The Class Room (2019), Review

2 minutes read
The Class Room
3 August 2019, 8:00pm


Every Vote Counts Towards a Better Life

Three hundred families with 800 dollars each, 150 minutes, 56 voters, four conditions, one scheme, and one decision to make. 

The Class Room, created by Li Xie, Kok Heng Leun, and Jean Ng, and facilitated by Li and Kok, is a participatory theatre work that brings each audience member through a simulation of a social worker’s experience. The show begins with each audience member putting on a lanyard that transforms them from passive audience to fully engaged social worker. The facilitators then introduce the scenario: “A Better Life” is a new social assistance scheme by the government to help families in need of financial assistance. Each target family unit comprises three main groups – single parents, elderly, and children – whose problems are listed in a case file. However, the scheme’s benefits come with a catch: there are four rules that the family cannot break, or all benefits will be forfeited. 

Us social workers are given the opportunity to outvote one of the rules, but only if there is at least 80 percent concurrence in the room. Every vote carries weight. 

The facilitators begin to instigate division among the crowd. Each person chooses the rule they want out, and soon, different camps of people emerge. Everyone has their own opinion and ideas, so how can 56 strangers-turned-colleagues put aside individual differences to make a collective decision to benefit their clients? 

There is a growing sense of helplessness and entrapment in the room, which one can only imagine is what professional social workers face on a daily basis – massive responsibilities with no easy solution. The facilitators steer the conversation, ensuring that it does not go off tangent. They play a critical role in helping us maintain critical distance and focus, with constant reminders of situational constraints and tradeoffs. They also urge us to put aside personal opinions as our suggestions become increasingly varied. Debate ensues, and time ticks away with no sight of a clear conclusion.

The Class Room successfully creates an intense and pressurising scenario that necessitates collective decision-making, effectively making the audience stand in the shoes of others. In fact, it practically leaves us no choice but to be accountable for our decision. This serves as an important reminder of how difficult and time-consuming it is to implement change during the policy making process.

One big takeaway is that there is no such thing as an “ideal situation”, especially when it comes to community and social problems. There will always be conflicting and competing needs and interests, complicating the decision-making process. We all have opinions, each valid in their own way, and the challenge then, is to learn to find the courage and humility to make and accept imperfect decisions.

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