Final Look at 2015: School, Science and Education

On 5 June 2015, 19 people, amongst them Singaporean teachers, students and guides from Tanjong Katong Primary School who were attempting the "Walk the Torq" route at Mount Kinabalu in Sabah perished when a 6.0-magnitude quake struck. The tragedy shook the nation, which had earlier mourned the death of its founding father and first prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Flags flew at half mast during a day of national remembrance on 8 June. They had departed too soon at the behest of an extremely unpredictable Mother Nature. We can only hope their souls are now all in a better place.

On 13 November 2015, more than a hundred were senselessly slain by 3 teams of terrorists/suicide bombers at 6 places within Paris, France. Locations included the vicinity of the national stadium and various restaurants. Many lost their loved ones that Friday, however the solidarity of the human race will heal most, if not all scars. Evil will never prevail. We offer in our hearts, a gentle, silent prayer for those who have had their existence ever so abruptly extinguished by vengeful monsters.

On 16 December 2015, the U.S. Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the very first time in nearly a decade. Has the Fed's chairman Janet Yellen done right by the world? Are we really on the way to a full global economic recovery? Only time will tell.

A day later, Disney Pictures released the seventh installment of Star Wars which was directed by J.J. Abrams. No Jar Jar Binks this time round, Han Solo and gang are back (what's the deal though with a sulky old Luke Skywalker appearing only at the end of the movie?), a certain stormtrooper grew a conscience while a certain kid who wanted so badly to be like his evil granddaddy lost his conscience and knifed his daddy. Kylo Ren, you are such a wimp. Even your stuffy, somewhat constipated breathing voice while in a mask can't compare to that of James Earl Jones.

All right, enough of skewering Ben Solo with vicious lightsaber talk in a galaxy far, far away. By the way, where was Yoda in the movie? Okay, no more digressing, that's a promise.

Britain's resolve to assist the thus far ostracized lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students is keenly demonstrated in its plans to open the first school for LGBT pupils in Manchester. Equally heartening news comes in the form of an announcement by UK’s first newly built university in three decades-the New Model in Technology and Engineering (NMITE) shall strive to populate both its student and teaching communities with as many women as there are men, with emphasis placed on engineering disciplines.

Meanwhile, many parents fumed over Burwood Girls High School's plans to screen a documentary about gay parenting during official school hours, associated with instructions to students to wear purple on the day of screening. This prompted New South Wales Education Minister Adrian Piccoli to issue a firm directive to the Department of Education to change tack. While the film was eventually not shown, students still celebrated Purple Day with the film's director Maya Newell.

Education, which in Malaysia has been a hot political potato for the longest while, got peeled by a rather peeved Sultan of Johor, who called for the unification of the present 3 education streams (National, Chinese and Tamil) into a single entity. Standards of English had decayed considerably due to protectionist policies of mother tongues in the respective streams to preserve individual cultural ideals, which in turn are bringing about substantial negative implications for the grooming of government and trade officials.

At the same moment, an increasing number of Malay families are sending their children to Chinese schools, citing better teaching standards, more assigned homework and above all the opportunity to master Mandarin (China's awakening, anyone? ) as pull factors.

How do you deal with an unmotivated bunch of brats in university? Well, Professor Irwin Horwitz at Texas A&M at Galveston dished out his own brand of "justice" by failing his entire class. He sent the students in his strategic management class an email which went: "Since teaching this course, I have caught and seen cheating, been told to 'chill out,' 'get out of my space,' 'go back and teach,' [been] called a 'fucking moron' to my face, [had] one student cheat by signing in for another, one student not showing up but claiming they did, listened to many hurtful and untrue rumors about myself and others, been caught between fights between students…." University administrators later reversed the fail grades, which didn't please Horwitz one bit naturally.

India took crazy to an all new level when folks literally scaled walls of a school building to pass cheat sheets to exam candidates in the state of Bihar. The number of spidermen, spiderwomen and various conspirators detained by the police in the aftermath? More than a thousand. LMFAO really.

In medical science, a new way to combat Alzheimer's disease might have been discovered; the employment of ultrasound in mouse models was seen to be effective in breaking apart the neurotoxic amyloid plaques that cause memory loss and cognitive decline.

Test for HIV and syphilis using your smartphone and collect the results in 15 minutes? It could become a reality, if this dongle created by Columbia University researchers gets the nod by various jurisdictions. Unfortunately, till date, this contraption is still undergoing rigorous testing and numerous accuracy issues have since surfaced. Fingers tightly crossed.

Holy Jupiter, we might not be alone-sounds familiar? A big yawn escaping the mouth? This time our favourite space agency NASA confirmed that the Jupiter-orbiting moon Ganymede has an ocean hidden beneath its icy surface, raising the prospects for life. Of course the discovery wouldn't have been made possible without the all super powerful Hubble space telescope, which astronomers are seeking to replace with the next-gen high-definition space telescope, or HDST. By the way, it's pretty "cheap"; it costs only 9 billion bucks.

Singapore had its fair share of shitstorms too. The holding site for a new junior college catering to Integrated Programme (IP) students from Catholic High School, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School and CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ School was first announced by the Ministry of Education to be located at the former Bishan ITE campus, and then the fickle-minded education authorities decided to switch to the former Raffles Junior College campus at Mount Sinai. It certainly isn't helped by the fact that the permanent campus along Sin Min Ave had its completion date shifted from mid-2018 to end-2019. It therefore doesn't come as a surprise many were extremely displeased with the entire situation. By the way, the new junior college has been given a name: Eunoia JC. Come again???

Who can forget how the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) succeeded in upsetting hard-working local Singaporeans (with bona-fide academic qualifications) ever so spectacularly with its handling of the the saga involving its employee, a certain Miss Nisha Padmanabhan and her Masters’ degree obtained from one “South Pacific University”, a known degree mill which churns out fake academic degrees?

A couple of cyber sleuths subsequently went digging online, and uncovered numerous other profiles with fraudulent credentials, including a senior lecturer in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, a director from Raffles Education Corp and a business analyst working in a multinational bank. Singapore's reputation as a meritocratic nation at stake? I hope not.

Come 2016, seven secondary schools will be "childless", ie they will not be receiving a single secondary 1 student. The apparent main reason? Falling numbers in enrollment due to .............declining birth rates. The fault of Singaporeans for not making enough babies it seems.

The People's Action Party won the 9-11 General Elections handsomely with almost 70% of the votes. Shortly after, then Education Minister Heng Swee Keat relinquished his position (to assume the finance portfolio) and two acting ministers for education were appointed. In the name of synergistic cooperation by delegating responsibilities, the government so claimed. Is this arrangement for the better or for the worse? Only time will tell.

I have gone on long enough, and should probably stop. Still, it is my hope you have taken something away from this wall of text. Before signing off, I would like to pay special tribute to American Mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr, who died in a car crash in May this year. Yes he was that super smart yet somewhat kooky guy born with two helpings of brain and half a helping of heart portrayed by actor Russell Crowe in the movie "A Beautiful Mind" (based on a book by Sylvia Nasar). Yes he was that awesome professor who won a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on Game Theory. As I have mentioned earlier in a Facebook post, a giant has departed, but the beautiful Nash Equilibrium will go on to inspire new frontiers in Economics and Mathematics. RIP John Nash.

Looking forward to 2016. Peace.