Category: Education

Exposing the Myths in the PAP’s Education Changes: Wages Still Don’t Grow

At the National Day Rally last week, Lee Hsien Loong said, “Do not go on a paper chase for qualifications or degrees, especially if they are not relevant because pathways and opportunities to upgrade and to get better qualifications will remain open throughout your career.

But do you know this is not the first time Lee Hsien Loong said this? In May last year, The Straits Times quoted him as having said, “polytechnic students have many good options after graduating and need not just aim for a university degree.”

In fact, Lee Hsien Loong was not the only PAP minister to have said this.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan echoed by saying that, “If they cannot find jobs, what is the point? You own a degree, but so what? That you can’t eat it. If that cannot give you a good life, a good job, it is meaningless.

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing then also said, “It’s not the degree or the diploma… that is most important… What matters most is the training of the mind and the ability to grasp an issue, ask the correct questions, dissect the problem and find the solutions.

Like many Singaporeans I had heard from, “which government in their right mind will tell their citizens that it is not important to get a degree?”

ASPIRE Committee Recommends Polytechnic and ITE Students to “Deepen Skills”

So, a few days ago, the PAP government released the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) report. The report made the following 10 recommendations:

  1. Strengthen education and career guidance (ECG) efforts in schools, polytechnics and ITE.
  2. Enhance internships at the polytechnics and ITE.
  3. Increase Nitec to Higher Nitec progression opportunities so ITE students can deepen their skills.
  4. Establish polytechnic and ITE leads for each key industry sector to strengthen linkages with industry and help enhance programme offerings.
  5. Expand online learning opportunities to make it easier for individuals to learn anywhere and anytime.
  6. Provide more development and support programmes for polytechnic and ITE students to help every enrolled student succeed.
  7. Launch new programmes that integrate work and study, such as place-and-train programmes, to provide an additional skills-upgrading option for polytechnic and ITE graduates.
  8. Increase post-diploma Continuing Education and Training (CET) opportunities at our polytechnics to refresh and deepen the skills of polytechnic graduates.
  9. Support vocation-based deployments during National Service (NS) to help polytechnic and ITE graduates maintain their skills.
  10. Develop sector-specific skills frameworks and career progression pathways in collaboration with industry to support progression based on industry-relevant skills.

The ASPIRE committee made 10 recommendations but they can be summed up in a few words – the committee wants polytechnic and ITE students to “deepen their skills”.

But do you notice something that is glaringly missing in the report?

So, after upgrading the skills, will starting wages increase?

Polytechnic and ITE Graduates Still Earn Low Starting Wages

Last year, I wrote about the starting pay of Singaporeans at the different educational levels. According the The Straits Times, “a diploma holder’s average starting salary is $2,000, while that of a degree holder is $3,000“. An ITE student would earn about $1,300. And for someone with a secondary school education of below, the starting pay would be $800 last year or $1,000 (or so) this year.

Slide1

This means that there is a wage gap of $2,000 between the starting pay of someone with a degree and someone who has a secondary school education and below.

And when you compare this with other developed countries, Singapore actually has the largest and most unequal wage gap among the developed countries.

Slide3

Chart: OECD Indicators Education at a Glance 2013

Now, the above is only for starting salaries.

But according to the Ministry of Manpower, if you look at the wages of polytechnic and ITE graduates (earning around $2,000 and $1,300 respectively), you can see that their wages would remain stagnant or even drop over the course of their work life.

However, for someone with a degree, he/she is likely to see significant increases in their salaries across the course of their work life.

photo 4 (16)

Chart: Report on Wages in Singapore, 2011

Thus this means that over time, someone with a degree might see his/her salary rise to an average of $5,000 or so. However, for the other educational levels, the salary would remain stagnant.

Slide4

And because of the wider disparity, this means that over time, the wage gap in Singapore would rise dramatically. And when compared with other developed countries, not only is the wage gap the widest, it would also be several times more unequal than the next country with the widest wage disparity.

Slide6

Chart: OECD Indicators Education at a Glance 2013

Now, note that even though the wage gap is the widest in Singapore, it does not mean that degree holders are paid the highest salaries in Singapore, as compared to other developed countries.

In fact, when you compare Singapore with the other highest-income countries, Singaporeans actually earn the lowest wages.

Slide1

Chart: International Labour Organisation Data collection on wages and income

So, what this means is that degree holders in Singapore are also being shortchanged by the PAP government. So, if degree holders are already being shortchanged, this means that diploma and ITE graduates are even worse off!

Thus even though the ASPIRE committee has made recommendations to “deepen the skills” of polytechnic and ITE graduates, the fact that there was no discussion on wage issues is very problematic.

Now, there is some token news which headlined that, “Outstanding non-graduate teachers could get graduate pay” and “Better career prospects for non-graduates in public service“, but this only refers to any wage increases down the road, such as when “Non-graduate teachers … have demonstrated outstanding performance or have deep experience”, where only then they will be treated as being on par with a degree graduate.

But this is very different from actually increasing the starting salaries of polytechnic and ITE graduates and as long as there is no effort to do this, this would mean that polytechnic and ITE graduates will have to wait several, if not many years, before they are able to see any catch-ups in their salaries. And if they don’t, their salaries will become stagnant or even fall as shown above.

Now, as I have written, at the current CPF interest rates of an average of 3%, a Singaporean would need to earn at least about $2,000 to be able to still buy a flat and retire later on.

Slide6

And this is only if wages increase by 4% every year. But as you can see above, wages for someone who earns $2,000 is likely to stagnate or drop. This means that if a person wants to earn enough to buy a flat and retire, he/she might even need at least $2,500 or $3,000!

Today, there are 30% of Singaporeans who earn less than $2,000 and 50% of Singaporeans who earn less than $3,000.

Indeed, no wonder Associate Professor Tilak Abeysinghe had calculated that the bottom 30% of households have to spent 105% to 151% of their income, because they simply cannot earn enough to survive.

Slide64

Similarly, Professor Mukul Asher had also estimated between 27% and 35% of Singaporeans would be living in poverty.

Singapore Poverty Rate Asher 2007

This would mean that Singapore would have the highest poverty rate among the developed countries and one of the highest poverty rate among the Asian countries.

Slide112

In fact, because of the widest wage disparity, Singapore also has the highest income inequality among the developed countries.

Slide1

And as I had written before, he PAP government has actually been pushing down the income inequality statistics over each reported period (from 2008 to 2010 to 2013), to create the perception that income inequality is not as high as it actually is in Singapore.

Gini Coefficient 2008 vs 2010 vs 2013

Now, if income inequality is a real problem in Singapore, instead of pretending that income inequality is not a problem by fudging the statistics, shouldn’t there be affirmative action to increase wages at the bottom so as to narrow the wage gap in Singapore?

Shouldn’t the government increase the starting salaries of polytechnic and ITE graduates? So again, why is this missing in the ASPIRE report?

In fact, what is even more disconcerting is that not only is the wage gap the widest in Singapore and not only do Singaporeans earn the lowest wages among the highest-income countries, the rich in Singapore actually earns the highest salaries among the developed countries and one of the highest in the world!

Slide100

Chart: ECA Global Perspectives National Salary Comparison 2012

When you look at this in perspective, then something doesn’t seem quite right.

  1. Why are polytechnic and ITE graduates paid the lowest wages when the richest in Singapore pays themselves the highest salaries among the developed countries?
  2. Why does the PAP government create the largest wage gap in Singapore, among the developed countries?

In fact, from 1995, the income share that goes to the richest 10% in Singapore has risen from 30% to 42% in 2011.

Slide1

And the richest 10% only started to keep getting richer and richer a year after PAP announced that they would peg the salaries of their own ministers to the rich in 1994.

Slide21

Thereafter, the richest 10% got richer and richer, and the PAP politicians with it.

Not only that, you can see that every time the income inequality rises in one year, the share of income that goes to the rich will rise in the following year – if so, is the high income inequality in Singapore created by the PAP?

Slide6

Is the PAP interested in ensuring that wages are kept low for non-degree graduates, so that only their cronies can get ahead?

Perhaps it would become clearer when we know that Singapore is actually ranked 5th on The Economist’s crony capitalism index, where it is the 5th easiest for someone to get rich in Singapore if they are affiliated to the PAP.

Slide73

Now, the very idea of education is to also improve social mobility. But because Singapore has the income inequality among the developed countries, we thus have one of the lowest social mobilities among the developed countries.

Inequality vs Social Mobility

So, it is quite clear that as long as the government does not want to actually improve the lot of polytechnic and ITE graduates by actually increasing their wages, no matter what changes the PAP wants to hoodwink Singaporeans with, the end result is that for polytechnic and ITE students, they will continue to be marginalised by the PAP’s policies and it would be difficult for them to move up the social and economic ladder.

In fact, back to the question – which government would encourage its citizens not to get a degree?

As I have written, when you compare Singapore with the other countries, the number of students who enter public universities in Singapore is comparatively lower than other developed countries.

photo 5 (10)

Chart: Report of the Committee on University Education Pathways Beyond 2015 (CUEP)

Now, when you look at the Finnish education system for example, for students who choose to study diplomas or vocational institutions (similar to ITE), they can continue to proceed to study polytechnic degrees and even polytechnic master’s degrees.

Education system in Finland

So, instead of telling you that some people do not like to study academically and thus should not go to a university, the Finnish government actually does it differently and sets up universities that cater to vocational needs, so that all its citizens have an equal opportunity to pursue a degree education, in spite of their academic inclinations.

But when we look back at Singapore and realise how Singaporeans have to pay the second most expensive university tuition fees in the world, this again becomes highly problematic. Where is the equality? Where the poorest families can hardly afford to survive, how can they afford to send their children to university? Is university education being kept to the confines of a self-serving elite who wants to keep a degree education a pedigree for their kind?

Slide6

Not only that, the PAP government would rather give more than 50% of international students scholarships, but would only give 6% of local students (including PRs) scholarships.

Slide1

With the at least $354 million that the PAP gives to international students to study, and the $451 million surplus that the universities accumulate, this would have very easily allowed all Singaporeans to study in the public universities for free. So, why did the PAP government not want to do so?

Slide11

Why would the PAP government pay overseas students to get a degree in Singapore but tell Singaporeans that it is not necessary to get a degree?

