“The latest efforts to increase diversity at Singapore’s top schools by making them affordable for all are a welcome signal, but more still needs to be done, said observers” (More to Boost Diversity at Top Schools Welcomed, Jolene Ang).
Absent from the recent efforts to increase the diversity of students at Singapore’s independent schools – through which students from low- or middle-income families will enjoy fee subsidies and could qualify for a scholarship for out-of-pocket expenses (ST, Dec. 29) – is a focus on access as well as broadened definitions of success. Put otherwise: In addition to improving the affordability of these schools for academically gifted students from low- or middle-income families, there are outstanding questions on the proportion of students who gain access to these schools in the first place, and on students from these families who may not demonstrate the same scholastic aptitudes, and yet have other talents or abilities which ought to be nurtured.
Any attempt to boost diversity, furthermore, ought to be anchored by baseline figures on the present state of diversity in these top schools, and thereafter the extent to which the policy is expected to improve the status quo. In other words, what is the proportion of students from low- or middle-income households – especially since the Ministry of Education collects data on monthly gross household income and per capita income for administration of the fee subsidies and the financial assistance scheme, which should allow it to provide aggregated statistics at the level of the schools – and how is it expected to increase? Thus far, schools have only reported broad numbers, and similar challenges plague the reporting of public scholarships in Singapore. Tangentially, it would also be interesting to understand the prevalence of these concerns over affordability, and perhaps even estimate the number of parents and their children who have been historically deterred by the fees and expenses in the schools.
And as both access and affordability are enhanced, students who may not excel academically – and those from comparatively disadvantaged backgrounds, in particular – should not be overlooked. Broadening definitions of success is a long-term goal, and some endeavours include exposing students to a wide range of co-curricular and out-of-classroom activities (and not using grades or academic performance as a criteria for eligibility or participation, which are convenient but short-sighted yardsticks), challenge students to think about future aspirations which may not necessarily be defined by academic success (while strengthening career guidance), and encouraging interactions within and across schools in less contrived manners (consequently facilitating social mixing too).