Don't confuse poor etiquette with elitism

Madam Jessie Loy Sze Nah's argument relies on flimsy and absolutist characterisation grounded upon laudable ideals, confusing poor etiquette with elitism ("'Bukit Timah belt' schools breeding elitist students"; Forum Online, Aug 11).

It has to be noted that many of these schools in the "Bukit Timah belt" have contributed massively to upward social mobility of Singaporeans, especially in the colonial period, giving rise to many great talents that have brought our country to its admirable state today.

Part of the segmentation of these schools from the post-independence education system arises from a strong alumni culture built upon gratitude for what education in those schools then portended - a comfortable life, intellectual enlightenment and lifelong fraternity.

Parents - whether alumni of these schools who rose up the socio-economic ladder or mere observers - hence, gravitate towards these schools, doing everything within their financial means to get their children into them.

It is no wonder that demographics have made these schools increasingly homogeneous.

The contention now is that many students in these schools are there because of strong external support, which is indeed an evidence-based conclusion. However, to penalise them because of that smacks of affirmative action, which is incompatible with the principles our society stands for.

Instead, support frameworks have to be strengthened to ensure that admission into these schools is completely needs-blind. High-potential at-risk children must be given a fair shot, such as by providing appropriately paced and affordable enrichment schemes at self-help community groups.

Elitism is contempt for those perceived to be inferior. This contempt does not reside in the lack of graciousness, but the solution for both issues is broadly similar: A tripartite effort among the Government, educators and the parental unit to change the educational culture within our meritocratic society.

To combat elitism, a re-evaluation of how we define, identify, acquire and ultimately nurture talent for success is needed, especially with the Government as a role model.

Addressing poor etiquette, meanwhile, requires parental involvement in our current civic education schemes.

Tay Hong Yi