On top of that, in the agreement that the PAP government has signed with the Indian government, it allows the free-flow of workers from India into Singapore, without any protection for Singaporean workers. It also allows their spouses to freely come to Singapore to work. Does the PAP government also sign such an agreement with other countries to allow workers to come in freely to work as well?

photo 1 (6)

photo 2 (6)

Chart: Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) Between The Republic Of India And The Republic Of Singapore

If so, does this explain why the unemployment among degree holders have been going up, because of competition from foreign degrees?

Slide3

Chart: World Development Indicators

Does this thus explain why the PAP government suddenly wants to encourage Singaporeans to think that it is not necessary to get a degree?

You can see that the number of migrants coming into Singapore started spiking up over the last decade.

Slide3

And when the number of migrants coming into Singapore increased, so did the number of Singaporeans who earn less than $1,000.

20121230-221903.jpg

In fact, it becomes clearer when you look at the proportion of Singaporeans who earn less than $1,000 – it started spiking up in 2004, when the floodgates were opened.

20121230-222017.jpg

It is thus clear that because of the PAP government’s lax labour policies and unequal wage policies, this has caused a wage depression for the lowest-wage workers.

Has the PAP’s lax labour policies also contributed to the overflow of degree holders into Singapore, which compete with Singaporeans for jobs, and thus the PAP’s sudden about turn to encourage Singaporeans to believe that degrees are not important?

Thus when you look at it as a whole, exactly why does the PAP government suddenly want to encourage Singaporeans to believe that degrees are not important? Doesn’t this fly in the face of logic for a country which wants to advance into the knowledge economy?

Also, even if the government claims that some students might not be academically inclined and should thus go the polytechnic or ITE route, can the government not create polytechnic universities, as the examples of other countries have shown, so that Singaporeans can also receive a university education and get higher pay as well?

In addition, in spite of the government’s changes to the education system, they still have not made affirmative plans to increase the starting salaries of polytechnic and ITE graduates. If the government believes that they do not need a degree and yet it is clear that without a degree, a worker would be stuck with low pay, then shouldn’t the government also increase their starting salaries to account for this?

Otherwise, why stop Singaporeans from getting a university education, when they would otherwise not be able to earn enough to survive in Singapore?

The PAP government’s sudden announcement, with no head or tail, shows a lack of strategic vision as to how they want to shape the education system in Singapore. Why dissuade the pursuit of a university education if we want to advance into a knowledge economy? Why continue to pay low salaries to our polytechnic and ITE graduates, if we do not want them to pursue a university education?

What exactly is on the minds of the PAP government? What exactly are their real intentions behind dissuading Singaporeans from getting a university education? It simply doesn’t make sense. Or is this a knee-jerk response to bad policy planning (as has been shown above with the influx of migrants which depressed wages and increased unemployment, and the agreement with India and the lack of labour protection)?

Or is there an elite agenda to all these?

If so, we can be reminded by what the Vice-Principal of Jurong West Secondary School Pushparani Nadarajah had 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, the PAP government might want Singaporeans to believe that Singaporeans do not need a university education, but how many of them would think that it is OK for their children not to go to universities?

If not, it would be very hypocritical for the PAP government to claim otherwise.

#ReturnOurCPF 4 Protest on 27 September 2014

On 27 September 2014, join us at the Hong Lim Park at 4pm at the #ReturnOurCPF 4 protest. Why has the PAP government depressed the wages of Singaporeans, while raising the cost of living in Singapore? How does the PAP government expect Singaporeans to survive, when they refuse to implement a minimum wage to protect Singaporeans?

Join us at the next protest as we speak up against the low wages and high cost of living in Singapore.

You can join the Facebook event page here.

Also, my first court case will be held on 18 September 2014, at 10.00am. It will be a full-day hearing.

#ReturnOurCPF 4 Poster 2 text

Return Our CPF 4 Poster 1b

Advertisements

Only 6% Of Singaporean University Undergraduates Receive Scholarships

Last week, I had written about how only 6% of Singaporean university undergraduates receive scholarships. But this isn’t even the real issue. Read on to find out why.

According to the Ministry of Education (MOE), “on average, about 14% of our undergraduates … in NUS (National University of Singapore) and NTU (Nanyang Technological University of Singapore) in 2001-2005 were on scholarships“. Of these, only “About one-third of the undergraduate scholars were local students.

Also, according to the MOE, “the MOE has capped the number of International Student (IS) at 20% of the total intake, while Permanent Residents (PRs) form only a small proportion. For example, in AY2011, IS comprised 18% while PRs were 4% of undergraduate intake.

In 2013, the total undergraduate enrollment at the NUS and NTU was 49,463. As 14% would be on scholarships, this would mean that 6,925 students would be on scholarships. Since two-thirds of those on scholarships would be foreigners, this means that 4,617 of those on scholarships are foreigners.

Next, since 18% of the students are foreign students, there would be a total of 8,903 foreign students. If 4,617 on them would be on scholarships, this would mean that 52% of the foreign students would be on scholarships.

Also, as only one-third of those are scholarships are Singaporeans, this would mean that only 2,308 Singaporeans would receive scholarships. However, there are 40,560 Singaporean (and PR) students, which means that only 6% of these students were on scholarships (Chart 1).

Slide1

Chart 1

But, why is it there there are only 6% of Singaporean and PRs on scholarships while 52% of foreigners get to be on scholarships? Also, of the 6% of Singaporean and PR on scholarships, how many of them are actually Singaporeans?

Some commenters have suggested that 52% of foreign students had received scholarships because they might be performing academically better, and might thus have received the bulk of the scholarships.

However, is this truly the case?

It was revealed by the MOE that, “of all the international students who graduated from our Autonomous Universities in 2011, around 45% did so with a second upper class of honours or better“.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Sim Ann who is the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education had also said that, “only 32 per cent of Singaporeans do as well“.

So, if there were 52% of the foreign students who had received scholarships and 45% of them had obtained second upper class of honours or better, doesn’t this mean that since 32% of Singaporean and PR students had obtained second upper class of honours or better that up to 40% of Singaporean and PR students should be on scholarships (Chart 2)?

Slide2

Chart 2

Why then are there only 6% of Singaporean and PR students on scholarships, instead of 40%?

Something is terribly amiss here, isn’t it? There are at least 32% of deserving Singaporean students who should be receiving scholarships but who are not given a fair chance at it. Meanwhile, the PAP government has chosen to give scholarships to the foreign students, instead of deserving and needy Singaporean students instead!

Already, it is estimated that there are 28% of Singaporeans living in poverty. Thus, of the Singaporean students who enter the local public universities, would there be 28% who would have difficulties paying for their university fees?

Thus if there would be 32% of Singaporean students who would be deserving of a scholarship, based on how MOE had apportion the scholarships to foreigners, and if there would be 28% of Singaporeans who would need financial assistance, then why is it that only 6% of Singaporean and PR students are able to obtains scholarships?

Why has the PAP government made it so easy for the foreign students to receive scholarships but for equally deserving Singaporean students, they are made to pay their own way and have to graduate “with an average debt of about $20,000“?

Don’t you think that something is severely wrong here?

Majority Of Unemployed Singaporeans Are Tertiary-Educated Who Face Unbridled Competition

As I’ve written, among the unemployed workers in Singapore, a massive proportion of them are tertiary-educated Singaporeans. If this is the case, shouldn’t the MOE’s responsibility be first to grow the pool of tertiary-educated Singaporean students, and reimburse them first and foremost before giving scholarships to foreigners? Shouldn’t the PAP government build a core of tertiary-educated Singaporeans, instead of importing and funding for the education of foreign students, while leaving Singaporean students to fend for themselves, and causing burgeoning unemployment among the tertiary-educated workers in Singapore?

Is this how the PAP government should be treating Singaporeans – Singaporeans who have a stake in our country and who would need the support from the government to receive adequate education and then contribute back to Singapore?

Why is the PAP government not supporting Singaporeans but is instead giving away money to foreign students – in the hope that they would stay and contribute to Singapore?

I would be proud if my government is able to treat people in our neighbouring countries with respect and readily extend our support to them. However, when the PAP government isn’t even able to look out for its own citizens, but would choose to look out for the citizens of another country first, isn’t something not quite right here?

Where is the responsibility of the PAP government? Singaporeans – or rather 60.1% – had voted for the PAP because we expect the PAP to be able to look out for the needs of Singaporeans, but why is their priority on foreigners and not on Singaporeans?

The PAP Government Doesn’t Protect Singapore

This wouldn’t be the first case of the PAP government looking out for foreigners instead of Singaporeans. As I’ve also written, in the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) that Singapore had signed with India, there are clauses which protect the rights of Indian workers to work in Singapore because the Singapore government is not allowed to “require labour marketing testing” for the entry of these workers. Singapore is also required to “grant the accompanying spouses or dependent of the other Party the right to work as managers, executives or specialists.”

Also, there are no levies or quotas to the hiring of workers on Employment Passes and in the Fair Consideration Framework that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had introduced, because the MOM had said that it “does not review the merits of a firm’s hiring decision, as the firm is best placed to decide on which candidate can do the job,” which would mean that this “framework” – and not a law – wouldn’t protect Singaporean workers as well.

So, from all these policy decisions by the PAP government, it is clear that they do not seem to be interested in protecting Singaporeans, even as Singaporeans are equally deserving or in need of assistance from the government that we had voted in, precisely to help us for. Yet, the PAP government seems to have relegated it’s responsibilities, in not providing enough scholarships for Singaporean students, and in not enacting adequate policies and laws to protect the employment of Singaporean workers.

As a Singaporean, I am very worried. If the government that the majority of Singaporeans have voted for has chosen not to perform its duty and responsibility, then who else do we have to look to, to protect our lives and livelihood? Should we ask the Malaysian or Indonesian government to take care of us instead?

If the PAP government is not able to perform its duty as its elected responsibility, should we then vote to put in other parties in government who would actually perform their duty and protect the rights and needs of Singaporeans?

I am very worried now. Are you?

*****

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

Class Sizes Are Too Big In Singapore (Biggest Among The High-Income Countries!)

My fellow Singaporeans, we face a chronic problem. Class sizes are too big in Singapore. When they are too big, will our children receive enough attention to do well in life? Read on.

It was shared in parliament that the “pupil-teacher ration (PTR) has improved from 26 in 2000 to 18 in 2012 for primary schools, and from 19 in 2000 to 14 in 2012 for secondary schools.” This means that for every one teacher, there are 18 students in the primary schools and 14 in the secondary schools.

