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The solitary pupil

Everything in Singapore is so efficient. We map, track, and project everything. Demographics are changing, so we merge schools, put building plans on hold, perhaps even hire less teachers so we don’t affect the ideal student-teacher ratio.

I had a friend in Japan whose parents were school teachers in the remote but stunningly beautiful island of Shikoku. Every morning, his father would take a ferry from the Takamatsu pier to the school where he taught, a tiny island on the Seto Inland Sea. When he first started teaching there, the island had a population of 2,000 and the primary school had a few hundred students.

Twenty years later, my friend’s father became the school’s principal. But by then, there was only one student. Less than a few hundred people were left on the island.

But he continued commuting every morning, driving to the pier where he parked his car, boarding the ferry to the school on the tiny island where a ten year old boy was waiting for him.

“Why don’t they merge schools? Can’t he attend a school in Takamatsu?”

(I suppose you can put a Singaporean in Shikoku, but you can’t take the Singapore out of a Singaporean!)

He explained to me that the commute was more than an hour, that it would be too difficult for a small boy to travel back and forth, especially in bad weather. What happens after he moves to junior high? I asked him. What’s going to happen to the school?

“I don’t know. ” He shrugged and smiled. “I’ll just continue to teach at the school as there is someone to teach.”

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