Friday 9 August 2013

No wigs for Hair for Hope St Margaret's girls

By Amanda Lee, TODAY, 8 Aug 2013

Making his first comments on the controversy involving St Margaret’s Secondary School students who were made to wear wigs after shaving their heads for a good cause, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat revealed yesterday that school Principal Marion Tan has withdrawn her earlier demand, after she and her teachers spoke with the students on Tuesday.

Writing on his Facebook page, Mr Heng said: “The girls shared with their Principal the learning they have had through this experience. Mrs Tan, on her part, has also reflected on her decision, and understood that the girls wanted to show empathy and solidarity with cancer patients, which entail the experience of going bald.”

Earlier this month, the group of five St Margaret Secondary 3 students had asked for permission to take part in the Hair for Hope event to raise funds for the Children’s Cancer Foundation.

All the girls promised the Principal that they would wear wigs but only two kept their word. The remaining three were reportedly taken out of class and made to buy wigs.

When contacted, Mrs Tan reiterated that her school has “always been supportive” of their students participating in charitable causes.

On her meeting with the five students, she said she had spoken to them and understood that they wanted to show “empathy and solidarity with cancer patients”.

“Having heard the girls, I agree that the school could exercise more flexibility in this particular case,” said Mrs Tan, adding that she subsequently addressed all the students and staff during school assembly.

Leia Lai and Cherry Wong, two of the students who had not kept their word, said that they did not expect their Principal to change her stand.

Leia said the meeting with Mrs Tan lasted about 30 minutes.

“The Principal asked us for our views on the situation, the reasons we did it, we told her the reasons and she said that, if we had said so at the start, she would see it from a different perspective,” she said.

Despite their Principal’s demand, Leia and Cherry eventually did not have to wear the wigs after they were certified by doctors that they had rashes on their heads from wearing them. Cherry added that she was “really glad” with her Principal’s decision.

Cherry’s father, Mr Wong Choon Yew, 44, had said that he respected Mrs Tan’s initial stand. Nevertheless, he welcomed her change of heart. “Singapore weather is very hot and humid, by putting on the wig, it makes them uncomfortable and causes discomfort or even (makes them) not pay attention in class,” said Mr Wong, a pastor.

Mr Heng reiterated that he and the teaching community “are very proud when our students show great character, such as by showing solidarity with those afflicted with cancer”.

He added: “It is not easy for a teenage girl to shave her head — I fully appreciate and applaud the commitment it shows.”

He said that, personally, he supports the Hair for Hope campaign and he wants schools to “nurture young people with a natural empathy for those who have known suffering”.

Nevertheless, he said that he understood Mrs Tan’s rationale for asking the girls to wear wigs “because she was concerned that (her) students should present themselves within the school’s guidelines”.

He pointed out that the school “had no issue with students having a heart — but the school was also trying to teach the girls that character is seen in how we honour our commitments, as much as it is seen in our charitable acts”.

On the way that the matter was resolved, Mr Heng said that therein lies the “real heart of education, that everyone appreciates there is a learning moment in every situation, in every decision we make, in every promise we pledge”.

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