by Melissa Choi (16S06B)
ERRATA (Updated 3 May): Dancefeste was not discontinued due to budget cuts, as previously implied. Rather, it will now take place once every two years, due to a multitude of constraints. These corrections have been reflected in the caption of the Dramafeste photo below. We apologize for the error.
The writer is a member of the 35th Students’ Council and co-organizer of the recent Principals’ Dialogue. The views expressed in this article are her own.
Hands up if you’ve felt it. The scaling back of overseas trips you wanted so badly to sign up for. The equipment and training venues your CCA couldn’t get. The sudden cancellation of school events you were really looking forward to.
Budget cuts are the convenient scapegoat of resigned teachers and frustrated students. They involve hard choices, and invoke emotionally-charged consequences. I believe the pain of these consequences can be lessened, if both school and student body strive towards a middle ground of heightened mutual understanding.
But first of all, why are budget cuts so painful anyway? The simple answer: students are not easy to please. We suffer from the status quo bias. We’ve been blessed with ample resources and opportunities, and take for granted the multitude of opportunities showered upon us. As a result, when budget cuts are enforced, we all hope to get the better end of the deal. And when we have so much at stake, we fear a disruption to our present lives. Hence, we protest when a piece of our pie is taken away, for fear that this signals worse things to come: future cuts to be made.
As if that isn’t enough, there is a lack of proper communication from school leaders. They don’t tell us what will go, and they don’t tell us why. No wonder we derive our news from hearsay from our peers and CCA-mates. However, the grapevine is at best a mere snippet of the truth, and at worst, skews the truth beyond recognition. Even if rationales are communicated, the information usually comes too little, too late. Hence, students feel more like passive recipients of bad news, than empowered change-makers. In the words of a classmate, “we are supposed to be leaders and pioneers, but we aren’t allowed to be that in practice.”
This discontent breeds an unhealthy us versus them mentality. Students villainize management for being too risk-averse, or penny-pinching. We feel that the school management, a shared enemy, is not treating us as level-headed citizens on the same level, but as ‘issues’ they have to skirt around.
The real instigator of trouble within the budget cuts is the currently underdeveloped mindset of partnership and collaboration between students and the school administration. To be sure, some parts of the school management are already listening to students’ desires – for greater transparency, and to involve students to a greater degree at crucial junctures of the decision-making process Mr Chan makes significant and sustained efforts to connect with the students on the ground: casual conversations with Rafflesians, speaking to the PresSecs of the Students’ Council, and with the pioneering Principals’ Dialogue with the entire Year 6 batch, last Friday. Sure, it left out the Y5s, but involving students with less than a year in school left speaks volumes of the school’s commitment to hear out every opinion. So I applaud the school for working with interested stakeholders, such as CCAs, to deliver alternative solutions.
Going back to the theory of scarcity fundamental to economics: with unlimited wants and limited resources, the school needs to make the most efficient decision. Trade-offs are inevitable: some things have to go. Although undeniably painful, budget cuts are still a necessary and efficient tool with which we evaluate which programmes are most crucial to the identity of the institution, to student development, and to continued innovation.
The crux of the issue lies in recognising and respecting the perspectives of the student body and spurring greater student ownership and participation. Not participation in the blame game, but in constructive avenues for feedback.
The school has reached out to us; the ball is in our court. How are we going to respond?