Each of us are change agents and change in the education system must start from within. Today’s performance of “Don’t Kancheong, Kiasu, Kiasi” drove this point home well.
A collaboration between 100 Voices and Bud’s Theatre with support by education platform Flying Cape; the interactive play held in forum theatre style, swiftly brought to fore hot button issues in education through familiar scenarios involving key stakeholders in the education system–students, parents, employers, educators and the education ministry.
The plot holds a mirror up to the current educational reality: escalating stress on our young, high parental expectations, KPI-driven education, weary teachers and jaded employers.
As a former educator and mum of five children (with children both homeschooling and in school), the script and action resonated on many fronts. The lines are familiar ones that I could have uttered from my own mouth as a Singaporean parent finding my footing in a Kancheong, Kiasu, Kiasi landscape. Here are some choice scenes:
Scene 1: Tommy, just 10 years old has just failed his exam and his mother is having a fit over it. She hurls her worries and exasperation at Tommy’s father, who doesn’t seem to think it’s much of an issue. They can’t agree on how to respond to their son’s poor grades.
“Boy, if you don’t do well, you probably need to…have tuition.”says his weary father, not because he really believes tuition to be the remedy but because it could be the one solution to calm his livid wife. Frustrated Tommy, who sees his parents quarrelling, feels sorry for the trouble he’s caused and threatens suicide.
Scene 2: Tommy’s form teacher is hurled an email and called to the Principal’s office to account for the suicide threat.
“When something good happens it’s always about good parenting or our good school system, but when something goes wrong, it’s always the teacher’s fault.”, she laments as she feels the weight of the system bearing down on her, piling on more responsibility than she is comfortable with. One blindspot she says is, “All parents want their kids to be number one. The only problem is there can only ever be one number one.”
Scene 3: The Principal meets her Superintendent who moots the idea of a (gasp)”suicide seminar”. “Our education system is the best.”says the official, obviously proud of the system’s efficacy and reputation across the world. He speaks of the latest changes: “With the new PSLE scoring system, let’s hope parents will stop pressurizing their children to chase the last mark?”
Scene 4: Tommy’s mother, who also holds a management position in an SME, bemoans to her HR manager the hiring woes she’s faced in employing locals. “…Every top scholar seems to come from China or India. I’m not going to hire locals, they are just too troublesome. When was the last local we hired? “James Lee Wei Wen.” How long? 15 days. Why? He quit to go scuba diving in the Philippines. ”
Thrust into the thick of this action, the play invites the audience to “act” on the outcome.
Traditionally, forum theatre, otherwise known as the “theatre of the oppressed” demands audience members to be change agents. The audience can stop a performance, suggest different actions for the actors to carry out on-stage or reenact a portion of the play.
The interventionist nature of the play incites change and invokes action– which quite a number of audience members readily engaged in. Surprisingly, many spoke up, which is good, as change must always start with conversations.
This is also why the play’s format is appealing: it nudges us to stop being passive consumers within the education system and to merely sit back, watch and complain. Given the power to change the plot, it is no longer acceptable to be an armchair critic or inert byproducts of a system that manufactures consent.
In fact, it is not enough to speak up for change…we have to BE that change.
That is the mental mindset we need to overcome.
Rather than push the blame if you are a parent to the school, or as a teacher to the system, or as a ministry to the parents or as employers to the greater universe, we can start with ourselves. How can we invoke change where we already are?
The play reminds us of the complex interactions between all stakeholders in education, pulling us into an intriguing exchange of perspectives. By representing the myriad of constraints and considerations on all ends, we get a glimpse of what attitudes and mindsets may ultimately inhibit us from moving forward.
Undeniably though, we HAVE inched closer in stitching together the fabric of conversations and I am grateful to the good people from 100 Voices for leading that change.
The greatest tragedy that could result from this would be to make this a play that is “all talk, but no action”.
We need to take action: to be that curious and unfazzled student, that supportive parent, that enlightened educator and employer. Perhaps we don’t need the education ministry to first lead the way because real change begins with us.