The Straits Times
Published on Dec 04, 2012

Taking the road less travelled to success


THE Ministry of Education has touted the tagline "Every school a good school". However, the public - particularly parents whose stress levels are matched only by their determination to secure a bright future for their children - are not assured. Cries of indignation abound that inequalities persist between the quality of education in brand-name schools and lesser-known ones ("Time to redefine academic success"; last Thursday).

Perhaps it is time for us to redefine our perceptions of success in general - not just academic success.

It is particularly telling that a key decision-making criterion for parents when it comes to choosing secondary schools is the number of Overseas Merit Scholars and medical students among the school's alumni. Evidently, our perception of success, and by extension, what constitutes a good school, tends to be shaped by an exclusive focus on academic excellence.

Such a view of success is unnecessarily restrictive and stressful. A person's ability cannot, and should not, be quantified in a single number, be it a Primary School Leaving Examination score or the number of A-level distinctions he has. Rather than try to fit a square peg into a round hole, we should embrace the multitude of human talents and allow people with abilities that stretch beyond academic achievement to also succeed in life.

This is precisely why polytechnics exist alongside junior colleges. Some students are more suited to an academically rigorous curriculum, while others prefer a more technical and hands-on approach to learning.

Given the divergent nature of human talents, different paths to success must also be divergent - not convergent in medical school. As we adopt different paths to success, we can only expect that we will end up at completely different destinations.

Ultimately, I believe that the fundamental problem lies in societal norms and prejudices.

We cannot wait for the Government to tell us how success should be defined; it is a highly personal issue that we must decide for ourselves.

We should learn to capitalise on our unique abilities, broaden the definition of success, and not blindly trudge along the path which promises the best monetary gains or which is most popular in society.

Clarence Cheong