When I read that schools (the perpetual focus on “top schools” notwithstanding) were doing more to push students beyond their sanctuaries to participate in a multitude of co-curricular activities with “pupils from a variety of backgrounds”, I was thrilled (“Schools Collaborate on Non-Academic Programmes and Community Activities” (October 7, 2013) by Miss Ng Jing Yng*). Many of us saw the value of cross-institution interactions, and Miss Ng herself had reported on partnerships between special education and mainstream schools. In fact, these programmes can be organised within the classroom as well (here):
“There is tremendous value when students are encouraged to go beyond their respective schools, and expand their exposure either in terms of academic-scholastic pursuit, or vocational instruction. Interactions between youths at the IHL-level can also go a long way to address preconceived notions or stereotypes, and greatly heighten cross-curriculum or inter-disciplinary learning. Even within unique classroom settings, these students would get a grasp of what is done in the assortment of institutions, and simultaneously find out more about courses and academic streams.
Cooperative partnerships can also go beyond superficial exchanges, or one-off events per se (such as one-day Racial Harmony celebrations, or Total Defence commemorations). Following the scholastic or course-based learning, the students could work constructively together to organise national conventions and seminars, form core teams for community initiatives, or even manage events or major activities at the grassroots levels. Opportunities for these out-of-the-classroom commitments should be seized”.
According to TODAY, students from Raffles Institution have helped to set up a Scouts unit in Crest Secondary School, while 12 students from Hwa Chong Institution have gone on an overseas service-learning trip with student volunteers from ITE College West.
Perhaps the example of the Scouts is not a great one, since discipline and regimentation are required in uniformed groups. While it would be too far to assert that the endeavour smacked of condescension – that of self-serving “messiahs” helping the less-privileged or needy – but it is important for the participants to be circumspect of their perceptions. The emphasis on “collaboration” should reflect the actual practice of partnerships.
TODAY, move beyond the “top-school”-student-learns-about-the-disadvantaged-background-of-other-students, and student-learns-how-studious-and-hardworking-a-“top-student”-is narratives leh. They are not wrong, but awfully simplistic.
And do we really need to give more public attention to these “top schools”, for them to pedantically prove that they are not insular, self-contained communities? Because of how the article was framed, one could be forgiven for thinking that these “top schools”, their students, and their administrators were benefiting disproportionately, particularly from the media attention. Sure, politicians have made references about these “academic powerhouses” in the past months (and the need for them to move out of “closed circles” – bless them), but schools across-the-board have sought to bolster and strengthen cross-institution engagement. Many teams have worked on joint overseas service expeditions to neighbouring countries, and co-curricular groups have had a history of sustained cooperation too.
In other words, if “top schools” had not undertaken these projects, would this still have been newsworthy?
Differences – not mere disparity – should be celebrated and appreciated. Any interaction should be genuine, not merely symbolic. As we encourage more schools to (continue) open(ing) their doors, to promote further exchanges, let us be cognisant of our own motivations, and continuously keep the pragmatic ones in check.
*Note: An earlier version of this post had incorrectly addressed the TODAY journalist as “Mr. Ng”. I apologise for the mistake.