What Does Singapore’s Education Equip Us With?

McDonald's at Hokkaido

One Sunday, I had lunch with XD at the McDonald’s in Punggol Plaza. We had unwittingly chosen a peak period, which meant crowded tables and long queues.

XD took a good 20 minutes before he returned with the food and after sitting down, he started to describe the chaos at the counter, caused by only 1 source: an incompetent cashier.

The cashier looked like a secondary school kid. She did not enter the special orders into the system, and hence the runner picked up the wrong order that had to be re-made after XD complained. She told XD that if he changed his drink to orange juice, he would only get the small sized one, even though he reminded her he ordered an upsized meal (she even asked him to pay extra for the large juice, which cost less than a large Coke). She told him he could choose a double patty for a new burger that had no double patty. She also failed to give the right complements (pepper for coffee, no salad dressing and forks for salad).

From a service point of view, she lacked product knowledge, lacked discipline (to enter the special orders into the system) and could not follow up with proper service closure.

The typical complaint would revolve around how bad of an employee she was. My concern was: how did she get through the education system?

Many people lament that the Singapore school syllabus had little practical applications in the real life, a.k.a the workplace. I beg to differ. I would like to use the case of the McDonald’s Girl (let’s call her MG for convenience sake) to illustrate my point.

The most common complaint for our system was that we push our students to memorise tonnes of information for a test. In my opinion, those practises we had for tests are practical, and in the case of MG, her experience at the counter is like a test for her time at McDonald’s.

Having practised sufficiently to memorise facts at school would help her remember all the offerings at McDonald’s, hence being able to inform XD correctly the number of patties his burger should have. Good techniques to memorise facts would result in good product knowledge that would in turn lead to better service.

A typical test requires us to list down our working, which in this case, is the input of all orders (standard or special) into the POS system. MG definitely had not been good at that.

Another complaint was how we liked to force our kids to learn Mathematics; some people think simple Mathematics (like addition and multiplication) suffice, and they belittle the impact of our Mathematics training for our kids.

One topic that I thought was useful (and found lacking in perceived incompetent employees) was the idea of sets and subsets. A good foundation of that will help learners better grasp the skills of inference, correlation and being coherent.

In the case of the orange juice, an upsized meal contains the main, a large fries and large drink. If I were to change the large drink to another, it should be of a corresponding size. In the case of McDonald’s, there are only 2 sizes to the orange juice, so changing the large drink to orange juice will refer to the larger size of orange juice. If MG was good in sets and subsets, she would not have told XD he could only get a small juice and has to pay extra for a large juice that cost less than a large Coke.

p/s: I had observed that employees who struggle with inference claimed they were weak in Mathematics when they were in school (although they insisted that Mathematics, a subject related to numbers, is not relevant to whether they can grasp abstract concepts like the case of the orange juice).

Last but not least, I remembered my teachers used to set very strict rules for our work. After working out a problem sum, I must cross my final answer and end with a statement like “The number of apples that Susan should have is 10.” The graphs we drew for Physics assignments must be a clean straight line (no frays, no re-drawing over a line). Even our commas and full-stops must have a reason for being where they were.

Such touching up… Such packaging of our work is what we should do before we pass a product to our customers; we would conduct a check to see that the right sauces and seasonings, for example, is there.

And frankly speaking, the procedures at McDonald’s have already been designed very inrticately and partitioned so precisely to achieve the objective of ensuring all staff is dispensible (i.e. anyone with sound mind can work at McDonald’s). We are not talking about complex, big organisations that require us to present nulti-dimensional solutions to multiple customers.

Also, the education topics I raised in the examples are taught in primary schools, which a teenager like MG would have gone through and applied for a few years before landing a job at McDonald’s.

The inability of MG to handle a simple job at McDonald’s is worrying for the state of our education. Having gone through it myself, I think our education was comprehensive enough. I worry more of the calibre of our next generation.

View at Raffles Place in downtown Singapore, on a misty, rainy afternoon.

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