What it will take to move beyond focus on grades

There was yet another call from Education Minister Ong Ye Kung last week on the need for Singaporeans to embrace a broader definition of meritocracy (Move beyond focus on grades to embrace skills: Ong Ye Kung; July 12).

But will Singapore succeed in doing so when the rewards of earning a decent living are still predominantly determined by the levels of one's educational and academic attainments?

The day a skilled plumber can earn a decent living as well as a university graduate who works in a desk job is when people might begin to believe that meritocracy is all-embracing. Until then, conventional wisdom and prevailing attitudes towards grades will persist.

Meritocracy, by definition, is inherently contradictory depending on how rewards are accorded to one's attainment of status and living standards.

It is one dialectic that we have to constantly examine the assumptions and measures we use to define its application because we live in a world where material possessions determine success.

Perhaps we should consider changing this basic metric of success and become less materialistic.

Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2018, with the headline 'What it will take to move beyond focus on grades'. Print Edition | Subscribe