PM Lee: Every School Is A Good School? Really? (This Will Disgust You)

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said at the National Day Rally 2013 that, “every school is a good school”.

However, at the AsiaEducationExpo (AEX) 2013, Vice-Principal of Jurong West Secondary School Pushparani Nadarajah said that, “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 home? (Only) until they actually do so are parents going to buy (it).

Indeed, is every school a good school, as PM Lee claims? Let me show you some statistics that will shock you.

(This is a shortened summary article of an article that I had published yesterday.)

A quick background: The PAP government has created schemes such as the Gifted Education Programme (GEP), to cater to the “intellectually gifted”. They have also created the Integrated Programmes (IP) for the “academically strong”. The GEP and IP are essentially similar programmes as the Ministry of Education (MOE) had said that ,”the secondary GEP organised by MOE was integrated into school-based programmes in the Integrated Programme (IP) schools which were hosting the GEP.

According to the MOE, primary schools which offer the GEP are “provided with additional teachers” and “an annual programme grant of $53 per pupil“. Already, you can see that things are equal.

But, do you know that:


Chart 1: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies

So, you see, the elite pathway will give the students an almost exclusive route to enter the local public universities. But what about students who do not enter elite schools?

If you look at the admissions of polytechnic graduates to university, “over the past ten years, about 200 local polytechnic graduates have been admitted to the Architecture, Dentistry, Law and Medicine undergraduate courses in NUS and SMU,” or an average of 20 students every year. In 2012/2013, there were 741 students who were admitted into these courses at the NUS and around 133 students who were admitted into SMU – a total of 874 students.

So, of the total enrollment of 874 students, polytechnic graduates makes up only 2% of the total enrollment (Chart 2)!


Chart 18: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies

Not only that, when we look at the admission of local polytechnic graduates to law courses at NUS and SMU from 2007  to 2012, there was only an average of less than 2 students from the polytechnics admitted every year (Chart 3)!

photo 1 (25)

Chart 3: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies

The law courses at NUS and SMU admitted 384 students last year, which means that polytechnic admissions only accounted for less than 1% of the total admissions (Chart 4)!


Chart 4: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies

Shocking, isn’t it? The chances of a polytechnic student entering these courses in next to zero, literally!

Things become clearer when you look at household sizes.

If you look at the students who had attended Raffles Girls’ Primary School, Methodist Girls Primary School, Henry Park Primary School, Anglo Chinese Primary School, Nanyang Primary School and Tao Nan School – schools which offer GEP, only 40% of these students live in HDB flats, as compared to the “80% of all primary school students reside in HDB flats” (Chart 5). Thus students from elite schools come from more well-to-do families.


Chart 5: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies

Also, “among the Secondary 1 students who enrolled in Integrated Programme (IP) schools in 2009, more than half live in HDB flats.” This is similar to in 2002, where, “about 50% of Singaporean students in Independent Schools live in HDB flats in 2002. (Chart 6)” Again, students from elite schools are more likely to come from high-income households.


Chart 6: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies

Also, “about 17% (of students from Independent Schools) live in 4-room HDB flats or smaller.” However, among the general population, there is a higher proportion of low-income households, where 56.5% of Singapore residents living in 1- to 4-room flats. Yet, only 17% of the students in the Independent Schools live in 1- to 4-room flats (Chart 7).


Chart 7: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary RepliesHousehold Size and Structure

Finally, of the students who enter the public universities, only “one in eight undergraduates … come from households who live in 1- to 3-room flats“ – which is about 12.5% (Chart 8). However, there are 24.6% of Singapore residents who live in 1- to 3-room flats. Shouldn’t there be more students from the smaller housing types, and from the lower-income group who should be attending university, but are not able to?


Chart 8: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary RepliesHousehold Size and Structure

Take a look at the table below to see the students from primary schools in 1990-1992 who eventually made it to university in 2007.

photo 2 (27)

Chart 9: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies

Of those who had entered Primary One in 1990-1992, only 40% come from higher-income households and live in 5-room & exec HDB flats, or private housing. But of the same cohort who entered university in 2007, this rose to 55%. On the other hand, there were 23% of students in Primary One who live in lower-income households of 1, 2, 3-room HDB flats. But a much lower 13% of the low-income households were able to enter university (Chart 10).


Chart 10: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies

So, PM Lee might say that, “every school is a good school”. Then, what happened? Why is the reality so different?

Perhaps Vice-Principal Pushparani Nadarajah had hit the nail on the head – do “our leaders and top officers” even dare to put “their children in ordinary schools near their home”? Does Lee Hsien Loong even buy his own rhetoric that “every school is a good school”?

But, why are things so uneven in Singapore? Perhaps the following statistics will show you why:

Do you know that the PAP government spends the least on education (as a % of GDP), as compared to the high income countries (Chart 11).


Chart 11: World Development Indicators

We also spend the lowest on primary education (Chart 12).


Chart 12: World Development Indicators

And we also spend the lowest on secondary education (Chart 13).


Chart 13: World Development Indicators

And thus our students have the lowest progression into secondary education (Chart 14).


Chart 14: World Development Indicators

What’s happening to the Singapore education system? Why are things so unequal? Why do some students get ahead while other students are prevented from getting ahead?

PM Lee might say that, “we value every child and that we want to give every person the best possible chance to start off well in life,” and that, “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. We give them the resources, we give them the good teachers, we emphasise values and we have made a lot of progress towards this goal.” But is each school really treated equally?

PM Lee might also say that, “outstanding students must always be able to make it to the top to get into these institutions and you cannot have a closed, self-perpetuating elite.”

But what is he talking about when the statistics show clearly that there is a “closed-self-perpetuating elite”?

The system in Singapore has become very unequal. We are beginning to see the cracks in a system which has become so divisive and unequal that some Singaporeans are falling through the cracks. Education is the cornerstone to any society that can advance and progress. And I am afraid that the PAP government might not be doing enough to prevent these cracks from opening, and to prevent Singaporeans from falling through these cracks.

It is very, very unfortunate.


If you are inspired to want to discuss more about how we can change the education system in Singapore, you can join other Singaporeans at this upcoming workshop to design solutions to make the education system more equal in Singapore. 

For more information, you can visit the Facebook event page here

Towards a Better Education System The Heart Truths Blog Poster 1


  1. Tiffany

    Not only there’s an unequal divide between the rich and poor of their opportunities to get into good schools and universities. The government has to rub it in and import more foreigners to compete with our Singapore groomed students – because apparently they are better than the Singapore students when they choose not to invest more in our local education. Those who are not able to get into the local government university would have to further their studies in a private university which costs more and most of the time, they come from the lower income family. The sad truth.

    • Dylan

      Singapore, having no other natural resources, is forced to operate its success on human resources. We “import” the mentally inclined, because there isnt enough of it in Singapore. Granted, more can be done do nature the young Singaporeans, and steps towards may have been starting to take shape, but “importing” what we need is the easier way out. Is the government taking the easier way out on this issue? We don’t know for sure, for the limited information we have. While I can understand the government’s reasoning in doing so, I certainly hope more can be done to nuture our young Singaporeans.

      • Roy Ngerng

        Hi Dylan,

        It has been said many, many times by employers and international companies from all around the world that Singaporean workers are good at performing tasks but not good at being risk-takers, at innovation and at creativity.

        This has been said repeatedly by MNCs.

        If so, the natural thing to do is to restructure our education system so that Singaporeans can be educated to become more creative and innovative. Research has shown that too intensive examinations, streaming and large class sizes can reduce risk-taking, creativity and innovation – all of which are present in Singapore’s education system and explains the disadvantage that puts Singaporeans.

        If so, shouldn’t we reduce examinations and streaming at an early age and reduce class sizes? The answer is obvious. However, has this been done by the PAP government at all? Has expenditure on education increased to cater to the improvements sorely needed in our education system?

        Why is it the case that we thus have to import foreign workers on E Passes to fill up jobs at top upper management level? – because our education system has failed to cater to the needs of the upper level management jobs.

        And, mind you, Singapore has high unemployment rate among the tertiary educated in Singapore. This means that there are more than enough tertiary educated Singaporeans to go around, but why aren’t they being employed? This will be discussed in an article tomorrow.

        Singaporeans know what the flaws of our education system are. Now, the question is – does the PAP government has the will and respect to Singaporeans to reform the education system to allow the changes needed to take place?

        And I think we have an answer already.


      • Jeven

        Hey Dylan and Roy,
        In my opinion, PSLE SHOULD be ABOLISHED. Grades canNOT define us. Getting a psle score of 104, for example, will land you a spot in university if you work hard enough, just like a student who got 289, who also have to work had in order to end up in university. Who gets more attention? Obviously the one who got 289. Marks also do not define us. We are all of equal standing.

    • Charlie

      While u have some valid points about meritocracy there, the article failed to mention the failures of our education system
      1) our system is overrated. A score of say AAB for A levels can land u a spot in NUS business school as well as LSe. Obviously LSE is 10X better than NUS. So don’t u think it’s overrated
      2) Apple Co founder even mentioned that SG education is one that produces robots not smart and innovative humans. Unlike the US, u memorize purely from the textbook and there is no proper thinking. How can u expect SGeans to be innovative in that sense
      3) another thing I would like to point out is the fact that many of my friends who failed A levels manage to have Ivy league doctorates. I have personal friends who flunk O or A lvls, but still manage to graduate with IVY league doctorates. (go NTU website and see for yourself). Isn’t this a mystery. I mean like Ivy league dudes are considered to be the smartest and these are ppl who go rejected by local Uni. Something is definitely wrong with our system

      Worst of them all is that these PAP MP people come from RJ and all the top JCs. Things went their way. So they are always ignorant abd act like we have the perfect ed system.

      I personally am one of those who failed to get into a local Uni and I srsly think our education is bullshit. Period. I’m pretty sure if US had the same Ed system as SG, ppl like Mark Zukerburg will end up in ITE.

  2. AA

    1) GEP students are selected based on academic abilities, not based on financial status. It’s well known that GEP students are the crème de la crème and the programme was designed for students who can cope at that level, albeit at a young age. There is nothing strange for them to proceed on to top-earning occupations.

    2) University selection are again based on academic abilities. I can assure you that there are plenty of scheme offered to low-income family such as bursary, scholarship, sponsorship etc.. Moreover, local fees are interest free for the first 4 years with an option to pay from CPF/bank loan if one is not qualified for any of above mentioned scheme. I can assure you that no Singaporeans will be rejected from a uni application because of their financial status.

    I believe the problem here is the definition of the word, “Good”. You have to be honest here. There are always education institutions that attracts the brightest students from all over the world. In USA, we have Havard, MIT etc. In Singapore, it’s our RI,HWI and no NUS,NTU is not in the list as most top students(JC or poly) always leave for overseas. There’s nothing wrong here. These students earned their right to select the schools of their choice based of their academic superiority. However, I’m sure that you will agree that academic superiority does not mean success or equate to future income. Otherwise, most professors will be billionaire etc. I’m sure you get my point.

    I believe that everyone is meant to succeed in different way. Some people make it by being a very good business man, some a very good entertainer, etc.. Other than money and fame, others become very useful member of our society. For example, do you know that there social work is offered a degree/masters level in NUS? However, one crux is that all these other ways of success require a certain level of education and this is where the Singapore education level step in. By providing education to most Singaporeans, everyone can selectively decide when to quit the system and proceed on to become what he/she desire.

    Ultimately, the word, “Good” is politicise in many reviews I’ve read. You seem to talk as if the ultimate success in life is to attain a uni degree to find a top-income job and a good education provides that. Are you one of those that lost your way and dream while chasing the system? For me, I feel that providing a good education is so that every student receives basic education where your thought process, knowledge, mathematical skills etc. are built on. Enough for the student to proceed if he/she wants to proceed to the next education tier or to quit the system and find paths of success in other ways.Period.

    • Roy Ngerng

      Interesting that in spite of saying that, “a good education is … that every student receives basic education where your thought process, knowledge, mathematical skills etc”, you would make this statement: “Are you one of those that lost your way and dream while chasing the system?”


      • choofrfreoer

        “Basic education” is generally defined as “primary education”. AA’s comment about those who “lost their way” refers to those who pursue a university degree at all costs.

        Why are you linking them when they refer to different stages of education? Everyone should have basic education, to learn to read and write. But does this necessarily mean that everyone should have end up with a university degree?

        In your haste to defend yourself, you appear to have missed the crux of AA’s points.

      • thinkertailorsoldierspy

        For the most part, the writer of this article does make some sense. He does point out a worrying decline in education spending that correlates in some way with falling secondary school progression. The gaps between proportion of people who live in HDB flats and who are represented in “elite schools” is also similarly telling of our increasingly unequal society. However, I find the author’s use of the proportion of polytechnic graduates gaining admission into popular university courses like law, medicine, dentistry and architecture problematic. He makes no mention of how many or what proportion of polytechnic students actually apply to these courses. With a diploma, many polytechnic grads are able to find employment; the same cannot be said of JC graduates due to the lack of a professional skill. Moreover, as the author has correctly pointed out, many students from elite schools are from well-to-do families. Thus, they have the option of going into higher education without worrying about household finances. In contrast, many students from poorer households need the fastest path to employment to support their families, and thus choose to progress from secondary schools to polytechnics in order to get an employable skill.

        The author also seems to imply that everyone should have an equal chance at entering university. I agree fully with this. But our universities have many courses beyond law, medicine, dentistry or architecture. Faculties like music, journalism and arts are also available for prospective students to apply to. It is ridiculous to use the proportion of polytechnic students admitted into popular courses as evidence of inequality without any regard as to the suitability of the candidates for the courses. This is not to say that polytechnic graduates are less suited to law, medicine, dentistry or architecture than their JC counterparts, in order to establish any kind of unfairness, we need to look at how many polytechnic students actually apply to such courses to see if poly applicants are being disproportionately rejected from such popular courses.

        By presenting the data in such a fashion, the author has painted a more negative picture of the education system than it is. He seems to disregard the viability of alternate, non-law, non-medicine, non-dentistry, non-architecture courses. Would a mass communications student apply for law or medicine? Would a business student? At what point do we take a closer look at the intangible aspects of the admissions process rather than reduce everything to a number? Are we to set quotas for affirmative action? Many questions remain unanswered and many solutions remain ungiven. That said, there is still a worrying problem at the primary and secondary school levels and I agree that there should be something done to alleviate the disparity in resources allocated between schools at this level. But at the tertiary level, people are now preparing for the real world of employment. If we grant admission into popular courses for everyone, regardless of suitability or prospect, in the name of equality, we risk watering down the quality the legal, medical and architectural sectors in Singapore. Indeed, if everyone’s somebody, then nobody’s anybody.

      • Roy Ngerng


        Please look at the other comments above.

        The statistics for the other faculties are not available because the PAP government hasn’t released the information publicly.

        I’ve only been able to obtain these statistics because the politicians from the opposition parties were able to ask the PAP politicians to reveal these statistics, without which we wouldn’t even be in the know of the inequality.

        And as I’ve reiterated, please advocate to the PAP government to release the full set of statistics and information so that we would be able to make a more thorough comparison.

        Thank you.


    • YH

      Appreciate the effort to gather so much statistics in a page…surely it must not have been easy.

      Let me start by saying that if economics holds any place for you, it tells us that problems arise (like in this instance) due to limited resources. If the government could spend more money and subsidise everyone’s education until university or even providing grants for tuition (to level the playing field ya), do you really not think that the government would do it?

      Stating your statistics, I would belong to the 17% in independent schools and 13% in public universities. I did not get into the GEP in upper primary. Of course I was sad, but my mum never gave up on me, she only told me that it was not meant to be. But after that I got to hci. The statistics stated are general, my class had 90% who live in landed properties, and I was one of the FEW who lived in a HDB flat. The contrast was stark, many had resources I could not afford, but none of them was any less deserving or less capable than I am. In the same vein, I have seen so many friends who had ample tuition but did not utilise it well and did not get into a higher band school.

      It let me realise that streaming is based on abilities, not household income and it should not be. No one is forbidding lower income students to strive and stand beside students from more privileged backgrounds; they just require more grit, discipline and effort than others. In your train of thought, you seem to be deviating towards positive discrimination. I hope that does not happen because the lower income students would feel even shitt-ier because they know they do not deserve to be there.

      I believe a “good” education is one where people manage to find a role in society (this includes getting into which sec school//ite/poly/jc etc) which is closest to their abilities. This means that there may be some students who may get into a better school he doesn’t deserve and there will be good students who simply get into a lower band school, but most importantly, the school they get into is close to their level of abilities.

      Everyone student and parents would want to reach the moon. Ultimately, every student gets what he/she deserves, not what he/she wishes for.

    • pong

      when i glance through the article, it seems that author is blaming govt for filtering brighter students to better courses and subsequently to higher institutes. But isn’t that just meritocracy at work? Granted, the rich has more means to “educate” their children to go to this better programs. As long as the govt supports the poorer families through bursaries and scholarship, I have no bones to pick with them.
      It is right for the principal to challenge the leaders to lead by example and send their children to neighourhood schools, but i’m sure it is every citizen’s role to play too.

  3. AA

    How about this.

    Basic education is different from “chasing the system”. When you chase the system, you obtain advanced degrees(uni and above) so you can break/stay on in the poverty/social cycle by obtaining a high pay job that are academic intensive(eng, accountants etc). All I’m saying that education at a basic level(poly/jc/ite) can also provides you with the platform to succeed in other fields. I personally know many biz men who did not have more than a secondary level education and they are doing very well. I will say that they are living the Singapore dream. It’s difficult but it’s not impossible.

    However, you and many other critics seem to think or use the former as an guage. Firstly, about 20-30% of Singaporeans are degree holders. The majority relies on the basic education platform to succeed in life. Given that, shouldn’t you gauge is a school is good by saying how well it can provide a basic education platform? Instead, you talk about GEP students, how housing and poverty levels affect the education system etc. Secondly, you are using statistics selectively. For example, I can also claim that since majority of the Singaporeans stay in HDB, majority of Singaporeans who enroll in local unis are also staying in HDB and thus, give an conclusion that to get into local unis, it’s best to stay in HDB because I will have a higher chance. We both know that is a flawed logic but statistically, it’s correct. It was like that with a few of your examples.

    It’s just upsetting to see that someone who cares about Singapore seems to be criticising all the time. I do not know you personally and my statement was rhetorical. It was meant for anyone reading the passage. Lastly, if it’s not for the education system in Singapore, you would not have the capability to write the hundreds of articles in your blog to express your views.

      • choofrfreoer

        Then argue that companies should not pay based on paper qualifications, but rather skills and aptitude demonstrated.

        Why are you saying that more people should have degrees instead? This makes no sense!

    • Redemption


      Iam quite disgusted by your rebuts and claims with no stats and facts.

      Roy has provided a very detailed and clear stats to show us “every school a good school? Really?

      And what do u mean basic education? 
      O level standard? 
      And that is good enough for your child?

      As a parent myself, education is the most important thing. Especially in Singapore where academic results are everything.  There’s no room for talent in sports or arts or whatsoever comes next.

      I find it irony that you claim you know successful business man who have less than secondary education and living Singapore dream. Are u sure his father is not some chairman or directors? Or perhaps he strike ToTo or 4D and found his fortunate from there. Or not doing some illegal business? And how many of % of this so call O lvl also don’t have are millionaires?

