31 January 2019
More than 300 business undergraduates at the Singapore Management University wrote an essay for a capstone class in their final year, where they were permitted to choose any topic, including introspecting about their life in and beyond SMU.
They confirm the positive role that SMU (and other universities) plays in social mobility in Singapore. Students mentioned that the opportunities provided by SMU enhanced their preparation for work, attractiveness to employers and eventual climb up the income ladder.
A few contributors expressed reservations about meritocracy. Most accept the national and dominant family narrative — that success comes from doing well academically and working hard. A few question the societal and familial definition of success in purely material terms.
There is a keen sense of the opportunity cost of this success. Meritocracy does take a toll on family relationships. As some students see it, their parents work extremely hard and long hours, demanding and expecting in return only outstanding academic performance. To them, it seems that every resource, nearly every interpersonal interaction, is to ensure the material success of the next generation.
In many ways, undergraduates in Singapore exemplify the pragmatic bent of our society. On their part, young graduates — even as they struggle with achievement, success and stress in our hyper-competitive society — will find their own ways of making their own good sense of life as it unfolds for them.