So the other day I was at the MRT station when I saw a couple of students, in their uniforms, waiting for the train. They were pretty impatient and were constantly looking at the screen to see when the train would come. When it finally arrived, they didn’t bother waiting for the passengers to alight, instead, barging onto the train as soon as the doors opened. And what for I didn’t even know! The train was full and there weren’t even any seats. They just simply had to be the first ones on the train…for the sake of being the first ones on. I wouldn’t say I’m the most gracious person around but certainly more so than them! Singapore students are just so competitive to the extent that they apply it not just in school but everywhere they go, no matter how trivial the situation.
While being competitive does have its benefits, it also has its limitations. Schools drilling us with paper after paper will not help this situation. The lack of character learning education in schools is probably one of the main reasons why Singaporeans are so ungracious. The competitiveness just amplifies this.
I conducted an interview with Mrs Asfilah Ariffin, a teacher at Jurong Primary School in her 40’s and these were her replies.
Do you find the Singapore education system very competitive?
Yes the Singapore education system is competitive. At Primary 3, there’s already Gifted Education Program streaming. Everyone wants to get into the elite schools, the GEP etc. There are even preparatory tests for GEP, so this shows how competitive it is. Even in Secondary, post-secondary education, everyone wants to go to the best schools, to get the top places.
Singaporeans have been known to be very ungracious. Do you feel that competitiveness is one of the causes of this? Why?
Yes partly. Pupils are self-centered. E.g. I the classroom, everyone is waiting for each other to clean the classroom à uncondusive learning environment. The simply wait for the cleaners. Others just do CIP for the hours in order to build their portfolio and not because they actually care. In trains, people sit on reserved seats and pretend to sleep, ignoring those who actually need the seats.
Because of competitiveness, people adopt the superiority complex. They think that they have the rights to the best things, because they have earned it. So they do not feel any empathy towards others. They are also too busy competing with one another to stop and do a self-reflection. That can lead to being an ungracious person.
What do you feel are the impacts of being ungracious and how it affects the nation?
The community will become very selfish and self-centered. Even children have to be brought to court before they are forced to take care of their parents. They have no empathy for others. The youngsters especially. They don’t seem to understand that the old people still have to work while they just sit around. They only do something if they have something to gain from it, superficial deeds.
Being an educator herself, Mrs Ariffin would know first-hand students attitudes and their characters. She herself believes that students are being far more competitive and self-centered, caring more about themselves than the class as a whole. And she notices this not just in students but also the general public when she travels around Singapore.
Singaporeans’ ungraciousness could lead to foreign talent finding us very unattractive which undermines the whole point of Singapore going through globalization in the first place! Thus, a solution to this problem is greatly needed.