O level English

Growth Mindset

 – copyright Knowledge Skills LLP –
General Paper (GP) tuition & O-level English tuition specialists

This article is not about General Paper or O-level English but we feel it is still an applicable article towards education in general.

It helps outline how we, at Knowledge Skills, try to support and guide our students. Many, if not all, the students that come to us for tuition are usually doing badly in the respective subject.

In addition to teaching the essential skills, we try to help them in their self-confidence and nurture the right mindset; to help them enjoy learning and have a clear idea where and how they can improve

Improvement in subjects such as GP and English takes time and it is usually after many tuition lessons that students start to see improvement. There are also set-backs as well due to factors such as just misreading the question, stress and anxiety that they will never do well in the subject, harsh criticism from their school teachers etc.

During these periods, we remind our students that they can improve. Yet, we also ensure it is not empty praise. Because of our small class sizes, we know every one of our students and as we tell them they can do better, we also make sure we can provide clear guidance on how to do so.

We keep them grounded and give them achievable goals to hit. In time, nearly all our students make good improvement and more importantly, lessons were meaningful and enjoyable for them.

How Praise Became a Consolation Prize
by Christine Gross-Loh

Helping children confront challenges requires a more nuanced understanding of the “growth mindset.”

A man guides a child riding a two-wheel bike. It's sunset, and the figures appear as silhouettes.
Dinuka Liyanawatte / Reuters

As a young researcher, Carol Dweck was fascinated by how some children faced challenges and failures with aplomb while others shrunk back. Dweck, now a psychologist at Stanford University, eventually identified two core mindsets, or beliefs, about one’s own traits that shape how people approach challenges: fixed mindset, the belief that one’s abilities were carved in stone and predetermined at birth, and growth mindset, the belief that one’s skills and qualities could be cultivated through effort and perseverance. Her findings brought the concepts of “fixed” and “growth” mindset to the fore for educators and parents, inspiring the implementation of her ideas among teachers—and even companies—across the country.

But Dweck recently noticed a trend: a widespread embrace of what she refers to as “false growth mindset”—a misunderstanding of the idea’s core message. Growth mindset’s popularity was leading some educators to believe that it was simpler than it was, that it was only about putting forth effort or that a teacher could foster growth mindset merely by telling kids to try hard. A teacher might applaud a child for making an effort on a science test even if he’d failed it, for instance, believing that doing so would promote growth mindset in that student regardless of the outcome. But such empty praise can exacerbate some of the very problems that growth mindset is intended to counter. A new edition of Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, updated to address false growth mindset, comes out at the end of this month. I recently spoke with Dweck about how she wants her ideas to be applied. The interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Christine Gross-Loh: Could you tell me about the development of the idea of growth mindset? What was it intended to correct? What were you seeing that you felt growth mindset would help improve?

Carol Dweck: I’ve always been interested, since graduate school, in why some children wilt and shrink back from challenges and give up in the face of obstacles, while others avidly seek challenges and become even more invested in the face of obstacles. So this has been my primary question for over 40 years. At some point, my graduate students and I realized that a student’s mindset was at the foundation of whether [he or she] loved challenges and persisted in the face of failure.

When students had more of a fixed mindset—the idea that abilities are carved in stone, that you have a certain amount and that’s that—they saw challenges as risky. They could fail, and their basic abilities would be called into question. When they hit obstacles, setbacks, or criticism, this was just more proof that they didn’t have the abilities that they cherished.

In contrast, when students had more of a growth mindset, they held the view that talents and abilities could be developed and that challenges were the way to do it. Learning something new, something hard, sticking to things—that’s how you get smarter. Setbacks and feedback weren’t about your abilities, they were information you could use to help yourself learn. With a growth mindset, kids don’t necessarily think that there’s no such thing as talent or that everyone is the same, but they believe everyone can develop their abilities through hard work, strategies, and lots of help and mentoring from others.

Gross-Loh: When I first interviewed you about growth mindset a few years ago, I remember that it was a relatively unknown idea. But growth mindset is now so popular that I’ll hear people who aren’t steeped in educational theory say, “Praise the effort, not the child (or the outcome).” Why do you think this idea struck such a chord, and how did you find out there were people misunderstanding it?

Dweck: Many educators were dissatisfied with drilling for high-stakes tests. They understood that student motivation had been a neglected area, especially of late. So many educators, as well as many parents, were excited to implement something that might re-energize kids to focus on learning again, not just memorization and test taking, but on deeper, more joyful learning.

But a colleague of mine, Susan Mackie, was doing workshops with educators in Australia and observed that many of them were saying they got growth mindset and were running with it, but did not understand it deeply. She told me, “I’m seeing a lot of false growth mindset.” I just did not get it initially—growth mindset is a very straightforward concept, and besides, why would people settle for a false growth mindset if they could have a real one? But I started keeping a list of all the ways people were misunderstanding growth mindset. When the list got long enough, I started speaking and writing about it.

Gross-Loh: Could you elaborate on false growth mindset?

