Integrity and Commitment? Check.
Emotional Quotient? Check.
The selection process for Public Service Commission (PSC) scholars has been a well-guarded secret, and for good measure. The PSC scholarships are amongst the most prestigious in Singapore, and its scholars often rise up the ranks in the public sector, with many becoming eventual leaders in the respective ministries. Still, the idea that the PSC applicants are “graded” by an arbitrary list of desired qualities and traits is curious, particularly when the field of candidates is so diverse and varied in their own ways.
While it is straightforward to quantify a student’s academic performance in the form of grades and figures; trying to differentiate students in terms of their co-curricular commitments and activities is another ball-game altogether. How do we compare between sportsmen and avid community volunteers; how do we contrast between student researchers and arts performers; and how do we put side by side academics with huge global exposure and individuals with a strong awareness of the grassroots proliferation in Singapore. The present paradox: it is impossible to judge anybody’s abilities or potential against a set of rigid principles and criteria; and it is obvious that even if such an aforementioned list exists in the PSC, it is definitely not the hard and fast rule which is used to select the final list of recipients. The key, is, uniqueness and individuality.
Criteria can be used to shortlist a quota of students, but it cannot be inflexibly used to select the specific scholars. Unfortunately, many parents and students are deluded into conforming to the supposed “ideals” of a “model student”. As a result, the pragmatism to strive towards victory in the rat race throws students in the wrong directions with misguided intentions. They see the entire education process – from primary school to higher-learning institutions – as an extended scholarship and college application process. All the undertaken activities and initiatives are not without justification; all of them must contribute to the eventual goal of entering a prestigious institution for a future career.
Education is now seen as a means to an end. When an individual studies, it is not because he has that desire to learn more, but because he wants to ace his tests. When someone does co-curricular activities, it is not because he enjoys the sport or club, but because he wants to earn more points. Even now, community service is no longer genuine volunteerism, but as a way to “boost” the curriculum vitae for applications.
This lack of purpose, passion and mission is going to stick with the student when he applies for the PSC scholarship, and when he is eventually in a government ministry. He will be enticed by the prestige, power, and stability of the scholarship and the potential career in the public sector. Do you see the irony? Even though the public sector is supposed to serve its citizens whole-heartedly, its members would be more concerned about serving their own interests, and ensuring that their own future is secure; losing sight of what should genuinely matter: making the country a better country for all, not for one.
We cannot afford to let our students and potential civil servants fall into this trap. We need to re-think how our youths are being “educated”, and how they can start to define themselves as individuals, instead of conforming like cogs in the Singapore machinery.