Apart from one dissenting taxi driver, everyone I met in Singapore was adamant that school students in the country work extremely hard – before school, at school, after school, and also at weekends. Supporting this perspective, rarely did I not see young people carrying bags or folders as they travelled through the city.
I was told by a number of people though that the best way to visualise this extreme work ethic was to simply wander into any coffee shop during the weekend or in an evening, where I would be met by the sight of masses of school students, studying and revising. Somewhat disbelieving of this, I called into my local Starbucks late one Sunday morning…
And, sure enough, there were teenagers everywhere. In fact, it was hard to even find a seat so crammed was the upstairs area with students revising for upcoming exams. The remarkable thing from my perspective, was that for many of these students, this Sunday was actually the first weekend of a week-long holiday.
Speaking to a number of them, many indicated they had in fact been there since early that morning and would be there till late in the evening, and each and every one indicated they did this kind of thing regularly.
‘ You should go and look at the library – there you end up sitting on the floor!’
A number indicated that they found it hard to work at home, and so the cafes and libraries were invaluable for helping them to get their own space. Singaporean families typically live in relatively small flats and so the desire to find a quiet space was really important. All, however, indicated that Singaporean kids worked really really hard; a number I met were even at pains to emphasise that they themselves were certainly not the hardest working students of their peers, despite planning to be at Starbucks for 9-10 hours on a Sunday. To them, this was just what most kids did.
I spoke to a group of students about growing up in Singapore and their own ambitions:
As I left, I chatted with one of the baristas behind the counter. He himself was a University student, and reinforced the fact that many high-school students were there pretty much continually.
‘Sometimes we have to kick them out if there’s not space for others, but we try not to. It’s nice to have a young community here’
And, what about his own ambition?