Intervene early in bid for diversity

Intervene early in bid for diversity
Recipients of the Public Service Commission (PSC) Scholarship reciting the scholars' pledge at the award ceremony at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel in July in 2012.

SINGAPORE - When we worry that too many Public Service Commission scholarship holders are from top schools, what exactly are we worrying about?

For PSC chairman Eddie Teo, who wrote an open letter last week on diversity in the organisation's selection of future leaders, the fear seems to be ending up with "a Public Service comprising only the privileged and upper classes."

In the letter on Tuesday last week, Mr Teo stressed the value of diversity to the public service.

Diversity in terms of what schools scholars come from is important as "a good proxy indicator of social-economic class," he said.

This is borne out anecdotally. Top schools do seem to have a disproportionate number of well-off students.

When you get down to it, many top scorers - who come from, or end up in, these top schools - tend to hail from better-off homes.

But rather than just accept this as fact, we should instead work towards improving socio-economic diversity in our junior colleges.

After all, top junior college Raffles Institution was once seen as a school for anyone, regardless of background, as long as they had the smarts.

My older colleagues tell me that Raffles used to have far more students from varied backgrounds, and had yet to gain a reputation of socio-economic elitism. One could speculate as to why things have changed. Having fewer students of higher socio-economic class was probably easier decades ago, when that class was smaller to begin with. As the middle and upper-middle classes have grown, so has the number of top students from them.

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