Dweck: False growth mindset is saying you have growth mindset when you don’t really have it or you don’t really understand [what it is]. It’s also false in the sense that nobody has a growth mindset in everything all the time. Everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. You could have a predominant growth mindset in an area but there can still be things that trigger you into a fixed mindset trait. Something really challenging and outside your comfort zone can trigger it, or, if you encounter someone who is much better than you at something you pride yourself on, you can think “Oh, that person has ability, not me.” So I think we all, students and adults, have to look for our fixed-mindset triggers and understand when we are falling into that mindset.

I think a lot of what happened [with false growth mindset among educators] is that instead of taking this long and difficult journey, where you work on understanding your triggers, working with them, and over time being able to stay in a growth mindset more and more, many educators just said, “Oh yeah, I have a growth mindset” because either they know it’s the right mindset to have or they understood it in a way that made it seem easy.

Gross-Loh: Why do you think these misunderstandings occurred?

Dweck: Many people understood growth mindset deeply and implemented it in a very sophisticated and effective way. However, there were many others who understood it in a way that wasn’t quite accurate, or distilled it down to something that wasn’t quite effective, or assimilated it into something they already knew.

Often when we see kids who aren’t learning well, we might feel frustrated or defensive, thinking it reflects on us as educators. It’s often tempting to not feel it is our fault. So we might say the child has a fixed mindset, without understanding instead that, as educators, it is our responsibility to create a context in which a growth mindset can flourish.

Gross-Loh: So it seems that the danger is that some teachers think they have growth mindset and believe it will transfer to their students, even though they themselves don’t really understand it. How about this: Are there educators who do understand the idea that abilities can be developed, but don’t understand how to pass it on to students? Are there certain children who are more vulnerable to this sort of misunderstanding of growth mindset?

Dweck: Yes, another misunderstanding [of growth mindset] that might apply to lower-achieving children is the oversimplification of growth mindset into just [being about] effort. Teachers were just praising effort that was not effective, saying “Wow, you tried really hard!” But students know that if they didn’t make progress and you’re praising them, it’s a consolation prize. They also know you think they can’t do any better. So this kind of growth-mindset idea was misappropriated to try to make kids feel good when they were not achieving.

The mindset ideas were developed as a counter to the self-esteem movement of blanketing everyone with praise, whether deserved or not. To find out that teachers were using it in the same way was of great concern to me. The whole idea of growth-mindset praise is to focus on the learning process. When you focus on effort, [you have to] show how effort created learning progress or success.

Gross-Loh: What should people do to avoid falling into this trap?

Dweck: A lot of parents or teachers say praise the effort, not the outcome. I say [that’s] wrong: Praise the effort that led to the outcome or learning progress; tie the praise to it. It’s not just effort, but strategy … so support the student in finding another strategy. Effective teachers who actually have classrooms full of children with a growth mindset are always supporting children’s learning strategies and showing how strategies created that success.

Students need to know that if they’re stuck, they don’t need just effort. You don’t want them redoubling their efforts with the same ineffective strategies. You want them to know when to ask for help and when to use resources that are available.

All of this is part of the process that needs to be taught and tied to learning.

Gross-Loh: Is there a right way to praise kids and encourage them to do well?

Dweck: Many parents and teachers who themselves have growth mindset aren’t passing it on because they are trying to protect the child’s confidence, focus on the child’s ability, and kind of boost the child’s view or protect the child from a failure. They’re conveying anxiety about ability.

But we have a new line of research (with my former graduate student, Kyla Haimovitz) showing that the way a parent reacts to a child’s failure conveys a mindset to a child regardless of the parent’s mindset. If parents react to their child’s failures as though there is something negative, if they rush in, are anxious, reassure the child, “Oh not everyone can be good at math, don’t worry, you’re good at other things,” the child gets it that no, this is important, and it’s fixed. That child is developing a fixed mindset, even if the parent has a growth mindset.

But if the parent reacts to a child’s failure as though it’s something that enhances learning, asking, “Okay, what is this teaching us? Where should we go next? Should we talk to the teacher about how we can learn this better?” that child comes to understand that abilities can be developed.

So, with praise, focus on “process praise”—focus on the learning process and show how hard work, good strategies, and good use of resources lead to better learning. Be matter-of-fact, with not too strong or too passive a reaction.

You can see evidence of fixed mindset as young as 3.5 or 4 years old; that’s when mindsets can start becoming evident, where some kids are very upset when they make a mistake or get criticized and fall into a helpless place. That’s when children become able to evaluate themselves. We collaborated … with researchers from the University of Chicago who had a longitudinal project with videotape of mother-child interactions. What we found was the more praise was process-oriented—not a ton, just where the greater proportion of the praise was process praise [versus outcome praise]—the more those children had a growth mindset and a high desire for challenge five years later, when they were in second grade.

Gross-Loh: That’s very helpful to know for parents of young children.  But what about older kids who might feel discouraged and worn-down after years of feeling that they weren’t smart enough or a fear that they would never be able to be successful? Is it ever too late to foster a growth mindset in students?

