Friday, November 27, 2009

Singapore on list of ‘degree mill’ countries

SINGAPORE, Nov 26 — Degree mills that churn out ‘graduates’ at the drop of a hat are the sort of dodgy outfits we link with shadier parts of the world, but the problem is a lot closer to home and threatens to harm Singapore’s name as an education centre.

Small as it is, the country appears six times on a list compiled by Oregon’s Office of Degree Authorisation (ODA).

The American state has strict laws regarding the use of qualifications from unaccredited institutions and those dubbed “degree mills” or “degree suppliers”.

It requires that a person’s business cards, CV and letterhead declare if his degree is from an unaccredited university.

The term — degree or diploma mill — has been used in the United States and around the world to refer to “substandard or fraudulent colleges that offer potential students degrees with little or no serious work”.

They range from those which are simple frauds — an address to which people send money in exchange for a degree — to those that require some nominal work from the student but do not require the college-level study normally required for a degree.

Oregon’s laws make its list one of the most comprehensive compiled by a state government body in the United States.

It names six institutions here as offering unaccredited qualifications: Cranston University, Templeton University, Trident University of Technology, Vancouver University Worldwide, Westmore University and Lee Community College.

Names of institutions go on the list if there are queries made by members of the public. Checks are carried out on the status of the university both in the US and with foreign governments before they are put on the list.

Checks by The Straits Times found that Westmore University’s website is hosted by a company operating out of Science Park.

Vancouver University Worldwide, which was ordered to be shut by the Canadian government two years ago, had offered its courses here for a few years.

Several insurance industry professionals have MBAs, while some even have doctorates, from the university.

A few Singaporeans were also found to have degrees from Cranston University and Templeton University. Both are listed as online universities, based in Singapore and possibly Nevada.

The Palin School of Arts and Design in Bras Basah lists Trident University of Technology degrees, but Palin officials say that currently they are not offering the degree programme in advertising and design.

ODA’s list says Trident was denied approval by the state of Wisconsin and it was never legal in New Jersey as claimed.

But what was surprising was the presence on the list of Lee Community College. The private school has a CaseTrust for Education quality mark and is popular for its diploma courses in counselling and psychology.

The Straits Times found that the school, in Maxwell Road, also offers a degree from the American University for Humanities (AUH), which a staff member said is accredited by the American Academy for Liberal Education.

ODA’s website has this to say about the American university: “New name for American University of Hawaii, which was closed by court order. Operations claiming accreditation from The American Academy for Liberal Education in Lebanon do not meet Oregon legal requirements and degrees are not valid here. Degrees issued from Delaware are not valid in Oregon.”

Although the school has been offering degree courses for years, a check with the Ministry of Education (MOE) revealed that Lee Community College is not approved to offer any external degree programmes.

An MOE spokesman said the matter would be investigated.

It warned that new regulations require all private schools to seek permission from the new statutory board, the Council for Private Education (CPE) before offering external degree programmes, including online programmes.

Non-compliance may lead to deregistration of the private school and prosecution of its officials.

Lee Community College’s chief executive, Dr Frederick Toke, said the school spent over US$100,000 (RM338,000) to seek accreditation for the degree programme, which was from the American University for Humanities in Tbilisi, Georgia.

It was accredited by the American Academy for Liberal Education, a recognised accrediting agency in the US for liberal arts institutions, but was rejected by the MOE.

Toke did not explain why the school continued to offer the degree despite the MOE rejection. He would only say that the school is now seeking MOE approval to run other degree programmes from the US.

Alan Contreras, the administrator for Oregon’s ODA, said Singapore never used to feature on the ODA’s list.

“The problem Singapore has is that it opened the door to private post-secondary education without establishing a serious governmental oversight process to make those providers prove that they are legitimate,” he said.

“In effect, your government has allowed its name to be used inappropriately because only government authorised colleges can issue genuine degrees.”

Contreras also warned: “Without enforcement of standards by the government, anything goes. This is why the reputation of degrees issued in Singapore is falling.”