But do you know that Singapore’s PTR for primary education is actually one of the highest among the high-income countries, and countries which did well in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) rankings (Chart 1) – which means that we have more students to each teacher.

Slide9

Chart 1: World Development Indicators

We also have the highest PTR for secondary education (Chart 2).

Slide10

Chart 2: World Development Indicators

But does this mean that each class in a primary school has 18 students and each class in a secondary school has 14 students?

It does not, because it was also revealed that, “a PTR of 18 in our primary schools does not mean that our class sizes are 18 in our primary schools – it simply means that we have one teacher for every 18 students”. The government added that, “The same PTR can result in different class sizes – as it depends on how we deploy our teachers.” The government goes on to say that, “if we choose to deploy our teachers in classes of 18 students each, it would imply that all our teachers would have to be teaching a class all the time”. They claim that, “This is clearly not tenable.”

So, what is the truth? This it it – the government had said that, “Most primary and secondary schools have classes of 40 students or fewer, while Primary 1 and 2 classes have 30 students or fewer. We plan on the basis of 30 students per class at primary 1 and 2 and 40 students per class at the other primary and secondary levels.

There is really no point in telling Singaporeans that the PTR is 18 and 14 for primary and secondary schools respectively, when this does not translate into any useful changes in the classroom setting. It is very different when our classes actually have more than twice the reported PTR. Isn’t this misleading?

What’s more, when you compare Singapore’s class sizes with the other high-income countries and even some developing countries, you will see that no other country has class sizes bigger than Singapore’s – no other country has class sizes bigger than 30 in primary education and 40 in the secondary education (Chart 3)!

photo 1 (24)

Chart 3: OECD How does class size vary around the world?

So, what is wrong with Singapore?

In fact, this precarious phenomenon is not restricted only to primary and secondary education.

When you look at the student-faculty ratio for our universities and compare it with the top universities in the world, you will see that we also have over-populated class sizes!

According to the government, the “student to faculty ratios (SFRs) at the autonomous universities (AUs) … for programmes such as Science, Engineering, Social Science, and Business” is 20:1.

And when you compare this to all the other top American and British universities, all of them have SFRs which are significantly much lower than Singapore’s (Chart 4)!

Slide10

Chart 4: U.S. News Education, The Complete University Guide University League Table 2014

But why are small class sizes so important? Research has shown that, “small classes… (allow for) better student preparation, student enthusiasm, and effort than those in large and very large classes… (and that) the smaller the class the higher was students’ achievement“. Also, “students from small classes were found to be making better grades in high school and taking more advanced courses… Smaller classes also lead to better identification of students who need special help, increased student participation and engagement, improved behavior, and reduced retention in grade.” Finally, “large class sizes and higher student loads are (also) correlated with less critical and analytical thinking“.

Indeed, this is a real issue. In the The Global Competitiveness Report 2013–2014 report, employers have voted the insufficient capacity to innovate as one of “the most problematic factors for doing business” in Singapore (Chart 5).

Slide9

Chart 5: The Global Competitiveness Report 2013–2014

But why does Singapore have such big class sizes? Why can we not afford to have smaller class sizes?

Perhaps this is why – Singapore spends the lowest proportion of our GDP on education as compared to the other high-income countries (Chart 6).

Slide1

Chart 6: World Development Indicators

Singapore also spends one of the lowest on primary education (Chart 7).

Slide3

Chart 7: World Development Indicators

And we also spend the lowest on secondary education (Chart 8).

Slide4

Chart 8: World Development Indicators

Because we are not investing enough in our education system, does this explain why Singapore has the lowest proportion of students who eventually progress into secondary education (Chart 9)?

Slide11

Chart 9: World Development Indicators

What’s happening in Singapore is very worrying. We might be churning out certificates after certificates. But do our children learn the necessary critical thinking skills that allow them to be flexibly-thinking workers for the knowledge economy? Does the education system allow our students to focus on their personal development, so that they grow up as well-rounded individuals?

It might be time we start rethinking about whether the Singapore government needs to invest even more resources into education, to ensure that our students do not only achieve the outcomes as measured by their performance during the examinations, but that they are well-equipped with the thinking and rationalisation skills required as Singapore moves towards the new era.

As I had written before, would the PAP government be willing to do so, or is it in their favour to believe that the “elite” system needs to be protected? As long as our education system is not equal, the opportunities to create a more intensive and rounded education system will be difficult to materialise in Singapore.

*****

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

Singapore Has The Biggest Wage Gap Between The Educational Levels Among The Rich Countries

Last week, I had written about how Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was quoted to have said that, “Polytechnic students have many good options after graduating and need not just aim for a university degree.”

This was echoed by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan echoed Lee’s statement by saying that, “If they cannot find jobs, what is the point? You own a degree, but so what? That you can’t eat it. If that cannot give you a good life, a good job, it is meaningless,” and Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing , who had said that, “It’s not the degree or the diploma… that is most important.”

As I had discussed, it is irrelevant and illogical for the PAP ministers to dissuade Singaporeans from pursuing a university degree, when the outcomes of being a university or polytechnic graduate is immense – the starting pay of university graduates is $3,000, while that of a polytechnic graduate is $2,000.

But, how does their starting pay compare with the other high-income countries? Perhaps things are not that bad for Singapore, we might think? Let’s take a look.

For the first comparison, the starting pay for university graduates is taken to be $3,000, and that for polytechnic graduates is at $2,000. I will use the estimate of $1,300 for workers with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education, and $800 for workers with below upper secondary education (Chart 1).

Slide1

Chart 1

When you compare the starting pay of workers of the different education levels in Singapore with the other countries, you will see that university graduates (dark blue bars) in Singapore earns the highest wages relative to someone with a below upper secondary education (grey bars) (Chart 2)!

Slide2

Chart 2: OECD Indicators Education at a Glance 2013

In fact, the disparity in wages between a university graduate and Singaporeans with a below upper secondary education is the widest among the high-income countries (Chart 3)!

Slide3

Chart 3: OECD Indicators Education at a Glance 2013

But how does wages grow (or not) over time?

As I had discussed, the pay of a polytechnic graduate, and that of someone with post-secondary education and below upper secondary education, is likely to stay stagnant or decrease over their lifetime – for workers who earn a starting pay of $2,000 or below, you can see that their pay would stay stagnant or decline over time. However, for a university graduate (someone who earns $3,000 and above), their pay is likely dramatically increase – the pay for a person who earns $3,000 rises over time (Chart 4).

photo 4 (16)

Chart 4: Report on Wages in Singapore, 2011

As such, to look at the next comparison, we can assume that across the different age groups, the median wage for a polytechnic graduate will remain at $2,000, but for a university graduate, the median wage would increase to about $5,000, as an estimate. Workers with post-secondary-educated workers will also see their median wage remain at $1,300 and that for below upper secondary education, it will also remain at $800 (Chart 5).

Slide4

Chart 5

Thus when we look at the comparison of the wages of Singaporeans with the other countries across the age groups, once again, we would see that university graduates (dark blue bars) would earn a higher wage, relative to someone with a below upper secondary education (grey bars), and not only that, the disparity widens – because university graduates are most likely to be the only ones who will see significant pay increases over their lifetime (Chart 6)!

Slide5

Chart 6: OECD Indicators Education at a Glance 2013

And again, across the age groups, Singapore shows the widest wage disparity between a university graduate and someone with a below upper secondary education (Chart 7).

Slide6

Chart 7: OECD Indicators Education at a Glance 2013

Not only that, this wage disparity has also seen the fastest rise between the starting pay and pay as the workers age, among the high-income countries (Chart 8).

Slide7

Chart 8: OECD Indicators Education at a Glance 2013

And if we compare the wage disparity between a university and a polytechnic graduate, the disparity is also the highest in Singapore (Chart 9).

Slide8

Chart 9: OECD Indicators Education at a Glance 2013

Are you flabbergasted by the severe wage disparity in Singapore?

Now, do you know why Singapore has the highest income inequality among the high-income countries (Chart 10)?

Slide16

Chart 10: OECD StatExtract Income Distribution and PovertyKey Household Income Trends, 2012

And because low-wage workers are paid the lowest wages, Singapore also has the highest estimated poverty rate among the high-income countries, and even countries in the region (Chart 11)!

Slide10

Chart 11: The Heart Truths Poverty in Singapore Grew from 16% in 2002 to 28% in 2013

The question we have to ask is – why are the wage levels in Singapore pegged so closely to the educational levels? But perhaps the more important question to ask is – why are the different educational levels of such differing “standards” that the wage for the different educational levels are so distinctly separate?

Is this a policy decision to alleviate the status of a university education, while delineating that of a polytechnic education, and even further marginalising those without either a university or polytechnic education?

Again, PM Lee might have said that, “every school is a good school“, but why are the so-called-“equally”-good schools created with such differential standards, and consequently pay the graduates so differently? Or are these differential standards a policy decision to segregate Singaporeans?

But what’s more – do you know that Singapore already pays the workers here the lowest wages (Chart 12)? That means that for a low wage worker, he or she would be paid the worst among all the high-income countries. Not only that, the wages of university graduates have also been depressed in Singapore.

Slide1

Chart 12: International Labour Organisation Data collection on wages and income

The problem of wage depression is thus one that strikes all Singaporean workers.

So, the final question we have to ask ourselves is – why are the other countries able to pay more equitable wages for their workers? Why are the workers in other countries more equally valued than in Singapore? Also, why do workers with equivalent educational qualifications in other high-income countries paid higher wages than Singaporeans as well? Mind you, Singapore has the highest GDP per capita, so why is it that poorer countries are able to pay higher wages to their citizens, but Singapore cannot?

As I had written about, the wage inequality that persists in our country is one that has its roots in the education system – our people are divided early on in life into the different educational pathways that the system has deemed them to fit, and this carries on until later on in life, where they continue to be stuck in their fixed roles and earn a predetermined salary.

However, does a government – any government for that matter – has a right to predetermine or decide how the abilities of its people should be destined? Should the PAP government sculpt the system to such an extend that the role that we are conferred with early on in life would predominantly stick with us for the rest of our lives?

Why did the PAP government operate with the planning parameters that sees it necessary to demarcate schools in unequal terms, and to have such unequal wage patterns? If so, is “every school (truly) a good school”, or is this only lip service?

