Singapore National Primary School System : The Middle-Class Bias of Educators

Dawn came back on Wednesday night and asked for some family photos to be printed. She said it was for a homework that was given by her teacher and it has to be handed in on the next day – Thursday.

I was puzzled with the teacher’s request because it seems to assume that all the students in the class have ready-printed photos or a printer at home.

Nevertheless, we asked Dawn to choose the photos and assisted her in printing them because we have a printer at my home office. The homework was completed close to 9pm, just before the children bedtime.

My child came back from school on Thursday and she told me that some of her classmates were not able to complete the homework. I continued to ask her how did the teacher react to those who did not print or bring the photos, she said that the teacher pointed at the page and said to the student (interpreted by Dawn in such a manner) – your family is a blank page?

Now, I was not there in the class to hear the exact remark. There’s a possibility that the remark interpreted by my daughter is not what the teacher had intended. It could be just an exclamation, or an expressed thought and mean no harm to most of us.

The requirement for students to follow teachers’ instructions on homework deadline is important. It’s a form of early education for children to learn the values of accountability and responsibility.

The key issue that struck me, however, is this: the homework was given a day to complete. The homework requires parental involvement. It requires photos of family members out for an occasion (outing). It requires more than 1 photo. It requires physical copies of photos and are to be pasted in the given box in the workbook.

The given timeline for this piece of homework has suggested, in my humble opinion, a middle class bias. The assumption of how each student should have the minimal of what the majority has. But is that really so?

Assumption 1 : All families have a printer.

Is that true? We don’t have one a year ago. We wouldn’t have bought one if I had not need it for my home office.

Must every family be able to afford a printer?

Assumption 2 : All families print photos, and have excess of them to use for homework material.

I did that, many years ago. My last photo album was for my wedding. With this digital age, my phone is my photo album. Sleek, mobile, free to add more photos and easy to delete ugly ones.

Do we still print excessive copies of photos nowadays and have them laying around? I don’t and I am not sure about the others.

Assumption 3 : All parents are always free every weekday night. 

Don’t we have parents who work night shift?

Don’t we have parents who leave the children under the care of grandparents during weekdays because of whatever reasons?

Don’t we have parents who work and only reach home after the child is asleep?

Don’t we have parents who reach home at 7pm after work, prepare and have dinner, house chores and bath, only to be in a rude shock about the child’s homework requirement at 9pm, with no printer at home and printer shops outside are closed for business?

Assumption 4 : All families are complete.

Do all children have the opportunity to go for happy outings with their families?

Do all children have the opportunity to take happy photos with their families?

Do all children come from complete family?

Are there no children who really come from a family that is of a blank page?

Maybe I am reading too much into this. This short timeline for completion of a homework that requires parental guidance or special material is not an isolated case which I had experienced ever since Dawn started her formal education. There were other such instances or even requests to bring a certain stationary (example of a drawing block or a red pen – which was not included in the required list of items to purchase at the start of the year) on the next day of school.

This might have been my own misinterpretation of the whole incident, but if the recipient of the remark from the teacher falls into any of the above, the message may not be well received.  The child walks away from the lesson feeling wronged, alone and blamed. While it may be important to ensure that the children are task-focused, it is equally important to allow the child and family an appropriate amount of time to react to the requirements of the homework.

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