Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tighter screening for teaching scholarships: MOETighter screening for teaching scholarships: MOE

By Faris – November 24th, 2010

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has revoked the scholarship given to undergraduate Jonathan Wong, 23, after he was caught in possession of hardcore child pornography videos in his computer in March this year.

The Straits Times (ST) reported that the decision to evoke the scholarship comes after the student had “committed serious criminal offences, and pleaded guilty to the charges against him”.

Wong, a third-year history undergraduate in the University of York pleaded guilty last Tuesday to 17 charges of downloading child pornography videos between July 15, 2008 and March 19, 2009 featuring girls as young as 6-years-old.

The Ministry will also tighten its processes which require schools to provide information on specific “behavioural problems” of potential scholarship holders which may impinge on their selection as future teachers.

In the case of Wong who was awarded the Teaching Scholarship (Overseas) in 2006, MOE said it reviewed the required documents and testimonials written by teachers from his secondary school and junior college.

However, it was not mentioned in those documents that he had been publicly caned when he was a Secondary 3 student at Chinese High School, which is now part of Hwa Chong Institution (HCI), after he was caught peeping in a women’s toilet.

MOE said the teachers had excluded this incident from his testimonials “as they thought that he had overcome this errant behaviour after professional help”.

According to a HCI spokesman, after Wong was punished, “he received counseling and responded well to the professional help”.

He subsequently did well and did not behave inappropriately the following year or while in junior college. The spokesman added, “His teachers thus thought he had learnt from his mistake.”

Since his scholarship has been revoked, Wong will have to pay liquidated damages in accordance with his scholarship agreement. This amount includes tuition fees at the University of York range from £11,300 (S$23,500) to £14,850 a year for those enrolled this year, and living expenses.

Based on the current MOE guidelines, applicants for teaching scholarships have to submit their academic and co-curricular activity record, school testimonials, and a written statement giving insights into their character, abilities and suitability for teaching.

Applicants will also be screened for criminal records while those shortlisted will then undergo further evaluation including psychometric assessments and interviews.

After Wong was arrested, police discovered graphic images and videos, some of which had audio and lasted over an hour long, on his computer. About 50 videos were found in which 25 were rated in some of the highest categories of hardcore pornography.

Wong is currently out on bail but his sentencing is scheduled for Dec 13. Wong can be jailed for up to five years.

Principals and teachers shared mixed reviews on the Ministry’s decision to tighten its selection and screening process for teaching scholarship holders.

Victoria Junior College principal, Chan Poh Meng, told ST that when teachers write testimonials for students, they are making a judgment call.

“They have to decide what is important to include, so good or not-so-good behaviour should be included. That has always been the expectation,” he said.

But JC teachers who have written testimonials for students say that the issue is not so clear-cut.

31-year-old teacher, Mr I. See said, “It’s good MOE is tightening procedures but can these be effectively executed? After all, teachers don’t want to jeopardize the chances of their students getting scholarships.”

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