.)

The last Teachers’​ Day you’ll ever observe – and how to avoid it

Today is Teachers’ Day in Singapore, a day set aside to appreciate the hard work of caring for young lives and minds.

As educators – both leaders and teachers alike – take the day to rest, recharge and reflect on the good that they do, this thought-provoking question should be contemplated too:

What if this were the last Teachers’ Day you’ll ever observe?

For some, I’m sure it’d be even more reason to celebrate. Yay! they’d cheer. No more pesky parents, needy teachers or annoying students to deal with!

Jokes aside, the feeling for most, especially for those in the prime of their career, would be midway between existential dread and impending doom.

Professional obsolescence is a very real threat in all industries, given accelerating technological developments and an increasingly changing social environment.

Naysayers often add to the anxiety by prophesying how the job of teachers will soon disappear, given advancements in technologies that do the work of imparting knowledge better than teachers can.

To avoid being replaced by robots, educators must not only lead and teach well; they must discharge a duty of care at a level that machines will never be able to match.

First, inspire staff and students to learn and challenge them to grow by connecting with them on a human level.

Let staff and students know and feel they are important, and that each is accountable to their own selves for their achievements.

Next, use imagination and creativity to build environments and craft experiences that foster thoughts, values and actions required for well-rounded learning and growth.

This engages staff and students in a holistic manner, and promotes a sense of belonging to their communities for deeper engagement.

Finally, care for your staff and students in the ways they want to be cared for, in order to forge a culture of excellence.

When staff and students know and feel they are heard, supported and trusted, it creates a virtuous circle of care in the educational ecosystem.

Ultimately, this empowers staff and students to strive to succeed and become the best versions of themselves.

A Happy Teachers’ Day to all educators out there, and here’s to many more to come!

Lessons we learn in this lifetime

(NOTE: I had actually published this post on Vesak day, to share something tangentially related to the festival which has given me a different perspective on life [and death]. However, I realised there was a lot more i wanted to say and have been adding to it since then.)

Over a month ago, I stumbled upon this Reddit thread titled “Parents, what spooky ‘past life‘ memory did your kid utter?”.

A discussion on reincarnation, it explores how young children will sometimes relate, to their parents, eerie accounts of past lives.

For the record: I’m not a woo-woo person. I find it hard to believe claims about alternative medicine, mysticism and the like, especially when they sound more like assertions than well-researched findings.

So when I started reading the thread, it was with some degree of scepticism.

Undoubtedly, there were dubious-sounding stories. Yet, for many of the recounts, there seemed to be a pattern:

  1. The children who had past-life memories were very young, around the ages of three to six years old or so.
  2. The utterances often took the sentence stems of “I used to…”, “When I was older…”, “This happened when I was big/grown-up…”, “Before you were my mum/dad…”, etc.
  3. These memories were sometimes triggered by certain experiences or places.

It took a while but I ploughed through all the comments, fascinated by the uncanny similarities of the cases.

Or coincidences, perhaps. I was recently introduced to the word “apophenia” or the “tendency to perceive meaningful connections between unrelated things”.

I was well aware of the possibility of me trying to make meaning out of nothing at all, as well as all the other conclusions that could be reached.

At the risk of dating myself, I’ve used the web long enough to be familiar with the adage “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”.

In other words, the nature of the internet affords an anonymity that allows anyone to pretend to be someone they are not, contributing to the proliferation of catfishing, a heightened belief in fake news, etc.

So it could be argued that these people who were posting on the Reddit thread – if they were even people and not bots – were all in on the act, posting tall tales for the attention, using a certain template hence the pattern, etc.

Even then, my gut told me there seemed to be much more to reincarnation and past lives that I – and we, as a civilisation – don’t know enough about.

At the same time, I saw, in some of the posts, mentions of academic research on reincarnation that had been carried out.

I thought it fair to suspend my judgement and started sifting through the external sources provided by some Redditors, as well as searching for key terms that had sprung up in the posts.

Since then, I’ve been reading as much as I can on these – and related – topics.

Interestingly, I’d been carrying out research on mindful leadership and self-care since last year, with some forays into meditation.

Some of the concepts I’m reading and learning about are starting to coalesce in some manner – though, again, I acknowledge the possibilities of confirmation bias, recency bias, etc.

I’m compiling what I’ve covered so far below this post so as to facilitate the search for anyone who might be interested in finding out more and desires some level of rigour in the readings.

As mentioned earlier, I’m not a woo-woo person, so I wanted to be sure the works had some degree of credibility.

Unfortunately, there’s still some fluff in some of the materials. This is unavoidable and should not be seen as marring the overall quality of the research done by other scholars or thinking embarked upon by other writers.

Until there are better and more precise ways to capture measurements, information, etc. about the phenomenon, what we have presently has to suffice for now.

Perhaps you might also be interested as to where I stand with regard to reincarnation and past lives, and why I’ve been so captivated by it.

First, the notion of reincarnation. Is it real? Does it exist?

The best answer I have right now comes from the translated abstract of a Spanish paper* which encapsulates my views in a nutshell:

The hypothesis of reincarnation is controversial. We can never say that it does not occur, or [that we] will obtain conclusive evidence that it happens. The cases that have been described so far, isolated or combined, do not provide irrefutable proof of reincarnation, but they supply evidence that suggest its reality.

Ernesto Bonilla, “Evidence that suggest the reality of reincarnation”

* NOTE: I haven’t been able to read the paper in full so my assumption is that the translated abstract represents the paper accurately, and that the paper is sound.

Next, if reincarnation is real, it’s conceptually appealing to me, as a believer in and lifelong practitioner of people development.

The purpose of reincarnation, as theorised by some religions in which reincarnation is a central part of their belief system, is for each of us to learn a set of lessons in each lifetime as we progress to our final stage, be it enlightenment, liberation or what have you.

Even if reincarnation were proven to be fake or a hoax, this principle of bettering ourselves is still a noble one to practise.

There’s a third reason which revolves around human intelligence and the next stage of our evolution as a species, though I haven’t quite been able to formulate it into a coherent thought.

The general idea I have right now: we need to be devoting as much resources – money, time, energy, etc. – to understanding ourselves as we are dedicating to developing technology of and for the future.

I hope to return to this soon when my thoughts are more fleshed out. In the meantime, please enjoy the readings and do let me know if there’s anything I should add to the list.

  • Web articles that provide a starting point
    • Children Who Report Memories of Previous Lives | University of Virginia
      The website of the Division of Perceptual Studies, a department in University of Virginia’s School of Medicine, dedicated to the study of phenomena related to consciousness functioning beyond the confines of the physical body, and phenomena that suggest continuation of consciousness after physical death.

The following section contains books from the National Library Singapore which I’d like to borrow, but which aren’t readily available: