Voices Of Youth

Rethink definitions of academic success

Graduates at the Singapore Management University's Commencement Ceremony on July 11, 2017.
Graduates at the Singapore Management University's Commencement Ceremony on July 11, 2017.PHOTO: ST FILE

The recent college admissions bribery scandal in the United States led me to reflect more on university admissions in Singapore (Parents face charges in court for role in US college entry fraud, March 14).

Our admissions system is ostensibly meritocratic.

Individuals are rewarded places in institutions based on their achievements in school, and not on other aspects of their lives, such as their race, gender or family background.

This is done in the name of equality.

I am not suggesting that bribery is occurring at Singapore universities; but even so, I wonder if our own faith in academic meritocracy is justified.

Children of affluent families undoubtedly have a head start in life, which manifests academically.

In Singapore, wealthy parents typically spend thousands to ensure that their children excel in school, arranging for multi-subject tuition sessions and choosing strategic extra-curricular activities for their children.

I have friends from well-to-do families who will be matriculating into reputable overseas universities this year.

Yet they often attribute their success entirely to "hard work" or "luck", rather than acknowledge the inherent financial privilege that gave them an academic leg-up over many of their peers.

It takes humility to accept that our successes are not entirely our own.

As sociologist Teo You Yenn wrote in her book This Is What Inequality Looks Like, we need to dismantle societal fallacies around what we associate with "success" and, conversely, "failure".

By rewarding the success of already privileged individuals, we in the same breath turn a blind eye to the difficulties facing the less privileged, who fall through the cracks.

Lim Ziqian, 19

Junior College Year 2 student

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2019, with the headline 'Rethink definitions of academic success'. Print Edition | Subscribe