      80% of Singaporeans lives in HDB. But out of it how many % makes it to top school and uni? 
      That is what Roy trying to show to us.
      20% of Singaporeans lives in pte property.
      Roy stats show us how rich have got into top school and top uni.

      I like to mention the rich can always go for elite tution. 
      Elitism and capitalism. That is the route we are heading.

      • choofrfreoer

        What AA is trying to say is that correlation does not imply causation. As with the Pastafarianism example, just because global temperatures and the incidence of natural disasters increase with the reduction in number of pirates, are we right in saying that a decrease in the number pirates causes global warming?

        Roy is trying to interpret the statistics by giving his own version of the cause-and-effect paradigm. However, while correlations may exist, one cannot prove causation unless more research is conducted.

        Classic cum hoc ergo propter hoc.

      • be more open minded

        Why do people keep thinking you need a degree to survive or succeed?

        My mother only has an O level degree but through smarts and hardwork she owns and runs 2 SMEs and from that managed to buy a landed property.
        And for the record, no we don’t have special relationships with notable people.

        Please. Schooling is only one route.

      • Firebird03

        Obviously richer kids would get into better schools and have better results, given that their parents are wealthier and thus can spare more resources for their children to learn. Thus, the points regarding richer children being better off academically are invalid. GE kids are the same: their parents are wealthier and can allow their children to learn more and have more experiences.
        Just because some kid’s father/mother is a chairman or director does not mean that person will do well without qualifications. Where is the correlation between these two even? What’s a chairman got to do with academic success? The parents must be able to spend time with the child to teach him/her things, and I don’t believe that chairmen and directors are the ones with the free time to spend with their families, unless you can provide figures.
        Also, the large majority of people who strike Toto or 4D usually squander away the fortune, then revert back to their old lifestyles. You really need to read up more on this topic; don’t go around spreading false information with no basis. Illegal businesses don’t always make people into millionaires, otherwise every criminal under the sky would be a millionaire and all the police would have to do would be to go around arresting rich people, making the world a much poorer place. I believe that you yourself want to be rich, given your savage attack: How would you like to be discriminated against?
        Moving on to elite tuition. Of course, the rich can always go for elite tuition, that is true, but we live in a capitalist society. Unless you would like Singapore to be communist with everyone not having elite tuition, being the same, no chance to get rich? Sure. Go to North Korea.
        Communism and biased, false information with no basis. That is the direction you are heading.

  4. Sylph

    The argument perpetuated from this entire education debate seems to center on these few points

    1) The students who are stronger academically must be punished for daring to excel at the cost of their weaker peers
    2) “My child” is intelligent! It’s the government, schools and teachers who refuse to recognize that! He deserves to be in RI even though he has a PSLE score of 190!
    3) Let us all conveniently forget the other side of the statistics. The poor who made it to good schools and public unis based on their hard work and intelligence. And keep harping on those who fail to make it, not because of their financial situation, but because they just plain don’t fit into the system
    4) Everyone knows that JC is tougher and enters Uni easier than poly. Poly graduates wanting to enter uni is like wanting their cake and eating it too. They want an easy route into Uni without even trying
    5) Let us all fight for a system with no exams. There will be no incentive to excel, to study hard. Just play everyday, and let Mummy scream and shout about “equality” to get you into a good school

    In short, I’m disgusted all right. Disgusted at the sense of entitlement people have for a socialist system that will surely kill our country from the inside

    • Roy Ngerng

      No. The purpose of this article is to highlight the inequality of the education system in Singapore.

      Educational pathways should be opened to all students, irregardless of their educational qualifications.

      The current system presets a determinate path for each student and constraint them within a fixed route. Students who perform academically should be given the opportunity to excel in their chosen field.

      Similarly, students who perform well in other areas should also be given the opportunity and have to go onto a second tier route, where they end up in jobs with lower pay, simply because they didn’t do academically well at a young and are penalized by the system for it.

      A more equal education and diversified pathways which are not tiered in standards would ensure that our students will truly have equal opportunities.

      • Firebird03

        Yeah. How about GE kids then? They didn’t have a preset path given to them by the government: if you go into any GE centre and ask the GE kids, you will find the large majority of them come from neighbourhood schools. Oh, and by the way, do you know anyone in the GE at all?
        Your point about students who did badly at school being penalised by the system for it – it’s called meritocracy. Have you heard of it?

    • C

      Hey Sylph, I agree mostly with your points (:, but go easy on the ‘have your cake and eat it’ comparison to poly kids wanting to get into uni. That’s a really short-sighted and generalized comment that I’m sure won’t go down well with any poly kids reading this


      It is asses like you that prevent others from having acess to decent liberty and basic human necessities that when there is a war, I won’t shoot the enemy, I’ll shoot you first because folks like you are the reason why such imbalance system continues to perpetuate in Singapore. Why? BEcause you want the difference to exarcebate as it justifies your self-worth, that you’re better. I had a Vietnamese friend who works for MOE and she is a stupid scholar. She was ill-treated like shit in STMicroelectronics as even though she has a bachelors in engineering, she was an ass of an engineer. She ran into MOE to validate herself as she was Asean scholar you see. And when you speak to her, she will scream the best of the system. Why? BEcause they’re already biased to the very system that put them in good standing. We’re not talking about jealousy here…don’t get me wrong…we’re talking about building a society that is life friendly. Our policies in Singapore is fucking life unfriendly.

      • Sylph

        Inequality is a necessary by-product of meritocracy. If not, then what is the purpose of trying harder?

        Everyone seems to be unable to see the difference between equal opportunity and equal outcome. We should be striving towards equal opportunity and MOE has done their part in working towards it. Yet, everyone seems to expect equal outcome. So is everyone supposed to score straight A’s regardless of how well they did?

        The current education system actually works, it’s just the people who refuse to accept their shortcomings. Getting an F is not their fault, it’s the government’s fault for setting an exam that just happened to show their inability. Yes there are alternate pathways and those who excel in them should pursue them, but they must be made to know their place and to accept that they aren’t as intelligent as they thought.

        If the poly student picked poly knowing full well it is harder to get into Uni, for the lighter and easier workload, then they have absolutely no right to complain when they fail to get into Uni.

        Lastly, I know it’s very soothing to think the environment plays a 100% role in life outcomes since you can always claim full credit when you succeed, and blame the system when you don’t. Unfortunately, research has also shown that genes play a significant role too. Some people will be born with higher ability than others. and Singaporeans want to punish these people by denying them of opportunities to flourish because of jealousy. Singaporeans just want to pull these people down to their own low level to feel better about themselves, to downplay their true capabilities while trumpeting their own’s imaginary abilities

      • azn

        You talk about equal opportunity and equal outcome, and yes I agree that meritocracy is a system of equal opportunities, not outcome. However, you fail to realise that the education system is flawed and does not provide equal opportunities.

        Academic ability is not solely determined by genetics. Academic ability is also determined by the resources that are available to that person. A person from a higher socioeconomic class is able to afford better tuition, private schools, etc. This sets an uneven playing field which obviously benefits the rich, who have easier access to these resources. It may not play a 100% role in life outcomes but it does have a significant impact. Smart parents do not always produce smart children by nature. But rather it is the ability of their parents to provide better quality education for their children that puts them academically ahead of others.

        Secondly, in theory, meritocracy should be a system where a child from a low-income family has as much chance as a child from any other income group in “succeeding” academically. However, there are far greater issues such as poverty, which restricts their ability to even attend school. The government talks about the fact that it is compulsory for every singaporean child to attain at least primary school level education. However, there are so many children who still fall through the cracks, not as a result of their academic inability, but because of their economic statuses and their living environments.

        Our education system may not discriminate based on race, but it discriminates based on the socioeconomic class.

      • choofrfreoer

        “Because you want the difference to exarcebate as it justifies your self-worth, that you’re better.”

        What about those people who want to get into university, but complain when they get rejected, because it justifies their self-worth?

    • az

      Sylph, have you actually studied in a Poly before? It is actually not easier than JCs as you have to consistently work at 100% throughout the 3 years there instead of just studying for the major exams. And furthermore, people do choose to enter Polys out of their passion as Polys offer courses that are not available to JCs.

      But enough digressing. The main crux of this issue is that there is no equal opportunity given in this education system. An example is the affiliation system. With this system, anyone lucky enough to get into a ‘good’ school in the past would have an easier time progressing to another ‘good’ school compared to others. (VS -> VJC for example)

      Similarly, there is a huge difference in entering Unis for JC and Poly students. For example, to enter a Psychology course in NUS requires a Poly student with a diploma in Psychology to receive As in almost all modules throughout the 3 years whereas a JC student only needs to score reasonably well in the A levels.

      • Roy Ngerng

        To add on to az – if everyone has the same opportunities, should everyone have an equal chance at going to a local public university? Currently, it looks like there is a set limit as to how many polytechnic students can enter the local public universities.

        So, the broader question is – can all levels of tertiary institutions – and I include here the universities, polytechnics and ITEs – command the same standards and respect, especially in terms of wage, such that a person who graduates from any of these would be on the same footing?

        FYI, I graduated from the NUS, but I believe in equal opportunities for all – and this is a system practiced by many other developed countries. So, we are not talking about changing the system to something that is out of the world. It is Singapore which has a system that is drastically uncommon, and might I put, marginalising.

      • Sylph

        Maintaining work over 3 years means there are chances to make up when you screw up. Whereas it’s all or nothing at A Levels. Well it’s entirely their prerogative to enter Poly because of their interest, just that they shouldn’t whine about the accompanying disadvantage. It’s like I decide to play more games instead of studying because it’s my interest, then whine when I don’t get into Uni because how dare they refuse to acknowledge my awesome talent.

        Affiliation does not make much of a difference, and I seriously think the differences between schools are overestimated. It’s the nature of the students too. Why blame MOE when students simply refuse to make use of the opportunities handed to them? They should be mature enough to think for their future and seize the opportunity for enrichment when it comes along, not sit back and watch it drift past then complain later about it

        They can get a job with a Diploma while an A Level cert is pretty useless for job hunting..If Poly graduates are willing to cut their pay to match that of PSLE graduates, ITE graduates or O Level graduates, then they may have the right to even think about asking Uni grads to cut their pay too. Face it, as much as everyone claims to desire equal pay, that claim is only for equal pay with someone who earns more than you, and there will be the urge to ensure those who earn less than you continue to earn less. Otherwise, let’s all fail exams and not bother, the money is the same anyway!

        Finally, I have doubts about whether we should be blindly mimicking Finland’s education system. Finland and Singapore are vastly different, and their education system works that way because of how their society functions. They are economically secure, being part of the EU and can afford to relax and play around with more welfare and schizz, but Singapore simply cannot afford to do the same

      • Roy Ngerng

        (1) It’s clear from the statistics that there is an intentional aim to allow only a small number of students into the local public university. The education system is clearly unequal.

        (2) Singapore has the largest wage disparity between workers of different educational levels, as I will show in an article soon. This artificial wage differentiation is a product, as well as a result of the unequal education system.

        Look, wages across the board in Singapore are depressed – Singaporeans earn the lowest wages among the high-income countries. So, for polytechnic graduates and for workers of other educational qualifications as well, their wages are further depressed.

        According to the NUS Social Work department and the SMU Lien Foundation, it has been found that the poverty line in Singapore is estimated to be at $1,500. Polytechnic graduates earn just above this – at $2,000, while those without a polytechnic diploma would earn even lower, and even lower than the poverty line.

        If we think it’s fine that Singaporeans can and should be allowed to earn less than $1,500 or $800 and think that should be acceptable, then I think our education system has done nothing to develop a value system in us, nor has it taught us empathy or compassion. Then our education system would have failed us.

      • choofrfreoer

        AZ, have you ever seen the standard among the top few in JC? If you are comparing the top few of poly to the bottom few of JC, then I have nothing to say.

        Let’s solve this with a simple method. Find me your poly student who achieves As in almost all modules, I’ll meet with him and we’ll compete to see who’s better.

        As I always say, it’s because of lack of contact with the top few in JCs, that’s why you people always think that “all As” in poly is excellent.

      • Firebird03

        Roy, I will only talk about your first point. The rest barely have any basis.
        Obviously there is a plan to only allow a few students into the universities. How would you like one whole cohort of 40,000 students in the same university?
        Your point is unspecific.

    • Yua

      @Sylph: My O level score was good enough to get me into a mid-level JC, but I chose to enter a poly instead, not for an easy way to get into university without even trying. I am baffled that you would come up with that line of thought. Poly was a struggle to keep my grades as perfect as possible to stand a chance of getting into a publicly funded university and the O level grade makes up 20% of the score taken into account by the university during application. In a way, it is very similar to the university lifestyle, every test and assignment counts and can screw you over if you decide to goof around. It was so consistently stressful I regretted not going to JC, because in JC only the final examinations count to your university application.

      I think you sound like a fairly reasonable person, but for this matter it would be good if you didn’t make a judgement call on it, since you don’t have much information or background on the subject.

    • ptming

      Sylph, I absolutely agree with your point. I just hope that what you stated at the last part of your post will not become a reality.

      • Roy Ngerng

        An equitable system has been shown to benefit the broad spectrum of society and allow all the citizens to move up, instead of only some.

        Case in point – Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark are the most equal countries in the world, yet they are also the most competitive, most innovative, and mind you, the most happy.

        At the same time, they are also some of the richest nations in the world, and their citizens are paid the highest salaries in the world.

        Have the Nordic countries failed? Mind you, Singapore’s GDP growth is the lowest in the Asian region. If anything, this is also prove that an unequal society can also produce terrible results.

        The PAP government can continue to use the rhetoric that a more equal system can cause the downfall of Singapore. Such sweeping statements can no longer hold water nor are they at all logical anymore. The success of countries which are equal have proven the PAP’s logic to be flawed and unforgivable.

        When the huge proportion of Singaporeans earn depress wages which do not grow, and where we have the highest poverty rate among the developed countries and countries in his region, and the highest income inequality among the high-income countries and one of the highest in the world, yet with our government being the richest and with Singapore having one of the highest reserves and surpluses in the world, it is no longer an excuse nor is it reasonable for the PAP government to shift away from its responsibilities to protect it’s people.

        Not protecting Singaporeans is akin to treachery of the highest order.

      • choofrfreoer

        And you conveniently ignore the fact that Singapore tops all of those countries in GDP (PPP) per capita in most surveys like IMF and CIA.

        Then you try to turn the attention on how low Singapore’s GDP growth rate is, because you can’t really say anything positive about the GDP (PPP) per capita itself, or it would run contrary to your stand.

        Did you ever ask where the Nordic countries made their fortunes from? Can I also remind you that the Nordic countries are rich in natural resources, which Singapore does not have the liberty of exploiting?

        It’s oh so easy to say “Singapore should follow the Nordic model”. But without the same resources, can we?

    • choofrfreoer

      My sentiments exactly!

      Roy has evidently never interviewed Sec 4/5 English teachers before. Let’s see how many of them relate stories of relatively smart people (usually from Chinese-educated backgrounds) opting for the poly route because they fear writing in GP.

      Roy has obviously never even considered the case of a JC student who gets a mere pass for his/her A-levels. While a poly diploma is a professional certification of skills, an A-level pass is merely a general certificate which would command way lower wages than a diploma. And this JC person is effectively stuck in limbo now with low pay; or he/she could sign up for expensive private diplomas. In short, a poly diploma certifies one for work, but an A-level certificate certifies one for university.

      If we have a socialist system where the not-so-capable will benefit at the cost of the more capable, what makes you think the capable will continue to stay in Singapore?

      • H

        Nordic nations are welfare states thus the higher salaries(accompanied by a high income tax).
        Why do people want to compare those states with us without understanding the difference in systems?

      • choofrfreoer

        Bring it on, Roy. I’m fully aware of the different types of taxation policies and I’ll be waiting to see your future posts.

        While I disagree with most of your logic, I must admit that it is indeed illuminating. It allows me to understand why people dislike the government. It lets me to know that this may not be malicious, but simply an ignorance of economics and politics.

        Example in point: Your interpretation of GDP and how low the wages are when compared to GDP. Either you 1) didn’t know that national income is spent on capital or current goods or you 2) knew, but somehow didn’t raise that issue. Sure, you noted a certain percentage of the GDP “going” into wages, but didn’t you ever wonder where the rest of the GDP went to?

      • Firebird03

        So I guess now Roy will just try and write another article some big contradiction to his points appear, rather than explaining his point directly?

    • anon

      I agree with most of your statements. I am in NYGH currently, still a student, but I think perhaps I should share some of my thoughts about this. My classmates and GEP batchmates have all worked hard to get into this school. I don’t think that the education system is unfair, because it allows everyone who gets the grades to enter a good school. Maybe those with a more privileged background would benefit more as they have more tuition, but based on personal experience, I think that these factors do not play as big a role as pure hard work does. During my P6 year, I had 5 tuition lessons a week, one for each subject, including higher chinese. I’m not rich; I live in a HDB flat while most of my classmates are either in landed property or condos, but i have personally observed the hard work they put into their studies, and few of them even have tuition at all. It isn’t like the financial background of students are considered before they are admitted into a school, unless you have stats for that? Otherwise, it could be pure coincidence, or more favourable circumstances for the student that cannot be attributed to an unfair education system.

  5. AA

    No one is penalized by the system. This is an education system, not an system to succeed in life. This is where you are totally confused. If you cannot perform well academically even after you give your best, it just means that you are not suitable for studying. There is nothing wrong with that because there are other routes to succeed in life.

    Poly students do get paid less because they are vying for knowledge-intensive jobs with uni graduates. For example, there’s no reason to pay an accounting poly student more than a graduate because the the latter is deemed more valuable. Ask any HR person and they will tell you why. It’s pretty similar to why phd/mba holders are paid more than degree/masters. That is not to say that a poly graduate will forever earn less than its uni counterpart. There are company programme to send poly graduate who have performed well in the jobs to further their studies but that is provided that they can successfully enroll into the uni.
    Nevertheless, there are also job scopes that are not knowledge-intensive, like sales do not require any advanced degree but require a multitude of factors. In such jobs, there are MANY sec/poly/ITE holders who earn more than degree holders.

    Instead of criticising, propose an solution. That’s also one problem of education. There are many educated people who think that they are intelligent and start to make flaw/one sided analysis to mislead the others. That’s a disgrace to our education system.

    • Roy Ngerng

      The purpose of education is to learn.

      If our focus on learning is to pass examinations and strive ahead of others but forget the very essence of learning – to learn, to grow and also in the area of personal development, empathy, understanding and respect, then we have not learned.

      If polytechnic students or students of the other educational qualifications do not get paid because they are less “valuable”, as you would so choose to put, then it’s the role of the government to make a polytechnic diploma more “valuable” by inculcating more skills.

      But the problem with our educating system isn’t that some students are more valuable than others, it is that we “believe” that some students are more valuable than others, and thus we resign them to certain course of study and resign them to receive a certain pay.

      If our inherent ideas of people do not change, then we will continue to entrench the inequality in our system, and continue to allow a proportion of our people to be disadvantaged.

      • choofrfreoer

        “The purpose of education is to learn” in non-academic terms. No, you are wrong. That is the ideal.

        The pragmatic and true purpose of education is to prepare students to for their work. It’s to prepare engineers for industry and architects for construction.

        Who cares however empathetic, understanding and respectful we are, if we lose our jobs to foreigners who are better qualified? And it isn’t as simple as shutting the door to foreigners. Read Economics to find out more, but I’ll just say that even if you shut the door to foreigners, your produced goods will be at a lower quality because people are less qualified and these goods cannot fetch high prices on the international market.

