Being born lucky is not a talent worth rewarding

There seems to be an inconsistency between our meritocratic ideals and our policies that reward people simply based on the circumstances of their birth.

Our schools are meant to be an equaliser, where every child, regardless of his background and status, gets an equal shot at improving his life and future through education.

Yet, students are admitted into primary schools, in part, based on their parents' alma mater and where they can afford to live.

While it may be true that "every school is a good school", not all schools are equally good.

Some primary schools provide non-pedagogical benefits such as affiliation points and overt forms of cultural capital.

Children of alumni of these schools or those who can afford to live in neighbourhoods within a kilometre of these primary schools have a better chance of gaining admission and, as a result, a better chance of succeeding in life.

Through no effort or talent of their own, these children already get a head start over their peers.

Hence, I concur with Mr Daryl Tan and Ms Grace Lim Kor Lei, who suggested scrapping alumni priority for primary schools (Time to scrap priority admission for kids of alumni, July 15; and Do more to stop giving priority to alumni, July 17).

While we cannot control who is born to higher-income households, our national policies should not promote unfairness by allowing privileges to be codified and inherited when it comes to school admissions.

Being born lucky is not a talent worth rewarding, unless the type of meritocracy we want is devoid of the element of effort.

I also disagree with Mr Johann Loh Runming's claim that the education system is fair, as primary school allocation policies are clearly not (A meritocratic education system to be proud of; July 17).

The race of life may not be fair and there may be practical limitations to policies, but it is extremely discouraging to see institutional support of archaic policies that are entrenching undeserved inequalities of opportunity.

If we want a society built upon fairness and merit, then we ought to create a fair primary school allocation policy that does not depend on the lottery of birth.

Harisan Unais Nasir

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2018, with the headline 'Being born lucky is not a talent worth rewarding'. Print Edition | Subscribe