FROM the time they enter school, Singaporean students are taught values such as meritocracy, diligence and resilience - and these are things that they hold dear.
Principals, teachers and sociologists contacted said it is not true that locals - at least in schools - have become 'less hard-driving and hard-striving', as Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said in a recent interview.
This is evident across all levels, they say, from students who score nine A1s to those who obtain one or two O-level passes.
Educators said many Singaporeans spend as much time studying as foreign scholars, and that they are also able to juggle various co-curricular activities with their studies.
While there is no doubt that foreign scholars are very motivated, local students can hold their own because they have been equipped with the right mindset, they said.
At Bukit Panjang Government High School, for instance, both top scorers with nine A1s in last year's O levels were Singaporeans.
The school's vice-principal, Ms Chow Wai Hoong, said: 'Singapore is a meritocratic society so children know they must do their best.'
In her experience, most Singaporean students are mindful of the importance of paper qualifications.
Added Mr Lam Mun Yin, the vice-principal of Nan Hua High School, which had a China scholar taking the top spot in the O levels with 10 A1s last year: 'In the same cohort, we have three Singapore students who had straight A1s for nine subjects.'
Likewise, sociologists such as Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser in the National University of Singapore's department of sociology believe values of perseverance and diligence are entrenched in the Singapore psyche.
Sociologist Paulin Straughan added that Singaporeans continue to achieve in higher education.
'At the National University of Singapore, the top arts students are consistently Singaporeans,' she said.
In fact, the presence of top foreign scholars will spur Singaporeans to work even harder, said another sociologist Daniel Goh.
This can-do spirit is not just at the top. For the past two years, 99.9 per cent of the total number of students who took the O levels were awarded certificates. This year, six Secondary 5 students obtained at least four A1s, two A2s and with English grade B3 or better in the O levels.
The education system here, said some principals such as Mr Adrian Lim of Ngee Ann Secondary School, has helped to nurture students who know they cannot afford to be complacent.
He said: 'Schools now send students on overseas trips so they know the competition they are up against. I have a student who went to China and saw how the students there study.
'She came back and said Singaporeans must really work harder because these Chinese students could be competing with them for a job in the global market.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times.