        Education in other ways is just a positive consequence, not the main objective.

      • Victoria

        Hi Roy,

        I think you are confusing basic education and vocational education. Granted, the purpose of basic education is to teach you how to learn, but vocational education is meant to enable you to perform at a job. Your salary, among other factors, is largely decided by how much value (measured in hard dollars, not how “valuable” they are in humanistic terms) that person in that role brings to the company’s bottom line, and how much it costs to replace you. Higher-skilled workers are paid higher because the work they do simply makes the company more money, or hiring the person would reduce company’s training cost/downtime/margin of error, and/or it’s much harder to replace them than to replace lower-skilled workers.

        If a poly grad has proven to be able to perform the same tasks as a uni grad with the same degree of satisfaction, then yes there is no reason why they shouldn’t be paid the same. However, not all jobs are created equal; in fact they are most likely designed with different needs for knowledge and capacity. If I’m a recruiter, and I know that this entry-level job that I’m recruiting for requires some academic prowess or specific skill sets that I know certain university degrees would cultivate, then between a fresh uni grad and a fresh poly grad, I have a higher chance of picking the former. However, if you add 3 years of relevant working experience to the poly grad, then it’s a different conversation. For jobs like real estate agents, there’s no distinctive advantage between hiring a uni grad and a poly grad, so starting pay would most likely be similar (actually it’s commission-based anyway).

        Coming back to your proposal to “equalize” diplomas and degrees: you said that “it’s the role of the government to make a polytechnic diploma more “valuable” by inculcating more skills”. But if there’s no distinction between a poly diploma and a university degree, then why should we have different systems in the first place? We have different systems so as to cater to people with different interests, directions in lives, abilities etc, and people have to accept that different choices lead to different outcomes.

        The biggest “problem” with our education system, as I see it, is that while it channels people to different paths and produces workers that fit into different parts of the economic food chain, it does not teach people to accept that it’s ok to live life by your own definition of success. And because it exalts mostly the academically talented, most of us are taught to tie our self-worth to our piece of paper. The outcome of this system is that those who came out at the top of it feel a great sense of self-entitlement (of course, they worked hard their whole lives for this), sometimes to the extent of snobbishness, while those who are not part of party at the top feel let down by the government (because the government is always to be blamed), and sometimes even outrightly jealous. The more serious result, though, is that we neglect many other important areas of development, such as entrepreneurship, creativity, artistic excellence etc. Many of these traits are even more crucial to the survival of Singapore in the decades to come, and they cannot be cultivated without a broader-based approach to education.

        p.s. For your information, I came from a low income family, worked my way to the top schools. I can assure you that there are many opportunities available to the financially disadvantaged, but being able to tap into those opportunities depends on how academically-inclined one is.

      • Roy Ngerng

        Hi, thanks for the sharing.

        In reply to your comment on how diplomas should be different from universities, Singapore pays the highest wage differentiation between someone with a university degree equivalent and someone with a polytechnic equivalent, as compared to the other high income countries.

        Other countries have significantly smaller wage disparity.

        The question to ask is – why do we differentiate or segregate citizens of differing educational levels so distinctly?


      • H

        Other nations also differentiate citizens of differing educational levels. Its a society run by meritocracy Roy.
        So lets say you’re a university grad and you’re receiving less pay compared to an O level dropout. Would we expect another article complaining about how unfair the society is?

      • Roy Ngerng

        Other nations have much lesser differentiation – will show this in an article soon.

        And also, Singapore has the highest Gini coefficient, or income inequality, among the high-income countries, and one of the highest in the world.

        There’s no other way to explain it.

      • choofrfreoer

        It appears that other readers such as Victoria are able to grasp the crux of my discussion. Maybe I tend to be sarcastic, but yes, that’s because I generally think that people should get their definitions and facts right before attempting any sort of argumentative essay.

        No one is saying that basic education is unnecessary. It definitely helps, but take note that this is not a right (as defined by “human rights”), it is a privilege. And as Victoria has said, the point of education from secondary school onwards is for vocational purposes.

        You have evidently never seen the standard of top scorers being rejected from NUS Law and Medicine. I personally know someone who got #7 in the world for International Chemistry Olympiad (the top in Singapore for Chemistry) and a perfect score for A-levels who got rejected by Medicine. Oh, and contrary to popular belief, JC Chemistry is more important than Biology if one wants to get into Medicine since you don’t even have to take Biology to be eligible to apply but Chemistry is a necessity.

        Your points are only valid if yes, the polytechnic student is more academically-inclined than the JC student, yet failed to get in. Are your rejected polytechnic students better than #7 in the world? You could argue that the government should build more universities to meet demand, but that’s a separate issue so I won’t talk about it here.

      • Poorkid

        I’m simply flabbergasted at your logical fallacies. A Polytechnic diploma holder should earn as much as a University degree holder? How does that, to anyone in the right mind, make sense? Let me just point out a few things here:
        – A graduate with a Bachelors degree, on average, spends 3 more years studying in a more rigorous environment than the average polytechnic diploma holder. That’s a lot more resources spent.
        – It is very well known that only the top 10% or so of Polytechnic graduates will be able to enter a public local university. Why? I have a few possible and highly likely reasons; you don’t require as high a grade to get into a polytechnic as a JC, hence, to ensure that the students, coming in using different certificates, have the ability to even survive in the same course in university (in which, mind you, majority of the modules are bell-curved), they need to make sure that the students they’re getting from the institution that’s easier to get into is as competent and hence, they set the bar high. Another reason is the disparity in the pay of a polytechnic diploma holder and the average A Level Certificate holder, one is considered a tetiary education, the other a secondary and the difference is pretty wide, if the latter can even get a job. As mentioned by someone earlier, Poly prepares you for work, JC prepares you for uni, so it’s pretty obvious which one the unis will give more places to.
        – Even if the government inculcates additional skills to the polytechnic students, will employers notice the change? I think the problem lies in the Asian meritocratic mindset of our society, not the government and to be honest, the government can’t do anything to change that in an instant. They’re already taking steps in that direction, and they’re making ridiculous requests from employers to take in poly and ite grads and expend more money in paid internships and workshops for “job-skills”.
        – As to why not everyone can enter a local university, the answer is honestly pretty straightforward. If everyone has an NUS/NTU/SMU/SUTD degree, the degree itself becomes worthless, it does nothing in distinguishing the ability and aptitude of a student. If diamonds were as abundant as soil, would they cost as much as they do? If we want to maintain the

        Oh and in response to your original point, the said phrase was “every school is a good school”, not “every school is the best school”. Of course some schools are better than others, some schools will provide programmes for students who are talented in certain areas and are more difficult to get into, but this isn’t just evident in STEM areas, we have schools catered to those who are talented in the arts and sports too. Singapore aims for schools to give equal opportunity from the beginning, while we can’t do much about family background being a factor, I think it is safe to say that all primary schools in Singapore give students a fair basic education and an equal opportunity to get into secondary school – that being the same PSLE examination. While I do think that the education system is far from perfect, I think that it is good at giving all students good opportunities, disregarding family background (such as overseas exchange programmes, overseas CIP, a good education and so on) I also do, however, think it is absolutely necessary to stream students and separate students based on their academic ability in school. GEP is a great platform for intelligent students to actually use their intellectual ability, it challenges them. Why can’t the average student also be put through the GEP? It has been deemed too difficult for them to handle. It’s really as simple as that.

        For some reason, you seem to really hate the government. You always talk about standing up for the lower income families and equality and whatnot. Well, I come from a family with a household income of less than 5 digits a year. I started out in a reasonably good primary school, didn’t get into GEP, went to a decent secondary school, then transferred to an elite school and subsequently entered a top university. I transferred because I was so bored I slept through most of my classes, spent all my time online and still ended topping the level in some subjects. The school I initially attended was definitely a good school, I can attest to that. Many of my friends from that school also went on to top universities, some even obtained prestigious government scholarships. Both the schools I attended were good, one just better catered to my academic ability. If a student is good in a certain area, shouldn’t they at the very least be given the chance to further their ability in that area? Elite schools exist so that students who are excellent at academics are put in an environment that challenges them and pushes them more. I’m not ashamed one bit to tell you I’ve been living off bursaries given by the government – Yes, bursaries were sufficient to cover my school fees and basic living expenses. I’m very thankful to the government, actually. If I were in just about any other country I don’t think I could have come up to where I am now. 🙂 I don’t know what background you came from, but please don’t try to speak for people with circumstances you can’t even comprehend.

  6. AA


    Yes, education is important but is that the only thing to succeed in life? Like I’ve mentioned, the author uses statistics selectively so I will not comment on his statistics analysis. My point is simple, no Singaporean will get rejected to any school because of their financial status. In large, majority of students who could not make it into top schools were rejected because they did not meet the cut off grade. No point blaming the system because the child could not make it. In fact, this just proves how successful the system is because every parents like yourself wants the kid to make it into top schools, to mingle with future leaders, best study environment etc.. You talk about elitism and capitalism as if that they are evil. Do you give your kids tuition? Why do you want your kid to enter a top school? You, like everyone else hopes to use the education system as a medium for your kid to succeed in life and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, if you failed to use the system to your advantage or like you say if the system failed you, should you criticise the system when it worked for many others?

    I’m not saying that the system is w/o flaws. I’m saying that many fundamental problems lies with the people using the system instead of the system itself. These problems are well known and are found almost worldwide in every other education system. However, some critics choose to politicise the problems because the education minister said that every school is good. Again, many of these essays surfaced only recently. I would not believe if you were to say that the analysis is not against the minister and ultimately the PAP. Do these people really want the best of all singaporeans or are they just against PAP? To each its view.

    • Roy Ngerng

      No. The statistics were not used selectively. These are the ONLY statistics that the government was pushed to release because the opposition parties pushed the PAP to release them.

      If you want a more conclusive and comprehensive analysis, please write to the PAP government to ask them to release the full set of information.

    • Roy Ngerng

      Also, it’s easy to assume that children “cannot make it” – as you describe – because they might not be academically inclined.

      But you forget that if a child has more financial resources and in school, if he or she enters an elite school, the child will be exposed to a much wider resources that will allow the child to not only get a better headstart, but to also advance up the academic ladder faster. This has already been proven by many research.

      In South Korea, the government has mandated that schools provide additional free classes for students after school, so that even children without the financial means would still be able to receive additional coaching.

      In Finland in the 1960s, the system was unequal, where students were seen as have different abilities and streamed at an early age. In the reforms in the 1970s and 1980s, the Finnish society decided to acknowledge that all children can excel, given adequate resources and attention. And so, they changed their system into one which is equal and which respects the abilities of all the children. Teachers thus spend time in smaller classes focusing on the needs and personal growth of each child.

      All people are of high abilities, if we believe that they are. If we choose to believe some are not good enough, we will create a system that will set some people behind. If we continue on the path to inequality, there is research which shows how inequality will create further instability, economically and socially.

      Ironically, it is the very people who believe in an unequal society, because they want to get ahead and feel secure in life, who will they themselves cause instability to occur in society.

      • B

        Have you consider the remedial classes offered to students who are not doing as well? That does mean that additional resources are given to those lagging behind academically. Have you also considered the new university SIT that is offering degrees to poly graduates? Can you provide statistics to show how many poly grads are given an opportunity to get their degrees? I would say, opportunities are not as limited as you have portrayed. (FYI, if you average out the lower fees in Poly with the higher fees in SIT, the fees are only marginally higher than one studying in a public uni)

  7. AA

    Roy Ngerng,

    We have fundamentally different ideals so there’s no point in future rebutting. However, I sure do get what you are trying to say. I’m an avid reader of your blog because I like how you present some of your ideas and it’s always nice to see something from another perspective. I had to write because I disagree with the contents and conclusion of this article. Hope you will keep on writing.


    • Roy Ngerng

      Thanks AA,

      My main point is – if inequality persists in our society – in education, healthcare etc – history has shown that an unequal society will go down the path of demise, and Singapore will not be exempted from that.

      If we want to protect Singapore and protect ourselves, we have to pursue equality as an ideal. History has proven that it’s not a choice.

      Thank you, AA. Thank you for reading and the exchange of ideas.


  8. Johnathan Lim

    Hi Roy!
    What that vice principal said is spot on! I’m a teacher and I say that’s indeed true. There are schools which are not ‘good schools because of their atrocious disciplinary issues. Chestnut Drive Secondary, Woodlands Secondary, Balestier Hill Secondary, Northview Secondary, Kent Ridge Secondary, Queenstown Secondary, Siling Secondary are well-know schools with serious disciplinary issues that range from a scale of 1-10; they’re a 9. These schools have high attrition rates where teachers resign because their principals do not support their teachers as they’re busy climbing the career ladder. Sick leave are rampant in these schools especially with teachers teaching the more challenging NT and NA classes; including the tail-end express classes. These disciplinary issues are sweep under the rug by the establishment.

    • rdr

      Hi Roy,

      It is clear from the work that you put into these posts that you are very passionate about the welfare of your fellow Singaporeans. I would like to make a few points in response to this article. I don’t really want to nit pick but broadly:

      1) It seems like you came to a conclusion first and then used the data and tables to communicate your conclusion. You deny that the statistics were used selectively because they were published by the government. I don’t think you understand what is wrong with the way you use the information here. But think honestly about whether you formed your opinion first and then set out to craft a post later. This already tells you whats wrong.

      2) AA, above, makes many valid points and I hope you will consider them carefully. Again, don’t let the conclusion you arrived at affect how you consider opposing views. You might receive many more comments about this article and future ones.

      • Roy Ngerng

        Hi rdr,

        No – I did not come to the conclusion first. I never knew about these statistics until I started my research 2 weeks ago.

        And this is when I got a shock when I saw the statistics.

        Perhaps it might be wise not to interpret my actions based on how you would perceive yours.

        Thank you.


  9. G

    Referring to Chart 4, and your conclusion – “Shocking, isn’t it? The chances of a polytechnic student entering these courses in next to zero, literally!”

    No. You’re confusing admissions rates with successful application rates. The relevant statistic to support your conclusion would be the number of polytechnic students admitted into these courses divided by number of polytechnic students who apply for such courses.

    I’m not sure what this statistic is – perhaps it would support your conclusion, perhaps it wouldn’t. But given what you’ve presented, you’re not entitled to make this conclusion.

      • Roy Ngerng

        Hi G,

        Whether a person gets to enter a course and graduate with a degree in that course is more important than whether the person had competed with a selected pool of people and got in.

        The basic idea is – everyone should be assessed on their individual merits, and not on which institution that they had come from.


  10. G

    (sorry for the comments spam) Hmm, I realize I might have misinterpreted your conclusion. I guess you probably meant to say the entrance rate, regardless of application rate, was low. I grant that this is a substantive conclusion to make.

    But I’d like to question a couple of things. Your entrance stats are of Law, Dentistry, Medicine, Architecture. Why only choose these? First, this is classic cherry-picking of statistics. These fields represent a tiny minority of university courses; there are plenty of other great courses around.

    Second, why on earth assume that these are the only courses worth studying? Why is the hallmark of a good education entrance into such fields? There are so many other ways one can pursue a meaningful and sustainable life for himself or herself, and contribute to society as well. This is a very problematic mindset that seems to be systemic in Singapore. You seem to have fallen for this trap yourself. You’ve really defined “good” in very narrow terms that are pretty unjust, and downplay the value of other routes.

    In general, I actually have sympathy for the overall view that inequality is a big problem for Singapore’s education system. But I do have issues with your method of argument, and some of the assumptions you make here. I hope you find these comments worth reading!

    • Roy Ngerng

      Hi G,

      As I had mentioned above, the statistics of the Law, Dentistry, Medicine, Architecture faculties are the only ones that has been released by the PAP government – and this is after the opposition parties forced them to release this information.

      No one else has any public access to the other data – as I had also mentioned, you might want to advocate to the government to release the other information, so that we can come to a more thorough analysis.

      My question is – why doesn’t the government want to release this data?


      • Firebird03

        Because this data is from the universities, and the government has to pressure the universities to give it to them because they are in turn being pressured by the opposition.
        If you were a university head, would you like the government coming to your office and demanding that you give them info immediately regarding their student admissions?
        Of course, you might say that you would be fair to all students, that you would have no problem releasing this data.
        So how about the students and their parents then?

  11. Caleb

    Roy, I don’t know what your intention here is, but very clearly, you neglected to understand that not all students are equal. There is a correlation between intelligence and educational qualification, a correlation between family wealth and intelligence, a correlation between parents’ intelligence and child’s intelligence.

    The sad fact of life is that everyone is born different. If you come from a poor family, chances are, you are also not very smart, or not very hard working, or any of the virtuous traits related to successful people. I am not saying that if you are poor, you are stupid. No. I am merely stating the fact that there is a correlation. I am not so free to dig out the data to back up my claim, so, if you will, please do it for me.

    What is a good school? A good school is a school that knows how to best nurture its students. Different schools cater to different types of children. An ‘elite’ school surrounds its students with other students who are similar to them and propel them further. A not-so-elite school slows down education to a pace that best benefits its students. Does this not make sense?

    • Roy Ngerng

      Hi Caleb,

      No – in Finland, in the 1960s, their education system was highly unequal. They had believed that all students have different learning abilities, and they had assumed that some students were smarter than the others.

      In the 1960s and 1970s, they started a conversation where they decided that all students have the same learning capabilities, as long as you provide them with the resources and opportunities.

      And with that, they changed the system to be more equal – all students will receive free education and equal access. This is also why that in the latest PISA ranking, Finland has one of the lowest differences in performance between the schools, because they believe that they should accord all students due respect and belief, and they did. They changed the system, and yet they were able to achieve high standards with equitable outcomes.


      On the idea that if someone comes from a poor family that they are “not very smart” or “not very hard working”, there is already evidence to dispel such discriminatory thinking.

      It has been shown that for people who come from poor families, because they are forced to allocate a larger amount of brain space towards thinking about how to make ends meet, they are forced to neglect to think about the other areas of life, and to even spend time on studying, for example.

      But it has been shown that once we increase the money that the poor families are able to receive, they would be able to settle that part about worrying about making ends meet on a daily basis, and to think other the others aspects. Their children thus stay in school longer and would perform better,

      The fact of the matter is the poor are treated poorly in Singapore – if you only have $400 on a monthly basis to survive on, you have to spend time thinking about what food to eat, what food not to it, whether to even take the bus or take the MRT, whether you should even step out of your house. Do you have time to take care of your children, or to advise them to go to school, or help them with their work, when this will cost extra money? Will you have time to think about the other aspects of life?

      Our system is discriminatory. People do not start from equal outcomes and until we ensure that people do, we cannot make the remark that people have different innate abilities.


  12. Peter

    Mr. Roy, may I humour you with my interpretations of the various statistics.

    Chart 1: GEP students are in the programme because they have categorised as ‘privileged’ base on the standardised test. Without criticising on the appropriateness of the test, let’s assume GEP students tend to be more academically inclined. Base on that assumption, one can expect them to perform better than their counter parts. If the GEP students are already deemed smarter, the additional teachers may only serve to bring out the natural inclination of these students and even without the additional teaching staffs, GEP students are probably going to do better anyway. Certainly, you may argue that the government should place these “additional teachers” in the non-GEP schools. But if you consider the shortage of teachers in Singapore, it’s unlikely that we have enough to cater to all non-GEP schools. Back to Chart 1, it makes statistical sense that 90% of GEP students will fall in the top 10 percentile and most of them (80% in this case) would enter elite schools with/without DSA. Base on natural academic inclination (since no one is equal), it also makes statistical sense that they would attain higher qualification. Going to the root of Chart 1, I can only say that genetic endowment plays a highly significant role which I think that it isn’t fair to use that against the government as they have no control of genetic quality.

