Few would disagree that there is no fairer basis on which to build a meritocratic system than through education; a system which offers all children equality of opportunity - although this now also means an acceptance that there will not be equality of outcomes among individuals. This is especially so in today's environment where, as Parliament heard last week, children are pushing off blocks from different starting lines unlike the first generation of Singaporeans, where many students came from humble backgrounds. Given that the education system has been marked by standards of expectation and performance - and consequently stress for students, parents and educators - the issue of education for the future and how to ensure it can continue to serve the needs of students and society's goals, occupied the minds of MPs. The exchanges showed that education's link with meritocracy remains a live issue.
A key idea is the extent to which Singapore offers its young equality of opportunity. Fundamentally, this is done through the schools, a national curriculum and a common examination system, including the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). To tinker with existing pedagogic and evaluative mechanisms, as some suggest, would make the education system less, and not more, fair to those who are weaker academically or economically. Data presented in Parliament revealed that around 7.5 per cent of pupils who live in one-to three-room Housing Board flats in fact emerge as top PSLE performers every year.