21 November 2018
A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development commended Singapore on its ability to provide upward social mobility to its citizens via a good education system.
Social mobility is defined as the movement of people between different levels of social stratification. Indicators for social mobility include changes in wealth, income and status. Upward social mobility is a virtue as it indicates the citizenry is becoming better off over time, at least in terms of material advantage.
However, the same OECD report alluded that Singapore does not do well in terms of providing relative mobility, that is, in terms of how disadvantaged students perform relative to their peers.
It is recognized that we should keep social mobility high because it is an undeniable good in itself.
Poor social mobility leads to an overly stratified society, as well as unfairness, tension and exploitation between different groups.
The OECD report also marks Singapore down in a metric termed “national resilience”. This measures the proportion of students in the bottom quarter of SES (“disadvantaged students”) who get marks in the top quarter of their country’s students.
Hence, Singapore has yet to create an equitable education system that gives equal opportunities to all students to succeed, regardless of family background.
It has also been noted that many disadvantaged students are going to what parents and educators deem to be less good schools, which is an alarming fact in itself, because too much academic stratification in our school system will ultimately tear the nation apart.
A disadvantaged student in what is perceived to be a not-so-good school has a higher chance of becoming discouraged and eventually becoming a disgruntled citizen. Singapore’s advancement and national security will be significantly threatened should this become systemic in our society.