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Monday with the Editor: Still envy our children?

School starts today for more than 500,000 children across the island this new year. As these children stream back to their schools and begin looking around in their new classrooms, some of them may notice a classmate or schoolmate missing. And they may realise that the tsunami which took place far from our shores over the holidays has something to do with that student's absence from school.
Yes, our children return to school nowadays to face situations which we did not face in our time as schoolchildren. The year before last year, it was Sars. Children suddenly found their term holidays extended and home quarantine orders slapped on holidaymakers returning from Sars-affected countries.
I used to be red with envy when I saw students whip out their mobile phones in the classrooms and corridors of schools. Simply by flicking their fingers on the phone pad, they could instantly message classmates, schoolmates and friends, be these chaps in the same school as theirs or any other school in Singapore. The entire island's schools had become a very personal communication network for the students.
These students could share news and gossip about their teachers and friends in real time, though they were in their own classrooms and far away from one another. They could even snap pictures or video-record scenes and send these instantly - remember the teacher-scolding-student incident in a JC?
And when you were teaching them, you suddenly realise that it was possible that their minds might be far away, for they could be looking blankly at you while their fingers were doing the communication work for them - sms-ing their friends on their mobile phones which were hidden from your view.
Yes, indeed, I thought these students were a privileged lot - to be born in this time and blessed with the tools that today's technology had made available to them. But, now, I do not envy them.
It's true that in my time - in the 1970's - we had no gadgets to indulge ourselves in. Why, we didn't even have electronic calculators in class. They didn't exist then. At secondary school, we were using logbooks which we had to flip through for sine and cosine calculations. 
It's true that television for us was black and white till 1973 when colour was introduced in Singapore. I remember I was in secondary three at Victoria School that year. It was a year I could not forget, for that same time, my family had our first telephone in our flat in Toa Payoh. Wow! I thought, what a thrill it was, being able to call my schoolmates on the telephone and talk to them in the comfort of my home.
It's true that looking back, I realise that these were simple thrills indeed, pale in comparison with what's available to the young of today. But, while it's true these gadgets have made living a luxury of a lifestyle for students of today, it's also true that the ills of today - Sars, birdflu, Tsunami and their lot - were practically unheard of in my time as a student.
The young of today are saddled with these problems and so they learn to grow up faster than we did in our time as students. It's not precocity, mind you. It's just that they have found themselves in an environment which is not as conducive as that which we had when we were as young as they are now.
Whether it's Sars, birdflu, tsunami or whatever nature may throw in their paths in future, our young will have to face up to these afflictions for it's a world they have inherited by virtue of their being born in this day and time. Pluses and minuses considered, I think these chaps do not have as good a time as we had as students decades ago. 
So, should we still envy our children?


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3 January 2005