“Many of the products of our top schools forget they have to give back to the society that allowed them so many opportunities” (Scoring High In Grades, But Not In Values, Miss Sandra Leong).
I would like to thank Miss Sandra Leong for her excellent commentary, “Scoring High In Grades, But Not In Values” (April 3, 2010), on an issue that has been brought up consistently; yet conveniently ignored. Having graduated from Hwa Chong Institution – both High School and College – I echo Miss Leong’s sentiments, particularly in terms of the prevalent intellectual snobbery, and the “bubble-wrapped existence” many of my juniors and counterparts continue to dwell in.
My greatest gripe with the current situation is that students treat the school as some form of sanctuary; a haven insulated from the plethora of challenges that face the on-the-ground Singaporean. Such an observation is worrying because while they are elevated up the socio-economic ladder, their visions are clouded by their personal pursuits and pressures to be the crème de la crème within their cohorts. Competition is stiff. The entire high school struggle is viewed as an extended preparation for applications to colleges and scholarship boards; so as to jumpstart careers and hence continue to outclass. Can we count on these elites – many potential politicians and leaders in various spheres – to enact responsible, well-intentioned policies and plans for the people?
Many have seen community service and grassroots activities as platforms for students to interact and comprehend aspects of Singapore they had been previously blinded too. When I began my stints with Heartware Network and Children-At-Risk Empowerment (CARE) Association, not only was I uncomfortable and awkward when working with my peers from very different backgrounds, I was cognisant of the pragmatic considerations involved: to boost my curriculum vitae, to look good on applications. Those feelings of snobbery and elitism – elements Miss Leong had highlighted – can never be unwrapped by the school or society; rather, the individual has to constantly reflect – which I eventually ashamedly yet proudly did – and remind himself of his duties and responsibilities to his family, his country, and maybe even the world.
Of course, it would be unfair to generalise the general population and label the students as a whole; because there are individuals who have passionately and genuinely rendered their services within and outside the school throughout the years. Most admirably, many of my friends who had come from less-than-privileged backgrounds or who were facing considerable financial constraints were never short-changed in terms of opportunities and commitments; and many excelled in an assortment of areas. These are the true merits of Singapore’s meritocracy, where students are given the chance – with bursaries and deserved financial assistance – to progress despite of their beginnings.
We cannot afford to allow elements of elitism blind ourselves to what truly matters; encouraging privileged students and professionals to step out of their comfort zones, contribute, and ultimately make a difference in Singapore.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.