The Learning Brain – Chapter 8

Torkel Klingberg*. (2013). The Learning Brain: Memory and Brain Development in Children. New York. Oxford University Press. [Translation: Neil Betteridge].

Extremely stressful events (e.g. life and death moments) have resulted in precise and deeply imprinted memories.

  • Does this mean that surprise or sudden tests have their place in education?

In the case of working (short term) memory, excess stress beyond a certain ideal point causes unsuccessful recall – such as during a blanking out in an examination. (Research on US skydiver deaths (1990s) returned one reason as ‘no pull’. The inference or guess was that the skydiver experienced a ‘mental block’ such that he failed to use the reserve parachute.)

On a related note, long term incessant (‘chronic’) stress was found to cause poor working memory. On persistent childhood stress (the author focused on poverty; there are others stress factors like school performance, and friends/family according to Erica Frydenberg at the University of Melbourne – 2008; in Chapter 2 cancer treatment is described as negatively affecting working memory), the restoration process is unclear. [Shorter term exposure to constant stress however allowed for rehabilitation. This was concluded from two studies: one on mice, the other on students].

*Author details from Psychology Today (no date) and company Cogmed (no date). [On p. 121 of the book, he states that he acted concurrently as a consultant for Cogmed].


Education – Door out of poverty? Hmmm…

Yes, it plausibly true for technical and pre-university education. According to the organisation, Canadian Feed the Children <Breaking the cycle of poverty with education>, (last updated 2016):

  • A single year of primary school increases wages earned later by 5 to 15 per cent for boys and even more for girls.
  • For each additional year of secondary school, an individual’s wages increase by 15 to 25 per cent.
  • No country has ever achieved continuous and rapid economic growth without first having at least 40 per cent of its adults able to read and write. [Research has to be done to corroborate this.]

Education enables farmers to utilise new farming techniques and technologies. World Bank research found that farmers with at least of four years of primary education were able to improve productivity by an average of nearly 9%. This improves family finances and food security as hungry children/workers have poor concentration and lower efficiency respectively. For the latter, this might lead to unemployment. They are also less prone to illnesses originating from undernourishment. This way excess healthcare costs are avoided. Hence, technical education is a major pillar for the escape from poverty.

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Ironically in some cases, education may be the exact reason why many students remain poor. Due to the immense and overwhelming debt of financing their tertiary education, students remain hopelessly stuck in the poverty cycle. An article from Consumer Reports, entitled: Student Debt – Lives on Hold (28 Jun 2016), 42 million Americans have incurred $1.3 trillion in student debt. This came about with decreased government funding, hiked up tuition fees and the encouragement of private sector education loans. Some like Saul Newton had to enlist as a soldier (ending up in Afghanistan) to pay his school bills. Furnished with idea that college would help them live better material lives, a significant number ended up in a debt nightmare. Thus, the argument that education breaks people out of poverty is utterly wrong in this circumstance.

Another interesting article: We’re so well educated – but we’re useless. (25 Feb 2013). The Guardian.

Migration – Yes or No: A few thoughts

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) site <Learning to Live Together>, a migrant can be defined as:

“any person who lives temporarily or permanently in a country where he or she was not born, and has acquired some significant social ties to this country.”

Six types are listed:

  • Temporary labour migrants (also known as guest workers or overseas contract workers)
  • Highly skilled and business migrants
  • Irregular migrants (or undocumented / illegal migrants)
  • Forced migration
  • Family members
  • Return migrants

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States should actively invite return migrants to come back home. These citizens with their experience, expertise and contacts would be able to aid the development of the origin country or sustain its prosperity.  In the global war for talent, Singapore’s Ministry of Health had plans to encourage more overseas-trained Singaporean medical doctors to return to Singapore. Top Singaporean scientists working overseas have also been encouraged to come back, with the lure of full funding support for research work and help in setting up laboratories at universities here. This was also trumpeted by Indian business leaders like Mukesh Ambani, Chairman of Reliance Industries in 2017. He stated: “It is high time that our brightest and best brains work for the benefits of India and Indians… Some of our brightest people are working outside the country and by whatever faith if they are brought back to this country, and they work for our country, they work for (the) 1.3 billion and they work to improve their lives and put together a new developmental model.” Indeed, skilled reverse migration in this instance should be encouraged especially when such persons have a long term stake in their countries as opposed those who would leave in due time.