Dweck: No—we’ve developed a number of online workshops addressed at adolescents and shown that when we teach [those] students a growth mindset, many of them regain their motivation to learn and achieve higher grades, especially students who have been struggling or students who have been laboring under a negative stereotype about [their own] abilities.

Research conducted last year by my former graduate student, David Yeager [now a professor at the University of Texas], on 18,000 students entering ninth grade, shows us that students who took growth-mindset workshops are seeking more challenges.

You can’t tell adolescents, “We’re adults, we have the answer, and we’re going to tell you what it is.” So we said, “We’re scientists from Stanford University and the University of Texas, and we need your help. We’re experts on the brain and how students learn, but you’re the experts on being a freshman in high school and we’d like your input for a program we’re developing for future freshmen.”

We then taught them about how the teenage brain is especially open to learning. We talked about how it’s a time of great plasticity, a time they need to take advantage of, and that they can grow their brains through taking on hard tasks in school and sticking to them. We had the students write a letter to a struggling freshman, counseling that person in terms of the growth-mindset principle, which is often very persuasive. We had testimonials from some public figures, talking about how a growth mindset got them to where they were.

Finally we talked about why someone would want a growth mindset. We realized that some kids would be overjoyed to hear you can develop your intellectual abilities, but others might not think it was the most exciting thing. So we then had a whole section on why you might want to develop your mind. Teenagers are really excited about the idea that they can do something to make the world a better place. So we asked them what they want to make their contribution to in the future—family, community, or societal problems—and then talked about how having a strong mind could help them make their future contribution.

We’re excited about this because we know the world of the future is going to be about taking on ill-defined, hard jobs that keep changing. It’s going to favor people who relish those challenges and know how to fix them. We are committed to creating a nation of learners.

Knowledge Skills – Subject Specialists for GP Tuition and  O-Level English Tuition

For inquiries about our tuition programmes, please feel free to contact us.

Fake News and Technology

– copyright Knowledge Skills LLP –
General Paper GP tuition & O-level English tuition specialists

One topic covered by many schools, be it for O-level English or for GP, is the impact modern media has on society. The recent US elections highlighted the impact of ‘fake news’. If social media is ubiquitous and surveys have shown that most people these days obtain their news from their social media feeds, then it’s worrying when the news is not always factual.

This article from The Guardian, “Fighting fake news: societies using technology to search for truth” by Kate O’Flaherty outlines some of the challenges faced by governments and the public . It also provides a slight insight why there’s  greater skills in critical thinking, a section covered in our Social Issues: Education package.


Fake news has been accused of influencing election results and giving rise to populist movements. Is there anything governments – and citizens – can do to fight back?

Some interesting responses to the fake news phenomenon are now in place around the world. The Czech government’s interior ministry, for instance, has opened a Centre Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats in a bid to fight fake news. The centre was set up after 40 Czech language websites emerged containing false stories, predominantly about migrants. Specialists working for the centre are attempting to counter false information via a dedicated Twitter account, as well as a website devoted to communicating the government viewpoint. The Interior Ministry now wants to work with Facebook to stop the spread of fake news ahead of parliamentary elections in October.

Of course, there are ethical issues around removing content, so governments must tread a fine balance. Rather than eliminating the stories altogether, the ministry said it aims to work alongside technology companies and news organisations to help citizens make more informed choices.

Meanwhile, the German government is hoping social media sites and their users will help in the battle against fake news. Germany has expressed concern ahead of its 2017 election after reports that false stories were emerging about its chancellor, Angela Merkel. The country recognises that social media companies are needed to control the issue, with German justice minister Heiko Maas warning firms such as Facebook to respect the country’s strict laws against defamation.

Facebook is already partnering with fact-checking organisations in Germany and France. As part of a recent update, users are able to flag articles they suspect contain false information. These are then handed over to an independent evaluation centre. When a false story is identified, rather than being removed, it is tagged with a warning that it contains fake news and appears lower down in users’ feeds.

Another initiative aiming to help citizens make informed choices ahead of the 2017 French election is the First Draft News project CrossCheck, a collaborative verification programme involving technology firms including Facebook and Google.

The project sees journalists from across France working together to find and verify online content, including photos, videos, memes, comment threads and news sites. The public are encouraged to participate by submitting questions and links to content for CrossCheck to investigate.

Claire Wardle, research director at First Draft News, says fake stories can be identified using similar methods to those deployed by companies that work with brands to make sure adverts don’t sit beside problematic content.

Community involvement is a common theme in the battle to tackle fake news. In Taiwan for example, vTaiwan is a government initiative that uses a range of digital tools to involve citizens. Government departments are signed up to answer queries, while larger consultations, on topics like the sharing economy, also use social media to direct participants to the project.

“The communities start by establishing a commonly agreed set of facts and then talk about their views,” explains Eddie Copeland, director of government innovation at thinktank Nesta. “There are also active moderators but overall, it is down to the communities.”

And in the UK, MPs on the Commons culture, media and sport select committee has set up an inquiry to help tackle the threat posed by fake news.

