Sunday, 13 October 2019

Public Speaking: What Singapore Schools Can Learn From Third World Countries


Singapore is a First World Country, and according to the criteria, it is rightly categorised so. However, it seems that many members of first world countries have become silently arrogant in thinking that they are superior to members of third world countries to the extent that we believe there is nothing to learn from them. We may not want to admit this, but it is true. I was like that too more than a decade ago. We may silently think - “What can Indonesia, Cambodia and other 3rd World Countries possibly teach us? It is we that should teach them and not vice-versa.”

It goes without saying that developing countries have lots to learn from developed countries. But have you asked yourself the reversed question? “What can we learn from third world countries?” Is there anything to learn from them? Well, if you believe that there is nothing to learn from those whose countries and economies are less developed than yours, then you can  spend a lifetime in their countries and learn nothing. But if you consistently ask yourself what you can learn from others, whatever their socio-economic status or ethnicity is, you will be pleasantly surprised by what you discover.

Last week, I visited a school in Kampong Chhnang in Cambodia, which was a two-hour drive from Phnom Penh airport; Abu Bakar Center takes in only boys from Secondary levels onwards.The time of our arrival coincided with the afternoon prayer, and so we performed our Zuhur prayers in the mosque of the school. What followed after amazed me.

A relaxed principal encourages his students to speak impromptu

Ustaz Hassan, the school principal, sat relaxed on a mat, facing the students. Softly, without compulsion or hurry, he invited the students to stand up and speak. These students were new, attending a 1-month orientation programme before starting school officially next month. A student volunteered, took his place in front of the others and spoke in Khmer or Arabic or both. One by one, a total of about 5 or 6 students took the opportunity to speak in the next 10 minutes. In so relaxed a manner, these students were mastering the art of impromptu public speaking. 

Impromptu public speaking is not a joke. To be able to speak without preparation, one needs to feel comfortable and relaxed in front of an audience. Once, I saw Oprah ask Michael Jackson on TV as to how he felt when he stood before a ocean of people during his performance. He answered, “Love”. I thought “panic” and “nervous” would have been better answers, but perhaps Michael was most relaxed on stage. This may be difficult for us to appreciate especially if we fear public speaking.

As the students made their speeches, I remember how conscious Singapore students feel in front the classroom. I have seen this many times. Our students may enrol in Speech and Drama classes, but they are still no match to the poor Indonesians and Cambodians I have met. Perhaps this is why there are few orators among the leadership in Singapore. Perhaps it is time to learn from our neighbouring third world countries what they do different in the classroom. But first, we must have the humility to acknowledge that there is something to learn from everyone, rich or poor.

A student speaking to his friends without prior preparation 

To watch a clip of the impromptu public speaking session, play the video above.



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