“Speaking for my generation, which has often been accused of being complacent and malcontented, I am indignant that ‘needing only to score 75 per cent’ is considered ineptitude” (Excellence Or Perfection?, Mr. Tan Qin Shan, Bertrand).
The letter, “Excellence Or Perfection?” (October 29, 2010), by Mr. Tan Qin Shan, Bertrand: Mr. Bertrand makes the excellent point that administrators and educators have the imperative to look beyond mere academic excellence as a benchmark for an individual’s overall worth or ability. With the advent of globalisation and the assortment of accompanying challenges, the onus is on the Ministry of Education (MOE) and institutions to diversify pedagogies and expectations beyond the academic sphere per se.
Functioning on faith in meritocracy, those with the natural aptitudes in the general field of academia should naturally aim to be the crème de la crème; continuously pursuing perfection. However, our current education system places so much emphasis on studies, tests and examinations that personal interests are crowded us; to the extent that alternative passions and careers are crowded out. The entire education process is seen as a protracted university application, with parents and student opting for stability and conformity. Besides neglecting the importance of creative faculties, individuals talented in the fields of music, the arts and sports et cetera are usually stifled by the system.
Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is mistaken in his generalisation that there is no urge to be exceptional in Singapore. What he fails to comprehend is that some students do genuinely try their hardest in preparations and studying, but simply do not thrive in an environment where rote memorisation and pedantic methods of regurgitation are encouraged. The introduction of various new institutions – such as the Singapore Sports School (SSS) and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) – and reforms such as the Integrated Programme (IP) have not been sufficiently far-reaching, and the MOE seems to be revelling in the comforts of conservatism.
How do you expect exceptionality when what is ultimately expected is for students to be moulded into cogs to be fitted perfectly into our economic machinery?
Mr. Bertrand makes the wonderful point that “excellence is about being the best that you can be, not attaining some artificial standard of perfection”. So why can’t we start to embrace the diversity and the special flairs of our students, instead of compelling them to go mundanely through the motion; only to struggle to grasp at grades and achievements. If an individual is empowered with a personal mission and an established goal, it seems obvious that the “drive for excellence” that Minister Tharman is desperately looking for would eventually come naturally.