Governments are starting to tackle false online stories, but there are challenges to overcome.

Part of the problem is technology: analytics tools are not yet sophisticated enough to handle the complex nature of identifying fake news, says Jamal Elmellas, chief technology officer at Auriga Consulting. “In order for the tools to work, you would need to have artificial intelligence nailed. It’s not. We can solve rudimentary puzzles, but nothing as granular and wide as fake news.”

Mike Upchurch, co-founder of data analytics firm Fuzzy Logix, cites the example of a US government programme to mine news stories from around the world to identify insurgencies or the spread of disease. “It’s actually really difficult to extract information from news sources and social media at the kind of scale involved,” points out Upchurch. “Now imagine that some material percentage of the data is fake. The challenge of weeding out fake news makes the job of understanding and predicting events that much harder.”

At First Draft News, Wardle says collaboration between governments, technology companies, news organisations and citizens is necessary. “Everyone needs to work together. The whole system, not one institution, is needed to solve this.”

And the real answer may be even more deep-rooted and long-term. Daniel Faraci, a director at Grassroots Political Consulting, believes in education so users can debunk false stories themselves. “Education should be more localised and of a better standard,” he says. “Then people can self-determine where they get their news from.”


Knowledge Skills – Subject Specialists for General Paper Tuition and  O-Level English Tuition
For enquiries about our tuition programmes, please contact us.

Singapore’s key future challenges

  – copyright Knowledge Skills LLP –
General Paper (GP) & O-level English tuition subject specialists

(image credit: Future Ready Singapore)

Be it for the English O-level Oral or GP, it is essential that the student is aware of some of the key concerns that will be facing Singapore. This is important not only for oneself but also because teachers will refer to such official statements when crafting exam questions and the response expected from a well-read student.

So the challenges outlined below are not new but it would good for a student to ensure he is at least familiar with them so as to provide a mature and grounded response to any question regarding Singapore and the future.

Many of the key points we have bolded have been addressed in our other notes dealing with Globalisation.

This has been adapted from a report by Kelly Ng, TODAY newspaper.

Main points: 

Singapore’s ‘key future challenges’: Economy, population, identity

According to PM Lee, Singapore will face critical challenges in the next 50 years in keeping the economy strong, raising total fertility rate and strengthening national identity.

To overcome these, good leadership and policies — many of have already been put in place, said Mr Lee — will play an important role, but for the longer-term challenges brought about by a rapidly ageing population and globalisation, the Government alone cannot resolve them and Singaporeans must also do their part, he added.

Speaking at the seventh installment of the Ho Rih Hwa Leadership in Asia Public Lecture Series held at the Suntec Convention Centre this evening, Mr Lee sketched out how each of these challenges will unfold over several time horizons.

The most immediate challenge facing the Republic, in the next decade, will be raising productivity in order to grow an already-advanced economy, said Mr Lee. Over a longer time frame of 25 years, population challenges will come to the fore because of low birth rates, while the most profound and fundamental challenge in the next 50 years will be in strengthening the national identity.

“To keep Singapore special; to maintain a sense of ‘I am a Singaporean. I am proud of it and I want to uphold it’ … I think in the very long term, that is our biggest challenge,” said Mr Lee.

Addressing about 3,500 participants, including diplomats, students, teachers and public officers, Mr Lee warned that Singapore runs the danger of “dissolving into globalisation” with no sense of a distinct identity as the country becomes more cosmopolitan and Singaporeans are increasingly well-travelled.

Citing that about 200,000 Singaporeans currently reside abroad for work and studies, he added: “It is good that our people are comfortable living over the world, but if we become so comfortable abroad that we lose the sense that only Singapore is truly home … We will just melt away, be dissolved by globalisation.”

The other danger is that Singaporeans could fracture into different groups, each with its own exclusive identities, said Mr Lee, who cited traditional fault lines like race and religion, and newer ones like LGBT issues.

External influences like the Islamic State and other big powers can also create schisms in the Republic’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, he added.

“How do we reinforce what makes us unique as Singaporeans … how do we maintain this sense of nationhood, and strengthen this identity and common purpose, so that our people will want to make Singapore a success and a shining light in the world?” Mr Lee asked.

To bind the Singapore society together, Mr Lee said Singaporeans must have a shared sense of what the country stands for, and what they want to achieve together — things that the Government cannot create. It is forged when citizens live together, overcome crises together, help one another in times of need, and celebrate successes, he added.

He cited instances where such a spirit was shown this year, including the outpouring of grief over the death of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in March and the tragic earthquake in Sabah which claimed the lives of nine Singaporeans, including seven Primary 6 students.

“Life will teach us lessons. Difficult times will come and through that we will learn what it means of be a Singaporean,” he said.

The national pride on display in happier times, such as the recent SEA Games, was not only because of Team Singapore’s record-breaking medal haul, he added.

“We felt proud to be Singaporean … (because of) the way our people conducted themselves. When the music stopped suddenly when it shouldn’t, Singaporeans continued to sing Majulah Singapura with gusto and pride,” Mr Lee said, drawing applause from the audience.

