Monday, March 30, 2009

Singaporean Students

After years of study in the conventional education system, here are my observations of mature Singaporean students.

Let me begin with a scenario: a talk about studying overseas. When the talk in the lecture theatre has ended and students are dispersing, here's a snippet of conversation I caught:

Anonymous: Aiyah, no need to go overseas to study lah, just go NUS. What's so bad about Singapore?

Companion: (seemingly agrees)

I often felt irritated by the comments that students made sometimes, like this one, but I didn't know why. I think I've finally figured out the answer.

A certain type of Singaporean students, unconsciously or not, like to put themselves down and gloat in their combined misery. They adopt an easy-going manner that's their way of protecting themselves against disappointments, the distorted idea that 'I'm so bad anyway, what's the worst that could happen?' It's part of the cynical, pragmatic nature that's been bred in them. You see, by lowering their expectations, potential dejection will be lessened as well. They take comfort in commiserating with their friends who are like them, and anyone who challenges the status quo- who is too outstanding, who studies too much, who is just too darn smart- is viewed with suspicion and aloofness. They'll say to the person, 'Aiyah, you sure get A lah', and inside they may be thinking, 'Not like the rest of us.' They wouldn't think of inviting such a person to their group study sessions.

This brings me back to my original point- some students irritate me because they make others feel guilty for who they are. If you think about it, there's nothing wrong about being studious; in fact, it's an admirable characteristic. It's only EXCESSIVE attention paid to studies that may be harmful. There's also nothing wrong about choosing studies over other activities, something viewed almost as 'cheating'. Some people are just better at sticking to their books than sports, for example. Similarly, there's nothing wrong about desiring to go overseas to study. Some students expect others to be like them, and they make statements as if they are making a universal declaration. Maybe they are this way because they are insecure, or secretly jealous and bitter that they can't excel as much as 'those people'.

It's possible that I'm reading too much into the situation. I'm simply attempting to explain something that's always bothered me. It's also possible that I fall into the trap of acting like one of those students sometimes. I wish that the education system does not produce such characteristics in the students. I wish that students (myself included) stop the perpetual thinking that 'life deals us so much crap' or 'my life is so screwed', because most of us are actually very fortunate. And I wish that we stop thinking and acting like we have 'no choice' but to do something, like go to NUS, because there is always a choice.

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