Diversity does improve breeding

There is a multitude of pros and cons about grouping students together according to their academic abilities.
There is a multitude of pros and cons about grouping students together according to their academic abilities. PHOTO: ST FILE

There is a multitude of pros and cons about grouping students together according to their academic abilities ("Students of different abilities make for a class act" by Ms Hoong Juan Ru; Monday).

As observed by Ms Hoong, where one group of students is academically superior to another within the same class, altruistic camaraderie may take place, for there is no reservation that the gulf in standards will be bridged any time soon.

However, where all are almost on an even par intellectually, selflessness is often overtaken by calculated selfishness in the race to get ahead.

This is a simple extension of Darwin's theory of evolution, where only the fittest will survive.

Diversity does improve breeding. I realise now, having spent all my formative years in only one school with the same classmates, how very similarly we conceptualise problems and provide solutions. We even write rhyme the same way and indulge in the same form of humour.

Our homogeneous, sterile one-dimensionality may, perhaps, have benefited from an injection of different points of views offered by those from a different educational background.

Yet, streaming and elite schools do have their advantages, where everyone is constantly trying to achieve par with the highest common factor, instead of being satisfied with besting the lowest common denominator.

If a student belongs in a school academically, education is immensely satisfying, with the scope and depth being extremely edifying. But when a student is there simply because of the initial boost from extensive tuition, he would eventually feel the weight of the academic programme, and the classic problem of squeezing a square plug into a round hole emerges.

Many of my generation attended schools deemed to be only for the rich. However, we were anything but. With two 10-cent coins jangling in our pockets, we mixed cheek by jowl with the well-to-do who had dollar notes to spare.

Perhaps, we were the lucky generation, but few of us were crushed by the poverty we were born into, while many managed to yank themselves up by their own bootstraps by applying themselves diligently and assiduously.

Social mobility is perceived to be slower for the current generation. Yet, the most successful young multi-millionaire I know, who is already retired because he has the means to do so, was once an impecunious young patient of mine, and the son of a humble taxi driver.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2015, with the headline 'Diversity does improve breeding'. Print Edition | Subscribe