Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dear Bloggers need your advise!

Hi everyone,

I am really in need of some good advise for a situation I am in now. This post is quite long. I will not name the school nor the trainer and students. I will give them fictitious names instead. This is a true story nevertheless!

Here is the situation:

I am currently taking a course in fashion merchandising and marketing in a private school where the Work Development Agency (government agency) provides 90% funding for course participants. In this case I had to pay 10% of the school fee which is quite affordable. I was pleased to pay and attend. This school markets itself as a training centre for garment industry people and those who want to join the industry. In other words, it is an adult learning environment. My class consists of 11 chinese and 2 indian students. 12 of us are Singaporeans and 1 is from mainland China but is a permanent resident of Singapore for the past 10 years. The main language of Singapore is English.

Pre-requisites for the class is that applicants must read, write and speak English. The teaching medium is English.

The first few modules were good and some of the trainers did a very good job in terms of content and delivery. However, unfortunately there were two trainers in particular who were not very impressive and frankly unprofessional. I will explain why I feel so.

Incident 1

Trainer A has more than 30 years experience in the fashion industry thus it seems natural that he/she should have loads of experience in terms of people management and tactful deliverance of her thoughts (or so that is what I thought!). Nevertheless, during one of the lectures, the trainer said ' Negroes are unsuitable for sewing operation because of their chubby fingers'. Can you believe this! I was so shocked and upset that the trainer said that to the whole class. Why this came about was because she was talking about garment factories in Asia and around the world.

Now that the trainer used this word 'Negro' some of the students in class were using it to make references and in a way make fun. How childish and ignorant! I pointed it out to them that it was not right and it was racist to use call Africans 'Negro'. It was clear to me that some of these student and the trainer does not know the history behind the word 'Negro'. Guess what, I was frowned upon when I told them that what they did was wrong! I was upset but I left it to rest.

Moreover, both the trainer and the students spoke in Chinese many times during the lecture. I was unable to follow and understand what was asked and discussed as I do not understand Chinese. It seemed like it became a habit for the students to pose questions in Chinese and the trainer responded in Chinese too. I thought the teaching medium was supposed to be English!

Incident 2

One of the modules was on social responsibility, which covers code of conduct in the industry. For example, child labour, racism, sexual harassment, labour laws, etc.  Now keep in mind that all this was taught to educate future merchandisers like us when we work in the industry, with social responsibility in mind.

During one of our class activities, we were split into groups and one of us had to play the part of an auditor and the other that of a factory sewing worker. The role play scenario involved an over-worked sewing girl who have no idea that the factory has been violating her rights as an employee. The auditor had no idea of the situation thus it was their job to talk to this sewing girl and find out more about it. As soon as the role play begun, some of the students who were playing the sewing girl started to speak with an Indian accent and many of the other students thought it was funny and started laughing. The other Indian girl and myself were not laughing, obviously. It was no where written in the role play scenario that the factory was in India or Sri Lanka, so why is it that these students assumed so? It could have been a factory in China, Myanmar, Cambodia or any where in the world. I felt that they were so inconsiderate and socially ungraceful.

The trainer for this module happened to be Indian and he did not find this funny, however, he did not do anything to stop these ignorant students from doing it.

That really upset me. I can also understand that he might have been upset about it too.

Incident 3

Trainer B has 20 years experience in the industry in the quality control sector. He has been a head of department too. With so many credentials, one would think that he should be competent in deliverance of the module which covers quality management. Sadly, he sucked at teaching but I can understand that quality management is something that cannot be taught easily. Moreover, during most of the lectures he was talking about his achievements when he was in the industry. My impression was that he was little full of himself.

While teaching about quality assurance, we were talking about some quality issues and he said 'Curry stains are not acceptable' referring to Indian factory problems. Yet again some of the students found it funny and started laughing. I mean, there are many issues everywhere in the world, right? Why choose India/Sri Lanka when you obviously can see that there are two Indians in class. I mean, is that statement even funny?

In another instance, he said that 'teaching Bangladesh workers made his blood boil and he thinks it's the way they speak'. Now, how nice is that to say that in a lecture environment. I think personal opinions about a particular type of people is not to be shared, this can be interpreted as being racist.

In many instances, he switched to Chinese and then back to English. This encouraged the Chinese speaking students to ask him basically everything in English.

Again, wasn't the teaching medium supposed to be English?

Actions taken based on the above events

I told and confided in my husband about what had happened and how it upset me. My husband is Swedish and in his country, this behavior demonstrated by the trainers is not acceptable. He was upset that all this was happening in a modern society like Singapore.

