Why Do Children From India Ask More Questions Than Children From Singapore?

Written by Namita Shirish Kinjawadekar, Be Movement issue 4 – INDIA, published August 2014

From my experiences, both as a teacher and a student, I have noticed a marked difference between Singaporean and Indian students in one particular area: the response to a person of authority asking “Any questions?”

While Singaporean students stay silent or perhaps utter a muffled “No”, the students who come from India are not afraid to raise their hands and ask any question that comes to mind. Of course this observation is not restricted to school children, but also to students in universities and colleges and even to employees in offices and other workplaces.

To gain a better perspective and understanding, I asked my relatives and friends in India why they thought Indian people asked so many questions. Their responses ranged from “Children are naturally curious” to “People want to know things”. Clearly, nobody really thinks this is out of the ordinary. This is just the kind of culture that exists in India. However, there are reasons.

As we already know, India is a huge country with a large populace. Within the education system then it stands to reason that classes would also comprise many more students. Where student numbers in primary and secondary school classes in Singapore range from 30 to 40 children and tutorial sessions in junior college range from about 20 students, classes in India generally have over 60 children throughout all levels of education. University seminars are also almost double and sometimes triple in size when compared to Singapore.

It stands to reason then that teachers in India have less time to give equal attention to each individual student than teachers in Singapore do.
For Indian students, it is hard to stand out amongst the sea of faces in a classroom and so it is important to make oneself noticed and heard by the teacher.

With the large student population in India, the environment in Indian schools is fiercely competitive. Though brilliant minds exist no matter what the country, because of the smaller number of students in Singapore streaming processes to identify such students are easier to implement and these students can be identified faster. In India there are an equally large number of ingenious minds, all of which need to compete with and succeed. To achieve this, they have a constant need to ensure teachers acknowledge them and their questions receive answers.

After school or on the weekends, Singaporean students have emails, remedial lessons, WhatsApp groups and Facebook to rely on if they need answers from their teachers, but because of the enormous number of students and classes in India I do not believe teachers have the time to take more than a few questions from the students after school. It is best for the student then to raise a hand in class and immediately pose the question without wasting any time. Although beyond the school environment, deeper elements such as lack of technology due to poverty could also contribute to this dissimilarity.

Additionally, Singapore has a very strongly ingrained culture of “saving face”. Hence, despite identifying flaws, we tend not to question figures of authority in public and we do not raise our hands in classrooms. I do not think this concept is very prevalent in India. Although embarrassment is a universal concept which prevents most people from making a fool of themselves by saying anything inappropriate, the probability of people asking a question regardless of whether it is potentially discomfiting would be higher in India.

Perhaps we could speculate even further that this propensity for inquiry is influenced by the kind of faith people in both countries have in their legal systems. A person from Singapore is comfortable in the knowledge that most of the time if a crime is committed – be it a car being stolen, or a rude comment on Facebook – justice will be served.

A person from India, however, possibly hasn’t yet experienced the kind of luxury that this kind of faith in the judicial system affords, so the complacency that sometimes a person from Singapore can afford is not something that a person from India can.

Survival is key here.

If you do not question, you can be taken for a ride by people who are in a position of power at that moment. This is not just about law enforcement. This even extends to auto-rickshaw drivers, who can charge up to five times the normal amount if you do not question the price they have placed on their services.

Most of the time Indians living in India struggle to be heard. Maybe this comes from the fact that they do not just have bigger families and a greater population, but that India is also a larger country.

Perhaps because of this the voice of the people overall also has to be louder. Indians – and by that I mean even my own parents and relatives – question everything because that is how they learn to survive in a country that is vast in population and geography.

The conclusion then becomes obvious: children from India question everything and strive to be noticed and children in Singapore, though equally inquisitive, are more passive in their stance, caring more about the quality of questions and how they will be perceived if they ask them.

Neither approach to asking questions is good or bad, of course. It simply is the way it is.

If anything, Singapore and India are both diverse, culturally rich places which have a lot to offer and to learn from each other. Both countries also have much about which they can question themselves. At the rate with which the world is developing today, many things are changing and will no longer be the way they are now within both cultures.

At the end of it perhaps it is never about judging a person for the differences in approach if it is merely not what you are used to, but rather it is about exploration, learning and acceptance. It is about understanding that people are meant to be different because, if everyone was exactly the same, how dreadfully bland the world would be then.







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