Teachers' Day Special: What School Teaches Us About the Real World
We spend the majority of our childhood and teenage years in school. We hide snacks under our tables so we won’t get caught eating by prefects, we leave soaking wet handprints on our classmates’ uniforms. We doze off during English and Math classes, but miraculously have a never-ending supply of energy to play “catching” during recess.
We gain knowledge, discover our personalities and explore the world beyond our imagination in the many years of education we have. We try, we fail, we learn and we grow. For that, we have our teachers to thank. From the Chemistry teacher who ALWAYS gives random organic chemistry pop quizzes, to the Chinese teacher who makes us “罚站” (stand during class as a punishment) if we don’t complete our “习字” (writing practices), our teachers work tirelessly to help us become better people.
Our passionate and dedicated teachers spend long hours formulating lesson plans, executing curriculums and managing our extra-curricular activities (CCAs, excursions etc.). They go beyond their working hours to mark worksheets, give consultations and keep updates of our progress. They impart more than just knowledge. They inculcate values. They inspire. They are the very backbone of our education system.
This Teachers’ Day, let us reminisce about the good ol’ school days and the lessons our teachers have taught us.
From ages 7 to 16, children are put through a rigorous and holistic education system. From Science to Art, Singapore’s education system ensures that children are well-rounded individuals who have strong physical and cognitive abilities. Here’s a list of subjects we have been taught (and what they have taught us):
Ah... the anxiety-inducing spelling tests and oral examinations. Remember trying so desperately to use phonics or the “有边读边” method during our exams? Remember writing “在一个风和日丽的早上, 小明和小丽踏着轻快的脚步...” for ALL our chinese compositions?
The compulsory language classes we have in primary and secondary schools - English & Mother Tongue - help to develop both our written and verbal communication skills. English, the lingua franca of international business, science and technology, prepares us for interactions in the globalised world. It encourages us to develop a personal voice, to be effective communicators and to gain interest in reading, inferring and understanding the information around us.
Our Mother Tongue Language (Chinese Language, Malay Language or Tamil Language) not only enables us to be adaptive and prepared for additional opportunities in the global environment, but also grounds and reminds us of our heritage. Our Mother Tongue Languages reiterate traditional values (i.e. filial piety, humility, frugality, etc.) that are close to our racial and ethnic identities, some of which are untranslatable to the English language.
We often laugh at the absurd “John” who buys 80 watermelons at a supermarket and the “Alice” who has to split 600 pieces of chocolates with her friends. We question why we need to learn algebra, geometry and trigonometry when they’re mostly inapplicable to everyday life. We complain about the iconic TYS (Ten Year Series assessment books), yet practice them religiously when PSLE, “O” or “A” Levels are right around the corner. Why do we have such a love-hate relationship with Mathematics?
Mathematics, or rather, the practice of mathematics frustrates us because it often seems one-tracked; a fixed set of answers exist and our answers are always either right or wrong. An inaccurate decimal point, let alone a miscalculation, would result in a catastrophic loss of marks during our examinations. Essentially, there is little to no room for error and carelessness.
However, despite its lack of tolerance for mistakes, Mathematics teaches us a great deal about the real world. It trains us to be meticulous, accurate and focused to prevent the snowballing of mistakes. It encourages us to develop logical, problem-solving and pattern-recognizing abilities, skills essential for our daily lives. Mathematics teaches us the value of hard work and perseverance - to practice ALL our problem sums in our iconic brown jotter books - because practice really does make perfect.
Science classes (especially lab sessions) were undoubtedly some of the most fun classes we’ve had. From examining a plant cell to testing for hydrogen gas with a lighted splint, science teaches us about ourselves, the world around us and the world beyond us. Biology teaches us about our bodies and our biodiversity - how our biological systems and ecosystems work and how we can protect them. Chemistry teaches us about reactions and how our actions can impact the world around us (e.g. how do CFCs contribute to global warming?). Physics teaches us how to improve the world around us (i.e. inventions, automations).
Science teaches us how to protect, prevent and enhance ourselves and the world around us. If knowledge is power, then science is our enabler.
The Humanities trinity - History, Geography and Literature - definitely trained us to have the good memory we have today. From memorizing the years the Vietnam War occurred to how breakwaters prevent coastal erosion, we learn about our predecessors, their stories and their experiences.
History teaches us about social division, wars and inequity. It hones our need to understand context and intention, it makes us think critically about narratives that have developed over the years. It teaches us about peace, harmony and social cohesion through the concepts of extremities, tyranny and oppression. History utilises the battles of our forefathers to explain how inadequate planning can lead to unfavourable consequences and how we can prevent or rectify injustice.
Geography puts our interactions with Mother Earth under a microscope. From seasonal human migration to water pollution, the study of geography allows us to examine the impact of human actions and how we can/should prevent the destruction of our only inhabitable planet. By shedding a light on natural geological formations, climate change and our human population, geography helps us become aware and prepared for natural (tsunamis, earthquakes, etc.) and man-made (forest fires, overpopulation, etc.) disasters.
From Romance to Science Fiction to Mystery and Crime, Literature enables us to identify with characters to analyse larger-than-life questions. Classic Literature like “Animal Farm” and “Things Fall Apart” teaches us the importance of unity and strong leadership. Literary masterpieces like “Romeo & Juliet” and “Hamlet” prepares us for love and loss. Literature exposes us to a variety of themes and emotions - it teaches us about life through riveting narratives and epic adventures.
Art and music classes help us develop skills outside of academia and enable us to explore alternative ways of expressing ourselves.
Art and Craft classes encourage us to express ourselves through painting, drawing and making. It trains our fine motor skills and acts as a form of stress relief. From colours to textures and gradients, art teaches us to appreciate the simpler things in life and explore our craftsmanship and creativity.
Then comes the legendary recorder. Remember how we used to get so flustered trying to hold our breaths while switching from note to note? Regardless of whether we loved pretending to be pied pipers, or could not be less interested in playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, the legendary musical instrument holds a special place in every Singaporean’s heart. The simple and easy-to-master instrument teaches us more than we realise. We build our sense of rhythm and learn to synchronise beats. We bond with friends through harmonies, melodies and the universal language that is music.
The Civics and Moral Education (CME) curriculum, now termed Character & Citizenship Education (CCE), interweaves with the Singaporean culture. As Singapore experiences an increasing exposure to western culture, traditional Asian qualities like frugality and filial piety are close to forgotten. CME, more commonly known as 好公民, teaches us to be respectful, responsible, resilient, harmonious, honest and caring citizens. It reminds us that compassion, service and social competencies outweigh academic and monetary achievements in our dog-eat-dog world.
With rising childhood obesity and decreasing outdoor play rates, Physical Education (PE) is our saving grace. From the dreadful NAPFA test to intense sports like basketball and soccer, we learn to adopt an active lifestyle and develop our motor skills. Sports gives us the necessary exercise we need and help us with concentration, instruction-observation and discipline. Through our participation in sports, we learn how to collaborate and manage conflicts with others, skills essential for the 21st century workplace.
Our childhood and adolescence is when we first discover how we relate to the world and how we relate to others. We make life-long friends and experience our first falling-outs. Our teachers help us grow from mistakes and guide us in forming our personal values. They teach us to listen and assist us in establishing our identities.
As the nation celebrates Teachers’ Day today, let us appreciate the painstaking efforts of the mentors who have helped us become who we are today. Call a former teacher. Write them a card. Say a huge thank you.
And to all teachers out there, Happy Teachers’ Day!