The Straits Times
Published on Dec 05, 2012

Prized scholarships bear examination


WHILE meritocracy as a fundamental value of society is a given, the way it is set up in Singapore deserves examination ("'If not meritocracy, then what?'"; Monday).

Meritocracy's underbelly reveals an elite group that has been bred in Singapore, where teenagers, at the age of 18, are given prestigious scholarships on account of their academic performance and extra-curricular experience.

Such a system has repercussions on the spirit of learning and personal growth for the next generation.

It is not uncommon for brighter students to attempt to shape their entire education towards obtaining that prestigious scholarship.

Netting such a scholarship will eventually place them in important positions in the public sector, where they are given more opportunities to shine and where their "career end points" are immediately deemed further and higher than those who enter government service without scholarships.

This elite scholarship system creates a socio-educational climate where the young are not given enough time to reflect on what interests them most in life.

It also disadvantages, if ever so implicitly and subconsciously, non-scholarship holders who serve with passion and intelligence.

A meritocracy that, on the one hand, aims to promote people on account of their performance will be perverted if, on the other hand, it is predisposed to advance people largely because they were scholarship holders.

This is because there is no necessary connection between performing at work and being awarded a scholarship.

Indeed, anointing 18-year-olds as having the right aptitude and attitude for particular kinds of work, even before they have gone through life as such or the baptism of tertiary education, is not true meritocracy. It is manufactured meritocracy.

Harvey Neo