Here’s a hypothetical ire-inducing scenario:
4 students do a group project together. They agree on what each person has to contribute. However, what happens after that isn’t very appealing. Student A doesn’t do his work and disappears throughout the duration of the project. Even if he is present, he lingers on the sidelines, the only sound coming from him is the sound emanating from his phone.
Student B doesn’t really know what’s going on. Truthfully, it is doubted that he even knows he has to do his project. Whenever he does work, it is so half-baked and rotten, everyone can see that there is a serious lack of effort in it.
Student C doesn’t come for meetings and always procrastinates. Not only that, he plays the ‘good boy’ of the group, hiding under an endless reservoir of parent calls and emails. With the constant threat of being reported, everybody dislikes student C. His contribution? No reply to any emails sent to him. On the day before the deadline, he realizes that he is going to fail. And on that very evening, he rudely gives everybody a list of things to do. Anybody who fails to comply will be reported to the teacher. Of course other group members will have their own commitments, right?
Last but not least, student D. Being a conscientious and diligent student, he chases the other people who don’t respond, to limited success. Now, student D faces the dilemma of letting the whole group flunk and die, or adopting the workloads of students A, B and C.
This scenario is so common in Singapore’s schools that I’m not astonished. There are many different kinds of people, so I am not surprised as well. What I am astonished about is that if the group eventually fails, the teacher will tell student D that it was his fault, and that he should have put in more effort/made sure that the other three did their work. To make matters worse, the teacher might be under the illusion that A, B and C did their work, and stupidly subtracts a percentage of student D’s mark. After which student D realizes that the project is 25% of his SA2, he screwed up his chances of getting A1, goes into temporary depression and writes a blog post all about it.
The delusional reasoning behind this twisted logic is that real life is just like that, work must get done, life isn’t fair, get used to it. We all know that in this cruel world, life isn’t fair. And these are the problems that us kids will face when we head into the working world to pursue our own dreams. However, I would like to add that there is a world of difference when you talk about preparing a child for real life, or training them for it. I find that our competitive education landscape has transformed from educating to training kids. The former is about instilling values, knowledge and the right attitude into a person to get him ready for the real world. The latter is more about playing to win, only to win. This is done usually at someone else’s expense. Winner takes all.
The main flaw with training is that nobody wins. Society sucks. This cruel world sucks. As people, we are supposed to groom ourselves and others to be better human beings who can make society better, not take advantage of it. The kind of messages we are sending to children is what they will adhere to in the future. One cannot really complain about the moral decay of society if we are teaching our children in school about assigning blame, irresponsibility and leaving their ethics at the front door.
What do the students learn in the project above? Student A learns that it is acceptable not to do anything and get away with it. Student B learns that it is beneficial not to put in much effort as it is ok to ride on someone’s coat tails. Student C realises that he can be a total bitch, and can sabotage other people’s time and effort while holding their considerable achievements in disregard. Most saddening is that Student D realises that it does not pay to be conscientious and hardworking. In truth, he might be considered naïve and stupid.
We need to go back to the basics. Reinforce actions that demonstrate values. Teach children that they can and should be kind in an unkind world.
In this cruel world, life is never fair. All the more we should make a difference.