    Chart 3, 4 & 18: It’s a long standing argument about university admissions of JC and polytechnic students. But from fairness point of view using the only common base of academic performance (i.e. O-Level), it’s only meritocratic to award JC students with priority admissions to professional degrees. Considering the number of academic qualified A-level students in JC and the limited vacancies of these programmes in universities, there is just no/hardly any room to admit polytechnic students.

    Others: The correlation between household income and education attainment. As much as you might hate to admit this, intelligent parents have higher chances of producing intelligent offsprings. It is also a statistical fact that intelligent people tends to be more successful in their careers and as such, wealthier. As a society, it is gracious for the rich to provide for the poor (e.g. progressive income tax). However, the poor shouldn’t expect the rich to provide for them. I doubt that the Scandinavian model would work in Singapore without harming the general economy. Do note that those at the bottom of the ‘food-chain’ would tend to suffer more during bad times. Singapore is simply too small to pursue equality without causing negative impact to the general economy.

    Truth is, this is the fact of life and it is disgusting. However, to attribute it entirely to the ruling government is myopic. In addition, rather than plain criticising, perhaps you might wish to construct possible solutions and evaluate on their feasibilities. Most of the time, one will grow to appreciate what the local leaders have done.

    Hope this sheds some light. Cheers.

    • Roy Ngerng

      I believe that the Vice Principal of Jurong West Secondary School will be able to shed more light on this for you – from our policymakers’ point of view, have they already intentionally segregate the students and segregate their pathways?

      The statistics seem to affirm that, and as you have said, it’s disgusting.

      On the point on whether “intelligent parents have higher chances of producing intelligent offsprings”, I have dispelled this notion in a comment above.

      On the opportunity of entry into university, I have also said above, and I quote here, “The basic idea is – everyone should be assessed on their individual merits, and not on which institution that they had come from.”


      • Peter

        Please provide me with the solutions for the following then:

        1. Given that JC & Polytechnic students (even within the polytechnics themselves) practice different assessments/examinations, how would you propose assessing candidates from these distinctive institutions apart from falling back to the most common national examinations (i.e. O-Level)?

        2. You can’t simply dispel the importance of genetic makeup as a factor of success. Some people are born with superior IQ while there are others who suffer the short end of the genetic pool. It’s the law of evolution. In terms of social efficiency, it makes sense to dedicate scarce resources to those who have higher chances of succeeding because it’s easier (also more feasible) to cater to the cream of the crop than the general average. As I mentioned, Singapore does face a shortage of teaching stuff. So base on current situation, we have two options: i. Dedicate more teachers to teach the cream of the crop which is feasible in terms of resource or ii. For the sake of ‘fairness’, we should just leave things at status quo even though the gifted kids would probably excel better than the average kids academically wise. What’s your choice?

        A “good school” is not only measured by the academic achievements of its students. It’s the ability to holistically bring out the best out of every individual. Back to the comment by Pushparani Nadarajah, the argument is severely flawed. Consider the following sentences: If our leaders put their children in ‘these’ schools, then the schools must be great. Since our leaders don’t put their children in ‘these’ schools, so the schools must be less than great. In logical argument, this is a fallacy of denying the antecedent.

        For example: If you speak english, you are a human. Since you don’t speak english, you are not a human. I hope this sheds some light on your interpretation of statements.


      • Roy Ngerng

        Hi Peter,

        (1) Common entry exams as well, to allow junior college and polytechnic students to be assessed on an equivalent assessment.

        (2) Reduce class sizes, allow each teacher the autonomy to develop customised plans for fewer students and bring out their personal development and growth, and allow each student to develop to their fullest academic potential; subsidise heavily on childcare education so that all students pay the same low fees for childcare, regardless of which childcare school the child goes to.

        With regards to Vice-President Pushparani Nadarajah’s comment, I think it is best for you to speak to her yourself. But quite obviously, a standing ovation and rousing online support doesn’t quite align with your personal beliefs.


      • Peter

        Hi Roy

        As expected, it’s always easier to forward criticism than to propose feasible solutions.

        1. Firstly even at the international level, there is no standardised assessment for JC and polytechnic institutions. Before you go on to propose a GCE A-Level equivalent for every possible diploma disciplines in Polytechnic, I implore you to consider the feasibility once again. From the pragmatism view, even if we assume that the Singapore of tomorrow decides to scrap polytechnics and advance every students to JCs, it is still likely that the JC students may end up doing better and hence, scoring a better chance with the scarce vacancies of Singapore’s three mainstream universities (i.e. SMU, NUS, NTU) – an indication that may be statistically drawn from the GCE O-Level they took 2 years prior. So what’s the possible implication in this scenario? Those who fail to admit themselves into universities would be stuck with a worthless qualification (i.e. GCE A-Level with reference to the job market). It’s precisely for this reason that polytechnics with job-market-friendly diplomas are introduced. While you’re only looking at probability of universities admission by polytechnic students which is the upside of a two-sided coin, you should also consider the risk that JC students are undertaking by going through the GCE A-level system. Coming from a JC system myself, I’ve seen many of my peers joining polytechnics after their bad performance in the GCE A-level system. Life is about opportunity cost and I think it would be value adding to every individual who wires this decision-guiding principle into them. Nevertheless, I look forward to more well thought out solutions from you with regards to this matter.

        2a. Reduce class sizes would mean building more classes (and schools) to accommodate this proposal. Resources are scarce (in this case, land). What’s the point of dedicating more resources/land to education if there is none left to cater to other aspects of development such as the economy? However, I do agree that Singapore schools generally cater to a narrow scope of academic disciplines – too small to meet the needs of every individuals. At this point, may i also kindly cite the benefits of economies of scale. the golden rule to successful management (of both corporations and nations) is efficient allocation of resources. It is true that everyone is unique but the world (especially in Singapore) is simply too small for everybody. Before anyone starts to cite successful cases of other developed countries, do consider the many limits and differences of Singapore to these countries.

        2b. With regards to heavy subsidy, I’m sure that it’s feasible given the right conditions and environment such as the Scandinavian. Subsidy is a form of fiscal expenditures which has to be funded by government revenue such as tax. Heavy subsidy comes with heavy taxation (up to 40% in Scandinavian I believe). Would you as an individual be willing to forsake 40% of your earned income as subsidy to benefit the less fortunate of society? If you do, may I propose that you kindly contribute 30% of your income as educational charity to just one low-income family? The effect is similar as that of a government initiative. But the downside for the latter is that investors and the rich may start pulling out from this country state and with no job lying around, guess who suffers the most? I hope that you have a definite answer to this rhetorical question if you have considered causalities.

        You just commit another fallacy of “crowd thinking”. Just because there is a standing ovation doesn’t mean that statements made by any individual are less susceptible to fallacious intention to misled. Nevertheless, I stand by the fact that Singapore’s education is not perfect and so does in many countries. It’s a difficult barrier to overcome and I think it takes more than a criticism (with no constructive solution) vice-principle-know-it-all to solve this issue. Considering that you are pretty quick in second-doubting the ruling government in their various initiatives, may I also urge you to apply the same standard to those outside of the political arena? It’s only sound and fair to do so which I think we all can benefit from by being logically and analytical sound thinkers.


      • Firebird03

        Hoho! You have dispelled the notion that intelligent parents produce intelligent offspring?
        Roy, I will assume that you are familiar with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution? Survival of the fittest? Yes?
        Well then. What makes you say that intelligent parents don’t produce intelligent offspring, that they produce stupid offspring? What’s the logical basis for that? Why would nature want intelligent people to produce stupid people? I believe nature is much smarter than that.
        Nature is not equal. Life is not fair. Nature is not equal, because its job is to weed out the weak.
        Why did communism not work? It went against the laws of nature. It made the weak to be on the same level as the strong.
        You may say, how about democracy? The truly strong do not go into politics. Rather, they stay on the sidelines, watching for opportunities for success. Some of the strong may go into politics, yes, but they are the minority. Of the people on Forbes’ lists of rich people, how many are politicians?
        So back to intelligent people not producing intelligent offspring. Roy, I strongly encourage you to take a walk among the GE students. Ask them questions. You may think them weird. But they are all able people, I assure you. Ask them how many of them had parents, who did well in their college exams, in their A’Levels. Uni. JC. Anything. Even those who had parents that came from overseas. Those who don’t know how their parents did, ask their parents.
        If you ever take this walk, Roy, prepare to be amazed.
        And yes, I am very familiar with the GEP.

  13. curious

    I felt like the first half of this article was poorly argued – isn’t it evident that children who are smart enough to get into GEP will then go to IP school? Similarly that students who study in JCs are more likely to go to universities, especially the top and most selective four courses of the universities? The second half was interesting though. Apart from simply pointing out the correlation between socio-economic status and education, is it possible that this is not a cause and effect relationship? For example, is it possible that parents who are intelligent are more likely to have intelligent children (although the heredity of intelligence is still often debated)? And those intelligent parents are also more likely to have achieved a high socio-economic status through making use of their intelligence? Therefore, the true cause may be the heredity of intelligence, and education and socio-economic status may just be two correlated effects.

    I’m not saying that this is true, I’m just suggesting a possible explanation. After all, these statistics prove correlation and not cause and effect. Very interesting article though.

    • Roy Ngerng

      Hi curious,

      I have dispelled the notion that, “parents who are intelligent are more likely to have intelligent children” above. There is research which has dispelled this notion.

      In fact, this harks back to the time when Lee Kuan Yew had believed that only graduate mothers should have more children.

      I can only say that if it is true that intelligent people will have intelligent children, the number of degree holders in the past, say a few generations ago, is much lower than it is now and to put it crudely, doesn’t that mean that the “intelligent” people now came from what they would perceive as “unintelligent” grandparents?

      The obvious answer to this is – it’s a policy decision whether people get to be educated or not – when a government decides to open more universities or tertiary institutions to cater to the needs of the population.

      It is not whether a person is academically-strong or not that makes him intelligent. If our “intelligent” students believe that they have made it because of an innate ability and would believe that someone else doesn’t have the capability, then the question is – what has our education system taught our children? To judge and discriminate?

      What should the purpose of education be? Should it be to learn about life and how to operate in life and to learn about personal growth and development? If we have forgotten this basic notion, then what has our education system brought our children and Singaporeans to?

      This is the sad state of the inequality of education in Singapore, where the divide has further entrenched our discriminatory views towards one another – rich on poor, poor on rich. Is it bad to be rich? Is it bad to be poor? No – everyone comes from different starting points in life and we should respect that. But once we start judging their life paths, that is when our society will unravel, as it has.


      • curious

        Thanks for your reply! I agree, academic ability does not correlate to intelligence or innate potential to succeed, I should have clarified that in my earlier post. It is true that education /should/ be about personal growth and development, but the truth is that very little of academic education today is about that. A large part of education, particularly higher-level education, is in fact studying facts or cramming knowledge that you will never need in the future, or learning career-specific skills. Is it so bad that some people do not go to university/JC or get academically educated beyond a certain point? If there were no negative stigma associated to polytechnics and ITE, aren’t they great educational institutions too? From the point of view of an employer (in a world where there is no stereotype or stigma), why would I hire someone who spent 4 years learning facts that I could easily google, when I could hire someone who spent 4 years studying trade-specific skills and gathering work experience?

        I guess my point is that academic education has become something that we worship far too much, when it is often quite useless and not suited to everyone. Some people should choose to pursue higher academic education; others should pursue skill-based education; ye others would be better off learning hands on by gaining experience in the working life. All of those will involve /true education/, which is gaining experience, and personal growth and development and understanding the world that we live in. If not for the over-the-top emphasis that we put on academic education and the resulting stigma against other types of education, would that not be a better education system to have?

      • Roy Ngerng

        Hi curious

        You’ve hit he nail on the spot:
        (1) “If there were no negative stigma associated to polytechnics and ITEs, aren’t they are at educational institutions too” – this is exactly it. Which links to your second point.
        (2) Academic education has become something that we worship far too much … some people … (would gain more useful learning through) pursuing skill-based education.

        What you’ve said is exactly the crux of the problem in Singapore. This is why universities in other countries provide more broad based pathways for students – some more skills-inclined.

        This is also something that has been feedback to the government several times. The clear solution is to restructure tertiary education to make it more relevant. But the question is, why is the government resistant to doing so?

        The problems you pointed out can be resolved through restructuring the system, as other countries have done. This would ensure that no matter which educational institution you go to, you receive a certificate that will be valued for its worth – and all certificates will be of similar worth.

        Again – why has the government been resistant to this?


      • Peter

        Hi Roy

        With regards to this statement of yours: “I can only say that if it is true that intelligent people will have intelligent children, the number of degree holders in the past, say a few generations ago, is much lower than it is now and to put it crudely, doesn’t that mean that the “intelligent” people now came from what they would perceive as “unintelligent” grandparents?”

        First of all, holding a degree is not an indication of intelligence. To put things into perspective, the number of degree holders has increased over the decades as the local tertiary education industry expanded. Thus, this has provided more opportunities for individuals to earn degrees. However, do consider that a degree is just a mean to the end which is employment. An education system has to provide the right signal to the job market in order to be deemed as efficient (Please do look into the case of UK’s recent education reform). The scarcity of tertiary education vacancies is a response to the scarcity of employment opportunities in the real world. It’s unfortunate that university is a segregation tool but it’s worse to have no value tied to our university degrees if everyone/majority has a degree.


      • Roy Ngerng

        Hi Peter,

        You have brought out a statistic which I will challenge in my next article tomorrow.

        Singapore has the highest proportion of tertiary educated workers in Singapore. Now, indeed if what you say is true, then we have to question the PAP’s policies.

        More on that tomorrow.


  14. csm98e

    I think it’s the money and the family and social environment that enables kids from better off families to develop abilities at a younger age, even before school. The biggest determinant of performance is pre-school education. That’s what Mary Buffett was told by educators and that’s where she’s putting her philanthropic money.

    • Roy Ngerng

      Exactly – it is the financial resources that predetermines whether a student is able to do well academically. And it is also whether a child is able to receive pre-school education that will influence whether the child will do well academically later on. This has been proven by research several times already.

      As such, the government needs to step in to provide as many resources as possible for each child, regardless of their family backgrounds, so that they are given an equal opportunity to start off from. In Singapore, parents who have the means would be able to send their children to “better” schools and more classes.

      In South Korea, the government is trying to do the opposite – to ask schools to provide free classes for students after school. And in Finland, schools are of such high quality and free – so everyone has equal access – and this allows every students to truly have equal opportunities.


      • choofrfreoer

        “It is the financial resources that predetermines whether a student is able to do well academically.” – As the grandchild of two uneducated housewives and two uneducated coolies who is now in a top university, I can’t state how insulted I am by that remark.

  15. csm98

    Sylph, there is no “equal opportunity” when students start with different economic and social backgrounds. Those whose parents can’t afford them opportunities for enhancement programmes, for note pads to play with and learn English, for time to even engage in these activities are already handicapped. If the government is serious about equal opportunity, it should look closely at how to level the playing field in the pre-school phase and in early childhood education. That’s also why the general economic and social inequality is so harmful. The Gini coefficient is not just about who has more money in the bank – it has ramifications throughout the entire lives of entire families and their future generations. The overall inequality in society is the root problem the government must tackle.

    • choofrfreoer

      Hello? “Equal opportunity” refers to that provided by the government. If the government doesn’t do anything, it’s “equal opportunity” since it treats everyone the same.

      You are talking about achieveing “equal outcomes” here by your positive intervention for a “level playing field”.

      Let’s put it in an income perspective instead of education to make things clearer.

      If the government lets you do whatever you want with your income, it’s “equal opportunity”. But what if the government taxes 100% of your income and redistributes an equal amount to everyone? That’s not “equal opportunity” because a person who loses $100 has a larger opportunity cost than one who loses just $1 to tax. Yes, they will have “levelled the playing field” to achieve “equal outcomes”, but isn’t this known otherwise as “communism”?

      And you have evidently not met those who do not need to go for tuition or enhancement programmes and yet still score the top in the cohort. Classical case of ignorance of others’ abilities.

  16. Poworb

    flawed and biased article…lol
    1. why only include poly students enrolling in “prestigious” courses? JC students are all elites? none came from neighborhood schools?
    2. Independent schools have 17% of students from 1-4room flats because the fees is relatively higher than that of a government school. Those 17% are either on scholarship or parents really scrimping and saving for their children. How many families in that sort of situation would prefer this route as compared to enrolling and work hard in a government school?
    3. He tweaked his data from comparing 1-4room vs bigger homes before uni, to 1-3room vs bigger homes in uni…why? to make his data more significant?
    4. “Do you know that the PAP government spends the least on education (as a % of GDP), as compared to the high income countries (Chart 11).” Isn’t this public spending?????? I would have bold my question if I could. public spending % of GDP, in my knowledge( pls correct me if I am wrong) is the spending BY citizens, which means that our education has been heavily subsidized by the govt…
    I am from a neighborhood school. If you are, do not further disgrace and bring shame to this “label” put on us by people like you in this country.
    “To Keep Singaporeans Thinking by Roy Ngerng” ??? To mislead with poor cognitive processing by Roy Ngerng should be your subheader

    • Roy Ngerng


      Your points have been answered in several posts above.

      (1) To ensure equal opportunities, should different schools charge different rates which prevent some students from entering? In some of the other developed countries, education is free, regardless of which school it is, so that everyone has an equal chance.

      (2) The statistics that I’ve used here are the only ones available. Please advocate to the government to release other statistics so that we can have a more thorough analysis.

      (3) The different room sizes are used as an when the data is presented in that manner, as released by the government.

      (4) Singapore spends the least on education as compared to the other developed countries. This is a fact.

      Thank you.


      • S

        It’s rather misleading to use government expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP to conclude that Singapore spends the least on education as compared to other developed countries. From this list, you can clearly see spending on education is dominated by developing countries, but that does not mean developed countries are spending less than developing countries. Singapore has the third highest GDP per capita in the world so it makes sense that government spending as a % of GDP isn’t as high.

      • Roy Ngerng

        Hi, please compare our expenditure with the countries of equivalent national income, or GDP per capita e.g. Norway and Luxembourg, and you would see the disparity.

  17. Henrypark

    Conclusions do not make sense, sweeping statements are rampant. Like DUH of course GEP students will score better than the rest? There’s a reason why they are in the GEP? If they don’t do well THEN there is a problem. They get there based on their intellect and whatnot not because of their, um what? Financial status? Your assertions are flawed and I hope you can come up with a more substantiated and sound argument. If this is A level project work, it will not pass the vetting haha!

  18. rdr

    I don’t doubt that there are things Singapore could do better for its students. No system is perfect. However, as more people have pointed out, your use of examples is very selective. Fundamentally, your definition of “good” and “unequal” is going to be very different from the definition many people have. Already you can see this from the comments.

    The education system is/was not designed to ensure equal outcomes. It cannot make everyone make the same amount of money or score the same grades. What it does do to some extent is help make sure that your background does not predetermine your future.

