The Flipside

Student petitions Education Minister

A Temasek Polytechnic student writes to Education Minister Heng Swee Keat for help. (Yahoo! file photo)A Temasek Polytechnic student writes to Education Minister Heng Swee Keat for help. (Yahoo! file photo)

In "The FlipSide", local blogger Belmont Lay lets loose on local politics, culture and society. To be taken with a pinch of salt and parental permission is advised. In this post, he talks about the perils of being a student documentary maker.

A final year Temasek Polytechnic student, Sng Xu Jie, has written a public Facebook plea to Education Minister Heng Swee Keat on Dec. 18, 2012.

His grouse? Sng and his group of classmates have been unable to gain access to primary schools to do filming for their final-year project, as they wanted to make a documentary about what holistic education entails.

Sng wrote in his now-viral Facebook post: "Given the growing unhappiness surrounding Singapore's 'pressure cooker education system', we wanted to emphasise the importance of holistic education through our video. We wanted parents to know that grades are not everything; that play is important, and that social skills and moral values are essential."

The group first wrote to the Ministry of Education during the pre-production stage in August 2012 to seek permission to film in primary schools for general shots. These shots would not have intruded on any student's privacy nor compromised the school's security, as Sng assured.

MOE responded -- in its efficient characteristic fashion -- to reject the request. Three months later in November.

Furthermore, MOE wanted to see a sample video first. This, I must add, is the same as asking a chicken to lay an egg. When the chicken has not been hatched yet.

Approaching Education Minister's for help

With the bureaucratic hurdle as difficult to traverse as the mighty Great Wall of China, the group sought the Education Minister's help through his Facebook page.

Heng replied and forwarded the student's filming request to the ministry. An email conversation ensued between the students and MOE.

And negotiations promptly died again.

This time the reason given was that the ministry does not support or endorse external video content, because they have strict guidelines and their own media team.

Sought help at Meet-the-People session

At a loss, the group decided to go to the Meet-the-People session at Tampines GRC, where they knew the education minister would be hanging out.

Heng personally remarked that Sng's project is interesting and he would look into it even though he usually rejects student requests.

When things were looking up, Sng received a call on Dec. 12 that he has been rejected for a third time. The person calling said that MOE does not endorse student films or any media production other then MOE’s media team.

Flustered and at wits' end, Sng wrote in his public Facebook plea: "Isn't this top-down authoritarian streak the very thing that the Singapore government has been trying to move away from by starting the National Conversation series?"

He continued: "However, despite our best efforts, we still could not get permission to shoot even general shots at different schools because we did not have MOE approval to back us up and allay their security fears. This is really frustrating because we have deadlines to keep, and waiting for email replies from MOE has already taken up 4 months of our project. We only have 2 more months till our final submission."

Give the students a break

I would like to put in a word for all the enthusiastic students with creativity oozing out of their pores.

Singapore will stymie your dreams, crush your spirit, make you a drone and suck your life away.

But there's no reason not to keep trying.

Because what would be really awesome? If you guys can make a documentary about failing to make a documentary in straitjacket Singapore.

I'll pay money to watch that. In fact, I'll pay twice what people pay to watch Ah Boys to Men.

And always remember what the great local poet-playwright Alfian Sa'at said: "If you care too much about Singapore, first it'll break your spirit, and finally it will break your heart."

But that doesn't mean you cannot still make a documentary about it.

Belmont Lay is one of the editors of New Nation. He believes schools stifle creativity.