He wrote to the school CEO/senior trainer and their training manager, asking why such incidents had occurred and gave his input on the unprofessionalism of the trainers. Apparently the email worked. Both the CEO/senior trainer and training manager clarified with me and told me that I should tell her if such an incident should ever happen again. I was also assured by the CEO/senior trainer that she would inform all her trainers to speak in English and paraphrase in Chinese when needed.

Again, didn’t the prerequisites of the course indicate that the applicant must speak, read and write English? Moreover, the Chinese speaking students are given an advantage in learning compared to the non-Chinese speaking. I paid as much in school fee as they (the chinese speaking students) did, right?  So why this unfair treatment?

Anyway, with all said I left the matter to rest because I wanted to learn and felt that maybe the situation would improve.


It did this for one week. The problem was back again with the language used in class. In fact, it even got worse.

Trainer C who happens to have been in the industry for more than 20 years was teaching sewing and garment grading. During the demonstration of drafting and calculations, she started switching to Chinese and the students starting discussing in Chinese too. I was lost and upset that my efforts had been in vain.

I went to the training manager and told her about what was going on in class. Guess what she told me `Ask the teacher to translate to English’. Hmm ok, I thought you told me to come to you if I had a problem right? Clearly she pushed the problem back to me. Why should I have to be asking the teacher to translate when it was clearly written in the application that the lessons would be taught in English? I was so upset and in fact very angry. I was being short changed. I paid for this course because it said it would be taught in English and here I have to fight to make sure they teach in English!?

Mentally, I was drained and felt that I was wasting my time in this school when I could be investing my time in other things. Things were clearly not going to change and I was not going to be the hero to make changes happen either.

I wrote to the school again and said that I wanted a withdrawal and a refund as I felt I was being short changed. It was frustrating to know that I was not able to learn as much as the other students because of the language barrier. I was giving my best and expected that the school understood that. Unfortunately this was not the case.

The CEO called me up and apologized for whatever had happened and asked for another chance to eradicate the problem as the teaching medium was supposed to be English. She said she would talk to all the trainers and students about this. So I gave it one more day.

Next the CEO called the other Indian girl and me out in front of the whole class. We went to another room and spoke about what had happened. I voiced my opinion about the whole situation and about how I felt. The other girl agreed and acknowledged that learning was not consistent as the trainers always switched to Chinese. The CEO said she would talk to the class about it. So we marched back to class and obviously everyone knew something was wrong.

She addressed the class saying that we have two Indian students and all the students must make an effort to speak in English even during group discussions. So basically, what she did was to tell the whole class that one of us complained about the Chinese speaking situation. After her address to the class, the atmosphere was filled with anger and uneasiness. Trainer A happened to be in class and instantaneously said ‘don’t worry if you do not understand the lesson in English, I will translate to Chinese’. So will you translate to Tamil if I don’t understand? Clearly not!

My thoughts and why I need you advise

My question is this, if the Chinese students need special tutoring in Chinese, why is it that they passed the four (4!) modules that were taught entirely in English by other trainers?

I think it was a very poor excuse by the school as it was clear that they made a boo boo and tried to cover it up.

Now, my dear fellow bloggers, I need you advise on whether I should continue with this course, as there is another 4 weeks left of it, or if I should stand by what I believe in and withdraw and concentrate on something else?

I need you advise. I want to know what you think.

Thank you so much for reading this post. In a way, I feel better after writing it.


  1. After reading this, all I can say is WOW!!!! Is it wrong to assume that people should maintain a sense of professionalism in a learning environment. More importantly that should be demonstrated by the advisors and not be tolerated on any level. I understand your frustration. It's hard to say what you should do, it just depends on if the benefits outweight the negatives at this point and if you have the capacity to "grin and bear it" and press on through this situation. It was brave of you to file a formal complaint and voice your opinion. Hopefully it will help put an end to this kind of foolishness. Personal prejudices and favoritism have no place in the learning environment!

  2. You are better than I am. After I'd gotten finished chewing those instructors a new butt-hole they would hate to see me cominig. My advice is that the next time it happens stand up and immediately demand that the instructor translate what is being said. Also say that you don't appreciate what is going on and has been going on. Voice your opinion about their prejudices and that you would appreciate that the entire class only speak in English as it relates to the class work. If the instructor has a problem with it, let then know that you are in fact paying their salary and not the other way around. Do not back down. Believe me you will get results! You may be labeled a trouble-maker afterwards but other instructors will realize that you will not stand for any less than what you are paying for. My blood is boiling just reading what's been going on and you know that "Negro, chubby hands" thing makes just makes me want to smack somebody. People's ignorance never ceases to amaze me but I refuse to sit back and take it quietly!

