Our education system is outmoded: It stifles creativity and favours the rich. Yet, creativity and equality are the two factors that will determine if Singapore succeeds or fails as a nation.$CUT$
In our previous post, we explained how our school system is killing the creative potential in our children and rendering our economy uncompetitive (read here). The emphasis on exams and streaming not only inflicts heavy psychological trauma on our children but also kills off creativity in them.
An equally important issue that our education system has created is inequality. Already, Singapore has one of the biggest gaps between the rich and poor. The education system exacerbates this disparity.
The PAP says that its policies are based on the concept of meritocracy. But for meritocracy to work, the system must enable fair competition. Under the PAP, power and privilege is amassed in the hands of a small group of the elite. The Economist compiled the Crony-Capitalism Index, a measure of countries where politically connected businessmen are most likely to prosper, in which Singapore ranked fifth.
The pernicious effects of inequality is maintained by our education system in at least three ways:
Private tuition. Our education process is structured in such a way that private tuition has become a necessity. This means that students from poor family backgrounds who are unable to afford such expensive tutoring are disadvantaged. As a consequence, they perform less well in exams and are placed in lower-ranked streams.
Instead of giving them a leg up, our education system puts those already at a disadvantage further down the totem pole. It is not surprising that academic failure and school drop-out rates rise dramatically among needy families. This creates a culture of poverty, perpetuating the vicious cycle.
Elite schools. Many of our elite schools are located in wealthier residential districts, making it more difficult for lower-income families to register their children in such schools. While nearly 90 percent of Singaporeans live in HDB flats, only 40 percent attend top-ranking, elite primary schools.
Of course, the government denies elite schools get better treatment. PM Lee Hsien Loong said: “I believe we can make every school a good school and we have done a lot of that to ensure that every school provides a good education for the students.”
This view was challenged by Jurong West Secondary School’s Vice-Principal Pushparani Nadarajah: “How many of our leaders and top officers who say that every school is a good school put their children in ordinary schools near their homes? Until they do so, parents are not going to buy it.” The comment was met with applause from an audience of teachers and principals.
Pre-school. Rich parents pay in excess of $20,000 a year for their children to attend top private kindergartens in preparation for primary school whereas poorer children skip pre-school altogether because their parents can’t afford it. When a child enters Primary 1, she is expected to possess basic literacy and numeracy skills. This puts poorer children at a distinct handicap.
The Government does not provide a nation-wide pre-school programme. In fact, the Starting Well Index, compiled by the Economic Intelligence Unit which measures the availability, affordability and quality of early childhood education, ranked Singapore a dismal 29th out of 45 countries in 2012.
To overcome these problems, we need an education system that gives all children equal opportunity to perform to the best of their abilities. To apply the analogy of a 100-metre race: Competitors will run at different speeds and hit the tape at different times, but all must start at the same starting point.
Education is the most potent tool to dismantle the current rigid and unfair elitist system and build a society where everyone begins the race at the same starting point; it is the best weapon that society can wield in its fight against inequality and poverty.
The SDP will unveil our policies to achieve this objective when we launch our paper Educating For Creativity and Equality: An Agenda For Transformation this Saturday. We invite you to join us then.
Event: Public Launch of “Educating for Creativity and Equality: An Agenda for Transformation”
Date: 17 May 2014, Saturday
Time: 2-5 pm
Venue: Chinese Success Media, Action Room, #04-41 Bras Basah Complex, 231 Bain Street, Singapore 180231