I’m currently writing this on a rooftop of a village in India! I’m all the way north, in the Himalayas somewhere near the town of Mussoorie. The weather here is crisp and cold and overall has been a good respite from the haze.
Ok so here’s what I feel so far. Like everyone in Singapore who ever goes overseas to a less developed setting, I feel that we’re obstinately fortunate. I can list a hundred reasons as to why this is so, but for tonight’s shoutout, I’d like to focus on Education.
We visited a little school along the slopes of Mussoorie called Gharwal English Medium School, and had a great time meeting the children there whose ages ranged from 6 to 14. This school had only opened for six years, and so the oldest students had yet to graduate. To understand the concept of what school means in India, we’ll have to take a step into the realm of public schooling. From what I’ve been told, what happens in the state schools of this area is astonishing. The teachers have a tendency to not show up for class. Teachers, not students, mind you. What one would observe is a school of over 700 students with only four teachers present. Classrooms will be packed, students copying information from thick textbooks onto tawdry notebooks without the guidance of any teaching staff. This, we were told, is the state of education in the area (I’m not sure if government incentives are lacking, or are other factors more prevalent).
This unfortunate snapshot of events was not observed in the school we visited. It was privately opened by a couple, and aided largely by fundraising and voluntary teaching staff. There was stable manpower, and ample parental support.
A talk with some of the kids will yield astonishing insights. We watched as the principle asked a few children what they wanted to be when they grew up. Many of the kids were barely 10, and stood small and skinny. Their dreams, however, loom large. It was immensely heartening to see how a large proportion of children stated jobs such as doctor, lawyer, engineer, scientist, pilot and army officer. I mean, the sceptic in me would like to believe that they were moulding their beliefs based on peer pressure and stereotypes of success, but was I any better in the past?
I was a child so sick of a system that I felt confined me. I never studied when I needed to, and I always turned down my options in an act of rebellion. What do I mean by this? What I mean is, that we were all given, from a very young age, the essential tools for success. We have a government that made primary education compulsory, we had teachers that would turn up for every lesson, we have financial aid, edusave, relief teachers if the full timers got ill, parent-teacher meetings, soccer fields to cure recess boredom, dentists who visit our classes back in primary school to teach us proper dental care, workshops that edusave could totally cover, excursions that went all the way to the edges of our little island or even overseas (edusave covers some of that too). The list is by no means exhaustive. We all had these opportunities presented to us in our little stint of the Singapore education system.
But how did we choose to deal with it? Let me tell you how I dealt with it. I was bored. I felt like I could always be somewhere else during lesson. I looked at my watch a lot. I wished to be at home half the time, at home where I could lie down and stagnate. I wished so badly for my teacher to be absent at times. Lessons would start at 8am, and by 8:05 i would already feel the total lack of motivation seep in. The damn teacher was almost never absent. The emphasis on progress and the myriad of opportunities we had blinded me altogether and I was just so lost in all the privilege. Does this sound familiar?
I look back at the kids I saw today. Their eagerness to learn, the hunger in their brown eyes as they told us what their life ambition was. It is a hunger that is unabashedly absent from the children I taught back home. I taught as a relief teacher back during the holidays, and though I had my suspicions before, I can say for sure now: the bulk of the children I observed did not know what they wanted from their life. Unlike the kids in India, a clear goal hadn’t crossed their minds, and the idea of “good grades” hence translates only to immediate benefits like happy teachers, happy parents and a good class ranking. It rarely translated to “one step closer to my dream profession” or “a platform to discover my passions”. So it seems to me that our kids are generally unable to dream big. That, in essence, is the glaring fault of our education sustem: we are surrounded by so much opportunity we forget what these opportunities were supposed to lead us to.
It would be unfair, of course, to stop short of my generation when meting out such thick accusation. I always look to myself as the general guide to things. I see the kids smiling at me, so young and full of potential before I look at myself; 21 years old and uncertain as to what I want to be (or perhaps just lacking the courage to pursue what I deem as my ideal profession).
It isn’t hard to feel like I have been a complete waste of resource when I see these kids who would be more than happy to take my place, and probably fare so much better than I ever could. It was a wake up call that I really needed. I have been telling myself to treasure my education for quite a while now, and this was just the boost I needed to keep on track.
To think of the children in India who sit diligently scribbling notes with a teacher who doesn’t appear, to the same class in Singapore celebrating a teachers absence, I can only imagine where it all went wrong. I can only imagine which student truly deserves a shot of success in his/her life.