05 August 2018
David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, wrote a piece called ‘The paradox of the gender divide’, in which he observed that in the Nordic countries, where gender equality is the highest, many women opt out of the corporate rat race. This is an unexpected discovery.
In Singapore’s education system, we encounter similar paradoxes.
For instance, while meritocracy rewards ability over wealth and circumstances of birth, over time, as families do well, they spare no effort investing in the next generation, resulting in children from more affluent families doing better due to their access to greater resources.
Another example: The percentage of students from poor backgrounds is much smaller today, and while this is an undeniable good in itself, this smaller group of families that remain poor are facing increasingly difficult challenges, which in turn affect their children’s performances in school adversely. Despite our best efforts, the achievement gap between the rich and poor in Singapore’s school keeps widening.
Many of our popular schools are making extra efforts to attract students from low income families and encouraging diversity amongst the students.
But setting an intake quota in order benefit those from low income households sends the wrong signal.
There is a need to institute a broader definition of merit — one that does not focus too narrowly on past academic scores, but one that recognises a broad meritocracy of skills, given the various strengths and talents of our people.