Cash awards not enough to draw low-income students

Cash awards not enough to draw low-income students

The growing wealth divide is affecting enrolment in top schools ("RI to refine scheme to draw lower-income pupils"; Wednesday).

When I was a student in Raffles Institution in the 1960s, most of us came from humble backgrounds, and the handful from better socio-economic backgrounds were not a daunting factor.

We focused on doing well in our studies, so academic performance was the common denominator.

The situation changed in just one generation. When my elder son was a student there in the 1990s, he belonged to a middle-class family. However, many of his schoolmates hailed from wealthy families, and academic performance was no longer the social leveller, as the rich children also performed well.

We are now dealing with a new generation of students, and a wider wealth divide. It is not surprising, then, that students from humble backgrounds lack the confidence to assimilate into the increasingly daunting environment.

There are other factors exacerbating the situation.

First, it used to be a common practice to celebrate the academic success of students from humble backgrounds. This is no longer possible, as top Primary School Leaving Examination and O-level scorers are not revealed.

Second, the notion that every school is a good school could well affect the image of top schools, as parents and students from humble backgrounds could cite this slogan as an excuse not to enrol in one.

The wealth divide is here to stay. So cash awards, although helpful, may not be the panacea.

Many other aspects have to be considered, such as the confidence of students, the aspirations of both students and their parents, socio-emotional elements, and celebrating the academic success of students from humble backgrounds.

The number of scholarships should be increased, as 20 to 30 a year will not create the desired effect. We need to accord these students the comfort of numbers.

Lawrence Loh Kiah Muan

This article was first published on June 7, 2014.
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