Marathoner Ashley Liew’s embodiment of “class and sportsmanship” — he forewent his lead to wait for his competitors who mistakenly took the wrong path — was also lauded by Mr Lee.

“Such a spirit cannot be manufactured by the Government. These are spontaneous shows of pride and solidarity,” he said. “(It’s a) spirit that is embraced, shaped and owned by Singaporeans, people who stand up for these values in their daily lives and actions, and make Singapore a distinct nation that we can all be proud of and want to belong to.”

Outlining a raft of plans the Government has made to confront these challenges, Mr Lee reiterated that they must be founded on good leadership.

“Leaders with a sense of responsibility, wholly committed to Singaporeans and Singapore, leaders who can win your support and rally the country together, leaders who can work with us and make the next 50 years as glorious as the last 50 years,” he said.

Other related challenged will be covered in our GP tuition and O-level Tuition notes.

Knowledge Skills – Subject Specialists for General Paper Tuition and  O-Level English Tuition
For enquiries about our tuition programmes, please contact us.

Ethics and Science

  – copyright Knowledge Skills LLP –
General Paper (GP) & O-level English tuition subject specialists

In this article by Faye Flam, she discusses the tensions between restrictions on science and the imperative to make breakthroughs.

This article helps to address GP questions such as whether ethics is necessary for science or whether ethics is a hindrance for science.

science research tuition


If scientists were free to use the world as their laboratory, unbound by pesky ethics committees and institutional review boards, some would inject sulphur compounds into the upper atmosphere to see if they fought global warming. Others would spread modified genes through populations of wild animals with the aim of altering them (or, in the case of mosquitoes, driving them extinct). Some would resurrect species that have already disappeared, such as the woolly mammoth and the passenger pigeon.

These were among the ideas touted earlier this summer at an invitation-only conference on Forbidden Research at the MIT Media Lab, which drew upwards of 500 scientists, engineers and other technology-oriented types. Attendees carried programmes bearing the slogan “You don’t change the world by following the rules” and attended sessions on hacking culture; exiled information leaker Edward Snowden spoke via video link. A “disobedience prize”, which conference organisers said would reward “pro-social” acts of defiance, is in the works.

To be fair, disobedience isn’t always a good thing. Rules that rein in science weren’t created to forbid knowledge, but to prevent scientists from harming people in the process of acquiring it. And the conference’s forward-thinking line-up lacked historians or others who might offer a look back at the important topic of regrettable research. I sent the programme to medical ethicist Arthur Caplan, who hadn’t been invited. He said contemporary scientific ethics are based on the guiding principle that it’s wrong to harm or kill for the alleged good of the many. This is generally regarded as the product of enlightenment.

But while ethical standards are critically important to contemporary science, they are also, by definition, limiting – and sometimes, on specific points, worth challenging. And for scientists, it can be dangerous to go up against established norms, given that most researchers depend on public funding and can’t afford to be seen as reckless or, worse, “mad scientists”. The conference organisers suggested that some self-censor, afraid to talk about their ideas. They promised we would hear from some of them. To their credit, the participants were trying to get taboo topics out in the open, so members of the public could consider their risks and benefits.

At the conference, some of the speakers were grouped under the umbrella theme “Messing with nature” – a sentiment which reflects the fact that some technological feats are unnerving, even if no humans or animals are harmed. Many people were disturbed by the cloning of Dolly the sheep, and, more recently, by a proposal to synthesise a human genome from laboratory chemicals. Genetic engineering makes many people uncomfortable. Opponents refer to genetically modified (GM) crops as “frankenfoods” and a newly approved GM salmon as “frankenfish”.

Some feats are unnerving, even if no humans or animals are harmed. Many were disturbed by the cloning of Dolly the sheep.

dolly sheep tuition

All of those frankenfoods have been extensively tested and deemed safe to eat. But releasing modified organisms to spread through the wild is another thing altogether, with opportunities for unknown unknowns to spring up. There, getting consent is critical. MIT biologist Kevin Esvelt said he’s done just that – convincing residents of Martha’s Vineyard to allow him and his colleagues to release a mouse that’s been genetically modified to resist Lyme disease, with the hope that resistance genes would spread through the island’s natural population.

This is old-fashioned technology compared with so-called gene drive – a sort of GM technology on steroids in which genes carry instructions to hasten their own spread. Gene drive, said Dr Esvelt, is powerful enough to quickly drive a targeted species to extinction, whether it’s an invasive plant or disease-carrying mosquito.

Biotech may also grant humanity the power of “de-extinction”. Scientists can read the sequences of genetic code from old DNA, and then make a clean copy from scratch.

One of the panellists, Harvard biologist George Church, has said in his writings and many public talks that the technology is here now. They could start experimenting with eggs and synthetic extinct animal DNA at any time – just as soon as there’s a demand, approval, funding, and perhaps a plan for where to put the previously extinct animals (since it didn’t go well for them the first time around).