Sports overrated? Some views…

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The entertainment value of professional sport is overrated as it has been plagued by rigged matches devoid of true action. Due to high monetary stakes, the outcomes of games in different sports have been fixed. This contradicts the purported passion and skills that are found at sporting events. In cricket, a massive match-fixing scandal was uncovered in 2000. Hansie Cronje admitted he had accepted money to throw matches. Soon players from other countries were implicated, among them Mohammad Azharuddin and Saleem Malik. Ten years on, three leading Pakistan players were suspended by the International Cricket Council (ICC) after police investigations. It was recognised that bookmakers and the underworld were manipulating cricket results and specific moments of play. Australian rubgy was arguably disgraced when ex-player John Elias admitted he once tried to fix the match for a Western Suburbs victory while he was playing for the opposing South Sydney team. His biography entitled <Sin Bin> stated he had four other players on board but the fix did not eventuate. Another player, Ryan Tandy, was convicted in 2011 for deliberately conceding a penalty in 2010. The judge found there was contact between Tandy and three others who had placed “substantial bets” on the match. The nefarious impact that gambling and capitalism exerted on professional sport has thus degraded its entertainment value, regardless of how much sport advertising proclaims it to be otherwise.

Evidence against:

Ferrari’s Formula One Handovers and Handovers from Surgery to Intensive Care. (No date). [Enhanced patient safety with 20% reduction in patient errors].

Wales hospital uses F1 pit stop tactics for newborn resuscitation. (10 May 2016). Financial Times. 

A pained dilemma – Story/Essay

I awoke in the stuffy heat. The fan failed to dissipate the all-pervasive tropical humidity. Summoning my strength, I raised my hand to squeeze my cheek – the pain merely confirmed that it was reality, and not a dream. This was the new normal, a life devoid of luxury. My two older siblings had already left since they studied further away. It took some time getting used to life without Father’s car: becoming accustomed to public transport and once even getting stuck due to a train fault. In any case, I got ready quickly. It would soon be time for school. I stepped into the claustrophobic kitchen of our recently purchased three room flat to take breakfast prepared earlier by Mother. She too had to re-enter employment. This was another consequence of Father’s failed business. It was something we all had to adjust to…

I had the usual day in class. The sole highlight was that I topped the class in Physics and Malay. I had put in extra effort as grandmother reminded us the best way to help our parents was to excel in school. I hoped that the news would lift the gloom ever so slightly for them. Perhaps I would seek entry into a polytechnic next year and join the workforce in order to reduce the family’s burden. But first the stomach had to be filled, so I made a stop at the nearby food court for lunch. Satiated by the meal, I went to the toilet. As I was about to leave the toilet cubicle, I noticed a thick brown envelope on the ledge (for the placement of personal belongs) above me. Curiosity hit me and I took the envelope to peer inside. I saw the words ‘Negara Brunei’ with the numerals and symbols ‘$100’ – the envelope was filled with them! This must be Bruneian currency, and I remembered Father telling me that it enjoyed parity with the Singapore dollar: the contents of the envelope were worth around five thousand dollars at least. The first thought that came to mind was to keep it. Was it not said that ‘finders were keepers’? The money could pay for an entire year of spending with extra left over. The allowance I received from my parents could be saved and then given back to my parents later on. On the other hand something pricked me. I recall Mother’s constant refrain to be honest; and she indeed walked the talk. She always returned the incorrect change when buying things and she never took more than the amount she paid for. And there I stood stumped by the dilemma. In the end, I reasoned with myself that I could decide later. So I stuffed the envelope into my bag and exited the food court.

