Today at school, the new head student was appointed. The ceremony reminded me of my own experience being a prefect back in my schooling days. I had a think about why prefects were appointed in the first place. There might be several reasons, but the most obvious one (to me at least) would be to develop the selected students’ leadership abilities.
I was a prefect for four years of my schooling life (Form 2 — Form 5), but I feel that besides for the annual “leadership camps” that we were required to go for, the experience of being a prefect developed little of my leadership ability. A lot of the time, I just felt like I was put in those long sleeves, white pants and black shoes just because being a prefect would look good on my pre-university resumé, and for some reasons that only the said teachers can disclose, they wanted my resumé to look nice.
Being a teacher’s son probably had something to do with it, but I know for a fact that my father would never approve of any of his children getting special treatment just because their father was teaching there. Maybe it was because I spoke so little in school, that some teachers felt that I was “well-behaved” enough to be a prefect. Honestly speaking, that was just plain-old introverted-ness on my part.
Moving on to why I don't think that being a prefect helped develop my understanding of leadership nor leadership ability that much, I had for the most part of my perfecting days been negligent of my own incompetence. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know, what more to know anything at all about leadership. I learned how to be a good student in the sense that I knew to not speak too much when a teacher’s in class teaching, and I knew that I had to keep good scores in my exams because that was basically my self-worth as a student, but I could have learned all of that by being just a regular non-prefect student, kan?
As a prefect, I got “duties” that I had to attend to. Depending on what the prefect duty-roster looked like, I either had to make sure that students lined up outside of their classes in the mornings to listen to the morning announcements, or stand at my designated post at various places throughout the school compound, or stand at the school entrance to “catch” latecomers and write down their names to give to the discipline teacher. My least favourite thing to do is to make sure that my fellow students kept quiet during the weekly school assembly. That terrified me to bits, and I always envied the prefects that were also part of the band, because they had to play their music instruments up in the balcony of the hall, and were thus always excused from floor duty.
What I learned from all of that experience was probably that I had to be aware of my responsibilities as a prefect to be at certain places at certain times to do certain jobs. But, again, I can argue that non-prefects learn that too, through the class duty-rosters where people were expected to swipe the floor, take out the trash and wipe the whiteboard when their turn came. Ours was just an extension of that, I believe, both in setting (outside of class instead of inside it) and subject (fellow students instead of rubbish on the floor). If it taught me anything, it taught me to follow orders without asking any questions, and that it was more noble to rat out my fellow friends to the authorities than to be a loyal friend and look for win-win solutions to problems that arose. Was this the brand of leadership that they wanted?
I learned more about leadership through playing rugby, to be frank. Teamwork and loyalty were of utmost importance. Integrity was at the heart of the game. Sportsmanship was the only accepted culture on the field and off it. And by manoeuvring the game, we learned how to manoeuvre life.
We learned that life was tough, so we had to be tougher. We learned that there was no room for fear and that we had to wear our hearts on our sleeves in every play. We learned that respect had to be given in order to be gained. We learned that every move was done for a bigger purpose. We learned that if we focussed on our performance, the results would come. We learned that we didn’t need to win to be successful. We learned to take defeat in our stride and to take victory as a challenge. We learned that communication was the key to everything.
I would have cherished my prefect-ship if it meant more to me. Alas, I still don’t see it as more than just a pretty thing that was put on my resumé.
Disclosure: I am only talking about my own experience being a prefect at my own school back when I was still in school. It does not and should not apply to anyone else’s experience.