  3. OMG! this is utterly unacceptable but its quite clear that its quite 'normal' for this institution to create such social environments that even the students have picked up on the so called 'norms'

    I think the matter should be pushed to perhaps the government funding bodies for the inistitute, because only then well they pull their sockes up and sort this properly, believe me, once funding for such insitutes gets threatened, the so called big shots start breaking a sweat.

    Im utterly appalled! honestly you shouldnt have to compromise your education but this is so unacceptable, you and your other indian friend should find others who feel the same way and write up a letter to the goverment above them!

    im sorry you had to deal with that, i know how it can make your blood boil when such injustice can be happen no matter how small scale it may be.


  4. Uma, I applaud what you and your husband did, in standing up and putting the complaint in writing. I think a letter speaks volumes. And just as Inner Belle said, write to the governing body as well asking them to respond in letter.

    If I were in that situation I would have wanted to wrap my 'negro chubby fingers' around someone's neck and see if they wanted to talk about my finger then. But then I would have thought better, and used my 'negro chubby fingers' to write letters of complaint.

    Hitting them in the pocket works, so saying that you will never sign up for another class at this institution again will have them thinking twice. (Because you're moving anyway :)

    And well done you, it takes courage to be the one to speak out when it's easy to dismiss what you know is wrong, only to get along.

    Whatever choice you make, just keep in mind that you'd one day look back on the situation and personally have to know that you did what was right.

    Keep us updated

  5. Wow, I was just speechless after reading your story...Like others said, I suggest you report the school to the sponsoring body, that was way outrageous. However, I will advice you continue with your school, don't quit because of anybody or any situation...Remember Quiters don't Win...So keep on and someday someone will recorgnise your effort..All the best

  6. You know a situation is bad when you have is pressed so tightly in your chest that you need to voice it and be heard. And you did a wonderful job expressing your burden. Unfortunately, there is ignorance that continues to persists and you had to witness it.

    You should start by assessing to quality of instruction you are receiving at the school, regardless of the incidents. If any institution condones such conduct by inaction, you must question the legitimacy of instruction. Ignorance doesn't exist in a vacuum and lack of knowledge in one areas, in this case cultural and racial differences, will show it ugly head somewhere else. If you feel that you're receiving worthwhile knowledge, then dig your heels in get what you came for...well-researched and appropriately presented information. If not, move on, there are better institutions who would love to have a sincere and willing student.

    Investigate the governing body for your particular school and move up the food chain and file your grievance there. As this school is the recipient of government funding, there are guidelines to follow and you have the right to make noise. Hang in there girl.

  7. First I would like to applaud you for speaking out. Usually when people hear comments that are racist, homophobic or sexist nothing is said. To me when you allow people to spit ignorance out into the atmosphere without correcting it you are being complicit in the hatred. We are socialize that it is impolite to bring notice to these issues and therefore the cycle continues.

    I understand your frustration in how the administrators have responded to your complaints. This type of behavior should not be tolerated. Perhaps while you are there you should be just as rude and when they start speaking Chinese say, "EXCUSE ME ENGLISH PLEASE." see how they like that. If you can I would at least try and finish the semester and if you have to complain every day complain every day.

    After you finish go to another school where the learning environment is more professional. You are nice to protect the name of this school as I would call them out and let other people know what the learning environment is like so that other students won't have to go through this.

    Regardless of how they act schools need bodies in seats to stay in business. They should respect you as a paying student.

    I wish you luck

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  9. Hi Uma,

    I hate that you had to go through that - it is just pathetic and sad that so called educated people in singapore still think it is perfectly fine to 1) make fun of people of other races 2) talk in a language that others don't understand.

    congrats on speaking out.

    as you said, since there are only four weeks left - i would say just go ahead with it.
    stopping yourself from completing would be punishing yourself for these ignorant people's errors.

    and i understand you are leaving for sweden - it's sad that i have to say this, but im sure you will find much better treatment htere!

    ps " i agree with madam moonchild - you are nice ot protect the school

    this is worth writing and making a big fuss about!

  10. That is so unfair. Even after going through the above dept yet, the same things repeat itself.

    Sometimes, I guess it is beneficial to be able to understand Mandarin, especially in Singapore. I have never taken any Mandarin lessons, only being able to understand the language thru the many years of watching Chinese drama serials on Channel 8. Now, or even in my previous occupation, being able to understand the language do made my work or life abit more easy. My former colleagues cannot speak ill behind my back. =)

    However, back to your post, it is definitely unfair.

  11. they shouldn't b doing this over n over again, Since u have raised up the issue to them.

    I believe 4 more weeks is still quite a tolerable level to stay on but if u r really down the dumps is best to get urself out of this school.

    I hope u r feeling better as of now... I believed many of ur followers are way behind u, including me