Singaporeans have a right to know the planning parameters that the PAP government uses in planning our education system and job market. Singaporeans have a right to know why our education system has such unequal outcomes, and why our wages are also so unevenly distributed. If most Singaporeans are asked if they believe that such inequality should exist in the system, the most likely answer would be an affirmative, “NO”.

Indeed, is it in Singapore’s and Singaporeans’ interest to continue to see such widening inequality in Singapore? Is it in our long term interests to see such an unequal education system and job market pull our society apart, which can lead to intangible problems down the road, of distrust among the people, and a sense of disempowerment for Singaporeans who are seemingly left behind?

*****

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

Singapore Is Not Training Enough Doctors For Our Healthcare System

In the previous article, I had discussed if the government has planned for the education system to prepare adequately for Singapore’s economy.

In this article, I will zoom down to a specific issue – on the readiness of the education system to prepare for the healthcare needs in Singapore.

In brief:

  • Singapore has the lowest number of physicians per 10,000 population among the developed countries.
  • Singapore is training one of the lowest number of medical graduates per 100,000 population among the high-income countries.
  • Is the reason why we have the lowest number of physicians because the PAP government spends the lowest % of GDP on health, as compared to the other developed countries, and one of the lowest in the world?
  • Is the reason why we have one of the lowest number of medical graduates because the PAP government spends the lowest % of GDP on education, as compared to the other high-income countries?
  • Why does the PAP government spend the lowest on health and education even though Singapore is one of the richest countries, by GDP per capita, in the world?

It was highlighted in parliament that the, “Ministry of Education (MOE) in consultation with the Ministry of Health (MOH) had decided to increase the annual medical intake of the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine from 250 to 260 for Academic Year (AY) 2008. There are plans to gradually increase this further to 300 in AY2011. The Duke-National University of Singapore (NUS) Graduate Medical School will also have an intake of 50 students a year at steady state to augment our medical manpower needs.

According to the MOE, “It would also be in Singapore’s interests to ensure a good spread of talent across all disciplines at the tertiary-level to benefit other sectors in our economy.”

I am not quite sure what the MOE means when they said that they would want to “ensure a good spread of talent”. Two weeks ago, I had written about how, of the students who were able to enter the Architecture, Dentistry, Law and Medicine courses at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore Management University of Singapore (SMU), only 2% were polytechnic graduates (Chart 1).

Slide14

Chart 1: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies

I would be interested to understand why the MOE does not believe that the Medicine (and other) faculty would benefit from a “good spread of talent” from the polytechnic graduates.

The government had also said that, “MOH is currently studying Singapore’s medium and long-term health-care needs carefully and their implications on demand for medical manpower. MOE will work with MOH to determine how we can meet the projected demand for medical manpower.”

Currently, the two medicine schools (NUS and the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore (NTU)) in Singapore has enrolled only 354 students in 2013. But is this enough?

According to the World Health Organisation, the number of physicians per 10,000 in Singapore had remained at a constant low at 18.3 (Chart 2).

photo 1 (10)

Chart 2: World Health Organisation World Health Statistics

Not only that, compared with the other developed countries, Singapore also has the lowest number of physicians per 10,000 population (Chart 3).

photo 3 (10)

Chart 3: World Health Organisation World Health Expenditure Database

Thus does Singapore have a shortage of doctors? Doesn’t this mean that the MOE and MOH are severely under-projecting “the demand for medical manpower”? And is the PAP government not opening up enough spaces in our universities to train more doctors for the growing needs of our ageing population?

Indeed, when compared with the other countries, Singapore produces the second lowest number of medical graduates per 100,000 population, after the United States (Chart 4) (Singapore’s figure is derived from the number of medical graduates of 354 divided by 53.124, or the total Singapore population of 5,312,400 divided by 100,000).

Slide1

Chart 4: OECDiLibrary Health: Key Tables from OECD Medical graduates Per 100 000 population

Thus it is sufficiently clear that the reason why there are a shortage of doctors in Singapore is because of the low enrollment of medical students into our universities. The question to ask is, why has the PAP government severely under-projected the number of doctors and medical students sorely needed in Singapore’s healthcare system?

Already, we are hearing of stories where because there are not enough doctors and healthcare facilities, that there have been cases where people would have to wait for months before they are able to make an appointment, or to wait at the Accident & Emergency department for many hours before they are attended to. There have also been cases where patients have died and where their families have attributed it to the lack of care at the hospitals. Or when doctors have been so busy that the care was forced to be slipshod, such that patients had been wrongly diagnosed, or that not enough care was given and patients had to returned to the hospital.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. There have been many cases where people have to sell their homes to pay for healthcare. There have also been many unreported cases where patients choose to postpone care because they are too poor to seek medical assistance, and end up developing chronic illnesses, which require even more expensive care and treatment.

But why does all this have to happen?

Because the PAP government spends the lowest on health, as compared to the other high-income countries (Chart 5).

Slide2 (1)

Chart 5: The Heart Truths Focus on Healthcare – Part 4: How we stack up internationally

In fact, Singapore is one of the richest countries in the world but the PAP government stings the most on health, as compared to the other high-income countries (Chart 6).

photo 5 (8)

Chart 6: UNDP International Human Development Indicators

And why are we not training enough doctors?

Because the PAP government spends the lowest on education (Chart 7). And the government sets an artificial limit on the number of doctors to be trained – which is way below the level required.

Slide1

Chart 7: World Development Indicators

Evidently, the PAP government is severely underspending on healthcare and education – the long term implications are such that on a structural level, our health system will have a chronic shortage of doctors and healthcare facilities. Singaporeans will also not be able to receive the adequate care required.

Already, the government spends only 31% on health, out of the total health expenditure. This has led to unequal access and health outcomes, where the poor are made to spend a higher proportion of their incomes on health, and because 40% of Singaporeans cannot afford to buy private health insurance, for the 40% of the Singaporeans who fall into the low-income or lower-middle-income bracket, their inability to seek adequate medical support can create a further burden on our health system.

It has been known that, “as countries become more developed and wealthier, they devote more public resources to health and spend proportionately more on health per capita“, so why is does the PAP government choose to buck the trend? Also, low government expenditure on health has also been associated with a health system that is “extremely inequitable” and where there is a “lack of social safety nets and limited or no financial protection to the majority of people”, which can lead to a “high prevalence of poverty due to catastrophic health expenditure”, as is the case in Singapore, where an estimated 28% of Singaporeans are living in poverty – the highest among the high-income countries and even compared to countries in the region.

So, does Singapore need to spend more on education to train more doctors for the health system? Does Singapore need to spend more on health to increase the number of doctors and healthcare facilities for the growing population? I think the answer in an unequivocal yes.

However, the question is – does the PAP have the will to see these changes happen. Or, rather, is it not in the PAP’s interest to increase spending in these areas which they perceive as not contributing to the economy?

*****

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

The Real Reasons Why Singaporean PMETs Are Losing Their Jobs

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

On May 4 this year (2013), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was quoted to have said that, “Polytechnic students have many good options after graduating and need not just aim for a university degree.”

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan had also said that, If they cannot find jobs, what is the point? You own a degree, but so what? That you can’t eat it. If that cannot give you a good life, a good job, it is meaningless.

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing also said that, “It’s not the degree or the diploma… that is most important.

But the truth of why the ministers are saying these is perhaps best captured by what Khaw had said: “What you do not want is to create huge graduate unemployment.”

Since 1998, the unemployment rate among Singaporeans who have tertiary education have grown tremendously to be the highest among all the high-income countries now (Chart 1).

Slide3

Chart 1: World Development Indicators

Things are even clearer when you look back to 1985 – from having one of the lowest unemployment rate among the high-income countries then, Singaporeans with tertiary education now face the highest unemployment (Chart 2).

Slide4

Chart 2: World Development Indicators

Interestingly, this also coincided with a sudden boom of people in Singapore with tertiary education, when there was a sudden spike between 2007/08 and 2009/10 (Chart 3).

Slide7

Chart 3: Global Education Digest

But do you know that even though we have one of the highest proportion of tertiary educated people in Singapore, the proportion of Singaporeans enrollment into local public universities is actually one of the lowest? Singapore actually has one of the lowest enrollment into public universities, as compared to the other high-income countries.

Singapore’s university cohort participation rates is actually much lower than the other high-income (Chart 4).

photo 5 (10)

Chart 4: Report of the Committee on University Education Pathways Beyond 2015 (CUEP)

Thus if there is comparatively so much fewer students going into local public universities but there is such a massive proportion of people with tertiary education in Singapore, then where is this huge additional pool of tertiary-educated workers coming from?

Four reasons:

(1) Singapore’s CECA Agreement With India Does Not Protect Singaporean Workers

First, as I had discussed before, do you know that in the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) between The Republic Of India And The Republic Of Singapore, there are clauses which allow easy access for foreign workers from India to work in Singapore, because Singapore is not allowed to “require labour marketing testing” for the entry of these workers – so Singapore is not allowed to enact policies that protect Singaporean workers over foreign workers (Chart 5).

photo 1 (6)

Chart 5: Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) Between The Republic Of India And The Republic Of Singapore

Also, these workers have “been allowed to bring in their spouses or dependants (and Singapore is required to)… grant the accompanying spouses or dependent of the other Party the right to work as managers, executives or specialists.” (Chart 6)

photo 2 (6)

Chart 6: Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) Between The Republic Of India And The Republic Of Singapore

Of course, it wouldn’t be illogical to assume that India would not be the only country where such clauses exist to protect foreign workers over Singaporean workers. Of the other agreements that Singapore had signed with the other countries, which other agreement would also allow for such an easy entry for their workers to compete with the Singaporean workers in the job sector of “managers, executives or specialists” – jobs which Singaporean PMETs also take on, but would thus face significant competition due to the lax border policy?

(2) The Lack Of Levies And Quotas For The Employment Pass Disadvantage Singaporeans

Second, do you also know that when companies hire workers on Employment Passes (E Pass), they do not need to pay additional levies on these workers or adhere to any quota (Chart 7)?

photo 2 (28)

Chart 7: Ministry of Manpower Levies & quotas for hiring Foreign Workers: E Pass employment is exempted from levies and quotas

To qualify for the E Pass, foreign workers are required to “earn at least $3,000“. This means that workers on E Passes would directly compete with Singaporean university graduates and PMETs, whom starting pay is $3,000.

Thus as there are no levies or quotas to hire workers on E Passes, there is no restriction or disincentive for companies to hire foreign workers over Singaporeans in positions which require a degree – and this would necessarily put Singaporeans at a disadvantage. Has this contributed to the over-influx of tertiary-educated workers and the resultant high unemployment?