    You assert that money determines your academic success. This is not what your statistics definitely show. Just because they are numbers and in a table, doesn’t make them the gospel truth.

    This debate is about education. All of us would do well to learn and be open-minded while participating in it.

  19. cth388


    Just wanted to leave my 2 cents as a student who pretty much fits the “privileged status” that the author talks about. To start off, I do know that it seems extremely ridiculous for someone who has benefited from the system to come forward and talk about this issue. However, I think a major problem is that many of the students from elite schools, suffer from this thought that it seems unfair for them to comment even though many of them do have grievances with the system and thus choose not to voice out some of their concerns. For one, I deliberated a long time before deciding to make this post, but I do hope that all of you can take the time to read through some of my personal experiences as a student before you reach a judgment on my post

    I do agree with the author that as a GEP student, it is possible to see that we were advantaged to enter Independent Schools given that almost all of us entered these schools under academic DSA. However, I would like to address this along with some of the other points made in the article. I would also like to first clarify that whether or not the PSLE aggregate system is a good gauge to put students through to secondary school is another contention within itself, one where I usually agree that PSLE is bad gauge of academic potential and ability. My few points below are meant to question how much the GEP actually helps one enter a good secondary school.

    First and foremost, as a student I found that GEP as a whole was not as helpful as many might believe it is. While we did enrichment topics and math that was supposedly out of the normal syllabus, it was not harder in nature, just unique and turned out to be stuff that we learnt in secondary school anyway. This did not help us much in PSLE, given that we were tested based on the normal Primary 6 syllabus, disadvantaging us instead as our teachers had opted to skip some of these topics and we found ourselves having to rush to learn new topics even in the middle of Primary 6. While my batch of GEP students did do very well amongst our other peers in school for PSLE, I do not believe that GEP played as big a role as what many seem to propose in our good results.

    GEP was also unique in that it provided projects for us to work upon in the Individualized Research Study as well as Innovative Programme (given a choice between the two to work on in P4-P5). While it did give us a so-called edge in primary school over our peers who may not have had the same opportunities, I believe that by secondary school most of us have definitely experienced these. Given that these were the few experiences that made GEP unique, and was never part of the testing at PSLE, my belief is that this hardly affected our PSLE results.

    While your statistics argue that 80% of us enter schools through DSA, a large majority of my batch (> 80%) had PSLE scores that were good enough to enter any top secondary school we wanted. While I do not think that a privileged status like the GEP system provides any benefits on the psyche of any GEP student or non-GEP student, what I am trying to show all of you here is that GEP may not have made that much of a difference with students entering secondary schools through PSLE as you might be made to believe as even without DSA,

    Lastly, I would also like to address some of the data that the author proposes. Firstly, the chart “Students from GEP schools are more likely to be from high-income households). Amongst these schools, as far as I know, Methodist Girls Primary School is not a GEP school. Secondly, if you want to study the GEP system it is hardly fair to exclude some GEP schools (Nan Hua Primary School and St. Hilda’s Primary School for instance) and also consider that GEP classes only make for an extremely small proportion of students within the entire school (2 out of 16 classes) and that to truly reach a conclusive judgement that
    the GEP system is biased towards students with higher income, it is more necessary to provide statistics that cater to specifically GEP students rather than GEP schools at large. To provide some insight into this, I come from a family with <$2000 monthly, living in a 4 room HDB flat. I hardly found myself any more limited in comparison to my other peers who come from better backgrounds and neither should you.

    As a whole, I definitely do believe that some of the systems that the government has put in place needs to be changed. For one, remove the GEP system. At such a young age, it hardly provides the benefit that it could give to a student and only serves to exacerbate the divide between GEP and non-GEP students. Secondly, address the differences between independent schools and normal secondary schools. While it is hard for me to talk on this given that I am someone who has benefited from this system, I do believe that problems in the system exist when independent schools are able to offer their teachers higher wages as compared to normal secondary schools. You can argue that teachers teach not for the additional income but more money has never hurt anyone. Good, sincere teachers can definitely be found in both normal secondary schools and independent schools but this difference in income should not exist.

    • gep

      You forget there’s CLA in primary 4, and the primary feature of GEP is an emphasis on decentralized learning as the teacher should be a facilitator rather than a provider. Besides, it probably also matters

      1) Which GEP school you went to?
      2) Whether you happened upon a crappy GEP teacher (yes there are many).
      3) Are you top 0.5%? 1%?

      Oh yes. There are GEPs, and then there are better GEPs. Elitism and comparison are inherent throughout our education system fundamentally because it is meritocratic.

      The ONLY reason, imho, GEP students come from higher income households would be the environment that they have been raised in has provided and encouraged learning (read tuition).

      Oh and on a wholly separate note, the author’s usage of stats is completely laughable. He has a point, and I don’t disagree, but after reading the way he wrote the article and the stats he provided….. -FACEPALM-.

    • Roy Ngerng

      Hi cth388,

      Thank you for commenting. I thank you for your honest feedback.

      What you’ve said is what I understand from several teachers that I’ve spoken to as well.

      I think your points are clear and I agree with them. I hope that others will give this some thought too as well.

      With regards to the statistics, these were all I have to analyse and work with. The larger part of the statistics are not readily available to the public, and if not for the opposition parties who had asked on some of these statistics in parliament, we might not have been able to find out about these as well.

      As with Finland’s example, in the 1960s, there were examinations and streaming at an early age. But when they decided to overhaul the system to one that is more equal, these were gradually removed at the earlier years of education. There is also research where suggests that examinations and streaming can stem creativity and risk-taking, and such is indeed a byproduct that has happened because of the education system in Singapore.

      What you’ve said is indeed what I understand is happening in our schools from teachers I speak to. And I thank you for the honesty and conviction to speak up on this. Your words are more valuable than what I’ve written.

      To some who might think contrary, I only have this to ask – what is in it for us to want to protect an unequal system? And if we were to think more thoroughly and deeply, will a more equal system still benefit us, as well as the rest of Singapore? I think the answer is clear, as many more equal societies have shown.

      There are clear tangible and intangible benefits from having a more equal system, not just in education, but in healthcare and the systems that pervades our society. And this is something that I understand even those considered to be part of the “elite” believes as well, from those I’ve spoken with.

      Thank you once again for this. And may you continue to have the conviction, honesty, courage and clarity to speak up and make objective points of view.

      Thank you.


  20. Lawrence

    Hi Roy,

    Your articles are definitely not for the numerically challenged. Though from an engineering back ground, I find it challenging to digest the data and draw the sensible conclusions. Absolute statements such as the one used to title this article are hard to stand close scrutiny, especially when the subject matter of “good” as pointed out by previous comments is difficult to define absolutely.

    I wish to present my own perspective of the current education situation. It is changing and the changes though incremental i believe is headed towards the right direction though the pace and extend of changes to some are grossly inadequate at best. I would like to share the following:-

    1. The neighborhood schools are provided with more resources to improve their ability to meet the needs of the students. My son attends a school that ranks 130 plus (the tail end of the spectrum), In fact he just received his PSLE scores. He was diagnosed with Autism at age of 3. The school accepted 2 students with special needs out of a class of 20. They have a full time administrator (with no teaching responsibilities) to address the needs of the special needs children. Of the 14 special needs children, 13 of them will enter into sec 1 including my son who will enter into the express stream. The school also invested in an on line learning “Marshall Cavendish” and “Problem” which was offered to students free of charge.

    2. Though I would say that although the school did not get the “star” teachers and their handling of the students based on feed back from my son and other parents at times were far from desirable, I have to commend the effort the teachers put in to attempt to remedy a vast dimension of issues – students with unstable family backgrounds with single parents/financialy struggling/ absentee parents who face difficulty. These students respond differently ranging from outright rebellion, disinterest in studies etc.The primary syllabus is challenging, the level of intellect engagement is equal to what I would have done when I was in secondary 2 or 3. This issue is a subject deserving a whole lively debate on its own but in short the teachers are struggling to impart a high standard to a group of students that you would probably define here as disadvantaged.
    The point is that the system is attempting to close the gap on the micro levels and if sustained over time across many schools, some of this inequality mentioned in your article will be addressed.

    So instead of punishing the system by disregarding the good they do, constructive participation to reinforce and improve on the such schemes and propose new schemes I would think will be as productive to improve the lives of Singaporeans albeit on a slower and less revolutionary scale.

    Your articles are thought provoking and to go beyond that I humbly suggest to dedicate the last section to ideas to address the issues raised against the backdrop of he current reality would go beyond thought provoking to truly inspiring.


    • Roy Ngerng

      Hi Lawrence,

      You are right. Thanks for pointing this out.

      This article is framed as a critique to the education system in Singapore.

      However, we cannot forget the tireless passion, hard work and commitment that the teachers and principals have put into teaching. This has to be respected, honored and very much valued.

      I hope that this article isn’t construed as one that might put the teachers or the students in bad light. Please also note that I do not believe in critiquing the students from the “elite” schools. They are moreover a product of the system.

      The critique is directed at the system and the policy makers who have created a system that is unequal. At no time should this be directed at the students, parents, teachers and principals, who have all work very hard in their own right.

      Thank you.


  21. Nicholas

    Hello Roy,
    I do believe that the issues our education system faces today stem from an extremely broad base of contributing factors. It is difficult to pinpoint a single thing that, if changed, would drastically improve our education system and achieve the desired outcome of equal opportunities both for those who are academically inclined and those who are not.

    While the effect of socioeconomic background on a student’s ability to excel in school cannot be denied, I feel that it is more pertinent to address the issue of giving students who are less academically inclined the chance to excel in other fields. If a student shows no drive, no passion for anything, no education system in the world is going to improve his or her outcome. If a student does however show promise in another field besides the traditional path of academic excellence, he or she should definitely be given the opportunity to harness this talent or interest. To this end, I do believe that the MOE has performed commendably. The level of skill-based training/education available in Polytechnics and ITEs today is a stark improvement from a decade ago. Alot of money has also been channeled to providing these institutes with the best equipment and facilities. ITE even has an ‘aircraft hangar housing real aircraft’.

    In any constructive critique, it is always important to give both sides of the coin. To point out areas which are lacking, but also give recognition for things that have been done right. I feel as if this is where your article is lacking.

    I agree wholeheartedly with you that the education system in Singapore is far from perfect, and that much more can be done to improve it.

    However, I feel that it is only fair to mention things that have in fact been done the right way. For example, the idea of an education system steeped in meritocracy (whether or not this goal is achieved is not so much a result of intention as it is of application). The bursaries available at every juncture of education (primary, secondary, tertiary) to make sure less wealthy students are able to attend classes as well. The re-branding and re-modelling of ITE to make their students more employable and remove the stigma that used to surround them.

    I feel that it would have been great to see some suggestions given at the end of your article. That would have given your article more credibility as a constructive piece of criticism as opposed to a quick rant/bash/swipe at the government.

    Hoping to hear some of your ideas

    • Roy Ngerng

      Hi Nicholas,

      I will quickly address two points:

      (1) I agree that it takes time for the system to evolve. Even in Finland, the discussion on reform began in the 1960s and took a few decades to evolve. However, what’s difference is that there was open discussion with the citizens and in parliament on how the system should evolve in Finland – this is what is lacking in Singapore due to a controlled media and the controlled feedback loop.

      (2) I would like to also point out that when we talk about students who have “no drive” or “no passion”, as you have put it, do they not have the “drive” or “passion” because it’s innate, or because the system might inadvertently put them on the back burner? I have spoken to a few teachers who believe that all children have the innate ability to learn and do well, given the right resources and guidance, and they acknowledge that our system impedes this process. Because our system is custom-made for a certain way of thinking, and “progress”, for students who don’t follow this pathway, simply because they learn differently – as all students do – they fall out of the system. Does this mean that this is a flaw of our students, or a flaw of the system? And the teachers that I’ve spoken to believe it’s the latter.

      To also discuss the solutions, I have pointed out in the article and in several comments that out system needs to be one that is more equal – and depending at the rate of conversation and discourse among Singaporeans, this can take a few years or decades to evolve into. At the same time, class sizes should be smaller to allow teachers to have more focus on the personal growth and development of our children. Examinations and streaming at an early age should also be removed, so as to allow our children the space to grow, and more importantly, to learn to think critically.

      And as mentioned, this process should be one that is in discussion with the people of Singapore, and the time for our system to evolve will be dependent on the rate at which the people are comfortable with.

      On why I believe that the PAP government is resistant towards change and such discourse – when the issue was brought up by parents on the PSLE, the conversation was asked if the PSLE should be removed, so as to lessen the stress on our children. However, the PAP turned the conversation into one of how we should amend the PSLE instead – which isn’t the conversation point of Singaporeans.

      It is not the role of the government to create or divert the discussion among the people but to listen to them and consolidate their perspectives, and to evolve with them.


  22. Jace

    I think the focus of your article is wrong. I’m from an ip school and you should really be doing more research into the school environment and type of teachers, not the students attending it. top schools like nanyang and raffles have such pretty interiors and facilitie that other neighbourhood schools can’tafford. and u didn’t even mention they are called independent schools for a reason. they

    • Roy Ngerng

      Hi Jace,

      Then the question is – should the government increase funding and resources to the other schools, so that all our students can benefit from it?

      As it is, the PAP government spends the lowest on education, as compared to the other developed countries. Does this explain the lowest of progression of our students into secondary school? Is the equitable?


  23. Jace

    they have much more expensive school fees and hence can attract better teachers with higher wages, and also better facilities. other neighbourhood schools are entirely government funded and they can’t afford the luxuries an ip school has and thus becomes incompetitive. tats why people are attracted to ip schools in the first place and thus the cutoff mark is raised above others. u didn’t grasp the root of this “problem” and this isn’t a problem. really rtistic or sporty students dsa into these schools too. so its not true that it is entirely academic. but some of these sporty dsa students who entered with a very low mark find themselves struggling with these advanced studies and later transferring out .

    and ur study is also flawed because just because I live in a four bedroom hdb that doesn’t mean I’m poor. I have rich friends who owns quite a few flats and maybe some condos for rent.

    • Roy Ngerng

      Hi Jace,

      (1) In Finland in the 1960s, schools were unequal and charged different fees. When the government there decided to reform the education system, they also decided to at first charge all the students the same fees, before making it free. What is the rationale? – so that all students can start on equal footing. And this practice extends to preschool education. Can this be done in Singapore, and should this be done? Research has shown that a more equitable education system will have more equitable effects downstream. And if the PAP government is indeed sincere about creating a more compassionate society, then just talking about wanting one is insufficient. We can start by allowing more equitable access for our students for education.

      (2) The statistics that I have been able to get on the demographics pertains only to household size. The MOE and the PAP government has claimed that they do not collate statistics on income. Again, I would like to ask you to advocate to the government to collect and produce these statistics. At this point, household size is the best gauge on the income levels of the students, due to a lack of publicly available data.


  24. tony

    true I agree, my son is finds that this system is so academically based that it eats away at your dreams. He was soon miserable when he didn’t make it into a jc after o levels. I have written to the government hoping to initiate a change

    • Roy Ngerng

      Hi tony,

      I agree – should our system focus first and foremost on developing our child’s inner potential and their personal development first, before overly taxing them? I think, yes.

      Once we develop their personal abilities and evoke in them a sense of passion and excitement in what they do, and provide them with the critical thinking skills, will they be able to function well in the education system, as well as at work?

      I think the answer is clear. The practical effects are that employers are already saying that our workers seem to lack the critical thinking skills, as compared to workers in the other countries. If so, is it time we evolve our education system to be more equal, and allow all students an environment and resources to develop their critical thinking abilities?

      Again, I think the answer is clear. It’s a yes.

      Thank you.


  25. Birdd


    Aside from the selective use of statistics to demonstrate a conclusion, I do agree that inequality pervades education. Yet, let us not be too caught up with politicised preconception that we pin down only one corner of this problem.

    This response tries to be as comprehensive and objective as possible, but as I have not done any secondary research, it remains largely abstract, and would appreciate any comments on its shortcomings.

    1. Elaboration of article
    i. Overview
    ii. In the Context of Economy
    iii. Further Comments
    2. More In-depth Considerations
    i. The idea of Education
    ii. A Societal, Not Just Systematic, Issue
    3. Conclusion

    [Elaboration of Raised Problem]

    [i] Overview

    Only single cause is narrowed upon, that being a systematic issue, i.e. the streaming system and the simplistic method of allocating pathways and hence societal roles. This is a problem, resulting from a bureaucratic desire to economically (stress on the method being threadbare) allocate societal roles to unfixed human beings. A possible solution: flexibility across educational pathways. However, this flexibility requires much more resources than is allocated now, a point demonstrated by the government’s mediocre budget allocation to education, as compared to more progressive societies’ like the Nordic countries for example.

    However, let us acknowledge human differences and agree that some will have to be given more favourable roles than others, based on inherent limitations in human beings and in our immediate and universal environments. The question of a good society is not just how the ruling state avails the greatest number of favourable roles to the greatest number of people, however, but also how the people respond to limitation (conflict and compromise), something that I will stress on later.

    [ii] In the Context of Economy

    One way in which the problem is complicated is by the asset incubating free-market that pervades Singapore and the world. Like it or not, money flows one way in any social democracy, simply because of institutional flaws, parading under the banner of a “free” market (Unger). Thus, from an economic standpoint, society is structured in an plutocratic hierarchal manner regardless of any programmatic education system, including one aiming for meritocracy.

    Personally, I am from a middle income-family with university educated parents. While not trying to sound, or be elitist, let us acknowledge the fact that upbringing is an important factor in academic performance, whether in the impartation of attitudes or thinking skills. The perpetuation of high-performing individuals among the economically privileged is not merely a systematic issue, it is also an inescapable social phenomenon. Furthermore, in a knowledge-based economy, I think it is safe to say that a genetic disposition of higher intelligence is denser in the economic elite, and sadly this is a biological issue as well, given my assumption is true. Unfortunately, these inequalities, as I’ve mentioned, are inherent HUMAN problems, and limitations that cannot be overcome, but need to be accepted, then best as we might, ameliorated.

    [iii] Further Comments

    One dangerous idea I sense is the notion of allowing MORE people to enter universities. While a quota seems largely unfair or strange, we must never assume that allowing more people to receive a university education is gonna help. The result could well be Taiwan’s engorgement of the population with excessively qualified professionals. From a purely economic and social standpoint, this is both a waste of monetary resources and the waste of its people’s time (assuming in general that most obtain degrees for economic reasons). Instead, as the author has suggested, we need to free up the access of suitable individuals to a higher education, but more importantly, as I will elaborate upon later, dissolve the stigma.

    [More In-depth Considerations]

    However, at least two other heavy-weights exist that singe our ability to move forward.

    [i] Idea of an Education

    The first is somewhat complex because it entwined with the second, and was not explored in-depth in the article. Yet many commenters raised it up. It is the issue of “what is an education?”. The Singaporean concept is that of knowledge and knowledge skills acquirement, the latter more heavily emphasised in JCs that Polys. The Singaporean system of education is troubling not just because it is laterally rigid, but because each pathway is also narrow (As a generality: Book-smart JC, complex-technical-skilled Poly, technical-skilled ITE). The narrowness is an extension of the original problem, the systematic desire to economically assign specific roles via the impartation of certain skills at the neglect of others. While this narrowness must at certain points in life be enforced, what I argue for is that the structure comes on too early, in contrast to the Nordic way of education, for example, which emphasises creativity and exploration throughout most of education.

