TOC YOUTH WEEK: Don’t blame the education system – speak up!

Thank You: We would like to thank all our visitors for the record number of hits yesterday here on TOC. We breached the 20,000 hits for a single day mark on 21 October and overall, we are crossing the 2 million hits mark as well. We thank you for your continued support for our work.

Thng Yi Ren / Student

The recent emergence of the Speaker’s Corner has surfaced issues that have haunted us for many years. Is there truly a perceived ‘silent but prevalent’ atmosphere of surveillance that haunts us? Are we really subjugated within a repressive Panopticon as envisioned by Foucault, where the means and ability to formulate thought are already hampered?

As a 17-year-old who has just finished his JC Promotional Examinations, a wild streak within me calls out to launch an application for a slot at the Speaker’s Corner to voice out certain problems ranging from the sub-prime crisis to the Serangoon Gardens foreign workers issue.

However, while the young radical within desires to launch into a fierce tirade about the attrition of morality in a face of an egocentric mindset as witnessed from the Serangoon Gardens incident, the rational me went back one step to evaluate.

“I’m only 17!”

“I’m already 17!”

Do my thoughts originate from the various self-help courses that I have been subjected to from my secondary school days?

“Believe in yourself! You can do it!”

Am I simply a radical at heart?

Allow me to make a generalisation I observed from my peers in school. As utilitarian as it may sound, I do think that schools are an excellent social laboratories (pardon the utilitarian undertones).

I think that it is not the student’s lack of desire to voice out their own opinions that is the issue. Rather, putting aside all aspects of self-consciousness, it is the recognition by oneself of his or her lack of understanding and insight into the real world that discourages the expression of one’s opinion.

Of course, to make such a generalisation may potentially draw flak from many, in that I as a student may also be a guilty of it. However, I qualify my generalisation simply from a perennial response that is often heard when someone is asked to speak up: “I don’t know.” While some may argue that it is simply shyness that discourages one from speaking up, I would humbly beg to differ.

A simple analogy to highlight my point is the assessment of students’ knowledge of current affairs (secondary school students would know it as the NE Quiz while Tertiary students would have their assessment based upon their respective institute’s own initiative). How many really know what is going on in the world today? How many actively seek out these facts (and not for the purpose of the GP examination)?

Are you interested?

Before we get too engaged in this entire argument about whether students are interested, let’s take a step back to reflect. Do you yourself have a desire to speak up? Would you be contented to hide behind your computer screen, in the comfort of your armchair and music in the background, simply viewing my ‘rambling’ as a sort of entertainment? It is an amusing spectacle to watch a 17-year old boy finding some sort of glories in his own ignorance, showing the world his own inadequacy. Or would you rather see my flaws and engage me in a discussion – be it on this platform or contact me directly to enlighten me?

This entire problem of not speaking up, not understanding the world can simply be obscured and we may choose the convenient route to dump the entire burden upon that Ministry operating in Buona Vista. However, I firmly believe that it is a flawed causality relationship to say that the Education policy is flawed and therefore students have no ability or no courage to speak up. In fact, the onus, in my humble opinion, is truly with the students.

Shaping the learning community

While many may be quick to dismiss me that this has been highlighted countless times, I really do wonder how many actually appreciate the substratum of wisdom beneath the concept of the learning community. If we accept the assumption that the Ancient Greeks were the pioneers of a civilized society, then many aspects of pedagogy and education can be gleamed from the model that was formulated.

The Greeks pioneered a triumvirate approach to learning in Rhetoric, Grammar and Logic. This inculcated the various dimensions of learning, developing both the regions of the cognitive and the presentation of one vis-a-vis speech. However, while the curriculum may pay much emphasis on the development of these skills, the actual bulk of learning was done in the student community itself. Learned men like Socrates and Plato led discussions, thereby encouraging more and more people to speak up and be exposed to a great variety of topics, ranging from the hair-splitting technical aspects of philosophy to the stars in astronomy to mathematics.

What am I driving at? This article is not a policy recommendation for a Heuristic or Maieutic approach. I laud the many generations of educators, some of which have played major roles in directing me through the various challenges of life. It is my humble attempt as a plea for highly-educated individuals in society to play a greater role in shaping the learning community of Singapore.

Please stand up and speak up

Without going into specific statistics, it is widely acknowledge that Singapore has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. What happened to the many brilliant students of each generation? Are they simply too busy caught up in their own world? As a student, I yearn for access to policy-makers not only at organized national forums, but simply to be able to converse with them about my own personal response.

Please stand up and speak up. I am shifting the burden of speaking up and understanding the world onto individuals in society who have the exposure and the educational backing to enlighten and to educate. While teachers in school may provide much insight, one’s resources are ultimately limited. I give credit where it is due: my tutors in school are definitely very capable, but someone working on the ground like the MAS would be able to highlight issues on the sub-prime crisis better.

It is heartening to note that the Straits Times offers a great variety of articles across a wide spectrum, and of course, to say that the proliferation of Internet literature from Wikipedia to academic papers has aided many is a great understatement. However, to progress, I believe greater correspondence is required.

As a reader, it may be a passive activity that necessitates little or no action on one’s part. However, as a correspondence, a direct response onto the views highlighted by a particular individual would require serious reflection about one’s views.

I do dream of a day where highly skilled professionals would take on a more active role to educate us the students. Students, much has been said about apathy and indifference. It is your life, choose it the way you want, but perhaps the rite of passage would require a certain appreciation of the world around us. The avenues are present, the infrastructure is ready.

Adults, stand up to teach and educate; and students, sapare aude: Dare to know.


About the author:

Yiren is 17 years old and is a student in a junior college.


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