1. Dr. Koh Poh Koon. I thought this was a fascinating piece of commentary, given that it featured the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) candidate Dr. Koh Poh Koon (also, considering the fact that the comical by-election developments have been extensively covered). Sure, he didn’t overtly question the sacrosanct policy of meritocracy in Singapore, but he is rightly concerned that children from lower-income households are disadvantaged within our education system. Their counterparts gain access to a greater variety of enrichment courses, programmes, activities, and participation would give them a strong head-start.
2. The myth of meritocracy? Education can still empower one to climb up the socio-economic ladder (the administration – through scholarships and public platforms like the National Day Rally – likes to highlight the “success stories” of individuals); yet today, comparatively and anecdotally, it has become tougher to do so. The PAP would be apprehensive about this, given that meritocracy has been heralded as a founding principle of the country, but a frank conversation is needed to determine meritocracy’s role as income disparities widen. Supplementary research could be conducted to track the progress of different groups of students through our education system, to probably confirm suspicions that one’s family background matters when determining his or her chances of success.
They may still have a “shot at success”, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asserted quite recently, but the odds are clearly stacked against him or her.
3. Contemplating recommendations. Present endeavours of presenting bursaries and increasing the number of financial aid schemes, unfortunately, are band-aid solutions that do little in the long-term. Income inequality is a structural challenge that requires economic recommendations, but tweaks to our education frameworks could be constructive as well. Dr. Koh’s suggestion of “means testing”, in which “DSA [Direct School Admission] cannot be applied across the board”, is a workable proposal, but will not be popular for the politician. Along the same tangent, scholarships offered by government bodies and agencies could be calibrated, so that students from less-privileged backgrounds can benefit directly.
It would make good sense of accelerate our movement away from traditional academic-scholastic focuses, by exposing schoolchildren and their parents to institutions that have different niches: in arts and aesthetics, sports, music, et cetera. General pre-school pedagogies can be strengthened, with key messages and resources communicated to parents (given the proliferation of the Internet, why not crowd-source innovative strategies for them to engage and guide their kids at home)?