On my way home, my thoughts were filled with ideas of how the money could be well spent. Putting that aside though, I stopped to buy a newspaper to run through the sports news; a small pleasure that I could still afford. But as I flipped through the pages, I saw a story on about a taxi driver found and returned a bag filled with a sum of $20,000 US dollars left behind by a passenger. The driver when interviewed said: ‘I did not hesitate to bring it to the police station…the money was not mine after all.’ It turns out that that money was urgently needed to pay the medical bills for a visiting medical tourist. The accidental loss had brought so much anxiety while the return provided immense relief. I knew not whether the article was a coincidence, but I realised someone out there was the owner of the money, and right now he or she may be going ballistic upon the discovery of the loss. Perhaps their situation was even worse than mine, just like the one described by the journalist. I halted in my tracks and took the turn to the police station. At the front door I hesitated for a fraction of a moment but something in me got me through, and I reported the misplaced cash. That was one week ago and I have thought little of the incident since. But today I received an envelope with a cheque for $300 and a little note: ‘Thank you honest youngster! I wished my country had more people like you!’ So I reckon that honesty does pay, it definitely did for me and I was glad to openly share the news with my family.

Note: a hybrid of recount and reflection

Law & Health – Mobile/Hand/Cell phones

5 years on in two different cases, the first in the Supreme Court and the latter in a regional one (north Italian town Ivrea), mobile phone usage was deemed to have ‘causal link(s)‘ with brain tumours. [In effect, the Supreme Court judgment became the legal precedent.]


Cancer cells: Italian court rules ‘mobile phones can cause brain tumors’. (20 Oct 2012). RT News. (TV-Novosti)

Italian court rules mobile phone caused tumour. (21 Apr 2017). Special Broadcasting Service (SBS). Australia.

CBC Radio (Canada) through its show ‘The Current’ ran an episode entitled: Cellphone in your pocket? CBC’s Marketplace investigates why you might reconsider. (24 Mar 2017).

[Reproduced from]

O/A Level Resource – Indians/Globalisation

This post is based on the same book from the prior post but with a focus on Globalisation. Therefore is would be helpful to the same target audience but I believe would be enjoyable for those who love learning and would like to improve their writing in general (since reading is a method to enhance one’s style and vocabulary). Related syllabus concepts include: entrepreneurship, resource management (with sub issues like brain drain), and sustainable development.

Pg 42 – 45

Vineeta Sinha cited the 2010 Census. Indians numbered roughly 348,000 (348k); 237k citizens (7.35% of citizen total), 110k permanent residents (20.45% of permanent resident total) – in sum, 9.2% of the total staying population.

To reverse the Indian populace ‘brain drain’ originating from the late 1980s (which arguably affected the ethnic ratio balance), it became government policy after 1990 to ‘attract the very bright, highly skilled and talented Indians from abroad…’ and over time encourage their permanent residency. (Law and Home Affairs Minister, S Jayakumar, 20 April 1990). Selected categories included: IT, Finance, Banking, and Investment.

From the 1990s, Indian manual labour also rose, though this was perceived as less displeasing. (Consider the complaints against workers drinking in public; and the competition in transportation, housing, and schools stemming likewise from affluent migrants etc.) Of the 1.321 million foreign employees (all ethnic groups), around 160k were S-Pass holders (semi-skilled labour). [2013 figures from the Ministry of Manpower, MOM]

Pg 91 – 94

Indian migrants are perpetually seen as with ‘foreign worker’ or ‘foreign talent’. Further,  the latter section has aggravated the disparities within the local Indian community. Somewhat overlapping with the latter would be the ‘entrepreneurs with high earning capacity’ (p. 52). The author closes optimistically with suggesting ‘politics of inclusion’ where similar ‘identities, practices, experiences’ become our focus instead of distinctions.

Related references:

  • List of foreign worker dormitories (MOM, accessed 7 Apr 2017) shows a total of 47 such living areas
  • In June 2016, as reported by Ronald Loh (The New Paper), dormitory operator KT Mesdorm was fined $300,000 (maximum quantum) for putting up foreign workers in overcrowded quarters at its Blue Stars Dormitory in Boon Lay. It was first provider to receive this penalty. Mr Jolovan Wham, a social worker at Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) refers to the issue as “out of sight, out of mind” – effectively concealed and less emphasised
  • In the 1990s, the pillars of the Singaporean economy were manufacturing and services (p. 49)