Top schools must do more to fight elitism

Top schools must do more to fight elitism

SINGAPORE - Mr Delane Lim ("RI students not 'elitist'"; June 3) has misunderstood the thrust of my remarks in Parliament on May 30 on the debate on the President's Address.

While I fully endorse the policy goal of keeping upward pathways open to all, I asked whether our education system acts as a source of inequality and reinforces social immobility. This is crucial as education is viewed as a powerful social leveller, the primary vehicle by which one can ascend the ladder of opportunity.

However, with the different peaks of excellence premised on differentiation by ability- and school-based streaming, and by different types of schools with different fees and curricula, our education system may generate segregating effects that reinforce social immobility.

Our education and meritocratic system must be premised on equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. But the real question is whether every student, regardless of socio-economic background, is able to access the opportunities available.

Even as we seek to develop each child to his full potential, are we paying too high a price for that? Is there a more equitable trade-off in which greater social equity does not compromise academic standards and ideals? Can we leaven our meritocracy to ameliorate the harsh workings of the winner-takes-all mentality and the win-at-all-costs mindset?

Raffles Institution occupies a special place in our education system and must resolutely guard against elitism. In this regard, RI must re-double its effort to enthuse, appeal and attract more high-calibre students from neighbourhood schools and under-represented groups such as Malay students. Hence, I welcome my alma mater's efforts to attract more students from low-income households ("RI to refine scheme to draw lower income pupils"; June 4). But scholarships alone are not enough.

RI must be appealing and inspiring for the brand of holistic education it offers, the values it imbues in its students and the ethos of public service carefully nurtured. My specific concern is whether RI's ethos have fundamentally changed, making it less attractive to students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

What left an indelible mark on my peers and me from my formative school days in RI in the mid-1980s was how our very diverse home backgrounds did not matter in our striving for academic and co-curricular excellence.

Our meritocracy and education system have a vital role in ensuring that Singapore is not flat-lining on social mobility and inclusivity. Our top schools must pay greater attention to the larger sense of purpose and values expected of them. In particular, RI must continue to be a beacon of hope of Singapore's meritocracy, reflecting growth with equity and inclusiveness, and of Singaporeans progressing in tandem with our nation.

Eugene K.B. Tan

Nominated Member of Parliament


This article was first published on June 20, 2014.
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