A teacher’s response to an exam question’s answer sparked an uproar among netizens as it clearly divided the ‘haves’ from the ‘have nots’ of Singapore. The classroom incident clearly showed social class distinction, an unacceptable fact in a society that aims for equality.
A passage in the exam shows a young boy wanting to surprise his mother by buying her a birthday cake and the pupil was asked to answer true or false to a statement and justify her answer.
The statement was, “The author came from a well-to-do family”.
The student answered false, justifying it by saying: “Author wanted to buy a cake but only could afford a slice of cake.”
The teacher marked her answer as incorrect and allegedly gave the answer as “False; The author’s mother worked in a kopitiam.”
The teacher’s reaction to the student’s exam answer showed that hawkers were generally poor and could not afford anything.
When the photographed exam was posted on Facebook, it created such a stir among Singaporean netizens and they expressed outrage that an academic institution would encourage such assumptions about social class, as many were claiming that they, too, had grown up in families of hawkers but “were not poor.”
Countless people also decried that it was “scary” to think that the Ministry of Education (MOE) could permit such an attitude to be tolerated or taught in schools.
Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser, a sociologist, told the media, “Stereotypes are, by definition, simplistic and biased, with no objective basis. So it is unfair to perpetuate them.”
An unidentified hawker said hawkers can actually be well off and added that if she had been the student, she might start to feel that her parents’ occupation was something to be embarrassed about and be a cause of shame.
Local food and hawker expert K.F. Seetoh said, “Wait till they (the teacher and school) meet inspiring and determined hawkers who rake in over S$100,000 a month. ”
He added that in light of the UNESCO nomination for hawker culture that Singapore is trying to push for, such an attitude could hurt the bid. “If UNESCO gets a load of this, the application may look like a farce,” Mr Seetoh lamented.