Trisha Reloaded

Dedicated to Trisha, as always. Dedicated also to L, my source of inspiration, and the reason why I choose to see the bright side of teaching.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Of race and your "mother" tongue

For some strange reasons, my comments on Yawning Bread's post did not (could not) appear so I'll add my own two-cents to Piper's request for clarification on our mother-tongue (MT) policy in Singapore.

Here is the unique and, in my opinion, very bizarre situation in Singapore.

Your mother tongue is mandated by the state. And MOE will tell you what MT language you should study in school. Which is very straightforward and easy if you are born of parents of the same race.

But once you are the child of a mixed marriage, then your MT is determined by your father's race. So strictly speaking, we should call it our father tongue, since the mother's race is not even factored into the consideration.

A child whose father is a Chinese and his mother Malay, for example, would have to take Chinese as his MT, regardless of what language he is raised in at home. Should he wish to study Malay as his MT, he would need to get an Exemption from MOE. Now the word 'exemption', to me, is an ugly word, implying one is seeking for some special, uncommon treatment, with even a hint at one's intention to bend the rules for one's own selfish purpose. Anyway, so this child from a mixed marriage needs an exemption from studying Chinese, and then needs further approval from the MOE to study a different MT.

When he sits for his O level MT exam, he needs to show that he has the Exemption letter from MOE, to sit not for the Chinese paper, but the Malay one. Which is one huge hassle to the teacher who has to make sure the student, who has applied for the Exemption before he entered Pri 1, still has the letter 10 years later. If he has lost the Exemption letter, then he needs to produce other documentary evidence to show that he has been cleared by MOE to study Malay (such as being allowed to take his Malay PSLE paper).

Why do we make such a big issue over one's MT? And why is MT tied to the race of the father? Why can't we have more freedom over which second language we wish to study? If we really wish to achieve racial harmony in Singapore, surely we should avoid pigeonholing people into racial categories, dictating what people's MT is based on dubious criterion like one's father's race and making it so troublesome for people to study a second language that is not tied to his race?

We are a nation obsessed with the issue of race. And ironically, we want to ensure that in spite of this unhealthy fixation with race, we can practise racial harmony. No wonder my students are cynical about celebrating Racial Harmony Day.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Because I am stressed out

big time that is, what with the inhumane workload in Term 3, my studying (will whine about that another time) and my body screaming for a break, I shall do this meme which Tym has aptly described as inane :

1. I'd rather be Fiona Xie than Paris Hilton (celebrity airheads).
2. I'd rather be horribly thin than grotesquely fat (extreme body shape).
3. I'd rather be a Creative than an Apple (mp3 players).
4. I'd rather be a man (not woman) than any other creature (next-life wish).
5. I'd rather be a mother than a wife* (greatest life experience).

* Sorry darling. But really, honestly speaking, motherhood is definitely more life-changing, life-enhancing and inspirational than any other experiences in my life. I would give my life for L, but I won't give my life for anyone else.

For fun, I'm tagging :

1. Piper
2. PC
3. Woof!
4. Ball of Yarn

Now back to work. Blllrrgh.

Monday, July 17, 2006


The last week or so had been really hectic. Which explains the lack of regular blogging. So I shall do a quick update. The title of this post sums up what had kept me quite busy - I encountered a few 'firsts' in my teaching career last week. Here goes:

1. First time I was behind two meet-the-principal sessions between the head honcho and my students.
This was, of course, a result of the 54 proposals which made their way to his desk. The man was, I believe, quite positive (was going to write 'pleased' but think that's being too presumptuous on my part) about getting first-hand, uncensored proposals from the students. So he did his part, read the proposals, took down notes, and paid a visit to the students during my English lesson, and had a Meet the People Session kinda thing. It went rather well and now, the only thing that lingered on our minds is whether he's going to bring up some of the students' suggestions to the Exec Com for consideration. Only time will tell if this has all been a grand wayang of which senior management in many places are adept at performing, or if he is really sincere. One can only wait and see for now.

2. First time I was reminded by my principal not to launch into a discussion regarding comparative religion in my class.
It came up as one of the students' proposals. Shall not elaborate on the details but clearly it was an issue that bothered my students. And I'm all for a mature and sensible discussion. But some people get jittery, because we're supposed to promote religious harmony in schools. But does that mean we sweep some issues under the carpet? Particularly those that are festering in my students' minds? How will avoidance of an uncomfortable issue regarding religion lead to greater understanding and tolerance?

3. First time I saw a student breaking down in the face of pressure.
I mean she snapped, emotionally, mentally and physically. And while I try frantically to counsel her, using whatever limited knowledge I have of human psychology, a sense of helplessness engulfs me. What is a form teacher to do when you see your own student fall apart? Sure we have full-time professional counselors in schools now, and thank God for that, but what can I do in the meantime? Like a captain who is tasked to keep his ship afloat, I feel like one now feebly throwing out a lifesaver to a drowning passenger and hoping luck, the winds, the waves, and sheer willpower of the victim will collaborate and somehow save this person. It is extremely frustrating and disheartening at times to realise you don't, and can't have full control of your ship. Honestly I am quite scared that this student will fall through the cracks during my watch. And then I'll wonder if I should have intervened sooner, or noticed her predicament earlier.

Term 3 has always been the Term of Horror, in my opinion. Too many school events, pre-O-level frenzy, and the time when students and teachers start crumbling, falling sick and getting into each other's hair. We all need a mid-term break. Gosh, and we've only just begun?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

You cannot stop believing!

My students in my English class did not believe I would do it.

See, we were having a lesson on writing proposals. Figuring it would be more meaningful if they could write a proposal about a real idea, to a real person, I told them to address it to the school principal. And they should propose something that has been burning in their hearts.

But they gave me the sceptical look. The school has a student suggestion scheme but it appears the students have lost faith in the system. More often, they explain, some feckless teacher whose job is to go through the suggestion forms would chuck the more 'outrageous' suggestions, and settle for the safe, gutless ones. And the principal would not even get a chance to see all the suggestions. What is the point of speaking up when there's a censorship board who muzzles you before the principal even knows you have opened your mouth?

The point is, I say, my eyes flashing, that you never stop speaking up for what you believe in. Because if everyone thinks like you, then nothing in this school will change. So what if you hit the wall in your first few attempts, you just have to keep at it, until you wear them out, until you manage to get someone up there to at least acknowledge that you have a point, even if they don't have the guts or the means to implement your radical idea.

So I have now, 54 proposals in my hand. And I must say some are really good stuff.

And I'm giving them to the principal tomorrow, and hoping he will read some, if not all of them. And that he can see that my students, and I, are really serious about having our voices heard. Wish me luck.