The MOE said that under the new laws that will come into effect by the end of the year, the Council for Private Education will run checks on these claimed partnerships.

“These measures will help ensure that dubious programmes offered by degree mills will not be permitted by CPE to be offered in Singapore,” said the spokesman.

But the new laws have come too late for a 26-year-old who attended evening classes and did course work for over three years for an AUH degree from Lee Community College.

The administrative manager hopes the new laws for private schools will ensure that only valid degrees are offered here.

“I took up the degree because I was interested in a counselling career. I spent more than US$20,000 of my hard-earned money to study for the degree. Now I find out that it is worthless.” — The Straits Times

The above article was posted in Malaysian Insider on 28 Nov 09. It tells the story of complacency and neglect in policing, or at best a tidia apa attitude and hiding behind caveat emptor while innocent students fall prey to dubious degree mills. Singapore cannot afford such lax attitude as it has a reputation to maintain as an education hub. But with no ownership, with everyone looking for someone to carry the can, it is like no man's land. And this thing has been going on for too long and will only do harm to the island's aspiration as an education hub for quality education and the Singapore Brand.

But they is still hope. Wait for LKY to say something and things will get moving.

Top PSLE students

The below article is copied from the Straits Times

Nov 26, 2009 The Straits Times
Top PSLE girl from China
By Jennani Durai

THIS year's top student in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) could barely speak any English when she moved here from China in 2006 with her family.

Qiu Biqing, 13, from Qifa Primary School, achieved an aggregate score of 290, with four A*s and a Distinction in Higher Chinese.

Her father, Mr Qiu Guo Hua, 45, is a research fellow at the National University of Singapore, and her mother, Madam Xie Xiaojin, 42, is a research assistant there. They both work in a physiology lab.

The top Indian pupil this year is Muhammad Saad Siddiqui from Anglo-Chinese School (Primary), and the top Malay pupil is Syafiqah Nabilah Bte Shamshera from Raffles Girls' Primary School.

Biqing said that she improved her English by reading a lot, and not being afraid to speak aloud even if she made mistakes.

She has a place in Raffles Girls' School through the Direct Schools Admission process and hopes to become a lawyer or a novelist.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Education for the real world

Below is an interesting article on what the education scene will be in Singapore down the road. We are reinventing education in more ways than the advanced countries of the West. We are hitting new grounds and carving out a niche for ourselves in education in our own ways. We are edupreneurs.

Saturday November 21, 2009
Education for the real world

Government plans call for developing school pupils in other than academic pursuits, with less emphasis on exams, to equip young people better for life. But some parents still baulk at the change.

FOR years, Singapore’s schools have been steering a bit away from their traditional teaching towards a 21st century “ideas” economy. The pursuit, however, has been sporadic rather than countrywide. But come 2016, an institutional transformation will take place in all primary schools.

The revamp, announced last week, is aimed at making pupils adept at not only Science and English, but also at thinking and communicating.

In seven years’ time – when enough buildings and teachers are in place – all Singapore primary schools (attended by thousands of foreigners) will introduce full-day sessions.

More importantly, they will do away with mid- and end-year exams in Primary One and Two, and only graduates would be allowed to teach.

The future classroom will introduce 7- and 8-year-olds to outdoor education, where music and visual arts will be given as much importance as traditional subjects.

“For kids of this age, exams will not figure at all,” one official said. They will be replaced by assessments of a student’s progress.

Thirdly, children will be encouraged to take up co-curricular activities (CCAs) from Primary 1.

On the longer hours, a senior official said: “We are not adding on academic content to make it a burden to students; we’re trying to build their life skills as well as values, … rebalancing the focus of our system.”

Education Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen said: “We want to have caring citizens ... and students to be independent learners and confident (people).”

These changes, to be extended later to secondary schools, will in part end a system inherited from the British that emphasised exams and rote learning.