Not only that, the Ministry of Manpower had also explicitly stated that, “spouses of Employment Pass holders can (also) work in Singapore, adding to the competition.”

(3) The Fair Consideration Framework Will Not Protect Singaporeans

Third, the PAP government had recently announced the Fair Consideration Framework which they would like to use to “persuade” employers to consider Singaporeans fairly before hiring Employment Pass (EP) holders”.

But as I had written previously, this “framework” doesn’t have any bite because the MOM had said that it “does not review the merits of a firm’s hiring decision, as the firm is best placed to decide on which candidate can do the job“. Essentially, this “framework” does not fundamentally change the nature of hiring practices in Singapore. Employers are still allowed to advertise on different platforms on job openings, they are still allowed to interview foreigners concurrently with Singaporeans, or even interview foreigners only, and they are allowed to hire foreign workers without any justification.

Thus the broad policy measures created by the PAP government will in no way protect the employment of Singaporean degree holders over competition from other countries.

(4) Over-Influx Of International University Students In Singapore

Finally, as I had discussed in an article earlier this week, the PAP government is bringing in foreign students on scholarships – 20% of each batch of undergraduates are foreign students, of which 52% are given scholarships. Are the rest of the 48% also on some form of financial assistance? Also, “upon graduation, scholars are obliged to work in Singapore or Singapore companies for up to six years,” which again is competition with the Singaporean university graduates.

Playing our role in educating our friends from neighbouring countries is a role that Singapore can admirably perform but the question to ask is – if there are also deserving Singaporean students for scholarships, why is it that only less than 6% of Singaporeans are on scholarships, when 52% of foreigners are on scholarships? And if there is already a saturation of degree holders in Singapore, shouldn’t the PAP government focus on grooming the students in Singapore instead of creating a glut of degree holders in Singapore, by importing even more foreign students in Singapore, who eventually compete in jobs that Singaporeans are losing?

This is no wonder that Lee, Khaw and Chan would go to such great extent just to convince Singaporeans that a polytechnic diploma is a more viable “option” than a university degree – there is growing unemployment among tertiary-educated Singaporeans but instead of managing the inflow of foreign students and workers in Singapore, they have instead asked Singaporeans not to further their education. Is this what a responsible government should do?

Not only that, if “a diploma holder’s average starting salary is $2,000, while that of a degree holder is $3,000 (Chart 8)”, then by the PAP ministers asking Singaporeans to not pursue a degree, are they asking Singaporeans to also put up with earning lower incomes?

Slide8

Chart 8

As I’ve written before, Singaporeans already earn the lowest wages among the high-income countries. Thus this means that for degree graduates, their wages are already depressed, which would be even more so for diploma graduates. Diploma graduates are also more likely to see their wages depress or stagnate over their lifetime.

What this means is that if the PAP is serious about wanting Singaporeans to see a polytechnic diploma as a viable “option”, they would also need to ensure that Singaporeans are paid wages that are also “viable” to the standard of living in Singapore.

Finally, the more important question is not whether Singapore should produce more university graduates but whether our graduates have the skills and flexibility to work in the labour market?

Indeed, in the The Global Competitiveness Report 2013–2014 report, when compared to the other high-income countries, among the “most problematic factors for doing business”, a higher proportion of employers voted on Singapore as having the most insufficient capacity to innovate (Chart 9).

Slide9

Chart 9: The Global Competitiveness Report 2013–2014

To sum up, the increasing unemployment among tertiary-educated Singaporeans can also be attributed to the lax agreements that Singapore had signed with other countries and the labour policies enacted that can be exploited through the inherent loopholes. The solution would be to ensure that the agreements and labour policies provide stringent protection for Singaporean workers.

However, it is clear that the PAP government is resistant to do so. As such, they have decided to take the easy way out to persuade Singaporeans not to take university degrees. But this is at the expense of educating your own citizens and strengthening the local core and pool of tertiary-educated Singaporeans. It is surprising that the PAP government would be willing to compromise on the people’s education and Singapore’s long term future – a core population that is weakened in their education will threaten the foundation that prop Singapore up.

Lee, Khaw and Chan have not addressed the right question when they try to persuade Singaporeans to see polytechnic education as a viable “option”. Just because there is increasing unemployment among tertiary-educated Singaporeans doesn’t mean that the immediate solution should be to reduce the number of tertiary-educated enrollment. This is short-sighted, a knee-jerk reaction and not well-thought through.

Instead of the PAP ministers saying that Singaporeans should opt not to enter universities, the more apt response would be to look at how universities can be made more relevant to the needs of Singaporeans and to the job market. The Ministry of Education had noted that, “in Finland, the government expanded the higher education sector by creating a distinct tier of polytechnics/universities of applied sciences (UAS),… (where) their mission was clearly defined as providing vocational and professional training for labour market and industry needs… Students would typically graduate with a Bachelor degree after three to four years of study.” Thus there is a need to relook our understanding of what a university education means, and how it can be redesigned to not only expand the opportunities for Singaporeans, but to ensure that a university will continue to be relevant to the job market.

Why Are Singaporean PMETs Losing Their Jobs? Here’s Why.

On May 4 this year (2013), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was quoted to have said that, “Polytechnic students have many good options after graduating and need not just aim for a university degree.”

A few days later, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan echoed Lee’s statement by saying that, If they cannot find jobs, what is the point? You own a degree, but so what? That you can’t eat it. If that cannot give you a good life, a good job, it is meaningless.” 

This was followed by Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing , who said that, “It’s not the degree or the diploma… that is most important… What matters most is the training of the mind and the ability to grasp an issue, ask the correct questions, dissect the problem and find the solutions.

Do you know why the ministers are saying these?

What Khaw said is the most telling and pointed – he had said, “What you do not want is to create huge graduate unemployment.”

There is something that the government is not telling you, but it’s all summed up in that one sentence by Khaw.

Take a look at the unemployment statistics. Do you know that for Singaporeans with primary education, the unemployment rate has been steadily going down (Chart 1)?

Slide1

Chart 1: World Development Indicators

For Singaporeans with secondary education, the unemployment rate had remained at a consistent low – and actually the lowest among all the high-income countries (Chart 2).

Slide2

Chart 2: World Development Indicators

But take a look at Singaporeans with tertiary education – the unemployment rate among Singaporeans have shot up to be the highest among all the high-income countries (Chart 3).

Slide3

Chart 3: World Development Indicators

And if you look back all the way to 1985, you can see that the unemployment rate among tertiary-educated Singaporeans have been on the upward trend since 1985 – from having one of the lowest unemployment rate among tertiary-educated Singaporeans, we now have the highest unemployment (Chart 4).

Slide4

Chart 4: World Development Indicators

But why is this happening?

If you look at the proportion of Singaporeans who have primary education, the proportion has actually dropped – which might explain the decline in unemployment among primary-educated Singaporeans (Chart 5).

Slide5

Chart 5: Global Education Digest

You would see that the proportion of Singaporeans who have secondary-education has remained constant, which would explain the consistent unemployment trend (Chart 6).

Slide6

Chart 6: Global Education Digest

Finally, when you look at the proportion of people in Singapore who have tertiary education, you can see that the proportion of people here with tertiary education actually shot up dramatically (Chart 7)!

Does this thus explain why there is also a dramatic rise in the unemployment rate among tertiary-educated Singaporeans as well?

Slide7

Chart 7: Global Education Digest

Quite obviously, since a higher and higher proportion of Singaporeans are receiving university education (Chart 8), this might have contributed to the rise as well.

photo 1 (26)

Chart 8: Statistics Singapore Newsletter March 2013 – Educational Profile of Singapore Resident Non-Students, 2002 – 2012

But what could the more plausible reasons be?

(1) Singapore’s CECA Agreement With India Does Not Protect Singaporean Workers

First, as I had discussed before, do you know that in the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) Between The Republic Of India And The Republic Of Singapore, there are clauses which allow easy access for foreign workers from India to work in Singapore, because Singapore is not allowed to “require labour marketing testing” for the entry of these workers (Chart 9).

photo 1 (6)

Chart 9: Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) Between The Republic Of India And The Republic Of Singapore

Also, these workers have “been allowed to bring in their spouses or dependants (and Singapore is required to)… grant the accompanying spouses or dependent of the other Party the right to work as managers, executives or specialists.” (Chart 10)

photo 2 (6)

Chart 10: Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) Between The Republic Of India And The Republic Of Singapore

So, do you know where our jobs are going now? Of course, it would not be illogical to assume that India would not be the only country where such clauses exist to protect foreign workers over Singaporean workers. Of the other agreements that Singapore had signed with the other countries, which other agreement would also allow for such an easy entry for their workers to compete with the Singaporean workers in the job sector of “managers, executives or specialists”?

(2) The Lack Of Levies And Quotas For The Employment Pass Disadvantage Singaporeans

Second, do you also know that when companies would like to hire workers on Employment Passes (E Pass), do not need to pay additional levies on these workers or adhere to any quota (Chart 11)?

photo 2 (28)

Chart 11: Ministry of Manpower Levies & quotas for hiring Foreign Workers: E Pass employment is exempted from levies and quotas

To qualify for the E Pass, foreign workers are required to “earn at least $3,000“. This means that workers on E Passes would directly compete with Singaporean university graduates, whom starting pay is $3,000.

Thus as there are no levies or quotas to hire workers on E Passes, there is no restriction or disincentive for companies to hire foreign workers over Singaporeans in positions which require a degree – and this would necessarily put Singaporeans at a disadvantage. Has this contributed to the over-influx of tertiary-educated workers and the resultant high unemployment?

Not only that, the Ministry of Manpower had also explicitly stated that, “Spouses of Employment Pass holders can work in Singapore.

(3) The Fair Consideration Framework Will Not Protect Singaporeans

Third, the PAP government had recently announced the Fair Consideration Framework which they would like to use to “persuade” employers to consider Singaporeans fairly before hiring Employment Pass (EP) holders”.

But as I had written previously, this “framework” doesn’t have any bite because the MOM had said that it “does not review the merits of a firm’s hiring decision, as the firm is best placed to decide on which candidate can do the job“. Essentially, this “framework” does not fundamentally change the nature of hiring practices in Singapore. Employers are still allowed to advertise on different platforms on job openings, they are still allowed to interview foreigners at the same time with Singapore, or even foreigners only, and they are allowed to hire foreign workers without any justification.