Professor Caplan said this kind of talk calls to mind the expression, “playing God”. The problem isn’t the perception that scientists are godlike, he said, but that they are playing. Continuing the “Messing with nature” theme, a panel of scientists explained how they could inject aerosol particles into the upper atmosphere in an attempt to cool the globe by causing the atmosphere to reflect more sunlight. The moderator, Mr Stewart Brand of Whole Earth Catalog fame, labelled it “hacking the entire planet”.

With such enormous risks and payoffs at stake, it’s not okay to keep quiet. Scientists shouldn’t fear for their jobs if they talk about ambitious, risky research. But they owe us all the right to informed consent. If they want to change the world, they’d better find ways to do it – and talk about it – while still playing by the rules.


The panellists, Harvard physicist David Keith and Harvard economist Gernot Wagner, said what they saw as the biggest objection is what they call “moral hazard” – the fear that people would see this form of so-called geoengineering as a safety net and consider it a licence to continue to emit greenhouse gases.

There are other reasons to be concerned. On the plus side, getting the aerosol particles up there can be done relatively inexpensively. On the minus side, the scientists don’t know the full effect they would have on winds, humidity or extreme weather events. The particles might damage the ozone layer without some additional mitigating factor. Professor Keith said such questions could be answered with a series of small-scale, reversible experiments. But so far the topic has been taboo. “We’re talking about whether this is something that’s okay to talk about,” he said.

With such enormous risks and payoffs at stake, it’s not okay to keep quiet. Scientists shouldn’t fear for their jobs if they talk about ambitious, risky research. But they owe us all the right to informed consent. If they want to change the world, they’d better find ways to do it – and talk about it – while still playing by the rules


Knowledge Skills – Subject Specialists for General Paper Tuition and  O-Level English Tuition
For enquiries about our tuition programmes, please contact us.

GP Tuition: Genetic Modification

 – copyright Knowledge Skills LLP –
General Paper (GP) & O-level English tuition subject specialists
Adapted from A.Caplan


Science and Technology and their impact on society is a General Paper topic covered by all Junior Colleges and is a popular topic for most students.
One key issue that is usually covered during GP lessons is the advancement in the fields of bioscience. One area in this field would of course be genetic modification. It is current and raises many interesting ethical issues. Not surprisingly, it tends to appear often in many GP essay test papers. Fortunately, there are many articles debating the pros and cons of this issue and therefore obtaining the points needed to craft a good essay is easy to find.

We will use the article below to highlight some of these issues 🙂

Engineering the Better Baby

There should no longer be any doubt about whether humans will one day be genetically modified. A new tool – called CRISPR – is already being used to edit the genomes of insects and animals. Essentially a very sharp molecular knife, CRISPR allows scientists to carve out and insert genes precisely and inexpensively. It is only a matter of time before it will be used to engineer our descendants – eliminating many dangerous hereditary diseases in the process.

To be sure, this eventuality is being hotly debated. The main arguments against genetic modification of human embryos are that it would be unsafe and unfair, and that modification would quickly go beyond efforts to reduce the incidence of inherited maladies. But, ultimately, none of these reasons is likely to be persuasive enough to stop the technology from being widely used.

A readable introduction. Context is clearly set and an interesting example and a premise is provided. The intro gives some examples that students can use in future essays. However, this is an opinion piece and not similarly structured in the style most likely taught during GP or even O-level english lessons.

Safety is clearly an important factor, but it is unlikely to be a decisive one. The new gene-editing techniques appear to be very accurate. Animal tests and experiments with human embryos that will not leave lab dishes seem to be on track to prove that there is little risk involved in their application.

The takeaway is this: gene-editing techniques have become increasing safer. Why? How? If this was a GP essay, more substantiation would be required but this is still a point to add to your knowledge of genetic modification.

Likewise, as valid an ethical concern as fairness may be, it has never held back the adoption of technology. Yes, the benefits of CRISPR are likely to be made available primarily through private, profit-seeking companies, giving the rich far better access to the technology than the poor. But that fact is not likely to lead to a moratorium – much less a ban – on gene editing.

The world is rife with disparities. The rich send their kids to elite schools, while the poor hope the building in which their child attends lessons does not collapse while class is in session. And yet, as unfair as this may be, the rich are not waiting for the playing field to be leveled; they are making wide use of elite private education. The same dynamic will play out with genetic engineering.

This point about the inherent unfairness of technological benefit and social inequality is a major point that is almost always used by the best students in their essay relating to this topic. The ‘dynamic’ that he mentions rather briefly will be further covered with examples provided in our Science and Tech notes.

The critics’ last argument – that opening the door to repairing genetic disorders will also leave the way open for eugenics – is the most worrying. The same technology that can be deployed to eliminate hereditary diseases can undoubtedly be used to try to build genetically enhanced children. And yet, as slippery as this slope might be, we will, sooner or later, find ourselves inching our way down it.

Ah, a ‘critics’ argument. Or as most students will write, “As critics will argue…”.

