Useful to track, measure diversity of public scholarship holders

That the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) are working to increase the diversity of both their scholarship applicants and recipients - for instance, by encouraging more of those living in one-to three-room Housing Board flats and those from poorer families to apply for the scholarships - is encouraging (Diversity among SAF, Mindef scholarship holders; July 21).

But they have to be more specific about what is meant by "diversity" and how it is measured and tracked over time.

Perhaps, having defined diversity to cover race, gender and socio-economic status, as well as family or educational backgrounds, these metrics ought to be communicated more consistently.

Thus far, data on diversity has unfortunately been shared only in dribs and drabs, even though the information is likely to be readily available. Without it and without an understanding of how trends might have changed, public discourse is stymied.

It was revealed in 2008 that just 47 per cent of Public Service Commission (PSC) scholarship holders live in public housing, compared with more than 80 per cent of Singaporeans who do so.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung shared in Parliament earlier this month that the percentage of PSC scholars from Hwa Chong Institution and Raffles Institution has gone down from more than 80 per cent in 2007 to 60 per cent last year (Move beyond focus on grades to embrace skills: Ong Ye Kung; July 12).

And more recently, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen mentioned that the number of female recipients of the Mindef and SAF scholarships this year had doubled from a decade ago (More female recipients of Mindef and SAF scholarships; July 21).

If diversity is deemed to be important - and even as meritocracy remains the guiding principle for the awarding of public scholarships - then its definition, measurement, and tracking cannot be disregarded.

A useful start would be to offer aggregated data of PSC, Mindef and SAF scholars over the years.

Public scholarships offer meaningful individual narratives, especially by showcasing young scholarship holders and their families who have experienced challenging circumstances.

Yet, at the same time, the collective Singaporean narrative of representation, social mobility and diversity, which goes beyond anecdotes, is no less important and deserves much more attention.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 29, 2018, with the headline 'Useful to track, measure diversity of public scholarship holders'. Print Edition | Subscribe