Editorial: PSC's challenge of flying high and wide

The persistent association of elitism with the scholarship system of the Public Service was no doubt fuelled by the predictability of the schooling of successful candidates.

Almost seven in 10 came from Raffles Institution and Hwa Chong over the past decade, with a high of over eight in 10 six years ago.

While that proportion has dropped to 60 per cent in the last two years, there remains scope for more diversity, as Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean had noted earlier.

The realisation of that goal lies not just with the Public Service Commission (PSC) but also with an education system that can develop talent to the fullest whatever the chosen pathways of students, through its "Every school, a good school" vision.

A good school, as Education Minister Heng Swee Keat defined it, would be one that delivers "a student-centric, values-driven education, nurtures engaged learners, and fosters supportive partnerships with parents and the community".

This is a work in progress. Importantly, students and their mentors from so-called non-branded schools must have the confidence to compete, with the assurance that the PSC's recruitment criteria also extend to those with backgrounds, skills and experiences different from the typical awardees of the past.

In reiterating of late the equal-opportunity approach of the PSC, chairman Eddie Teo referred to more recent scholarship holders who had come from, for example, the polytechnics and modest junior colleges like Pioneer.

An open-minded selection system would satisfy the people's sense of fair play and adequate social representation. A distant parallel is the efficient system of scholar-bureaucrats of Imperial China that saw aspirants coming from even disadvantaged nether regions to vie for a place among the mandarins.

The need for diversity, of course, is keener in contemporary society which throws up more complex, often interlinked, issues that defy neat explanations and solutions.

This is why a broader mix of Public Service leaders - including those who might question existing practices and even hold strong positions on controversial subjects - is more likely to lead to policies that take into account the differing needs and expectations of an increasingly variegated Singapore population.

In its quest for diversity, what's important is that the PSC does not inadvertently compromise the high standards it upholds in talent recruitment and professional development through, say, any "affirmative action".

To achieve a leadership profile that better reflects the different socio-economic groups here, nurturing talent has to begin from the pre-school stage and be sustained throughout.

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