The concern regarding eugenics and eliminating certain undesirable traits is definitely a good point. However, not much is elaborated upon here.
If the student could provide clear examples and elaboration, it can function as a good antithesis (or opposing argument) paragraph. Furthermore, the reason a ‘critic’ is raised is for it to be rebutted – which the author proceeds to do.  Students should be mindful of this.

The world is plagued with hereditary diseases that cause very real misery: sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, type 1 diabetes, cystic fibrosis, mitochondrial diseases, polycystic kidney disease, Tay-Sachs disease, Canavan disease, mucopolysaccharidoses, some forms of breast, prostate, and colon cancer – the list goes on. It is absurd to think that genetic engineering will not be used to eliminate them.

Pressure from parents seeking to prevent their children and grandchildren from suffering will undoubtedly overwhelm concerns about the possibility that others will use the same technology to attempt to build superkids – and rightly so. The sick should not be held hostage to worries about possible dangers or abuses.

There is no reason to waste time arguing about whether humans should be genetically engineered. As justifiable as some of the ethical concerns may be, there are simply too many benefits to be gained from preventing hereditary diseases. Those seeking to limit genetic engineering to such efforts would be better off devoting their energies to explaining why eugenics is wrong, rather than attempting to stop the march of progress toward healing the sick and eliminating awful disorders.

The slope may indeed be slippery. That is why it is far more important to refocus the public debate on appropriate safeguards. Rather than arguing about whether CRISPR should be used in humans, we should be working to determine who decides when it is safe enough to be deployed, what counseling should be provided for parents considering its use, and how to broaden access for the poor.

The more time we spend debating whether to adopt a technology that undoubtedly will be adopted, the less we will have to consider more relevant issues. We need to know, for example, how to respond to the promise of taller, smarter, healthier, cuter, stronger, and more loving children before commercial providers begin rolling out their marketing campaigns.

The author offers a series of rebuttals. Do not be confused by the paragraphing. Many of the points can be collapsed into a single paragraph. As mentioned earlier: the stylistics employed in editorials or current affairs magazines sometimes (or often) differs from the methods taught during GP or O-level English lessons. Neither is wrong. But that’s an entirely different topic. We won’t be discussing essay writing skills here.

 Some points one can apply from these last few paragraphs are
a) the benefits outweight the ethical concerns  – healing the sick is better than worrying about eugenic. (This point definitely needs more substantiation!)
b) Rather than limiting science, education and affordability should be addressed instead.

 Generally, this article will probably find its way into several schools’ reading packages for Science and Tech. Good points are provided but as this is not a ‘GP essay’, some points lack sufficient substantiation. A  well-guided class discussions and/or a good tutor should provide the necessary follow-up. The absence of these is perhaps why students sometimes feel they read a lot but still find it difficult to apply the points for their essays.


At Knowledge Skills, we provide structured notes that highlights the necessary points, evaluation and examples needed by the student to write coherent and effective essays and AQs.

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Conformity vs. Individualism

  – copyright Knowledge Skills LLP –
General Paper (GP) & O-level English tuition subject specialists


individuality tuition


While we give out plenty of summarised articles,  we also understand that our students are sometimes overburdened by the sheer amount of reading articles (i.e newspaper cut-outs, selected magazine pieces etc) especially for the General Paper. So we do provide content knowledge in the form of bullet points. Not always the best way to nurture critical thinking but students sometimes just need brief notes to help them study for certain issues.

Lessons would then be used to substantiate and clarify the points for a fuller understanding and to equip them with examples to drive the argument.

In this case, we can look at is the not very popular issue of Conformity vs Individualism. This appears in questions such as “Should schools promote conformity?”, “Individualism not conformity is good for the society”, “Is conformity never to to be encouraged?” and so on.

In a nutshell, some key points students can raise include:

  1. First define what conformity means and what areas will it apply to. A low level argument or D grade essay would be to argue about the impact of conformity in fashion, design or consumer choice. These are valid but lack the depth and macro perspective needed for higher grade essays.
    A better argument would include social values, personal enterprise, societal needs and even politics-based considerations.
  2. Criticisms against conformity would include:
    a) A reflection of the needs and challenges of modern times – creativity and dynamism is more appreciated. Entrepreneurial skills are encouraged. Arguably, conformism, where one is encouraged to follow the crowd or is fearful to be different, stunts the development of these necessary qualities.  An A-grade essay would not just discuss the ill effects of conformity but would stress why it is especially harmful or undesirable given today’s context or ‘your society’.b) A discussion how the majority is not always right. How following the majority can lead to horrific decisions committed en mass. Students would need to provide examples to substantiate this point. It can be further developed on how much change in the world happened when an individual or groups of individuals challenged the status quo or to overturn the current zeitgeist.c) Too much conformity is dehumanising. Students would need to explore the meaning of life or what it means to be human. Students have to explore the ramifications or consequences or living in a society where we are torced to suppress our quirks, go against our instincts or blindly follow hierachy and protocol. Is such an existence meaningful? Do the needs of the community outweigh the needs of the individual?

    d) Lastly, conformity might lead to  . .  . [truncated. filed under GP notes – Misc questions]

