“The Singapore Armed Forces and Ministry of Defence scholarships have attracted a record number of applicants this year, with recipients from a more diverse background” (Diversity among SAF, MINDEF Scholarship Holders, Isabelle Liew).
That the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) are working to increase the diversity of both their scholarship applicants and recipients – for instance, by encouraging “more of those living in one- to three-room Housing Board flats and those from poorer families to apply for the scholarships” (ST, Jul. 21) – is encouraging, though they have to be more specific about what is meant by “diversity” and how it is measured and tracked over time. In addition, perhaps having defined diversity across race, gender, socio-economic status, as well as family or educational backgrounds, these metrics ought to be communicated more consistently.
Thus far, data or statistics on diversity has unfortunately been shared in dribs and drabs, even though the information is likely to be readily available. Without it and without an understanding of how trends might have changed, public discourse is stymied. It was revealed in 2008 that just 47 per cent of PSC scholarship holders stay in public housing, compared to the over 80 per cent of Singaporeans who do so. More recently, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung shared in parliament two weeks ago that the percentage of PSC scholars from Hwa Chong Institution and Raffles Institution has gone down from more than 80 per cent to 60 per cent, between 2007 and 2017. And now, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen mentions that the number of female recipients of the MINDEF and SAF scholarships has doubled from a decade ago.
If diversity across race, gender, socio-economic status, and family or educational backgrounds is deemed to be important – and even as meritocracy remains the guiding principle for the awarding of public scholarships – then its definition, measurement, and tracking cannot be disregarded, and a useful start would be to offer aggregated data or statistics of PSC, MINDEF, and SAF scholars over the years. Public scholarships offer meaningful individual narratives, especially by showcasing young scholars and their families who have experienced challenging circumstances or trajectories. Yet at the same time the collective Singaporean narrative of representation, social mobility (and inequality), and diversity which go beyond anecdotes is no less important, and deserves much more attention.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.