    For Singaporeans however, the narrowness, not surprisingly, begins at least at primary one, where the focus of education is immediately academic achievement. As many others have commented, this changes the meaning of education from “learning” to “rote-learning” very quickly. What is further neglected as a result is highly personal issues of attitude, morality, self-expression, empathy and humanity, and important skills like critical thought and creativity. Furthermore, by following a rigid set of rules with a narrow outcome, children are conditioned to lose all other responsibility for their future other than academic progress.

    I have been, admittedly, a personification of this issue, having been so absorbed with academics that I failed to pay attention to social dynamics, self-development and serving the community. In other words, in my experience, education did not try to change me for the better by challenging me, it pointed me in the direction of a one-dimensional product, until i caught myself and did some reevaluation.

    Again, the issue is with the expediency of the economy and the MOE, and poor resources, both monetary and human, invested in the education system. Tuition, raised by some as an unfair perpetuator of academic performance in the economic elite, should not rightly exist if proper education did. Not only is it unfair, it is also a clear red card against the comprehensiveness of the government funded education platforms. Not with underpaid teachers, large classes, a dictatorial teaching style, and a systematic, inflexible progression through grades and subjects. Not only will this cripple students as independent thinkers and human beings, it will also damage the socio-economic fabric in the long-run (*wink wink to the MOE)

    So what is the outcome of a good education? From my personal standpoint, it is someone who is able to figure out what should be believed, then follows through on those beliefs with action. Sounds simple, but it is a lifelong process that can rarely be fulfilled. We may try to divert all of the blame to institutions, but is the true revolution with the state, or with the self? I’m not saying there aren’t any pertinent flaws in the system, but as a culture, Singaporeans tend perpetuate their own unhappiness instead of attempting to dispel a false problem or to take action and mitigate it.

    [A Societal, Not Just Systematic, Issue]

    This brings me to my most important point. Our attitudes.

    I understand that as someone from a privileged background, I am not suited to empathise with all Singaporeans at large, especially those who experience great economic hardship. However, I am personally deeply troubled with the problems of education, our capital-hoarding economic system, and our expedient and exclusive political system, but most importantly, how remain subservient to these structures by our attitudes.

    In his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman cites a study in which subjects were primed with concepts related to money and then observed for behaviour under specific circumstances against a control group. Those who had been subtly primed with money-related concepts tended to be more self-absorbed, unfriendly and unkind. What is frightening is that all of this was involuntary, and was barely noticed by any of the subjects.

    So, the real question is, what happens if concepts of money, time and practical matters are dwelled upon in the long-run? We may not be ready to admit it, but as people focused on the practical, our personalities and immediate responses, we become what we think about. We become cogs and gears, of our own doing. We also become insular and single-minded, driftwood in a sea of what to us are a flock of inconsequential people. From a highly personal standpoint, I would rather not exist than be an agent stripped of autonomy and humanity.

    When we view education as a tool to a good life, we lose the good life. Education is only part of life, but resting on our laurels and depending on it to situate the rest of our lives not only corrupts the institution of education, it corrupts the entirety of life. We are a flock, whether we like it or not. Social animals with a propensity for lazy economy. So many of us try to divert our responsibility to survive on social institutions like education and the economy. But in our trying times, whether we can take up the mantle and transform ourselves into autonomous individuals with initiative and a courage to fail and, if we’re lucky, cover new ground, will define who we are as individuals, and ultimately, as a society.

    While there are acknowledged flaws with both the system of education and educational models which needs to be changed with careful attention and far more resources, these are situated in a highly political and economic context that are complex and largely out of our power. They must be dealt with on a much larger scale of systems, societal ideals, and cultural phenomena, the latter two which we contribute to.

    But then there is starting with ourselves, today, while acknowledging that while equality is not a fact of human existence, our ability to recognise and dispel negative and self-mutilating attitudes is. Most importantly, taking responsibility for our own existence and compromising in light of the shortcomings of human beings, our environment and our institutions allows us to be satisfied with what we do have, in spite of hardships. It is the striving for excess that deprives us, and others, of happiness.

    • Roy Ngerng

      Hi Birdd,

      Just quickly,

      (1) Agree – any change in the system has to gradual and respond to the needs of the people. It has to be held in consultation with the people, and where a debate in society is allowed to happen.

      (2) On the availability of resources that allow some students to do well – should the government ensure that access to education is equal so that all students have the same resources to work with, and to start with equal opportunities? The example of some countries and research have shown this to be a yes.

      (3) On not saturating our education system with too many university graduates, should we relook the idea of what a university is, and develop different types of universities, some which train vocational skills, so that our universities continue to be relevant? Also, should we pay people equitably, even if they come from different institutions?

      Lastly, thank you for your very long commentary. Is it an article on your blog? I could share it too. It has provoked some thinking, and I hope other readers benefit from your writing as well.

      Thank you.


    • Roy Ngerng

      And to add, yes – education cannot be seen on its own. In Finland, they recognized that a conversation on educational reform has to happen in the context of broader society, and healthcare reform as well.

      When the education system was made more equal, so was healthcare and the larger society.

  26. tony

    if singapore wants to excel, it should copy finlands system and provide every school with the same quality of education as raffles or hwachong would. instead of feeling that its not essential to invest in them weaker students. that’s the crux of this inequality problem.

  27. ZQ

    I think that there are several flaws in this argument.
    Firstly, I am not disagreeing that these issues exist. I do agree that not every school is equal.
    However, a lot of the “evidence” quoted does not actually support the argument that not all schools are good schools.

    Firstly, all the statistics that show how students from elite schools have higher chances of entering JC/university does not prove that elite schools are better than other schools. The quality of the school should be the quality of education and environment that it provides for the students. It is obvious that students who enter good schools are already the academically stronger students and thus eventually stand a better chance at higher education. The same goes for the argument with the polytechnic students. Since the stronger students are already in JC, it is obvious that less polytechnic students enter competitive courses in university. The addi

    The evidence that show how there is a higher proportion of rich in elite schools also do not show that the elite schools are better. It only shows that the rich have a higher chance of entering the top schools. Yes it means that money can buy performance in our system, but it does not mean that the other schools are bad schools. Also lower income students not attending university may be due to various problems such as the lack of environment at home to study or the lack of resources to pay for university fees etc.

    All the statistics comparing singapore to other countries again do not reflect inequality in our system. Yes we spend less than other countries, but does that mean that more resources goes to elite schools? I see no evidence of that in this article.

    A better argument to show that not all schools are good school would be comparing opportunities of students of similar standards in different schools (e.g. the outcome of students with similar scores in different schools or opportunities for overseas program etc.) and resources (e.g. money spent per student, teacher to student ratios, quality of the programs).

    I feel that the only thing that can be concluded from the evidence quoted in this argument is that the rich have a higher chance of better education and singapore is perhaps not spending as much as it should on education. There is no evidence that reflect the difference in standards of elite schools as compared to neighbourhood schools

  28. SYF

    This article is flawed and unfair to the govt. we already have a good edu system and it is normal to have comparisons in everything we do in life, surely not only education. Our PM is fair to say that every school is a good school when u compare internationally. We can never deny the fact the rich has more resources to give their child additional support like tuition and this is something u cannot expect the govt to interfere.

    Maybe we shd propose to the govt to open a extremely large primary school with maybe say 10,000 intake per year and close down the less known schools so there will be less comparisons! Then everyone can get into raffles, catholic high…. This is not feasible, we know that in ours hearts.

    It is our own fault to be overly paranoid rather than start blaming the govt on the education system.

    Let’s take a step backwards, check ourselves before criticising the govt.

    If u cannot be good, dun push others to be the best!!!

    • Roy Ngerng

      The natural order of social evolution will dictate how things will move in Singapore. A system that has become through lay unequal will have to turn around at some point.

  29. SMH

    1. “GEP students thus do better”
    You are suggesting that they only do well because of the extra resources being allocated to them. No. What about them being innately more gifted, which explains their admission into such a program in the first place? Classic case of false dilemma. I’m not saying your reasons as to why GEP students are doing better are false; I’m saying that they aren’t the only reasons. You’ll see that my subsequent rebuttals to your arguments are based on this premise alone.

    2. X type of students come from Y type of family backgrounds
    Are you saying that poor kids should be given more opportunities to cover up for what is lacking in their socio-economic background, and that kids who have a better head-start in life should be given less? If so, what is the point for an average kid to try his best when the disadvantaged kid, who is given more of said attention/opportunities/resources, doesn’t have to for an equal outcome? Do you mean to overhaul the entire notion of meritocracy that this education system has been built on?

    Indeed, kids with richer and more intelligent parents have an easier time running the race. Vice versa, disadvantaged kids have extra baggage slowing them down. You are essentially arguing that an inherently unequal environment should be artificially corrected by an equally unequal resource/opportunity allocation. That simply reflects having an external locus of control wrt the state he/she is in. While it makes sense to handhold the disadvantaged kids to a certain degree, it does not make sense to withdraw any extra attention being given to the gifted, which is aimed at helping them achieve more. Your argument essentially discriminates against the privileged; still discrimination.

    3. X type of students can/cannot get into Y spots
    I believe the smarter kids can better handle the rigour associated with the ‘higher-prestige’ degrees; and the less endowed less so. Let me set an extreme example: does it make sense to allow an ITE student entry in to Medicine? TBH I’d doubt my doctor if he came from an ITE, not simply because he came from an ITE, but because his calibre decreed his place in one. So, don’t look at admissions in terms of what schools these students hail from, but in terms of the distribution of intellect within the entire pool of applicants. The different schools, i.e. JC/Poly/ITE, are a mere (perhaps flawed) indication of their standing in this particular bell-curve.

    Students are where they are NOT ONLY because of the system, but also because of what they’re innately made of. Stop blaming only the system. The resulting solution will not be optimal simply because you’ve ignored/not acknowledged other factors. Hope you better understand why your article is drawing so much flak. Instead of stubbornly defending the gaping holes you proudly call your arguments, start refining them.

      • cosmyresearchsaysso

        Research will also show you that, yes, there is a certain degree of innate ability.
        I am frustrated by your obsession over your so-called research that conveniently only support your close-minded and short-sighted view. Irony how your blog title is “to keep Singaporeans thinking” whilst you fail to see the wider picture in the scheme of things.

      • Roy Ngerng

        Perhaps then, we will let Singaporeans decide for themselves what system they perceive to be more beneficial for the upbringing of our children.

        And many people do have an answer.

      • Populist

        Parents would naturally want to believe their kids are smart, and would surely perceive this to be more beneficial. But for every research you quote, there are another ten out there that contest its findings. Evading the truth and settling with popular misbelief get you nowhere. If you want to prove your point using research, do a proper literature review. And I’m sure the majority of parents aren’t this wishful and delusional after all.

        If the answer of “many people” is always right, then we would have the Earth staying where it is and the Sun revolving around it all day long.

      • choofrfreoer

        Other than unexpected windfalls from lotteries or inheritances, we can generally expect the rich to have made the money by themselves, which proves a certain degree of ability.

        Perhaps then, we will let the rich and smart Singaporeans decide for themselves whether they want to stay in Singapore if the answer of “many people” wins.

    • Roy Ngerng

      No – do not derail the discussion. There are several factors that determines whether a person will academically excel or not. And it has been proven that given the resources and guidance, every person has the potential and ability to do well.

      • cosmyresearchsaysso

        I hardly think this is a discussion when there is no support for your arguments. Plus, you keep harping on the same points in response to your readers’ comments that raise completely different arguments.

        You shot down 4 worthy and valid arguments on the premise that your research says so. Hearty discussion indeed

      • choofrfreoer

        “It has been proven that given the resources and guidance, every person has the potential and ability to do well”. You could be the next Einstein.

        It’s evident that you subscribe to the “nurture” side of the nature vs nurture debate and believe in the tabula rasa concept. Well, please show your research, thanks. I’ve heard scientists can’t make up their mind about this, yet you seem so certain.

  30. wy

    Hi Roy. I agree with you that Singapore’s education system is definitely imperfect. Certainly not every school is a “good” school, if “good” means providing equal opportunities for each student to excel.

    However, simply using the statistics alone to make your point is not convincing. Instead we must also examine what the situation, as described by the statistics, resulted from. For example, you point out that students from GEP schools are more likely to be from high-income households. What we know is that children are streamed into the GEP is based on a nationwide examination. Top scorers enter the GEP whereas those who don’t make the cut do not. This method of selection does not clearly show how academic excellence is shaped by wealth. Is it that students who are wealthier have more access to better tuition teachers, or better textbooks? Are they placed into better environments for learning, whether it is in school or out of school?

    It would be very informative if you are able to examine the HOW and WHY instead of just the WHAT. From my experience, I have heard stories of how “neighborhood schools” provide less attention to individual students as compared to “brand-name schools” such as RGS, ACS, Rosyth, etc. Of course, hearsay cannot be used to substitute hard evidence. If you are able to conduct such a study, the argument would be a lot more compelling. (:

    Furthermore, we must ask ourselves the question: Given Singapore’s situation, how can we improve the education system? For example if we assume that “neighborhood schools” provide less attention to individual students, how can we up the standard of neighborhood schools, of each teacher, to a level comparable to “brand-name schools”? This is no easy task, but it is one that matters. It is easy to point out that there is a problem, but it is difficult to solve it. I am sure our government welcomes any ideas for a better alternative to the current system.

    • Roy Ngerng

      Hi wy,

      As I have said, the inequality persists because of the planning parameters used by the PAP government to allocate more resources to good schools.

      This has been affirmed in my conversations with teachers – do also speak to other teachers for your own reference points. Once certain schools are designated as “better” schools, then there would be a natural tendency for the allocation of resources to be skewed towards these schools, instead of equally distributed across all the schools.

      The solution, as I have mentioned before is to gradually reduce class sizes, so that each child would receive adequate attention from each teacher, who would be given adequate and equal resources to focus on the personal development and growth of each child. This is not new – this is practiced in some systems, such as in Finland. And the outcomes have shown that if students are given more attention and equal opportunities, they are more likely to do well, and the inequalities within the different schools will also be much reduced.


  31. nicktx

    Well, I don’t think this is actually Singapore’s fault.

    While the government’s claim that Singapore’s education system provides an even-ground for families of all financial standings may be misguided, it is undeniably the norm for there to be a correlation between financial status and academic performance.

    This wall of graphs and numbers is really just a guise of smoke and mirrors though. Whether or not his broad statements are true or false, his numbers are used in a disgustingly inaccurate manner and if you check through all his sources (ie. the one regarding students from IP being from high-income households), some of them are COMPLETELY MADE UP.

    * 1. The GEP Progression Graph

    The Gifted Education and Integrated Programmes are designed to root out and nurture the ‘intellectually-inclined’. It’s not much of a mystery why they would, on average, go on to perform better in the academic world.

    * 2. 2% of the students enrolled in Law are from Polytechnics

    First of all, there is no number to tell us how many students actually applied for the Law course so this is misdirection.

    Second of all, there are less than 5 law-related Polytechnic courses between all the Polytechnics so it’s hardly surprising.


    * 3. Students from GEP are more likely from high-income households

    * 4. Students from IP are more likely from high-income households

    * 5. Students from public universities are more likely from high-income households

    To answer all of the above:

    Using the numbers the way he does is highly inaccurate. The percentages of households he’s using doesn’t even accurately reflect the number of those households that actually HAVE A PERSON ELIGIBLE FOR THAT LEVEL OF EDUCATION.

    To use the numbers that way, one would have to assume that EVERY SINGLE HOUSEHOLD in that x% of the population staying in 1-x room flats houses a person that should be at the respective level of education.

    * 6. Housing-type Distribution of the 1990-1992..

    Is he actually quoting numbers from 1990-1992? Really? That’s like saying the Japanese and Americans have bad relations because they fought in World War 2.


    All that GDP stuff:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but GDP doesn’t actually mean the government’s money, does it? Isn’t that that the amount of income earned by citizens per capita?

    So let’s refer to this graph instead, which is % of government expenditure on education using the very same site he used:…/countries/1W-SG-IS-XU-DK-SE…

    (I don’t know if it’ll load up the countries but I tested Singapore against Sweden, Denmark and Iceland which are the top ones in his graph)

    So as we can see, first of all Singapore destroys every other country AND second of all the former statistic of GDP spent on education probably just means our education is significantly cheaper.


    As for progression to secondary school, I dunno. I always thought Secondary School education was compulsory in Singapore so this was surprising to me.

    • Roy Ngerng

      Hi nicktx,

      (1) There are no law courses in the junior colleges – by your logic, no junior college student should be allowed admission into the law courses in the universities.

      (2) There is no breakdown in the statistics provided for household sizes – whatever I had used in this article is whatever statistic is publicly available to anyone. And like I have said many times, please write to the government to advocate for the release of the data for transparency.

      (3) The numbers quoted for “housing-type distribution of the 1990-1992” is released by the PAP government. Before you critique the article, you might want to check if you are critiquing this article, or actually the PAP government.

      (4) GDP is not your money. Neither is GNP. GDP is what the country earns as a whole. Of the GDP, only 42% goes into wages.

      Your analysis, or what you may call it, is completely flawed.

      Please do not provide a rebuttal that is irreversibly confounded.

      Thank you.

      • awkwardSheep

        1. Polytechnic students are generally specialised into a certain course and learn the skills required for that career path. They generally have the advantage with employers and internships because of this., but a bit more trouble entering University courses that their Polytechnic modules did not prepare them for. JC students have subjects like GP and literature that are more directly helpful in the field of law.

        In fact, it’s a generally accepted fact that the broader scope of studies that JC students are provided with gives them an advantage with entering certain courses, especially with their advanced language studies putting them at an edge over Polytechnic students in fields like law.

        2. Then don’t write the article. Just because you don’t have the relevant data doesn’t mean you can provide inaccurate studies, in fact not using the relevant approximately accurate data entirely invalidates whatever graph is made off said inaccurate data.

        Which is unfortunate because it really looks like you’ve put in a ton of work.

        3. I didn’t say it wasn’t legitimate. I am implying that it is irrelevant in the discussion of modern day Singapore.

        4. Then the graph in the link I’ve provided is still significantly more relevant since you’re trying to say the government isn’t putting as much money into education as other countries. That is, unless you actually mean to include the income that citizens earn as well. Which would change the premise of the inferred data entirely.

      • choofrfreoer

        GDP isn’t as simplistic as what “the country earns as a whole”. GDP refers to the entire summation of value generated within its geographical boundaries in a specified time period. GNP is similar, but it takes into account nationality instead of geography. Overseas Singaporeans contribute to GNP but not GDP. Foreign workers contribute to GDP but not GNP.

        In essence, GDP is what the country produces as a whole. Not what it earns. It, however, can be approximated to what the national income of a country because of the theory of circular flow of income, but it is not the same.

        GDP can be spent on two items: Capital or current goods. In laymen terms, capital goods refer to goods which can be consumed in the future (investment) and current goods refer to goods which can be consumed immediately.

        So, what does it matter if only 42% goes into wages? That’s as good as saying “you shouldn’t save 58% of your money” without substantiating any reason.

        You didn’t study Economics, did you? If so, you should refrain from using economic indicators if you have no idea how to interpret and analyse them! Your analysis is completely flawed.

  32. BkackSheep

    I think it is just best if we study harder and stop playing games sports socialize and spending time with family we students would excel in such system. I think it is for a greater good for a country who’s only resource is it’s people.