Thus the broad policy measures created by the PAP government will in no way protect the employment of Singaporean degree holders over competition from other countries.

(4) Over-Influx Of International University Students In Singapore

Finally, as I had discussed in an article earlier this week, the PAP government is bringing in a massive influx of foreign students on scholarships – 52% of the foreign students are on scholarships. Are the rest of the 48% also on some form of financial assistance? Also, “Upon graduation, scholars are obliged to work in Singapore or Singapore companies for up to six years,” which again is competition with the Singaporean university graduates.

The question to ask is – if there are also deserving Singaporean students for scholarships, why is it that only less than 6% of Singaporeans are on scholarships, when 52% of foreigners are on scholarships? And if there is already a saturation of degree holders in Singapore, shouldn’t the PAP government focus on grooming the students in Singapore instead of creating a glut of degree holders in Singapore, by importing even more students into Singapore?

This is no wonder that Lee, Khaw and Chan would go to such great extent just to convince Singaporeans that a polytechnic diploma is a more viable “option” than a university degree.

And so, they have proclaimed in unison that polytechnic diplomas are good on their own right.

However, what is the problem here?

Unequal Pay of University And Polytechnic Graduates

The problem, as a Miss Tan Yen Ling had pointed out is that, “Diploma holders get about $2,000 to $2,500 as starting pay, but degree holders get about $1,000 more.” It has also been reported by The Straits Times that, “A diploma holder’s average starting salary is $2,000, while that of a degree holder is $3,000. So the difference is $1,000 at the starting line. (Chart 12)”

Slide8

Chart 12

But why is this worrying? In a previous article, I had written about how Singaporeans would need to earn at least $2,000 to have a basic standard of living in Singapore. At a starting pay of $2,000, polytechnic graduates are barely scraping by.

Also, I had estimated that the proportion of Singaporeans living in poverty is 28% – the poverty line has been defined by the National University of Singapore Social Work Department as being half of median income, or $3,000. This means that at the poverty line of $1,500, polytechnic graduates are earning just above the poverty line. Of course, for Singaporeans without a degree or diploma, you can imagine how worse off life can be for them in Singapore.

But what is also of concern isn’t just the starting pay of polytechnic graduates, but of how their pay will pan out over their lifetime.

If you look at the chart below, for wages which start at around $2,000, or the starting pay of a diploma graduate, you can see their as the workers who receive this pay grow older, their pay would either stagnate or decrease. This means that for polytechnic graduates, they would be forever making barely enough to scrape by.

However, what about degree holders? Their wages will rise dramatically over their lifetime.

photo 4 (16)

Chart 13: Report on Wages in Singapore, 2011

This is worrying because “30% (of students in Singapore would progress) to the junior colleges (and mostly to university), 40% to the polytechnics, 20% to the ITE, and 3 to 4% to the private education organisations.

This means that only 30% of Singaporeans with the highest likelihood of entering university will ever see their lot get better in life – because of the higher pay, whereas for the rest of the 70% of Singaporeans, they will struggle to barely survive, or not even be able to survive adequately in Singapore.

The PAP Government Needs To Pay Fair Wages

What this means is that if the PAP is serious about wanting Singaporeans to see a polytechnic diploma as a viable “option”, they would also need to ensure that Singaporeans are paid wages that are also “viable” to the standard of living in Singapore.

But already, Singaporeans are paid the lowest wages among the high-income countries. What this means is that even the wages of degree holders are already being depressed. If the wages of diploma holders are even lower, this means that the wages of diploma holders are even more severely depressed!

Indeed, for Singaporeans to be earning wages that are in tandem with the cost of living in Singapore, we should be earning a median pay of about $6,000, or twice the current median wage – similar to that of the other similarly high-income countries. This would mean that degree holders should have a starting pay of $6,000, and at the current peg, that diploma holders should be earning $5,000.

Yet, does this mean that the university population in Singapore cannot go on increasing?

If you compare Singapore’s university cohort participation rates (on an annual basis) with the other countries, you would see that Singapore has a relatively much lower participation rate (Chart 14). So, there is indeed room to increase the university enrollment for Singaporeans in the Singapore universities. It is thus perplexing why there is a sudden about turn by Lee, Khaw and Chan to encourage Singaporeans not to pursue degrees.

photo 5 (10)

Chart 14: Report of the Committee on University Education Pathways Beyond 2015 (CUEP)

But the other important question is this – it is not just whether Singapore should produce more university graduates but whether our graduates have the skills and flexibility to work in the labour market? Indeed, the Ministry of Education has also recognised the need for the education system to “incorporate a broad-based education into higher education to develop higher order thinking and soft skills,” as well as to emphasise “on the importance of multidisciplinary learning and critical thinking skills that would better equip students for the future”.

However, it is perhaps worrying that Singaporeans perceive creativity and risk-taking as values that are less important – a by-product of the rote-based learning education system in Singapore (Chart 15)?:

photo (6)

Chart 15: Our Singapore Conversation Survey Final Report

In fact, most damningly, in the The Global Competitiveness Report 2013–2014 report, when compared to the other high-income countries, among the “most problematic factors for doing business”, a higher proportion of employers voted on Singapore as having the most insufficient capacity to innovate (Chart 16).

Slide9

Chart 16: The Global Competitiveness Report 2013–2014

To sum up,

  • Lee, Khaw and Chan have not addressed the right question when they try to persuade Singaporeans to see polytechnic education as a viable “option”. Just because there is increasing unemployment among tertiary-educated Singaporeans doesn’t mean that the immediate solution should be to reduce the number of tertiary-educated enrollment. This is short-sighted, a knee-jerk reaction and not well-thought through.
  • Evidently, the increasing unemployment among tertiary-educated Singaporeans is due to several factors. If the agreements that Singapore had signed with other countries and the labour policies enacted can be exploited through the inherent loopholes, then the solution is to ensure that the agreements and labour policies provide stringent protection for Singaporean workers. However, it is clear that the PAP government is resistant to do so. As such, they have decided to take the easy way out to persuade Singaporeans not to take university degrees. But this is at the expense of educating your own citizens and strengthening the local core and pool of tertiary-educated Singaporeans. It is surprising that the PAP government would be willing to compromise on the people’s education and Singapore’s long term future – a core population that is weakened in their education will threaten the foundation that prop Singapore up.
  • In persuading Singaporeans not to pursue university education, the PAP government has also chosen to sideline the issue of wages. If Singaporeans do not pursue a university education, the wages that they would receive for the rest of their lifetime would be barely sufficient for a respectable standard of living in Singapore. The question is, why are wages and job types structured along only educational lines – such artificial demarcation will only entrench the differences and thus wage differentiation, and result in growing disparity, as has happened in Singapore. There is a need to relook how wages are pegged at, and the weightage their education qualifications should play in this. Again, is the PAP willing to do so?
  • Finally, as the MOE had also realised that there is a need to provide “multiple progression pathways and options for students, making the institution more attractive to prospective applicants“. Instead of the PAP ministers saying that Singaporeans should opt not to enter universities, the more apt response would be to look at how universities can be made more relevant to the needs of Singaporeans and to the job market. The MOE had noted that, “in Finland, the government expanded the higher education sector by creating a distinct tier of polytechnics/universities of applied sciences (UAS),… (where) their mission was clearly defined as providing vocational and professional training for labour market and industry needs… Students would typically graduate with a Bachelor degree after three to four years of study.” Thus there is a need to relook our understanding of what a university education means, and how it can be redesigned to not only expand the opportunities for Singaporeans, but to ensure that a university will continue to be relevant to the job market.

Singaporeans Pay The Most Expensive University Tuition Fees In The High-Income Countries

I will be direct: Singaporeans pay the highest university tuition fees, we receive one of the least scholarships, as compared to the other high-income countries and we also have one of the fewest students who are able to enroll into universities. Welcome to Uniquely Singapore.

Last week, I had written about how the Singapore education system is unequal. A student who goes to a “top” school will have an almost indefinite chance of entering one of the three local public universities in Singapore. However, for a student who goes to a polytechnic, the chances of going into these universities will be next to zero, literally. Why are these statistics so determinate – is this a intended policy decision to delineate a segment of Singaporeans?

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong might claim that, “every school is a good school”. He had also said that, “we value every child and that we want to give every person the best possible chance to start off well in life”. But as we have seen, the students in Singapore have the lowest progression into secondary education, as compared to the other high-income countries, and countries which have done well in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) rankings. This might also be because Singapore spends the lowest on education as compared to these countries, and we also invest one of the lowest in our primary and secondary students. How then is every school a “good school” and how does every Singapore have “the best possible chance to start off well in life”?

PM Lee might also say that he doesn’t believe in having a, “closed, self-perpetuating elite”, but what do the statistics say? We have a clearly elitist and unequal education where a large proportion of our Singaporean students fall out of the education system.

As was also discussed, most students who enter public universities are more likely to have come from high-income households and students from low-income households in Singapore have a lower chance of going into the public universities.

So, last week, I have showed how our education system is unequal, but do you know that even within the public universities, the education system is highly unequal and elitist as well?

Let’s take a look at the university tuition fees. What you will see today will further shock you.

Singapore’s Public University Education System Is Unequal Too

Of the three public universities, the National University of Singapore (NUS) charges its students between S$7,650 and S$23,050. Students in the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore (NTU) are made to pay between S$7,650 to S$30,000. And students at the Singapore Management University (SMU) have to pay between S$10,900 to S$12,050.

So, is it perfectly normal for university students to pay such high fees? If we want to get a “high” education, we should be willing to pay more, right? And the almost annual increases should be accepted if we want to have a decent university education, right?

How much we have been deceived.

On average, if you include the enrollment of the students, I calculated that the average university tuition fee is about S$8,760. In US dollars, this would be US$7,016.

And how does Singapore compare with the other high-income countries? You guessed it! Singaporeans pay one of the highest tuition fees among the rich countries – the second highest in fact, after Ireland (Chart 1). Even in the United States and Australia, their students there only pay US$5,402 and US$3,924 respectively. Not only that, for countries like Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, students do not even need to pay tuition fees!

Slide6

Chart 1: Education at a Glance 2013

Perhaps, we might say – Singapore has the second-most expensive university tuition fees among the high-income countries, but I am sure the government helps us!

OK, let’s take a further look.

14% of All Undergraduates Are On Scholarships?

