Final Look at 2014: School, Science and Education

Singapore made world cup history this year, well sort of. In probably the most embarrassing way possible. Before the kickoffs in June, the National Council for Problem Gambling (with the best of intentions no doubt) developed this advertisement to dissuade hardcore punters from squandering all their money away:

Then in the finals, German striker Mario Gotze made Argentinian fans weep with a single extra-time goal, and the boy's dad rich beyond his wildest dreams. So gambling does pay off eh?

(Left red-faced, National Council for Problem Gambling tried to salvage the situation by rolling out a follow-up ad, but if Jimmy Fallon and John Oliver couldn't care less, we won't either.)

As I am drafting this, I reckon there are a handful currently in the most jovial of moods. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won magnificently in the recent snap elections, while chubby North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un must be pumping his fist and popping champagne in celebration with his sister and what's left of his general staff, courtesy of Sony Entertainment's decision to pull the plug on releasing THAT MOVIE. Not forgetting Michael Keaton (yes that dude who played Batman in 1989 and 1992) has finally shaken off the dust and is on a roll, scooping various acting accolades and a golden globe nomination for his latest film outing Birdman. That said, we shall miss you dearly Robin Williams, and may you rest in peace.

Oopsie daisy, got carried away. Here comes the proper review:

The British government has rightly engineered a series of major moves to better shape their students for the future working society; these include prioritizing the teaching of Maths and Physics in schools, instituting a new computer science GCSE component focusing on coding and the setting up of a brand new college for digital skills.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of American educators are opposing the Common Core State Standards; even Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal who was once in favor of them changed his mind and got sued as a result.

A new breakthrough prize in Mathematics jointly set up by Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of Facebook) and Yuri Milner (an internet entrepreneur) were won by British researchers Richard Taylor, Simon Donaldson and three others earlier in June this year. Hopefully these trophies will rival The Nobel awards in prestige years down the road, and make Mathematicians who are ever so dedicated to their craft feel less unappreciated.

Not feeling too mathematically inclined? A knock to the head might just do the trick. At least it worked for Jason Padgett, a school dropout who was transformed into a Maths whiz after being mugged and suffered a heavy blow to the back of his head. Apparently acquired savant syndrome, as it is termed, has only been witnessed in about 40 people around the world, so consider yourself warned if you are contemplating undergoing an acutely painful instance of "mental rebirth" or whatever you choose to call it.

Christopher Nolan's recently released "Interstellar", a juggernaut of a motion picture about space-time travel, might just become terribly leaky in scientific coherence if we are a hundred percent convinced by renowned Physicist Stephen Hawking's assertion that black holes do not exist.

Things didn't look too rosy for NASA when the Antares rocket carrying an unmanned spacecraft bound for the International Space Station exploded seconds after liftoff in October. On the other hand, high-fives were slapped within the European Space Agency as its Rosetta space mission successfully landed its Philae probe on on a comet-a historical first for mankind.

First there was Google Glass. Soon to come: Google Spoon? Looks like it, as the ever curious search engine giant invests heavily into creating a no-shake scooping device to serve the needs of people stricken by Parkinson’s disease.

Things certainly aren't less exciting in Singapore, as a public uproar errupted in July over the National Library Board's decision to ban three children's books deemed to contain homosexual overtones (two titles were eventually restored in the Adult Section, whilst a third was already pulped by then). 3 months later, a feisty girl didn't like the way an external vendor conducted sex education workshops in her school, and therefore fired off an extremely wordy letter of complaint to her school principal. The result? Provision of said workshops to be completely terminated by year-end.

The National University of Singapore's reputation suffered a dent when it was revealed one Anoop Shankar who worked at NUS faked his academic credentials. Not exactly the proudest moment for a premier tertiary institution which is constantly ranked alongside some of the best in the world.

This is as much as I can humanly offer in a single post, and I pray you have found this sharing session somewhat helpful. Before signing off, please join me in observing a moment of silence for the victims of flights MH17 and MH370. Bless their souls.

To a better 2015. Peace.

(The above was also featured in the January 2015 edition of the Carnival of Mathematics )