  33. Bluish

    Too many flaws to this argument. To be honest, the main reason why the statistics are all skewed that way is because children that tend to grow up in well to do household have:
    a) more time to study and less time to worry about making ends meet/working.
    b) parents that understand the importance of education and spend the time making sure their child does their work

    it is not about how the education filters out poorer people. Its due to many external factors that it happens…NOT the education system. (The meritocracy in the system is already mentioned by many comments).

    Furthermore, you CANNOT infer that statistics of lower govt spending in primary education leads to lesser admittance into secondary schools. Exams can simply be made easier or standards of entry lower to let people carry on in their education and it has nothing to do with how much is spend on education. If I deliberately make my exams so difficult that only 50% make it through, no matter how much money you spend, only 50% will make it through. I’m not saying that it is right for exams to be so tough that the fate of the kids future can be decided at the tender age of 12, but its a wrong analysis.

    There are plenty of cases where poor people make it to oxbridge. I personally know a couple.

    Also, the issue with polytechnics and JC entry has always been an area of debate. To be honest, a university just wants the cream of the crop. Do you think it cares if the student is from either JC or Poly? It is probably based on previous batches that have matriculated that they inferred that JC pupils are better than poly pupils up to a certain stage. If the results of poly students are better than those from JC in all cases, don’t you think that NUS/NTU would naturally accept more from poly? Artificially changing the demand for POLY and JC entrance might ultimately cause an outcome people might not desire. For example, a lot more higher scoring pupils will decide to go to JC instead of poly and crowd out those that need to go to poly. The end result might be pupils that can neither go to JC nor poly due to the higher poly COP. This spillover effect will spill to ITE and hence lead to more drop outs for those that cannot go to ITE due to the ITE COP rising. This is just one scenario. The problem is not as simple as it may seem.

    • Roy Ngerng

      Hi Bluish,

      Children have more time to study because they are financially more equipped to do so. These “external factors”, as you so-called, are also predetermined by the government.

      Wages are set low for low-income families as a policy decision by the PAP government – which has refused to implement a minimum wage to protect the wages of these workers.

      The issues that you brought out are micro-issues. On the macro-broad level, there is a clear decision to depress the wages of the poor, and when resources are not equally spread across the schools, students from poorer families, who do not have adequate resources, will necessarily be disadvantaged.


  34. Robert

    I happened across this link from a FB posting. I think you all deserve medals for the passion behind your arguments. I loved reading the posts, cross-posts, and rebuttals. Bravo.

  35. MAY

    I am from an average family, a poly graduate and now a SMU undergrad.
    I dont agree A levels are generally tougher, if it is academic skills, then i may give it you.
    For poly wise, its definitely tougher to stay on top in the multiple projects we have every semester.
    Its tougher to draw a line between being nice to your classmates but yet firm during projects.
    I won’t go too far on this.

    Well this is the social structure we have lived in all these while, a vicious cycle.
    Where same social classes are constantly being reproduced.
    Our life chances are being affected especially for those in the middle class and below.
    We want equality, but does capitalism allow class equality?
    If everyone is of the same level in the society, thats not capitalism.
    That maybe called communism, Karl Marx introduced Communist Utopia where we give what we can and take what we need.

    If you are at the top of social hierarchy pyramid, would you conveniently share a big portion of your wealth?
    Some yes, some no.
    But at the end of the day, we know it is human instinct to be greedy.

    • Roy Ngerng

      Hi MAY,

      Thank you for this.

      Just to also add on, the Nordic countries operate on capitalism as well, and they remain the most competitive and innovative countries in the world.

      Yet, there is strong re-distributive mechanisms that ensure that the poor do not get left out of the system.

      Thanks for this again.


      • choofrfreoer

        My cousin’s husband is a Dane. She had to migrate to Denmark after he resigned from Maersk because his degree from the University of Copenhagen wasn’t recognised in Singapore.

        “Competitive” and “innovative” because of their education system? Are you sure?

  36. Malch

    I’m grasping that your main argument is “The (educational) system in Singapore has become very unequal”. Also you have stated that “the inequality persists because of the planning parameters used by the PAP government to allocate more resources to good schools.” This suggests that the educational system needs to be reformed. I agree with your call for educational reform. However I believe that the problem isn’t the level of equality, but rather the rigidity and single-mindedness of this system.

    I don’t think the solution here is increasing the admission quota for universities, or making it easier for the “less advantaged” to get in. The entire point of a meritocratic system is to reward those who are more talented or intelligent than others. It’s naturally fair to some, and ‘unfair’ to others (if that makes sense.) The sad truth is that not everyone can make it to the top of society and live a “good” and privileged life. You can’t change that. @rdr sums up this point very well.

    I think every school regardless of whether it is a “elite/good” school or a normal neighborhood one gives equal opportunity for one to excel. The important thing here is that we all have a chance to make it out there. It’s not about the amount of resources you receive or the school receives, but rather the drive, ambition and innate ability that you have. I don’t think “good” schools do any better in motivating their students than local schools do. Ironically I feel that ITE’s/Polytechnics receive more funding than most secondary schools/JCs though I could be wrong on this. I have many friends who come from less privileged backgrounds and have more to worry about as you would suggest, yet still do exceedingly well.

    You should note that Finland’s educational system isn’t purely good because of more equal allocation of resources or smaller class sizes, but rather an emphasis on learning encouraged by a different teaching approach and shorter class hours. While we can learn some things from Finland, our culture is way too different to ever adopt their methods. Singapore must find its own path.

    Your article takes a rather materialistic approach, suggesting that the main determinant for academic success is socioeconomic background/money/equality, which I disagree with. The US/UK spends much more on its students than we do according to your statistics, but we still do much better than they do. Our schools may not be equal across the board, but they still outperform many other countries. The system is pretty fucked up I agree, but it does bring good results.

    Hopefully this post hasn’t gone too far off tangent.

    Several issues with the article:

    You should have clearly defined your definition of “good”. It’s a pretty subjective word.
    (From the MOE’s 2013 Budget: “A good school is one that caters well to the needs of all its students. A good school aims to nurture every student with the character, values, desire and skills to be an engaged learner throughout their lifetime.”)
    Your definition of a good school seems to be one that allows students to go to university and get good solid cash. You’re assuming that PM Lee has the same definition as you which means this article has a flawed premise.

    Your article isn’t focused enough. I see a jumble of statistics that you don’t explain very much. Thus all the comments criticising your use of these statistics. Also as @AwkwardSheep pointed out, you really shouldn’t have used decade old statistics to illustrate your point.

    • Roy Ngerng


      Agree that:

      (1) We should reduce class sizes, increase equitable allocation of resources to all schools, and reduce teaching hours – as I have mentioned in comments above.

      (2) It is not about spending more money, but spending more efficiently – but there is room for expenditure to increase in Singapore, so that for all schools, funding can be increased to increase the equitable distribution and allocation of resources.

      (3) Note that awkwardSheep had pointed out a statistic which compared the housing-type distribution of the students from the 1990-1992 Primary 1 cohorts when they were in Primary 1, and then when they were in university in 2007 – this statistic is not outdated.

      Thank you.


      • idealist

        Smaller classes are of course sound good, but have you considered the feasibility? How many more teachers would we need to recruit? Is it just an issue of money, given the severe manpower crunch across all sectors in Singapore in the face of tightened immigration policies? How many other employers would MOE crowd out if it were to hire so many more? Do you want any Tom, Dick and Harry to teach the primary school pupils for the sake of class size? Instead of lamenting not enough money the government is spending, please realise the intricacies of constraints that has to be balanced when making public policies.

        Yes the problem is that data is not available, but telling your readers to “advocate to the government to release the other information” does not detract from how flimsy your substantiation is. When discussing something you don’t know or simply have no means of knowing, be cautious, humble and don’t always act as though the insiders all have evil intentions and are all less smart than you are.

      • Roy Ngerng

        Hi idealist,

        Please look at the government expenditure and unemployment statistics before making this comment. Have you look at the statistics? I have.

        Singapore spends the lowest government expenditure among all the high-income countries even though we are the richest. We also have one of he highest unemployment rates amk the tertiary educated people in Singapore. At the same time, we have one of the highest reserves and surpluses in the world.

        First, the government needs to increase it’s spending, and second, more tertiary educated people can be trained to be educators as well.

        I will deal with the statistic of tertiary unemployment tomorrow.

        The problem in Singapore isn’t that there is a lack of resource. The problem is we have more than enough money but it isn’t being spent in a higher proportion to provide for more equitable distribution.

        Please look at the statistics, so that we can have a more thorough discussion. It is of course popular to rebut the strength of this article simply by questioning its premise. It’s equally illogical to question the premise by evoking logic, which is not grounded by statistical evidence.

        Thank you.


      • choofrfreoer

        “we have one of the highest reserves and surpluses in the world”

        Yes, yes, we all know that you know how to look at statistics. Did you ever question why we have such a huge surplus? Did it ever come across your brain that our Oxbridge/Ivy League-educated ministers would have skipped this large surplus and left it to rot away in some bank, or worse, embezzeled it?

        Here’s a quick tip: The surpluses goes into managing exchange rate policies, investments and protection against attacks on the Singdollar.

        Did you ever realise why all the Southeast Asian countries died during the 1997 financial crisis but Singapore emerged relatively unscathed? Yes, that’s the reason why the ringgit and baht are so weak. It’s because Singapore had the foreign reserves necessary to prevent speculation in the market. Or would you prefer we end up like Malaysia/Thailand now with a weak currency?

        Do you even know the implications of a reserves, balance of trade and budget surpluses? Clearly, not.

      • Roy Ngerng

        Haha. Embezzlement. OMG. HAHAHAHAHA. You dare to talk about embezzlement. HAHAHAHAHAHA.

        First, at least you’ve revealed where your stand is now. So, now everyone can see for sure where your agenda is.

        Second, you dare talk about embezzlement. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

        Hello readers, do you agree or not? Lol. Where’s the money your CPF is supposed to earn but isn’t? Where’s the retirement you should have, given we have a retirement fund, but is not getting?

  37. Ace Bendict

    You do realise, don’t you, that “equality” is a very generic term?

    You do realise, don’t you, that “equality of opportunity” and “equality of outcome” are complete opposites of each other? Please Google the definition of the terms if you doubt me

    Saying that the rich can enter “elite schools” isn’t proving any discrimination. Unless you can show that Singapore is actively discriminating against the poor, say, with high school fees (and a lack of bursaries/scholarships) which they can’t afford, then yes, that is “unequal opportunities”.

    In championing affirmative action for one group, that is providing “unequal opportunities” between that group and others. Sure, that’s the way to lead to “equal outcomes”, but is “equal outcomes” necessarily better? Or is it more important to let people develop to the best they can be?

    I was a RJC KS Bull writer, in the 99th percentile for SAT I with a perfect score for the essay, perfect score for SAT II and perfect scorer for A-levels, top 10 for H3 Chemistry back then, but I was rejected by both NUS Medicine and Law

    My primary school? Parry Primary School. Is that considered an elite school? Wait, it was so mediocre, it doesn’t even exist anymore!

    Before you complain about the low number of poly grads in these top courses, it may be a good idea to first examine the standard of others who were rejected too.

    And in case you dare to say that those poly grads who got rejected are of similar calibre, I challenge you to find me a poly grad rejected by NUS Law who can write essays at the same quality as those published in KS Bull, or one rejected by NUS Medicine who was on any International Science Olympiad team.

    Oh, you’re going to say next that I spent all my time studying and didn’t have any life? Well then,

    1) If you want something really hard, work for it. Don’t slack, expect to still achieve it and complain if others get it because they worked harder

    2) That’s wrong. I was in 5 CCAs – Badminton, Chinese Orchestra, Alchemy Club, International Chess Club and House Committee

    The failure of our education system is in letting these people mix with the real top people. These people are the top in their school, but they fail to realise that those in other schools are better. So they always question, “I’m so good, yet I cannot get in”, while failing to realise that in reality, they are far from the top people, some of whom are similarly rejected.

    Once they get to know these top people, then they’ll realise the true extent of others’ abilities and how they aren’t as special as they previously thought.

  38. Tong Hon Yee

    I think there’s already been a lot of credible discussion on what a good school constitutes, the inequality inherent in our education system, and many of these other ‘big’ issues.

    I’d just like to make clarifications about a few details. Call it nitpicking, if you will.

    1) The first graph you have showing how students from advantaged schools progress more easily is quite misleading. I agree with the substantive that entering a good primary school or secondary school does increase one’s chances of entering university, and that’s an inequality that needs to be looked into.

    However, the graph seems to imply that you are charting the progress of a homogenous population through the educational system. The populations being compared, however, are anything but homogenous. First you look at GEP students; then you look at IP students; then you look at students scoring 4A’s in the exams. However, GEP students aren’t necessarily IP students; IP students don’t necessarily score 4As. I understand you’re constrained by the amount of data available, but that graph displayed, with its arrows and percentages, are meaningless because no direct comparisons are being made.

    Moreover, the graph and its statistics also show that there are many missing links (perhaps due to missing data). I can infer from your data that many GEP students enter IP schools only because I assume that (1) High-scoring PSLE students tend to enter IP schools, and/or (2) DSA tends to be for IP students. These two statistics, in fact, cannot be construed as two separate links (as implied in your graph) because they are causally related: higher-scoring PSLE students would tend to have the ability (or privilege) to enter secondary school via DSA.

    The graph further makes me assume that IP is mostly made up of GEP students. You may say I’m misinterpreting the graph but when I see a graph with an arrow from one block to another I would assume that you’re implying that the population mentioned in the first block (GEP students) transitions to the population mentioned in the second block (IP students). However, that is certainly not the case: GEP students are a very small proportion of IP students.

    You did anticipate this by mentioning that IP and GEP are similar programmes, but I feel that it’s a misinterpretation of the MOE statement. It appears that MOE’s thrust is towards encouraging interaction between GEP and non-GEP students (see the next statement regarding MOE’s policy in primary schools). What MOE is implying, therefore, is not that IP and GEP are the same, but that the MOE feels GEP have been differentiated too much from everyone else in the past and are hoping to assimilate them into school populations in general.

    Last but not least, the last bar of your graph depicts how most students who enter Law, Medicine, etc score 4 As. First of all, that’s a poor statistic to use: ‘A’ Level results are an indicator of academic merit, so I am totally not surprised that most people in these ‘prestigious’ courses had good academic results. Not to belabour the point, but isn’t good academic results the prerequisite for entry into these courses? Yes, it’s true that most people who score 4 As probably come from IP schools, but again, that’s an assumption I am making that isn’t backed up with appropriate statistics at that point in time.

    I feel that visually things would would be much less misleading if you just displayed a table showcasing them as separate facts, or displayed separate graphs, as you did later on for your other statistics.

    2) Regarding housing and education, I feel that you could give readers an even more accurate picture of the situation if you compared Housing-type Distributions amongst university students to corresponding Housing-type distributions in the general Singaporean population. How much of the decline in students from 1-3 room flat housing is caused by increasing inequality, and how much is caused by the decline of Singaporeans living 1-3 room flat? I’m not criticising the statistic; I’m saying it could be enhanced with an appropriate comparison.

    3) As other commenters have mentioned, expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP may not be the most reliable indicator of educational outcomes. Consider healthcare: we spend a considerably smaller percentage of our GDP than many other countries (e.g. the US) but obtain much better outcomes. Likewise, despite our relatively low level of spending Singapore does have better educational outcomes than many countries that out-spend us (again, see how the US is struggling with education despite spending much more on it). I agree the government can and ought to spend more on education, but it’s not necessarily a cause for criticism because what’s important is not just how much is spent but how efficiently the government spends.

    Statistics regarding government spending on education should therefore not constitute a direct criticism; they are only relevant AFTER sufficiently demonstrating that education outcomes are deficient and extra spending is necessary and justified.

    4) I was looking at the Progression to Secondary School data because I was curious why our statistic looks so low compared to other developing countries. However, it is actually not low.

    Firstly, every country has a different definition of ‘secondary’, and the countries achieving a 100% transition rate consider vocational schools or even “civic courses” secondary education. (Perhaps that’s a lesson for us to try to include vocational secondary education?)

    Secondly, such figures are often used as a rough gauge: it’s hard to tell how significant this 10% difference is because of different measuring methods, different data and so on. What’s more, many countries do not have this statistic: notable examples include Canada and Australia. The WDI table even does not even bother putting in a global average, and the only regional average it shows is that of “Europe and Central Asia”. This statistic thus does not seem to be a very commonly used one in assessing educational outcomes. And it’s hard to do a solid, objective comparison based on any one statistic alone. Link to the dataset I was looking at:

    5) Some of your graphs seem odd. For instance:
    – Why does your graph titled “Students from Independent Schools are more likely to be from high-income households” have 120% marked on its y-axis? How does a school population exceed 100% in this context?
    – The “progression to secondary school” graph starts from 82%, making the gap between Singapore and other countries seem disproportionately large. If it’s scaled from 0% to 100%, Singapore doesn’t look that bad.

    I understand I’m being pedantic here, but I feel that one who tries to showcase statistics objectively and accurately should also be wary about how he or she presents it in graphs and tables, and pay attention to the small details so as to enhance his or her reliability.

    6) One of your main suggestions is that government introduce more tertiary education targeted at teaching vocational skills. However, hasn’t the government already done that? Isn’t ITE (and to a large extent polytechnic) about teaching skills specific to certain careers? ITE and Polytechnics, by the way, also count as tertiary education. And many of the “universities” or “colleges” in other countries are the equivalent of our ITEs and Polytechnics.

    I observed that someone argued that salaries of Polytechnic graduates are insufficient. In this case, I don’t think it’s a problem with the education system, but a problem with how salaries in different industries are calibrated. Getting a diploma without a degree should be a viable and even desirable educational option: the emphasis should be on creating the jobs and ensuring adequate salaries for diploma holders, not on ensuring even more people get university degrees.

    7) I think one of the main causes underlying the inequality in our education system is the teachers’ workload. We want to make every school good, and we want to continually improve our educational outcomes, promote holistic development, engage students in “proper” education, and so on. However all this does end up contributing to the workload of teachers, who have to handle not just academics but also CCAs, new initiatives and numerous other sundry tasks that detract from their main calling – to teach.

    I’m not a teacher, but a few of my family members are or were teachers in different schools. And I have heard numerous comments about how the teaching workload is excessive. I’ve also heard from others that tuition can be more fulfilling than teaching in schools because of the amount of non-teaching related work they have to do in schools.

    Perhaps we may be inclined to blame the MOE for imposing so much work on the teachers, but I’d also like to note that such demands are imposed on teachers because of the reforms that many have agitated for: moving away from academics towards developing life skills and excellence in sports and arts, encouraging learning outside the classroom and so on.

    A possible suggestion is raising the pay of teachers (which has the ‘benefit’ of raising educational expenditures), but I am unsure whether a pay raise will make teachers that much more willing to stay if current work conditions persist.

    All in all, I agree with you that there is much room for improvement. However, I would also like to note that the government has not done nothing: streaming is no longer the terrible divider it once was; ITE is no longer It’s The End (I Not Stupid was quite a while ago); the government has tried to make the primary school balloting system more equitable by reserving places for children who do not live near the school and have no affiliation with it. Yes, imperfections do exist, but I think the discussion should be framed in the context of how to improve what we have rather than what has failed.

