Singapore students and their creature comforts

Total Defence Day shows some S'pore students are TOTALLY DEFENCELESS
Teo Chin Ghee, The New Paper 29 Feb 08;

Teacher, how to eat this?
Some don't even know what sweet potatoes are

WHAT? Eat sweet potatoes? Have lessons in classrooms without lights, fans or aircon? Drink water that's not cold?

This was how some students reacted when asked to forgo their creature comforts for a few hours, as part of the Total Defence Day activities in some schools recently.

And their complaints have prompted some educators and school counsellors to question: Are our children too soft and too spoilt?

The New Paper understands that students from some schools complained when they found out they had to eat sweet potatoes for recess - even though it was only for a day.

The 'sweet potato only' policy was to simulate the Japanese Occupation, when it was a staple for many of these students' grandparents.

Some students had never even heard of sweet potato and wondered how it was to be eaten.

The complaints did not end there.

When lights in the classrooms were turned off, they grumbled that they couldn't make out what was written on the whiteboard, even when natural sunlight was streaming in at 9am.

And going without fans or air-conditioning was a major inconvenience for most.

Some resentful students asked their teachers why the central air-conditioning in the staff room and the general office had not been turned off, questioning why teachers had the luxury of returning to the air-conditioned staff room.

This, even though the teachers had spent most of their time with the students in the classrooms.

Another common complaint: The water from the water coolers was not cold enough.


To commemorate the day on 15 Feb this year, some secondary schools had organised a 'blackout' day, complete with 'food rationing' to let students experience what their forefathers went through during World War II.

At one school, the blackout lasted from 9am to 11.30am, with the power supply cut off at the classroom blocks.

Students were informed about the surprise blackout only on the day itself.

They had to sit through lessons without lights and go without the cooling comfort of fans.

During recess, the students were given ration coupons for sweet potatoes, the only food sold in the canteen that day.

One of the school's National Education committee members said: 'The theme for this year emphasises the individual's responsibility and how total defence is personal.

'We wanted to personalise the experience for our students so they can play their part.'

However, it seems that the lessons failed to resonate with some students.

When asked by The New Paper, one student's response was: 'We had PE lessons that day and after the lesson, we were just so thirsty.

'No drinks were provided and the drink stalls were closed.


'We could only drink from the water coolers, which had long queues. To make it worse, the fans in the canteen were also turned off. It was so hot.'

While sweet potatoes may not be a favourite food among teenagers, what particularly shocked one teacher was learning that some students had never eaten it before.

He said: 'We actually had some students coming up to us, asking, 'How do I eat them?'.'

A similar food-rationing activity conducted two years ago at another school on Total Defence Day was also poorly received by the students.

The school's Total Defence Day co-ordinator recalled: 'It was a one-off event. The students didn't exactly like sweet potatoes and it was rather wasteful because we had leftovers.'

Some parents and teachers approached by The New Paper believe the students are spoilt.

Mrs Grace See, a parent of three children, said: 'From young, they have led such pampered lives. They have 24-hour air-conditioning and a maid to meet their every need.

'I know of a friend's nephew who simply refuses to go to non-air-conditioned places to eat.'

Teachers, who spoke to The New Paper on condition of anonymity, generally agreed.

One of them gave an interesting example: 'I know a 10-year-old student who goes home on the school bus.

'There was a time when he simply stood there after getting off, refusing to go home because his maid wasn't there to carry his bag and take him home.'

Another teacher said: 'Students these days are definitely spoilt. When you take away certain privileges that they are used to having, then they appear handicapped and cannot cope.'

One vice-principal noted that students these days are not used to such hardships because of a different lifestyle.

She added: 'They are, therefore, not able to appreciate the programmes that schools have planned for them.'

However, another teacher said some students today are becoming more independent in their search for knowledge, with the help of computers.

'So while they depend on their parents for some basic needs, they are now less dependent in other areas, like their academic work,' she added.

Others, like Shuqun Secondary School principal Tan Chin Eng, warned against generalising.

He said: 'Sometimes, it depends on the family background of the students.

'The students who complained could be those who have the basic necessities in life and have not gone through any hardships.

'However, it is also not wise to generalise that students these days are spoilt.'