According to the Minister of Education (MOE), “On average, about 14% of our undergraduates … in NUS and NTU in 2001-2005 were on scholarships.” Of these, only “About one-third of the undergraduate scholars were local students.

So, again, I did a bit more calculation – the total undergraduate enrollment in the NUS and NTU is 49,463. If 14% of the undergraduates are on scholarships, this would mean that 6,925 students would be on scholarships. Since one-third of the scholars are locals, then two-thirds would be foreigners. This would mean that there were 4,617 foreigners who are on scholarships, and only 2,308 Singaporeans on scholarships.

20% of Undergraduates Are International Students

According to the MOE, “the MOE has capped the number of International Student (IS) at 20% of the total intake, while Permanent Residents (PRs) form only a small proportion. For example, in AY2011, IS comprised 18% while PRs were 4% of undergraduate intake.” So, if 18% of the students are foreigners, this would mean that there would be a total of 8,903 foreign students.

If there were 4,617 foreigners on scholarships out of the total number of 8,903 foreign students, this would mean that 52% of the foreign student population is on scholarships!

But wait a minute, didn’t the MOE said that 14% of the undergraduates at NUS and NTU are on scholarships?

Only 6% Of Singaporean Undergraduates Receive Scholarships

Brace yourself now – the total Singaporean (and PR) undergraduate population is 40,560. And if only 2,308 Singaporean students are on scholarships, as was calculated above, this would mean that only 6% of Singaporeans are on scholarships!

So, the MOE might claim that 14% of the undergraduates are on scholarships, but most of the scholarships are not going to Singaporeans! In fact, only 6% of Singaporeans are able to receive scholarships!

Slide2

Chart 2

Slide3

Chart 3

How does this compare to the other countries, right? Maybe it’s not that bad, right? OK, let’s see.

When compared the other high-income countries, for our Singaporean students, we have the lowest proportion of students who are able to go on scholarships (Chart 4).

Slide8

Chart 4: Education at a Glance 2013

So, as if it’s not already bad enough that Singaporeans already pay the second-highest tuition fees, we are also given the lowest amount of support!

Last but not least, because Singaporeans are made to pay one of the highest university fees among the high-income countries and our students also have the lowest proportions who are able to receive scholarships, is this the reason why we also have one of the lowest enrollment of our students into university education (Chart 5)?

photo 5 (10)

Chart 5: Report of the Committee on University Education Pathways Beyond 2015 (CUEP)

Maybe if I give you the complete big picture, the shock will be even greater.

Do you know that Singapore happens to be one of the richest countries in the world, by GDP per capita (Chart 6)?

Slide15

Chart 6: CIA The World Factbook GDP – per Capita (PPP)

We have one of the largest reserves in the world – the 11th largest (Chart 7).

photo 5 (1)

Chart 7: The World Bank Total reserves

We also have the largest reserves per capita in the world (Chart 8).

20130503-230723.jpg

Chart 8: The World Bank Total reserves

According to Mr Leong Sze Hian, Singapore also has the 7th largest surplus in the world.

In the meantime, Singaporeans are actually paid the lowest wages among the high-income countries (Chart 9).

Slide3

Chart 9: BBC Global migrants: Which are the most wanted professions?

So, let me put things into a bit of perspective here – Singaporeans are given the lowest wages but yet we are expected to pay the second-highest tuition fees for university. Not only that, our students have the lowest proportions who are able to receive scholarships. Yet, we have one of the richest, if not, the richest government in the world, and the PAP government doesn’t want to give more to help Singaporeans achieve a higher education.

Based on what Mr Leong Sze Hian has calculated, tuition fees have “increased about 7.5 per cent per annum” for the past 26 years“. So, how has this become a burden to Singaporeans? Because scholarships only cover 6% of the students, the MOE had said that about “one-third of our local students who graduated between 2005 and 2007 from the local universities had taken up tuition fee loans to finance their undergraduate studies“. Also, “Another one-third of our local students drew down on either their parents’ or their own CPF under the CPF Education Scheme to pay for their fees.” Which means that our students end up in heavy debt even before they start work – the MOE has thus kindly calculated that, “Most students would have graduated with an average debt of about $20,000.

Slide5

Chart 10

But, when our students graduate, they are made to receive the lowest wages among the developed countries, to pay off the highest tuition fee loans.

Not only that, Mr Leong Sze Hian had estimated that only 1 in 8 Singaporeans are able to meet the CPF Minimum Sum in their CPF, which means that the loans that students take on their parents’ or their own CPF becomes an additional burden.

By now, you can clearly see that first, the Singapore education system is highly unequal where only 30% of the students have the highest chances of entering the university. But not only that, when they enter university, only 6% of the Singaporean students are able to receive scholarships, even though more than half the foreign student population are able to receive scholarships. In the end, much fewer of our students are able to enter university, as compared to the other high-income countries.

Yet, why does the Singapore government believe that they do not need to look out for the needs of Singaporeans when there is an estimated 28% of Singaporeans who are living in poverty (Chart 11)?

Slide4

Chart 11: The Heart Truths Poverty in Singapore Grew from 16% in 2002 to 28% in 2013

Also, the poverty rate in Singapore is much higher than in any of the high-income countries and countries in the region as well – countries which the PAP government is awarding scholarships to (Chart 12).

Slide10

Chart 12: The Heart Truths Poverty in Singapore Grew from 16% in 2002 to 28% in 2013

So, why does the PAP government allow university tuition fees to keep increasing yet not provide more financial support for Singaporeans? Why does the PAP government allow Singaporeans to sink into debt, yet pay Singaporeans the lowest wages, and not put in a minimum wage to protect the wages of the workers?

Why does the PAP government insist on earning off the people of Singapore, instead of allow Singaporeans to receive an equal education and one where all Singaporeans have equal access to? Why are some students intentionally kept out of university? Why are students made to shoulder a heavy burden of education, when the PAP government does its minimal to ensure that “every person (has) the best possible chance to start off well in life”. Then what does Lee Hsien Loong means when he said that, “we value every child”?

Our children are being disadvantaged early on in life. When you start to think that your lot in life might be caused by the PAP government, it is not a suspicion. It’s the reality – the statistics have confirmed your worse fears.

Lee Hsien Loong might say that he does not believe in having a “closed, self-perpetuating elite”. But what are the statistics clearly showing? Why does Singapore have such an unequal education system, and why does the PAP government want to create such an unequal education system?

Note: Chart 1 and 4 have been amended with the relevant statistics. I would like to thank readers for pointing out the changes required. Thank you.

*****

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

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:

Slide13

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)!

Slide14

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)!

Slide15

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.

Slide16

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.

Slide17

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).

Slide18

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?

Slide19

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).

Slide20

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).

Slide1

Chart 11: World Development Indicators

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

Slide3

Chart 12: World Development Indicators

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

Slide4

Chart 13: World Development Indicators

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

Slide11

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

How Is Singapore’s Education System Unequal?

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said at the National Day Rally 2013 that the PAP government will, “do more to keep paths upwards wide open to all. Keeping paths wide open has been a fundamental principle for Singapore for a very long time. It is how we have enhanced our human potential. How we have created hope for every Singaporean and is especially true in education and that is why we have invested in pre-school, adding 20,000 places in the next five years as I said just now in Chinese.”

He also said that, “Whichever school you go to, whichever class or principal you have, you will get a good education. And we give every school the teachers, the resources, the backing. We help many of our schools develop niches of excellence. We make sure that the whole system is of a high standard. Every school is a good school.”

This was also echoed by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat in parliament, when he said that it, “is also MOE’s concern (that all children should be given equal and good opportunities in education). That is why MOE is committed to providing a high quality of education in our schools for all our students.

How true is this? Let’s take a look at the statistics to find out. In the comparison statistics below, I have included the countries of a similar high-income level to Singapore, as well as the countries which have done well in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) rankings, an international survey which evaluate education systems worldwide.

It was revealed in parliament that, “Expenditure on education has increased over the past 5 years by 40% – from $7.5 billion in FY2007 to $10.5 billion in FY2012, equivalent to 3.1% of our GDP, and accounting for more than 20% of government expenditure.

But do you know that as compared to the other high-income countries, Singapore’s expenditure of 3.1% of GDP on education is actually the lowest, and has been the case for the past few years (Chart 1)?

Slide1

Chart 1: World Development Indicators

But when you look at Chart 2, you can see even though the PAP government spends the lowest % of GDP on education, they actually spent the highest % of total government expenditure on education – more than 20%.

Slide2

Chart 2: World Development Indicators

Why is this the case? According to Mr Heng, he explained that, “While OECD countries and other top performing education systems (as measured by PISA) spend between 4 – 7% of GDP on education, but because their governments tax and spend more as a percentage of GDP, expenditure on education makes up, on average, only about 13% of their government expenditure – significantly less than Singapore.”

The key phrase is this – “their governments … spend more”. In the other high-income countries, because their governments spend more money on their citizens, even as the expenditure on education is high, it still makes up a smaller proportion of the total government expenditure, as compared to Singapore.

But the issue isn’t in so much as to how much the government spends on education. The issue is whether the money is fairly distributed to Singaporeans.

Take a look at Chart 3 – Singapore actually spends the lowest % of GDP on primary education.

Slide3

Chart 3: World Development Indicators

We also spend the lowest % of GDP on secondary education (Chart 4).

Slide4

Chart 4: World Development Indicators

However, when we compare with the other high-income countries, Singapore actually spends a relatively higher % of GDP on tertiary education (Chart 5).

Slide5

Chart 5: World Development Indicators

And if you look at it in nominal terms, you can see that Singapore spends one of the lowest on primary education – at PPP$5,879 (Chart 6).

Slide6

Chart 6: Global Education Digest

We are spend the one of the lowest among the high-income countries on secondary education – at PPP$8,948 (Chart 7). Most of the rest of the countries which spend a lower amount are the Asian countries which have a significantly lower national income than Singapore.

Slide7

Chart 7: Global Education Digest

But again, when it comes to tertiary expenditure, Singapore spends a relatively higher amount – at PPP$14,676 – as compared to the other high-income countries (Chart 8).

Slide8

Chart 8: Global Education Digest

But why is there such a discrepancy? Why are we spending so little on primary education, but investing more significantly on tertiary education?

It might not be immediately apparent that the spending in Singapore is uneven and results in an unequal education system. So, let’s take a look at more statistics.

