Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dog eat dog

Public reaction to the new policy of not publishing the names of the top students in the PSLE is understandably divided. But the change is only cosmetic, considering the deeper issues underlying the problem.

If we genuinely celebrated the success of our best and brightest, then there would be a reason to publish their names for everyone to see. Unfortunately, the greater majority of us is more likely to see those names as not belonging to us and are therefore an indictment of our own failure. Yes, even though we passed and got to where we needed to go, because our names aren't spelled out in neon lights we feel like what we have accomplished is hardly good enough.

But now when we choose not to reveal those names, the problem doesn't get solved so much as it is now driven underground. Without transparency, nobody is going to know what the highest scores are and everybody is going to feel like a failure as we are more likely to rue our own inadequacies rather than celebrate our own achievements.

This very narrow band that we perceive as 'success' is probably the root of S'porean discontent. We're told that life is a competition and only the most deserving 'win', while the rest... well, actually no one has ever said what happens to the rest other than eternal suffering and damnation. So, because most of us fall in the category of The Rest, we're living the life we deserve. Self-fulfilling prophecy, S'pore style.

Indeed, life is a competition. The fit, the strong survive; the weak are prey. I will not dispute that axiom. Our mistake is taking on the competition as a solo player. We view everybody as a competitor for the same prize. Whether it's 'foreign talent', the kids that hail from the elite schools, or even our own classmates, everyone who is not us we see as capable of putting a knife into our exposed back.

That's how we've been playing this education game -- and its expansion pack: 'Life of the Working Adult'. Our biggest dream is to discover the key that activates GOD mode, and our biggest frustration is discovering that there is none. In this game, the solo player is screwed.

The true key to winning this game is to play in co-op mode. The trick is to identify friends from enemies, and more importantly to realize that under a common threat, even enemies can be friends.

If we trace our current societal problems back through the school circuit, this is where our schools have let us down badly. Above the passing of exams which we are very good at teaching, this is the one lesson we never passed on to our kids. We let our kids grow up thinking everybody is an enemy, or at least a scheming competitor. Not exactly the foundations of a rock-solid cohesive society, is it?

Dogs hunt in packs and share the spoils. Single, solitary dogs are the spoiled ones that are hand-fed by their indulgent owners and growl protectively over their meagre possessions. In a dog-eat-dog world, which breed of dog is the more likely to survive? Are you, fellow S'porean, bred to hunt for yourself; or to be fed by whomever you think owns you?

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