Don't sort army recruits by their education levels

I have long admired the ability of national service to integrate our multiracial society, fostering trust and camaraderie.

However, I struggle to understand why the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) still sorts people based on their educational backgrounds for different training batches.

I remember asking my commanding officer why recruits from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) were not included in the leadership batch of recruits, where a high percentage go on to take leadership positions, such as sergeants and officers, within the army.

In my personal experience during enlistment, most recruits around me were from polytechnics and junior colleges.

It was only after graduating as a sergeant that I started working with men from other educational backgrounds, such as those from ITE. I often found their work ethic and dedication to be much greater than those of my fellow sergeants.

While this is a simple anecdote, it reveals two troubling observations.

First, even during NS where recruits are no longer graded on their academic performance, we still let their educational backgrounds determine their future success.

Second, sorting recruits based on their educational attainments prevents equally capable students from receiving leadership training and increased investment in their development.

Leadership traits that I learnt from the army - responsibility for others, resilience and courage to make difficult decisions - continue to serve me well today.

It pains me that those from other educational backgrounds did not have the chance to learn these traits, simply because they did not do as well academically.

I recommend that Mindef open up leadership batches to recruits of all educational backgrounds, instead of sorting them based on their previous educational attainments. For us to progress in tackling inequality, we must start with the belief that circumstances that affected one in the past cannot, and must not, taint one's hope for the future.

John Lim Le Sheng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2018, with the headline 'Don't sort army recruits by their education levels'. Print Edition | Subscribe