Many took issue with the manner The Straits Times highlighted the concern that “top students” (only academically, I must add) from “five top secondary schools” (based on cut-off points, I presume) tend to have close friends who are similar to them in race, academic stream, and socio-economic background. I agree. The shortcomings are in abundance: the small sample size of the poll; the way it defined “prestigious” or “top” schools; hasty generalisations of these schools; headlines which encouraged unnecessary comparisons; and reaffirming unfair stereotypes (you must feel for the boys from Anglo-Chinese School).
Yet, the article’s poor representation does not mean that the problem is not a genuine one. I am of the opinion that students from dissimilar institutions – in terms of academia, vocational education sports, arts and culture – need to take advantage of present platforms to interact with one another. Long-term remedies are certainly necessary to correct the incorrect assumptions, and for the Ministry of Education (MOE) to introduce more avenues for schoolchildren to move beyond their classrooms and schools; nevertheless, there are some immediate proposals that could be considered (or strengthened):
Community service and activities. My first foray into service-learning and community involvement gave me the opportunity to meet individuals with different backgrounds. Volunteerism unites people with a common purpose, and helped me to develop much-needed sensitivities, especially during social gatherings. In the beginning, the school felt like a sanctuary. The fact that the Chinese High operates under the Special Assistance Plan (SAP) – with the complementary requirement for students to take Higher Chinese as a second language – means that the racial composition is disproportionately skewed.
Take for instance an episode when I first started out: I had to make a reservation for a lunch meeting, but did so without realising that I had to get an establishment that was Halal, because of my Muslim counterparts. As a secondary three boy, the thought had never crossed my mind, but the incident made me more aware of these nuances.
Cross-institution interaction. The problem is most acute in within the institutes of higher learning (IHL), since the courses are highly differentiated, but the schoolchildren have rare opportunities to meet and interact with one another. Stereotypes manifest because of the lack of comprehension. Interactions between youths at the IHL-level can also go a long way to address preconceived notions or stereotypes, and greatly heighten cross-curriculum or inter-disciplinary learning. Even within unique classroom settings, these students would get a grasp of what is done in the assortment of institutions, and simultaneously find out more about courses and academic streams.
Cooperative partnerships can also go beyond superficial exchanges, or one-off events per se (such as one-day Racial Harmony celebrations, or Total Defence commemorations). Following the scholastic or course-based learning, the students could work constructively together to organise national conventions and seminars, form core teams for community initiatives, or even manage events or major activities at the grassroots levels. Opportunities for these out-of-the-classroom commitments should be seized (here).