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4 lessons to draw from the ACS (Barker Road) carnival tickets controversy

A case of everyone shouting and no one's listening online.

Martino Tan | April 15, 2015 @ 04:47 pm

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None of us like selling carnival / fun-fair tickets.

It is tough, hard work persuading and convincing your relatives, friends and strangers to do their part for the less fortunate.

An April 6. letter by the principal of Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) created an online brouhaha last weekend, for the letter appeared to pressure its students to sell tickets for a fund-raising carnival.

The Straits Times article received more than 46,000 FB shares and likes, as many netizens criticised the Principal for pressuring his students and the parents to raise more money for the school.

ACS_Letter_6_April
You can read page 2 and 3 of the letter here.

The controversy did not dampen the spirits of the ACS community as they raised about $270,000 at its fund-raising carnival, the highest amount so far and just short of its $300,000 target,

In his April 14 letter, Principal Tan thanked parents, old boys, staff and students for their support. He also told The Straits Times that the funds “will cover the cost of various school programmes and improvement works”.

 

ACS_Letter_14_April
Source: ACS Blog
ACS_Letter_14_April_2
Source: ACS Blog

 

Why were people so worked-up in the first place? Could the situation be better handled by the media and the school?

Below are four lessons to draw from the ACS (Barker Road) principal carnival tickets controversy

1. The Straits Times created a misunderstanding of Tan’s intentions when it did not provide the context. 

Tan was right to highlight in his latest letter that there was a “perception” that he “wrote the letter only to rally for money”.

His protest was valid as The Straits Times did not provide the proper context to Tan’s letter to the parents.

Straits_Times_Peter_Tan
Source: Straits Times

Here’s the Straits Times paragraph in question:

In his letter, e-mailed to all parents and uploaded on the school website, principal Peter Tan said: “As I told the boys, their effort in selling coupons reflects on their attitude. It is less an issue of ‘rich’ friends or relatives, but their willingness to step out of their comfort zone.”

Readers generally assume that principals do not write to the parents and students on a regular basis.

If The Straits Times has mentioned that it was in fact Tan’s 12th letter of the year, the intensity of the outrage would have been different.

This is a principal who updates the parents three times a month – shouldn’t we praise him for his efforts instead?

2. The Straits Times has been unusually interested in the case. 

In fact, The Straits Times have been publishing forum letters day after day on the case since Monday.

Monday

ACS_ST_Forum_Letter_1

Tuesday

ACS_ST_Forum_Letter_2

Wednesday

ACS_ST_Forum_Letter_3

In contrast, its rivals Channel NewsAsia and TODAY have not reported the case yet.

Three straight days of forum letters and two days of coverage (Saturday and Wednesday) on the matter?

I guess there are no ACS old boys among the editors.

3. This proves that you can ride out a controversy as long as you stay true to your key stake-holders and the community.

Example 1: Parent’s comments on STOMP

STOMP_Parents_1

Example 2: Parent on STOMP

STOMP_Parents_2.1
STOMP_Parents_2.2

Example 3: Parent on STOMP 

STOMP_Parents_3
STOMP_Parents_3.2

The ACS principal is an old friend. Anyone who knows him even mildly will vouch for how he is hardly materialistic and…

Posted by Gwee Li Sui on Saturday, April 11, 2015

 

Despite the brickbats from the netizens, it is clear that the people who mattered – the parents, the students, the alumni – were all behind the principal on this matter.

It almost became a call for compliments on Tan as many praised his leadership, his integrity and his dedication to the young boys under his charge.

As one parent rightly pointed out, the parent who contacted the media should have communicated to the school about her feelings and thoughts on the letter instead of going directly to STOMP.

It is of course a different matter if the principal ignored her feedback.

4. ACS principal (Barker) may be right in his intentions, but he was wrong about his approach.

The crux of the issue was that ACS (Barker) has a reputation of being a rich man’s school.

Moreover, one can smell a whiff of elitism in the letter that can be easily detected from someone who is not from the ACS old boys’ network.

Let me use two examples to explain why the principal is out of touch with the daily challenges faced by Singaporeans.

Example 1: Tan – “We would recommend that he has at least $50 worth of coupons for use on that day”.

A primary school kid is probably given a pocket money of $5 per day, which means his monthly allowance is $100 ($5 X 5 days X 4). You have requested that a young primary school boy put aside two weeks of his pocket money for the carnival.

Example 2: Tan – “In contrast, we have boys who have sold over $600 worth of coupons because they want to do their best!”

In Singapore, the public assistance cash allowance for one person is $450 per month, while the monthly National Service Cash Allowance is $480 for a recruit and a private.

Yes, there is no pressure to sell all the coupons. That was also clarified by ACS (Barker) vice-principal John Wu, who told The Straits Times that “there is no compulsion for students to sell or buy up all their coupons.”

However, one can emphatise with the peer pressure felt by a primary school boy with a humble background. Imagine you are in his shoes where many of his well-to-do friends were able to hit their own target of selling their 20 tickets worth $200 easily.

And we have not even highlighted this remark that was featured in socio-political site The Online Citizen.

petertan-650x363_TOC

In January 2011, the late Lee Kuan Yew observed that his alma mater – Raffles Institution – “lack the diversity of the old RI that I had”, for “sixty per cent of its students have fathers and mothers who are both graduates and there are few from the minority races.”

Let’s hope that a prestigious school like ACS (Barker Road) does not neglect the ethos of meritocracy and “respect for others” as it forges its school values of “excellence” and “commitment” among its own community.

 

Top photo from here.

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About Martino Tan

Martino’s parents named him after an Italian priest, Vatican's 1st ambassador to S’pore. He's inspired by the lives of Robert Kennedy & Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the words of George Orwell & William F. Buckley Jr., & the music of the Beatles.

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