      • Tong Hon Yee

        Hi Roy,

        I have read the comments before typing my comment. It is heartening to see so much discussion about this important topic.

        However, I am not just recommending ‘solutions’. Some of my points were about ways the presentation of data could be improved; others were about how the statistics you presented were subjective; yet another was about how additional comparative statistics could make your case even stronger.

        In other words, I am introducing some new points to this discussion, so I would really appreciate it if you could read my comment and engage with my points accordingly.

        Thank you!

  39. Nn

    There is definitely truth in what Roy mention. I am a Primary school teacher in a top GEP SCHOOL.
    First and foremost, I agree with what someone commented earlier that based on their PSLE results they already qualify for he top schools in Singapore. The question is what about those who didn’t? Such students are placed on a wait list but they are favoured as compare to someone who has the same result because GEP students are deemed to have been tried and tested in P3 to be more “different” than the rest. I can quote tons of cases where student A and student B gets the same PSLE SCORE and placed on wait list but student A gets in because he is from the GEP program.

    Then this leads to the 2nd part of the problem, parents see this advantage given to GEP students and they start to sign their child up for GEP EXAMS PREPARATION classes. Needless to say only those with the financial might is able to do so. As a result, it’s also a headache for us teachers to identify who exactly are the ones that are naturally gifted and who are the ones who have been trained to be “gifted”. Though time will tell, though a child who is “trained” to be gifted May suffer in the GEP system but nonetheless some parents with the financial might will still sign their child up. As a result this education system favors the rich because with money they are able to buy more opportunities.

    • choofrfreoer

      It is indeed illuminating that you are a teacher from GE branch. GE branch handpicks its teachers very carefully, to ensure that they have the aptitude and character to teach intelligent kids.

      Considering your grammar, how did you manage to slip through such a system of checks? Please enlighten us so that we can feedback to GE branch to prevent GE kids from learning wrong grammar.

    • choofrfreoer

      Here, I’ll have a go at correcting your statements:

      “There is definitely truth in what Roy has mentioned. I am a Primary school teacher in a top GEP school.

      First and foremost, I agree with what someone has commented earlier that these GEP students already qualify for the top schools in Singapore based on their PSLE results. The question is what about those who didn’t qualify? These students are placed on a waitlist but they are favoured over others who have obtained the same results, because GEP students have been deemed to be “better” than the rest in P3. I can quote many of cases where student A and student B get the same PSLE score and were placed on the waitlist but student A gets the place because he is from the GEP.

      This then leads to the second part of the problem, parents see this advantage given to GEP students and they start to sign their child up for GEP selection test preparation classes. Needless to say, only those with the financial capability are able to do so. As a result, this is a headache for us teachers to distinguish between the naturally gifted and those who have been trained to be “gifted”. In time to come, a child who is “trained” to be gifted may suffer in the GEP. Nonetheless, some parents with financial ability will still sign their child up for the abovementioned preparation classes. As a result, this education system favours the rich because they are able to buy more opportunities with their money.”

      Are you sure you are a GE teacher? If so, I fear for the GE kids!

      • choofrfreoer

        There is a need when a commentator masquerades as a teacher to lend authority to his/her posts.

      • choofrfreoer

        Besides, I’m not saying that the person is stupid, ignorant or idiotic. This person said he/she is a teacher, so what’s wrong with questioning that?

        I’m attacking this commentator’s credentials and the evidence is his/her atrocious grammar. A GE teacher? Rubbish.

        I find it difficult to believe that with the standards required of GE teachers, such a teacher can have so poor writing skills. Unless of course, this is a Chinese teacher, in which “it’s also a headache for us teachers to identify who exactly are the ones that are naturally gifted and who are the ones who have been trained to be “gifted”” would hardly be necessary.

        It’s evident that this is a fake “expert”. Fake “experts” need to be highlighted and attacked, or they would be dragging real, trained GE teachers down with them.

      • Roy Ngerng

        Hi choofrfreoer,

        You have been rude in your replies. Please be respectful to the other commenters.

        You sent a deluge of comments yesterday night – to the other readers, I would please advise you to reD choofrfreoer’s comments with more discern, as he or she has been shown by this comment to be inconsiderate to this discussion.


      • choofrfreoer

        Yes Roy, but being rude isn’t malicious at least by presenting skewed statistics and accusing the government of discrimination when it doesn’t exist.

        You need to be able to distinguish “equality of opportunity” (meritocracy) and “equality of outcome” (communism) first before you actually write anything on “equality”.

    • Roy Ngerng

      Hi Nn,

      Thank you for commenting and saying this.

      This is what I understand as well, speaking to the teachers I’ve met and I thank you for speaking up and speaking the truth.

      It is very much appreciated and I hope other readers will find this insightful.

      Thank you.


  40. Roy Ngerng

    Dear readers and commenters,

    Please discern for yourself the comments, and also the mindsets and motivations of some these comments – including mine.

    Please also speak to trusted teachers and friends whom you know to find out and discuss more about the education system.

    Don’t take what’s written here for what it is. The statistics that I’ve presented here are most probably the only data available here to understanding our education system in more insightful ways. However, you can look at the statistics and read up on other research to draw your own conclusions from these statistics.

    Finally, the question we need to ask is – has the education system been made to be relevant to the needs of Singaporeans and is there a need for reform? Can this be done under the PAP government? The answer can be a yes or no. It’s up to you.

    Hopefully, we have generated some questions – which have been asked many times, but presented in light of the statistics, and restart a conversation, in the larger context of the education system and of our society – and other policies – as well.


  41. Professor Xavier

    Oh just shuttup already. I don’t see what all you people are complaining about. Just three points I would like to make.

    a) Poly is definitely an easier route. There is no debate about this. I’m not saying that the top Polytechnic kid can’t match a Raffles kid; I’m just saying that generally, the competition in poly less than that in a junior college. Example: I have friends who scored 3.4 in aeronautical engineering who fucking failed a module in University. Not just 1, but a few. How the hell is that even possible that they are unable to learn double integration or solve partial differential equations. We all started from the same base level (without prior knowledge) and the fact that they failed is a testament that hard work compensate for grey matter.

    b) To the point that poly kids always say, “we’re better in technical stuff”. I guess that’s the whole point of polytechnics; for technical stuff. I guess plenty of engineering works didn’t come from the application of theoretical physics or pure mathematics; no, engineers suddenly discovered how to do all that stuff. Obviously we need the smart guys to derive the theories and formulae.

    c) Even if the government decides to do away with this whole poly-jc-ite bullshit and come up with say, a high school system. The same fucking thing will happen. JC kids taking the top percentile of the grades distribution and poly kids next with a few outliers and the poly kids that don’t do well end up having a really shitty certificate of say CCC instead of a 3.4 GPA.

    So honestly, quit fucking whining man. You knew the outcomes of your decision to enter poly or jc. If you’re smart, u end up topping the poly and going to universities regardless. If you’re not, you end up like my fellow failing university friends.

  42. SDrone

    You are right. After reading through your article, I was indeed disgusted by your poor understanding of statistics and blatant manipulation of data. I was tempted to rebut your points but I see that many have already done so.

    But I believe in being constructive, so I shall give you one more statistic. the amount that the government consistently spends on education, is second only to one other, which is defence, and the difference is not much (SG budget 2013). That shows how much the government is already committed to quality education for Singaporeans. Also. if you’re going to use WDI (which can be skewed), then why not also include PISA education rankings as well?

    The saddest thing is that you think that you have a foolproof argument but what you really have is a set of data drawn from wildly differing sources which you have cherry picked to suit your agenda. Disgusting.

    • Sylph


      Countless posters have torn your arguments apart and shown your shoddy statistical manipulation. Why won’t you just admit you made a mistake for once.

      Your obsession with the belief that everyone can reach the same potential given enough attention is idealistic, naive and self-comforting. People are born unequal, and some people will reach a higher potential with less attention. Equal opportunity would dictate we give everyone the same attention, and those born inferior will end up inferior. The amount of effort needed to raise someone inferior is simply too much and usually not worth the investment. That attention could have been given to a few other smart kids. It’s only rational to invest in something that has high and guaranteed returns, not a low and risky one.

      Singaporeans are indeed losing their self-reliance and resilience, sine they keep demanded to be pampered by the government.

      • choofrfreoer

        Well said. We share the same ideas, just that somehow you always manage to express yours in a very diplomatic manner.

        As a normal technical teacher I know once said, “Smaller classes and more resources for normal technical students? Make them attend classes first.”

  43. Nn

    I think that the writer of this post is trying to point out that not all schools are good schools. And with a stronger financial might, it will buy their children more opportunities.

    To the person who commented about my English, I beg your pardon. This is an area that I need to work on. I graduatuated with a second upper in engineering from a local university. I am teaching the mainstream in a GEP school. I was invited to teach science in the GEP section 4 years ago.

    Perhaps I may not present as well as others but I am sure that there is truth in what I say. The author is merely trying to elaborate the fact that not all schools are equal or good. I acknowledge that the goverment is putting in their effort in trying to make “all schools a good school” but they didn’t say they are trying to make “all students a good student.”

    • Ace Bendict

      Please note that “invited to teach science in the GEP” and “teaching the mainstream in a GEP school” hardly lends weight since you don’t teach the GEP.

      And I apologise for the incorrect assumption that you are a GEP teacher. That clears matters up.

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  45. Chia Shimin

    There are so many holes in this article. If I’m not mistaken,”Every school is a good school” implies how every school can offer a “good” education, where “good” can be reasonably understood to mean providing for the educational needs of a child. That said, this article seems to attack the notion of inequal opportunities across schools, overly focusing on the disparities in educational streams and syllabus among schools. Of course, going to a “better school” does seem to offer a more secured path to higher ed. However, to blame this solely or even primarily on going to a better school is just strange. In view of how “good” education should tailor the needs of the individual, isn’t it justified then that the more intellectually gifted ones should be awarded programmes that can stretch their abilities further? The claim that a “disproportionate” percentage of these children of schools that offer more challenging programmes going to pursue higher ed just seems moot in a context where individuals are judged according to their abilities. This extends beyond academia, to areas like sports and the performing arts as well.

    Of course, I am fully aware of how the rich definitely can get a “head-start” in life, from listening Mozart, absorbing a litany of skills, and having a conducive family background. Then again, there will always be disparities in life, complete equality was never possible to begin with. Thus, to expect an education that ensures complete equality in opportunities at the outset, (from childcare to primary schools) is somewhat unreasonable, unless the Government adopts Big Brother totalitarian control. That said, the phenomenon of “kiasuism” does take such social-inequality to high levels in SG. One does not have to see kiasu parents doing so much to enroll their children in prestigious schools to know this is excessive and truly detrimental to social mobility. But this is after all, an issue of mentality, not the presence of more prestigious schools. The removal of official rankings will still see parents scurrying to the more reputable schools for their kids. “reputation” is but an indication of social importance. Again, coming back to my point, the all school is a good school seeks to rectify problems with the mentality of kiasuism (how Ed can suit a child’s needs and recognize their achievements duly) and it needs time to unravel an entire society’s mores.

    On the issue of social inequality, providing greater pathways to success has accorded individuals with strengths in different areas. Shatec, ITE for example, have offered them means to excel in something, more than a high-education that may surely turn out miserable, something that doesn’t suit them. Of course, arguments abound how “late bloomers” from Polys get fewer chances to rise into Uni. However, unless there is evidence of how they are denied spaces even when proven to be equally good or better than a JC student, this argument doesn’t seem convincing. That is not to say the ed. System is foolproof. But to argue solely on the fine holes that has not been plugged yet seems too much of a biased argument that offers nothing really useful.

  46. qwerty

    This article presents the correlation between wealth and academic performance but fails to suggest reasons for this relationship.

    I suggest that wealthier families tend to place a greater emphasis on education, creating a more conducive learning environment at home for their children. The emphasis, thus, should not be on schools, but rather at homes. Lower-income families need to be given such conducive learning environments, perhaps through the construction of more libraries. Indeed, the playing field is not levelled and it will be merely a symptomatic approach to target schools.

    This point may come across as controversial, but what I have realised is that intelligence is also partly genetic. In a sense that the more wealthy ones, considering Singapore’s meritocratic nature, will, on average, have higher IQs than their less well-to-do counterparts. Their offsprings, will then be smarter as well. This innate disparity then results in the gaps as mentioned by the author.

    • choofrfreoer

      “intelligence is also partly genetic”. AH HAH. I’ll help Roy reply you here.

      “Countless research have proved that if people are given the chance to develop, they will rise. The government is stopping these people from rising”.

      There you go, Roy. Saved you trouble from replying.

  47. Roy Ngerng

    Dear readers,

    A note again – to be discerning in how you read the comments, and this article as well. Do make your own informed decision, also by speaking to people in the know, such as other teachers, and to look at other research.

    Some commenters here might have intentions other than sincere, so I hope that you would be able to see for yourself which comments you need to take with a pinch of salt. Again, if we can understand the different intentions and motivations of people, we might perhaps understand why some people believe education system is unequal and some believe that the system needs to be protected.

    Thank you.


    • choofrfreoer

      I wasn’t joking when I challenged you to find me the polytechnic students who got rejected from NUS Medicine and Law. I’m really interested in meeting them to find out their standards.

    • benjamin

      I am under the impression that you believe innate ability does not correlate with educational achievements? On the contrary, countless research have proved that there is a correlation general mental ability and educational achievements. Now unlike you, I am actually going to cite the study:

      “Sex, Intelligence and Educational Achievement in a National Cohort of over 175,000 11-Year-Old Schoolchildren in England” conducted by Calvin, Catherine M. ; Fernandes, Cres ; Smith, Pauline ; Visscher, Peter M. ; Deary, Ian J.

      In 2004, 178,599 pupils attending English state schools completed the Cognitive Abilities Test-Third Edition (CAT3), assessing verbal, quantitative, and nonverbal reasoning abilities. These data were linked to each child’s attainment scores on national Key Stage 2 tests in English, mathematics and science. General mental ability (“g”) was strongly related to an educational factor score (r = 0.83) as expected.

      The coefficient of determination r-squared can be calculated to be 0.6889. This effectively means that 68.89% of educational scores are accounted for by general mental ability.

      That being said, I must emphasize that I am not saying general mental ability is all that matters. Clearly, there are variables that moderate the “general mental ability-educational achievement” relationship such as income, background, etc.

      Case in point, in another research:

      “On the Value of Aiming High: The Causes and Consequences of Ambition” conducted by Timothy A. Judge and John D. Kammeyer-Mueller”

      It was shown that Individuals who come from successful backgrounds may have higher levels of ambition. Children look to their parents as role models, so—as predicted by social cognitive theory —if one’s parents have demonstrated occupational success, the children may form an ambitious goal to equal these parental accomplishments. The study further stated that higher levels of ambition were positively related to educational attainment (r = 0.48)

      It is hence clear that general mental ability is important in predicting educational achievements and that this relationship is without doubt, moderated by other factors too. So while you have been claiming countless research have proven otherwise, I have already shared actual studies indicating otherwise. Unless you can back up your claims with actual research, I believe readers will be able to make their “own informed decision” and “be discerning in how they read the comments”.


      • Ace Bendict

        Roy sounds like a person who believes that he has the ability to succeed, since by his reasoning, everyone can, just that the government is stopping him from doing so.

        But this wouldn’t make a convincing case since it’s a selfish intent! So he attempts to write on an argumentative essay portraying “the rich vs the poor/the elites vs the rest” instead of “my current place in the social hierarchy vs where I think I ought to be”.

        As I have always said, the best solution and status quo is rewarding those who score better. Offering extra funds/programmes to those who don’t deserve it would be discriminating against those who really do.

        And this is what Roy has never considered: Are those who graduate from “elite schools” going to stay in Singapore and contribute if they score better but chances are given to others? Dream on. The whole world is looking to them for their talents.

        Only grades should matter in a truly meritocratic society. Family background shouldn’t even matter.

      • Roy Ngerng

        I don’t think your “opinion” is actually supported on many accounts. Good try on trying to mislead others by reframing my discussion based on the idea of “selfishness”. Others can see it’s not – it’s about equality.

        Your other comments – other readers know the truth for themselves, or would have heard otherwise. So, readers, will leave it to you to discern 🙂

        It is perhaps the inequality of our education that has resulted in an imbalance in education that even the “elites” suffer. The waiting for them to acknowledge will help them realise that the system is in need of a drastic rebalancing.

      • csm98

        The two sets of research you cite only go to prove why State intervention is essential to levelling the playing field. While no-one can change the “mental ability” that a child is born with, nor his parents and environment, one can certainly try to deliver an educational environment, and resources, that maximizes that child’s development to the limits of his “innate” ability, as well as help try to ameliorate whatever parental and environmental shortcomings he might have been born with. This is where the State, by not providing free child care and free pre-school facilities, and by diverting disproportionate resources to elite schools, are in fact handicapping disadvantaged children even further. Hence all claims of meritocracy are suspect. The education system, instead of being a social leveller, working to pull up the disadvantaged, (not put down the advantaged), is nothing more than a sorting system, not “meritocratically”, but by exacerbating the “innate” advantages and disadvantages each child is born with/into.

        For everyone going on and on about “innate” ability, I strongly recommend you read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”, where the talented and successful Bill Gates (among other case studies) testifies to the role of opportunity and circumstance in shaping one’s success.

      • Ace Bendict

        Yes, Roy. You still haven’t replied whether it’s “equality of outcome” or “equality of opportunity”. Until you say which “equality” you mean exactly, your arguments are invalid because you’re vacillating between them, extolling the advantages of both under the generic term “equality”, but never saying the disadvantages.

        The advantage of “equality of outcome” is that it doesn’t matter where you come from, you end up with the same outcome. The advantage of “equality of opportunity” is that people who work hard will succeed. By the definition of the terms, you can’t have both. So which “equality” are you referring to when you say “equality”? I suspect it’s “egalitarianism”.

        With both grandfathers being uneducated coolies and both grandmothers being uneducated housewives, and considering where I am now, I can testify that the education system in Singapore works.

        And csm98, you state that, “one can certainly try to deliver an educational environment, and resources, that maximizes that child’s development to the limits of his “innate” ability”. Yes, ideally, the government should try to educate everyone to tertiary level. But given a limited set of resources, how are you going to allocate them?

        We can all agree that smart people learn faster with fewer resources required. So should smart people or stupid people get more resources? And to what extent? These are debatable questions. But we also mustn’t forget the fact that trained/educated smart entrepeneurs like Bill Gates will end up creating jobs for others and the entire economy is better off, but the same can’t be said of stupid people.

      • benjamin

        Dear csm98,

        No child is truly disadvantaged by the education system. Perhaps neighbourhood schools may not get as much resources as the so-called elite schools, but surely this does not mean that these schools are not able to provide a comprehensive education and maximize the “disadvantaged” child’s ability. If an individual does have the innate ability and works hard, there is no reason why he would not be able to enter a better school of his choice after the national exams. Sure, there are issues like income levels and tuition, but even if the poor cannot afford tuition, schools often hold remedial and supplementary lessons. Additionally, students are often encouraged to consult their teachers. The disadvantage is certainly not as huge as you perceive it to be.

        Next, success and education achievements are not the same. To illustrate, a successful person may not have high education achievements but still be successful. That being said, I do not deny the contribution of other factors to having high education achievements. However, it is widely agreed upon, and grounded in science, that mental ability remains one of the, if not most important factor in predicting one’s education achievements.

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