A meritocratic education system to be proud of

The Singapore education system is fair and a good social leveller to the extent that there is a clear pathway for those who succeed academically to get ahead, and the Education Ministry deserves to be commended (Move beyond focus on grades to embrace skills: Ong Ye Kung; July 12).

National examinations such as the PSLE have always been set at a manageable level for students.

This means that any student who works hard enough will be able to get his As and take control of his destiny.

Should an education system offer more than one pathway to success? The plausibility and effectiveness of such a project is highly debatable.

In today's globalised world of unlimited human potential, six-year-olds can become millionaires reviewing toys online, eight-year-olds can write best-selling novels, 10-year-olds can start their own multi-million-dollar bath-bomb company.

All these represent an inequality that is a manifestation of unequal human potential, ingenuity and ambition.

Is it fair or even desirable to expect an education system to expand to the point where it magically and systematically compensates for all such forms of inequality?

Or should we concede that the fairest and most coherent position to adopt is to allow all students the opportunity to succeed academically - purely as a starting point?

We must acknowledge that the success of an individual is ultimately a personal responsibility, and that ambitious children will always find a way to forge ahead regardless of the system in place.

Let's acknowledge that in a constantly changing world, every system will be imperfectly designed and will need to be constantly refined.

But of all the things to admire and cherish in Singapore, our meritocratic education system is surely one of them.

Johann Loh Runming

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2018, with the headline 'A meritocratic education system to be proud of'. Print Edition | Subscribe