It proved successful in producing an educated, disciplined workforce that turned Singapore into a developed nation. Besides, the secondary schools are regularly ranked the world’s top three in Science and Maths.

But in a world in which nations compete with ideas and technical skills, Singapore’s education system has outlived some of its usefulness.

In my course of reporting in recent years, I have frequently heard executives of multinational corporations complain that our data-skilled workers lack initiative and require hand-holding.

This is what the new education system hopes to rectify. The result so far has been impressive.

One neighbourhood primary school has infused robotics into its science teaching, with students designing simple robots and learning about their inner workings.

Thousands of students at another school are taught not only to identify a healthy, nutritious meal, but also to cook it.

Others require their pupils to write compositions on a tablet PC, using PowerPoint for images and colour fonts.

At Hougang Primary, seven-year-olds share their classrooms with an assortment of insects, plants and skeleton frames.

The secondary schools are even more into the game, including practising entrepreneurship.

At a premium school they ran an art gallery carnival, drawing up proposals for manpower costing, concept plans and profit margins.

These experiments are not confined to the top schools. Many “unbranded” ones also excel in them.

One of them has allowed students to operate a general store that sells products and services (like photocopying) to other students. In Jurong Junior College and Fuchun Primary, students can buy shares in businesses in their schools.

Junior college students have met to tackle Singapore’s declining birth rates, while polytechnic youths created a new fragrance and began marketing it to romancing couples – and invented a health-food chocolate for sale to the public.

The strategy is to develop students who are not academically inclined but skilled in other areas like IT, music, sports or designing.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said Singapore’s economy needs all kinds of talented people.

“We now have to try and bring up people who do not necessarily do well in the universities, but who will do well in life,” he said.

On the weaknesses of the current system, one blogger said it successfully produced many A-grade students who were unable to put knowledge to good use “like starting a business.”

Not everyone believes this change can be achieved soon, at least not until the government relaxes its control on this regulated society.

Some do not think it can be – or need be – done at all. Parents who have a fixation on exams and high marks are among the biggest stumbling blocks.

A prominent blogger quoted from a speech given by Sir Ken Robinson, an expert in creative and cultural education, who said children had no need to be taught to be creative.

The reason: they already are creative, and often it is the schools that are educating them out of their creative capabilities, he said.

On the subject of feared failure, Sir Ken said: “Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. They’re not frightened of being wrong ...

“By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies this way. We stigmatise mistakes,” he added.

The determination of Singapore’s mothers to fight for their children’s high grades has played a major role in the nation’s education.

With the new strategy, it could prove negative for their kids when they fail to re-adapt.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Be flexible in teaching Chinese: MM Lee

Wed, Nov 18, 2009
my paper

By Kenny Chee

CHINESE LANGUAGE teachers need to embrace innovative ways of teaching young people the centuries- old language, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said yesterday.

They need to interest their students, through the use of drama, information technology or other activities that youths are passionate about, he said.

They should also focus on honing their students' ability to comprehend and speak the language, rather than on writing skills, which are more difficult to master, he added.

He had this message for them: 'This is the way you are going to go. Use IT, use drama, use every possible method to capture the interest of the children. It doesn't matter what level you teach.'....

The above extract is from

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bouquet for NorthLight School

Mrs Chang Wai Leng wrote to the Straits Times.

My son Chang Shu Ren was featured in Monday's report on NorthLight School, 'Success on their "last chance". He had always struggled academically and was going nowhere in his studies. So it was a joy to me when NorthLight was set up in 2007.

I asked the principal, Mrs Chua Yen Ching, to make an exception and admit him. I had faith that a school with a mission to give a second chance to the academically weak and equip them with the right skills and attitude to succeed in life was the best place for my child.

And our family has been richly rewarded by the growth in confidence and maturity of our son. If there is one word that best describes NorthLight, it is 'heart'. Everything is done for the good of its students and their families.

This heart thing is quite losing its existence in a materialistic city like ours. Good to hear that heart is still around.