It was not too long ago that the terms ‘high-SES’ and ‘low-SES’ became an everyday catchphrase in Singapore, after a Social Studies textbook triggered a furore for seeming to ascribe certain behaviours, like eating at kopitiams and using Singlish, to those of lower socio-economic standing in Singapore.
Now, a local tutor has publicly raised concern over the model answers to a student’s English assessment paper at school that appeared to perpetuate similar stereotypes about the less well-off.
In a post on Facebook that has since been deleted, Rainbow Lim explained that her Primary Six student had shown her her test paper, complete with corrections after it had been marked by her school teacher. It was not mentioned which primary school the student attended.
In response to a passage, the students were asked to identify certain new statements as either true or false based on what they understood of it, and to state their reasons for thinking so.
The passage, which told of a child’s efforts to surprise his mother with birthday presents prepared on a modest budget, was identified by other Facebook users as being adapted from a story called Grasshoppers by local award-winning writer O Thiam Chin.
One of the statements the students were asked to consider was whether the child came from a well-to-do family. And while Lim’s student correctly identified this as false, her answer that it was because the child could only afford to buy a slice of cake for his mother, instead of a whole cake, was deemed wrong.
Instead, the answer allegedly provided by her teacher was that the child’s mother worked in a kopitiam.
This did not sit well with Lim’s student, who told her: “My dad works at a hawker centre and we’re not poor… So I didn’t think that would be the answer.”
Thinking that the passage could have contained other logical clues that pointed to the model answer, Lim explained that she scanned it for hints that business was poor for the writer’s mother, or that she was working as a cleaner, a typically low-paying job.
She found none, although there was a paragraph that describes how the writer’s mother had so many customers that day that her son had to help her out at her stall.
Lim concluded that the model answer was in fact “teach(ing) students that just because someone works at a kopitiam, it means that they’re not well to do” – a takeaway shared by many other Facebook users who saw her viral post.
Many also expressed their concern that the misconceived stereotype was perpetuated among young children, potentially influencing their view of others.
While others pointed out that the answer wasn’t just problematic, it was also rather logically fallacious:
When asked whether the student had questioned her school teacher about how the model answer was derived, Lim said that she had encouraged the girl to approach her teacher, but the child was afraid she would get scolded.
The Pride has reached out to Lim for more details about the incident.