by Brad Bowyer
In Michael Barrs 2014 book, “The Ruling Elite of Singapore” he has done a very detailed analysis of our scholarship system. It is interesting to note that up until 2008 just over 96% have gone to Chinese students and 80% of those are attendees of the Raffles and Hwa Chong Family of schools. This does not look much like “all schools are good schools” and that we are meritocratically searching Singapore to promote and support the best and brightest and despite the rhetoric it does not seem to have changed much in the last 10 years.
Elsewhere in the world, scholarships are generally awarded to bright pupils with potential that come from all walks of life but cannot afford further education themselves but here they have become a badge of status with hundreds of thousands of public funds routinely given to children whose parents almost unanimously can well afford to pay for it themselves.
For example, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his son Li Hong Yi both got government scholarships. In fact, Lee Hsien Loong got two, a President scholarship and the SAF overseas scholarship. Tony Tan’s son and daughter both got Presidents scholarships (His son also got that infamous 12 year National Service deferment but that is another story). Mah Bow Tan’s son got the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS)’s scholarship, and this is just a few of the more notable ones.
We also know from Wikileaks that Assistant Director of Planning Division at the Ministry of Education (MOE) Cheryl Chan was reported saying that, “the government does not plan to encourage more students to get a higher education” and “The university enrolment rate will continue to be maintained at 20-25 percent because the Singaporean labor market does not need everyone to get a four-year degree,” which along with our ever more exclusionary university acceptance rules for those limited spaces and the limiting of CPF funds for further education only to those excluding institutions shows there are very big barriers to getting the education base for success if you are not well off.
So in Singapore it is not working hard at getting yourself educated and then competing for your true value, which necessarily keeps you on your toes and moving forward it is, for the chosen and privileged few, getting assisted through schooling while your potential competitors are blocked and then sitting back on your laurels and collecting a fat paycheck for doing little while preaching to everyone else how good you are.
Is this the “Enabling Meritocracy” that Indranee Raja is preaching about?
And all this is conveniently putting aside the fact that every citizen has merit and is valuable, it just depends on whether you look at people as human or just as economic producing units with certificates or not. They may not all excel at the one and only metric the PAP seems to use to decide value (besides who you are related too of course) but they have much to offer in other areas and yet we pay little more than lip service to anything outside our rigid academic sorting system.
While Singapore continues to be ruled one-dimensionally, to an often flawed economic plan, like a dysfunctional company and not a country that encourages and supports all its citizens to thrive and find their true potential then many of the deserving will be blocked, many undeserving will get a free ride at the public expense and our country will wither and die while losing its soul and becoming a cold empty husk of humanity.
We need a total reform of our education system which includes providing access to higher education for all who wish to strive for it, plus we need to develop and support our local Small-Medium-Entreprises (SMEs), the arts and sports sectors and start valuing contributors from non-academic backgrounds just as much as our “academics”.
For example, a patient will die if the cleaner doesn’t do his job right in a hospital and it’s not a pleasant job to do. There will be a variance between his and a doctor’s pay but should it be so great? And engineering graduates with practical skills earn as much as academic graduates with theoretical skills in Germany as another example.
Then we can start talking about Meritocracy.