Just today, I was having a conversation with a friend, S. She said, “G, don’t you think we’ve become a pretty rigid society? It’s like everywhere we go, we have some kind of procedure that we have to follow because we think we’re going to fail and be left behind by the others if we don’t.”
That got me thinking. I remember my friend saying to me once, “G, how do I go about doing this? I’m really at a loss of what to do, you know. I mean, I’m the kind of person who needs some kind of protocol to follow. Give me a format and I can follow it 100% and do very well at it. But… Haiyer! This is so frustrating!”
I agreed with S and added, “Yeah, we seem to be content just following and doing what is necessary; We never try to go beyond that boundary and ask what more can be done. What more can we learn? We don’t question or challenge ideas here. When we’re so used to be given a ‘template’, somehow I feel like there’s this limit to how much we can actually grow. We become afraid to move out of our comfort zones or make mistakes. And sometimes, it’s really stifling,” I said. It was what we noticed since coming to the university.
Rules. Agenda. Protocol. Procedures.
We all need it to a certain extent. It is necessary. It keeps us focused at the task at hand and lets us know that we’re on the right track. There’s a comfort in knowing that as long as we follow this set path, we’re more or less safe.
Yet as a result, we have become so risk-adverse that sometimes, I feel like it’s gotten to a point where if we’re left to our own devices, we wouldn’t have a clue what to do. We wouldn’t know how to start blazing our own path ahead. If we are met with a crisis, how many of us would be able to think on our feet and improvise? How many of us are willing to turn 180 degrees and change our course if we find no treasures ahead of the path we are on after walking a considerable distance?
Indeed, it’s like what people say – We are a nanny nation. The System has set everything in order for us. It brings across a subtle message that if you stray from the ‘safe’ path, you’re bringing a lot of unnecessary trouble for yourself and you’re just going to be left behind.
Take myself, for example.
After receiving my ‘O’ levels, I had to make the decision whether to go JC (the safe route) or a polytechnic. I thought about it for a night and decided to pursue a Media and Communication course at a polytechnic.
Relatives and acquaintances have furrowed their brows at me and wondered out loud: Why didn’t I choose a JC instead? It was the most obvious, almost guaranteed path to university, and as you know, landing yourself a spot in the local university is like the ultimate end goal here. Going to JC was, well, safe. But I figured: Why spend two years of my life going through a rigid academic curriculum when I could venture into something more practical and hands-on? Furthermore, I already knew what I wanted to pursue. I didn’t want to waste my time. I wanted experience and progress. I wanted to actually learn something I could apply to my life.
For 3 years, I’ve immersed myself with work that was enriching and fulfilling to me. I challenged myself, discovered a lot of new things about myself, realised my strengths and weaknesses. Those were tough times but I was addicted to that feeling of satisfaction of a job well done, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Essentially, I grew. And with tremendous hard work, effort and luck; I also landed a spot in a local university. And I thought things wouldn’t be any different.
Boy, was I in for a rude awakening.
Before my admission, I had my first brush with the System. I wanted to try out a program which would allow me access to an exclusive set of interesting modules set aside only for people admitted into this program.
“Just to let you know. Many polytechnic students who have entered the program have found it difficult to keep up with the JC students because they lack the writing skills. As you know, JC students usually write better so I was wondering how you could catch up with the JC students,” one of the interviewers asked in a belittling tone of voice.
I blinked. I should have expected this from the very beginning, right? I told myself. I have heard of polytechnic students being discriminated by the System but I never thought I would get it literally in my face.
So I gritted teeth and tried my best to convince him but each answer I gave was shot down with another one of those belittling snide remarks which clearly implied that “JC students are better.” It seemed to me like he already made his decision. It was clear that he was not interested in letting me through. Maybe I gave stupid replies but I was eager to learn. Well, it seems enthusiasm and passion to learn wasn’t all important. They weren’t giving me the time of day simply because I didn’t have a JC background. They were looking for just one particular set of skills and clearly, the skill sets gained from a polytechnic is not what they were looking for. So I swallowed my bitterness and smiled, then said goodbye to those two puppets from the System.
Later, my other polytechnic friend who had an illustrious academic track record, scoring 3.95 for his GPA and a distinction for his CCA, went for a scholarship interview and (oh why am I not surprised?) was asked the same question, “JC students are better in maths. What can you do to catch up to them?”
My second big obstacle I had to overcome was after I officially became an undergraduate. As a polytechnic student, I could get a semester off from my module exemptions. Apparently, it’s to make up for that one extra year which you spend in polytechnic compared to the JC batch.
… Well, that’s what they said.
I would be so happy about these exemptions if not for the fact that these “module exemptions” don’t matter if you intend to take an Honours track. The geniuses in the System have made it in such a way that in order to graduate half a semester earlier like they said you would, you have to overload at least 3 semesters in order to meet the criteria to qualify you for the Honours track.
Note that this only applies for an Honours track; If I were to simply complete a BA, then I could graduate a semester earlier than my peers without having to overload any of my semesters. Well shucks, I guess I should have read the fine print.
And so what’s this underlying message I’m getting here?
Well. We could always choose the safe route and settle for a BA. But if we really want to take the Honours track, it seems they either regard us polytechnic students so highly that we could push and overwork ourselves to meet that criteria or hope that we die trying.
I think I just heard the System here say, “Hey you, look here, all you polytechnic students. A BA is good enough for you. A BA is safe, no hassles. Why go through so much trouble anyway for an Honours, right? Just settle for a BA.”
My parents ask me time and time again: “Why do you have to study so hard for? You’re just a girl. You don’t have to go through all these trouble.” But easy, safe routes bore the hell out of me. It’s unstimulating and unsatisfying. I like a more dynamic experience.
Yeah, what’s wrong with that, right?
Yet, I find myself getting labeled. Even though we’ve all reached the end goal, I find myself getting all these belittling stares; The System is staring at my torn and dirty shoes just because I did not choose to walk on that pristine pavement that everybody else is walking on. It’s frustrating, really.
The rigid procedural system. The step-by-step spoonfeeding lessons. They’ve created soldiers out of us, moulded us into tiny cogs in a large machine. We follow protocol. We do as we’re told. We avoid taking risks. We avoid making mistakes; and in the process, stopped learning. We become memorizers, and not thinkers. Sure. Some of us might make plans to fulfil some of our not so ordinary dreams, but how many of them are actually brought to fruition?
Bloody elites. Do they even know what dreams and passion look like? Or must everything be counted in cents and dollars?