Unteachable (2019)

Authentically depicting the academic struggles of several students from the Normal Technical stream in a Singapore neighbourhood school, this illuminating documentary is a must-watch for teachers, students and parents hoping for a pedagogical way forward.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dir. Yong Shuling
2019 | Singapore | Documentary | 77 mins | English
PG (passed clean)

Cast: –
Plot: The documentary follows Teacher Meixi as she tries out Tutorial Relationships, a novel teaching method from Mexico, in Normal-Technical Stream classes in Singapore.
Awards: Audience Choice Award (Singapore International Film Festival)
Source: Media for Social Change

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: For Everyone
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Mainstream

Viewed: The Projector – Singapore International Film Festival 2019
Spoilers: No

Speaking from experience, unless you are commissioned by the Ministry of Education to produce educational videos, it is difficult for anyone to be granted access to any school to capture what goes on in its classrooms. 

So, this new, independent documentary, directed by Yong Shuling and produced by Lisa Teh, is a godsend to Singaporeans hoping to see what it is like in today’s spaces of teaching and learning. 

Centering on several students from the Normal Technical stream in a Singapore neighbourhood school, particularly a boy named Damian, Unteachable details the learning struggles of these so-called academically-weak students. 

But a teacher, Meixi, whose enlightening stint in Mexico sees her return to attempt a new pedagogy called ‘Tutorial Relationships’ in Mathematics classrooms, finds the novel approach promising in Singapore’s context. 

It not only encourages students to learn their material well in order to ‘teach’ their peers in a 1-1 scenario, but also helps everyone to develop interpersonal communication skills and empathy for the other. 

Yong Shuling is a Singapore-born, Chicago-based documentarian.

Shot over a few years in the same school as Yong’s camera captures with authenticity how students might experience the ‘joy of learning’ in our exam-obsessive education setting, as well as the challenges that teachers face when enacting new teaching methods without the affirmation of immediate results, Unteachable is a must-watch for teachers, parents and students hoping for a pedagogical way forward. 

As an educator myself, I believe in the power of pedagogy to transform lives and bring equity back into the education equation.  Whilst watching the documentary, I fondly remembered my schooling days, where I was mostly taught to study than to learn, where teachers generally delivered but rarely empower. 

Grades were the most important thing in my life at that time, but it took me till the middle of my undergraduate years to realise what learning and self-empowerment mean. 

In Unteachable, we witness the possibilities of student empowerment through pedagogy, that anyone is capable of making future choices in life, even if systemic barriers and policies seem to force certain groups of people to resign to fate.

Grade: B+


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