Do you know that when compared to the other high-income countries, Singapore has the one of the highest pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) in primary education (Chart 9)? This means that if you look at Sweden, for example, there is one teacher for every 9 pupils. However, in Singapore, there is one teacher for every 17 pupils – which means teachers are more stretched in Singapore. Does this has anything to do with how Singapore spends the least on primary education?

Slide9

Chart 9: World Development Indicators

Singapore also has one of the highest PTR in secondary education (Chart 10). In Singapore, there is one teacher to 15 pupils, whereas in some of the other countries, there is one teacher to 10 pupils. Again, is this because of the low expenditure on secondary education?

Slide10

Chart 10: World Development Indicators

It was also updated in parliament that the, “PTR has improved from 26 in 2000 to 18 in 2012 for primary schools, and from 19 in 2000 to 14 in 2012 for secondary schools.

But don’t just look at things on the surface.

The PAP government goes on to say that, “a PTR of 18 in our primary schools does not mean that our class sizes are 18 in our primary schools – it simply means that we have one teacher for every 18 students”. They add that, “The same PTR can result in different class sizes – as it depends on how we deploy our teachers.” The government goes on to say that, “if we choose to deploy our teachers in classes of 18 students each, it would imply that all our teachers would have to be teaching a class all the time”. They claim that, “This is clearly not tenable.”

So, what is the truth then?

This is the truth: “Most primary and secondary schools have classes of 40 students or fewer, while Primary 1 and 2 classes have 30 students or fewer. We plan on the basis of 30 students per class at primary 1 and 2 and 40 students per class at the other primary and secondary levels.

You see, what’s the point of saying that we have a PTR of 18 in primary schools when each class doesn’t actually have 18 students? It is very different when each class actually has 30 to 40 students – which is more than twice the PTR of 18. The amount of attention that the teacher can give to each student is thus much reduced.

But what is more glaring is that when you compare our class size of 30 to 40 with the other high-income countries, you will see that none of them have class sizes bigger than 30 (Chart 11).

photo 1 (24)

Chart 11: OECD How does class size vary around the world?

The question we have to ask is, what effect does this have on our education system? What does it mean when we spend so low on primary and secondary education? How will that affect the progression of our students?

As such, when you compare our primary school students’ progression to secondary school, what is shocking is that Singapore actually has the lowest proportion of primary school students who actually progress onto secondary school (Chart 12)!

Slide11

Chart 12: World Development Indicators

Does the fact that our students are not able to receive adequate attention from the teachers – because of the huge class sizes and the lack of financial investment – a key reason as to why this is so?

Not only that, there are other statistics which exposes the inequality of the Singapore’s education system.

When compared to the other high-income countries, the “advantaged schools (in Singapore) are more likely to have more or better resources” (Chart 13).

photo 4 (15)

Chart 13: OECD Programme for International Student Assessment

The advantaged schools are also more likely to have a higher proportion of teachers with university-level education. They are also more likely to have a higher quality of educational resources (Chart 14).

photo 2 (26)

Chart 14: OECD Programme for International Student Assessment

In fact, if we adjust the PISA reading performance for the socio-economic profile, you can see that the PISA score for Singapore would have the greatest improvement (Chart 15) – which shows that we probably have one of the highest inequalities.

photo 3 (19)

Chart 15: OECD Programme for International Student Assessment

Finally, when you look at the difference in standards between the schools, you would see that Singapore actually has one of the largest differences between the schools (Chart 16).

Slide12

Chart 16: OECD Programme for International Student Assessment

So, PM Lee might have said 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 this the case? The “advantaged schools” are able to receive more and better resources and have better teachers. As such, this has caused the standards between the schools to have huge variations.

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”. But has this been the case?

It is all well to say that they believe that every school should be a “good school”, but is this just lip service? Clearly, the statistics are showing vast differences in the standards between our schools. Clearly, not every school is given adequate resources to become a “good school”.

In fact, we have to question – Singapore has a very low level of investment in our primary and secondary education. Is this also the reason why our schools have become so unequal? Are resources unevenly distributed such that “advantaged schools” are able to get ahead with more investment? Should the PAP government increase its financial investment into our primary and secondary schools?

Perhaps let me take you through a few more statistics to let you have a better understanding of how unequal our education system is in Singapore.

Some background first: 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.”  MOE had also said that, “Since the introduction of Integrated Programmes (IP) schools in 2004 and the establishment of NUS High School of Math and Science in 2005, MOE-organised GEP has ceased as such schools could cater to the learning needs of GEP and other high-ability students through school-based programmes.

According to the MOE, there are only 9 primary schools which offer the GEP. There are only 18 schools (including the NUS High School) which offer the IP.

And when we drill down into the statistics, this is when we would see how unequal the education system is.

“Advantaged Schools” Receive More Resources

As mentioned, the “advantaged schools” are given more and better resources. Indeed, do you know that for the primary schools which offer the GEP, they are “provided with additional teachers” and they also also given “an annual programme grant of $53 per pupil“.

According to the MOE, “The Edusave Entrance Scholarships for Independent Schools (EESIS) is given to the top one-third of pupils who are posted to Secondary One in independent schools, based on their PSLE results.” Again, you would see that the students who enter the “advantaged schools” would receive more resources – over the past five years, 78% of the students in the Independent Schools were given the Edusave Entrance Scholarship.

As such, do students from the “advantaged schools” progress more easily? According to the MOE, “Over 90% of GEP students score among the top 10% of PSLE candidates.” It is easier for them to apply to the schools that they would want to go to as, “On average, over the past five years, more than 80% of each GEP cohort, or around 400 pupils, entered secondary school through the (Direct School Admissions) DSA exercise.” And once they go to the IP of their choice, “Of the 94% of the IP students who went on to complete the IP and sat for the A Levels or equivalent qualifications, almost all qualified for publicly-funded universities in Singapore.

And thus, when we look at the students who are able to eventually end up in the public universities in Singapore, “From AY2007-2009, over 70% of the applicants to the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (YLL SoM) obtained 4As or better in the GCE ‘A’-level examinations.” (Chart 17)

Slide13

Chart 17: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies

So, where then does this leave the other students who choose to go on the other pathways?

Let’s take a look at how the polytechnic students would fare. According to the MOE, “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.” 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, if 200 local polytechnic graduates were admitted to these courses over ten years, this means that on average, about 20 local polytechnic graduates were admitted every year. Of the 874 students who were admitted, the local polytechnic graduates would thus represent only 2% of the total enrollment (Chart 18)!

Slide14

Chart 18: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies

Indeed, 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 19)!

photo 1 (25)

Chart 19: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies

There were around 384 spaces in 2012/2013 at NUS and SMU, which means that polytechnic graduates would make up less than 1% of the new admissions every year (Chart 20)!

Slide15

Chart 20: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies

Is our education system equal then? Students from “advantaged schools” are almost guaranteed a pathway to “success” whereas the fate of other students are unclear. And if you are from a polytechnic, chances are very slim. If it’s already so slim for a polytechnic student, you can imagine what the chances are for a student from the ITE.

Indeed, the household sizes of the students from the “advantaged schools” would also give you a very good indication as to the inequality in our education system.

Of 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. This is compared to the “80% of all primary school students reside in HDB flats” (Chart 21).

Slide16

Chart 21: 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 22)”

Slide17

Chart 22: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies

It was also revealed that, “About 17% live in 4-room HDB flats or smaller.” However, there were about 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 23).

Slide18

Chart 23: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies, Household Size and Structure

Finally, there were only “One in eight undergraduates in our public Universities come from households who live in 1- to 3-room flats” – which is about 12.5%. However, there are 24.6% of Singapore residents who live in 1- to 3-room flats (Chart 24). Shouldn’t there be more students from the smaller housing type, and from the lower-income group who should be attending university, but are not, or might not actually be able to?

Slide19

Chart 24: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary RepliesHousehold Size and Structure

Perhaps, the table below would give the most evident illustration of the inequality in Singapore’s education system.

photo 2 (27)

Chart 25: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies

Of those who had entered Primary One in 1990-1992, only 40% live in 5-room & exec HDB flats, or private housing. But of those who entered university, this rose to 55%. On the other hand, there were 23% of students in Primary One who live in 1, 2, 3-room HDB flats. But of those who entered university, this was reduced to 13% (Chart 26).

Slide20

Chart 26: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies

What happened?

PM Lee had said at the National Day Rally 2013 that, “we value every child and that we want to give every person the best possible chance to start off well in life.” He had also said 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.”

He had said that the PAP government should not breed elitism because, “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, from the statistics that we have seen so far, is what PM Lee saying true? Does the PAP government truly doesn’t believe in promoting a “closed, self-perpetuating elite”?

More importantly, is the Singapore education system equal and do all our children really have a equal start in school, and most importantly, in life? Are some of our students damned to a certain way of life, precisely because of the education system in Singapore?

PM Lee might have said that, “I think it is also good that we have top schools nationally, schools which are acknowledged as outstanding, so long as we keep our system open. The system has to be open, meaning there cannot be barriers to entry.”

But what do you think? Is Singapore’s education system open? Or is our education system unequal?

Do you know that of the “93% of each Primary 1 cohort progressing to post-secondary education”, 30% went to the junior colleges, 40% to the polytechnics, 20% to the ITE, and 3 to 4% to the private education organisations?

If 60% of the polytechnics and ITE students can hardly make it to the public universities and the rest have have to enter private education organisations, with only 30% in the junior colleges who have the most likely chance of entering the public universities, how equal or “open” is our education system when it favours only 30% of the students in Singaporeans, while the rest of the 70% would be disadvantaged by the system (Chart 27)?

Slide21

Chart 27: Ministry of Education Singapore Parliamentary Replies

How is every school a “good school” and how equal or “open” is our education system when the education system is already structured to marginalise the large proportion of Singaporeans?

If the PAP government is sincere in creating an education system which is open and ensures that all schools are “good schools”, is this the way to do so? It is one thing to say that they want all schools to be “good schools”, yet say that even if you are in a “good school”, you might not be good enough to enter the local public universities. This is as well as saying these schools are not good enough.

Quite certainly, the PAP’s pronouncement of all schools being “good schools” cannot be backed up by how unequal and unfair the education system in Singapore evidently is, and only further entrenches the inequality in Singapore. Such a system that baits our students and Singaporeans into discriminated pathways early in life should be treated with abhor and Singaporeans must rise up and stand up against such discrimination and inequality. 

*****

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