  3. So at this point the student might then discuss the benefits of Individualism. Points would include:
    a) A respect of individualism and encouragement of independent thought is healthy in society. In addition to the previously mentioned benefit, such individuals can act as a check against questionable values or by playing devil’s advocate, promote a spirit of inquiry and critical thought. Examples would include . . .b) Individualim is essential for growth and development of both the community and the individual.
    . . .However, students might also want to consider than an overemphasis on individualism without considering the context of your environment is also inherently bad. Selfish Individualism emphasises self before others. It’s about imposing one’s ideas or actions without due consideration on their impact. Individuals have the right to express themselves, the right to their own beliefs, but a sensible student would address how such freedom must be used appropriately. Sometimes, compromises must be reached.
    This level of nuancing would help differentiate an A essay from a B essay.

    The rest of the notes will cover how to organise the rebuttals and structure the points to create a coherent essay.

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Environmental Protection vs Economic Growth

 – copyright Knowledge Skills LLP –
General Paper (GP) & O-level English tuition subject specialists
Adapted from K.Higgins

Economy-vs-environment tuition


Economic growth and sustainability – are they mutually exclusive?

A popular choice amongst students are environment-based GP questions. And a common question that has appeared many times tests students on evaluating Economic Growth against Environmental protection.

This adapted set of notes highlights some of the general issues and pertinent points :


The significance of this long recognized  interdependence between Economy and Environment is that there are

A) limits to Earth’s natural resources and thus to any economic growth that depends on them – limits that, if not honored, will gravely affect the future.

B) The anxiety is mounting about our ability to achieve sustainability, that is, our ability to meet our needs while ensuring that future generations will be able to meet their needs. Over the past 40 years, what began as a simple concern for the environment has matured into a widespread apprehension that is causing people from government to private enterprise to take action (for examples of such “action” such as International summits e.g Kyoto Protocol, and Singapore’s own initiatives, please see the other sections)

C) In the last decade, with growing awareness afforded by media and the green movement gaining momentum, nations and non-state actors have placed more emphasis on suggesting that we seek alternatives to economic growth perhaps by measuring well-being in terms other than GDP or profit.

Examples of these would include  . . . [truncated. Filed under Environment content notes]

Some simple but key points that can be raised are outlined below:

1) Limitless economic growth counters sustainability

This simplistic diagram illustrates the interdependence among the growth (reinforcing) loops of consumption, the economy and resource depletion. Material desires instigate purchases intended to bolster significance which fosters more materialism; purchases increase GDP which creates jobs and financial well-being and facilitates more purchases; more production to raise GDP using carbon-based resources also depletes those resources. This interdependence has locked society into what psychologists call a social trap, i.e. pursuit of short-term individual gains which leads to a loss for the group as a whole in the long run. (Source: Financial Whirlpools, Elsevier 2013)

This simplistic diagram illustrates the interdependence among the growth (reinforcing) loops of consumption, the economy and resource depletion. Material desires instigate purchases intended to bolster significance which fosters more materialism; purchases increase GDP which creates jobs and financial well-being and facilitates more purchases; more production to raise GDP using carbon-based resources also depletes those resources
(Source: Karen Higgins, PhD, 2013)

In the short term, the benefits of economic growth are many: the more that businesses and nations grow and profit, the more individuals have jobs, resources and quality of life. At this point in human history, technology has enabled miraculous products, global travel, rapid communication, astonishing efficiencies and unimagined leisure. Economic growth derived from all these technological marvels does indeed feed on itself, as consumers demand more and more

2) The efficacy and use of alternative energy and ‘green processes’

Students should first have an understanding of the benefits and limitations of green energy.

Point could include issues such as the level of efficiency, the cost, and  . . . [[truncated. Filed under Environment content notes]

3) Changing mindsets and attitudes

Although there has been progress in developing alternative energy sources to wean us from carbon-based energy, it is time, many say, to bring an end to growth, to rethink our priorities, to conserve, to reinvent. So rather than trying to save the environment through more science, e.g recycling, more biodegradable products etc, an argument we can raise is that we should instead change our lifestyles. This is an argument which requires an elaboration of . . .[[truncated. Filed under Environment content notes]

4) Opposing points to consider (counter to point 3)

This idealistic solution could work by turning our cultures upside-down and nudging human nature away from materialistic solutions to human longings. But given human nature, how can we convince people to sacrifice for what some of us may never see? Betting our children’s future entirely on altruism is unrealistic at best.

As a student, you should not just rely on anecdotal or subjective feelings on whether this can be achieved. Instead, students should based the feasibility of this argument on real life case-studies. Using such examples and case-studies increases the content marks and the general strength of the argument. Examples would include . . .

4b) Hypocrisy?

It can be argued that it is hypocritical for developed countries to demand that poorer nations make conservation their priority. After all, they became rich in the first place by destroying their environment in the industrial revolution.  Although this is relevant, on its own, it is a tad simplistic. This alone does not give LDCs complete freedom to destroy their own environment to catch up. You need to elaborate on a possible compromise  . . .


End of excerpt 

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