After a jam-packed schedule in Malaysia, 26 exhausted students couldn’t have been more excited to eat food at our cantina (basically a cafeteria attached to our dormitory) and get some much needed rest. This week would be spent preparing for our final group projects, due the following week. Each member of the group was assigned a topic for our research: labor, arts, education, or health care. Most of our outings over the past seven days directly related to one of these sectors of Singapore’s government policy. Basically, we were given the opportunity to talk to Singaporean professionals about our various areas of study in order to receive a more personal account of the issues at hand; this would help us fill in the gaps of our research.
This Monday after class we visited Henry Park Primary School—one of the best in Singapore—so we could get a closer look at the educational system at work here. We ate lunch first, in a kid-sized hawker center (their cafeteria) and then attended an assembly welcoming the students back to school—it was their first day back to school after a long break. Simply watching the assembly was an eye-opening look into the Singaporean method of promoting a productive and effective learning environment. Even in that opening ceremony, the kids were reminded (sternly) that they should spend more time studying and less time playing. The principal had the students repeat mottoes like “RICE,” which stands for Respect, Integrity, Care and Excellence. Later, five “prefect” students—some of the best scholars I’ve ever encountered—who seem to embody the notions espoused by RICE, led us on a tour around the school’s huge campus. I think all of us were really surprised to see how well the school seemed to have been run, how impressive the “prefect” students were, and the organization of the school system. Finally, we had a question & answer session with the school’s principal, who expounded on several topics that we were all a bit confused about. It was definitely an eye-opening experience that helped us to better understand the education system in Singapore.
On Wednesday, we traveled to Theatre Works. According to this organization’s website, “TheatreWorks is an independent, non-profit Singaporean theatre company that develops and nurtures professional theatre skills. It supports and nurtures Singapore artists, and develops the Singapore arts through its various productions and developmental programmes. It promotes and produces Singapore writing, thereby creating a theatre that is Singapore and with a Singaporean voice. The company recognises its responsibility in encouraging awareness of human and social issues, and is dedicated to sharing the magic of theatre with arts lovers and the Singapore community.” We were given the opportunity to talk to Ong Keng Sen, a local screenwriter, and ask him questions about the short clips he showed us. He spoke of government regulation in this industry as well as the self-censorship imbedded in all Singaporeans. This was definitely a unique experience that was especially helpful for the group focused on the Arts in Singapore.
We spent Friday afternoon at the Darussalam Mosque with NUS’s Muslim Society. Here, we visited a pre-school classroom as well as witnessed the afternoon prayers. It was amazing how many people managed to congregate at this place of worship during what we would consider “work hours” back in the states. After the prayers we headed to the National Library and saw an exhibit focused on Malay scripts. Following this brief exposition, we were toured around the Sultan’s Mosque in Little India. It was a wonderful way to spend our last afternoon with the Muslim Society, which has been so gracious to teach us about their beliefs and practices.
The weekend was of course filled with much excitement between writing papers and working on presentations. Most of us made it to the 4th of July celebration hosted by the American Club in Singapore. With hot dogs, fireworks, and our three favorite colors covering the scene, we all enjoyed a little taste of home.
To finish out another exciting week in Singapore, a few members of the group attended the annual Dragon Boat Races. Team NUS came out the victor in both races, a very exciting accomplishment.
We are all starting to realize that our time in Singapore is running out, with only one week left in this amazing place.