How has my education experience shape my personality and beliefs? Why did I want to study law? Why do I seem defiant to authority? Why do I detest Singapore’s education system (referring specifically to the system as it then was, when I was in the primary and secondary school years i.e. 7-16 years old)? I was taught Mathematics, Science, History, Geography etc., most of the stuff I’ve forgotten. So what did I really learn at school? I learned important lessons in human psychology.
Silence means guilt
While you have the right to remain silence, silence is often equated with guilt and weakness. Being a quiet student, I was picked on repeatedly by some classmates. They accused me of things I didn’t do and things which I did that many people did too but got away with it (e.g. scribbling on the desk) and reported me to the teacher. I didn’t know how to defend myself and wasn’t given a chance to explain. The teacher wasn’t interested in my side of the story nor attempt to find out if there was any mitigating circumstances.
People do judge a book by its cover
I love running and I could run fast. I wanted to join the school’s running team but the coach who was also my science teacher seemed to believe that I wasn’t capable enough to run because I didn’t fit the standard profile of an athelete (active and outgoing, as opposed to timid and meek) and ruled me out without even giving me a try. It was a case of judging someone by their looks. Again, despite my disappointment, I was too ‘weak’ and submissive to defend my interest.
Power corrupts. Adults are a poor judge of character
The so called role models i.e. the ones in positions of responsibility and power (monitor, prefect, teacher) are sometimes the ones who perpetuate the bullying/teasing.
Girls are bitchy
Compared to boys, girls tend to be more unpredictable, gossipy and manipulative. One minute, they are friends with you; one minute they are not.
Thou shalt not forget
With poor executive functioning, autistic students can be disorganised and forgetful. I wasn’t one of them and I remembered to bring my books and homework most of the time because I was fearful of the consequences for not remembering. The school instilled fear in me for forgetting. Students were punished (sometimes detention), singled out and made to feel that they’ve done something terribly bad. Maybe it was just me, there were other students who were more ‘forgetful’ but they didn’t seem concerned with the punishment. I guess my skin wasn’t thick enough and the fear of being ridiculed made me anxious, I also hated having to stay back after school. The few times I forgot, I panicked and it felt like the end of the world for me, I’d just cry and made a fool of myself.
It’s a dog eat dog world
In class, we were divided into groups and competed against each other. Student with a higher score in a test will gain more points for the group. Success is entirely measured by academic achievements. Instead of helping and encouraging one another, it fosters a competitive mindset, ‘weaker’ students were made to feel it was their fault for letting the group down and some of the (intelligent) students were not afraid of making their feelings known.
The education system is sexist
The education system sucks
A lot of times, learning means memorising. It is not uncommon for students to memorise chunks of text for a dictation and comprehension test. Are we being tested on our ability to memorise? The education system’s idea of learning is to encourage mechanical studying and blindly following the curriculum as opposed to developing individual growth. Yes, I was taught English at school but it was a subject I struggled with as my marks were on the borderline of a pass/fail. I owed my English skills to my teacher in the UK who taught me useful simple strategies I could use on my own to improve my English.
Oh yes, I had some great memories at school, there were a few teachers who made a difference, my best friends and puppy love. But it doesn’t change the fact that most of it sucks. I do have to add that the education system is but one of the experiences that shape my beliefs and values. I have cousins and a few friends who grow up in the same education system as me and I seem to be the only one who is embittered by it so I guess my reaction is not universal or even extreme. Could my extreme reaction and intense emotions be a manifestation of my autism? Maybe. And the fear of being ridiculed, the need for logic, social naivety and of being misunderstood. Yes, it is true I am fortunate I did not suffer from physical bullying but if we use physical bullying as the benchmark, the system is reacting too slow, too late. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can break my heart. I think some educators are not aware and conscious of the (negative) impact of their actions on the younger minds.
I suspect the current education system isn’t far off from the system I’ve experienced and is a common problem elsewhere. The problems I encountered and the education system I envisaged is encapsulated in the bollywood movie, 3 idiots which I would highly recommend. It’s a long movie and quite a hilarious one but with an important message.
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