It is telling that private school graduates are lagging behind their peers from public universities when they enter the job market. According to a survey, many not only had a tougher time landing full-time jobs compared with public university graduates, but they also received lower starting salaries. Employers' bias and outdated human resource practices could partly account for this. Private schools are seen as the refuge of those who cannot make their way into public institutions - the result of lopsided demand and supply.
When employers discriminate against some graduates, despite a tight job market, they do themselves and others a disfavour by not fully tapping the potential of the young who have been educated here. Instead of giving all a chance to demonstrate their worth at a workplace, in the spirit of the SkillsFuture movement, an invidious form of streaming is taking place. This is evident when some graduates get a better deal while others are placed on a less attractive track, if at all. Yielding to academic prejudice instead of focusing on useful skills and traits, when picking someone for a job, can affect the competitive edge of a firm. If anything, those who have had to struggle against the odds to earn a degree could have acquired resilience and the knack of multi-tasking.
On a national scale, discriminatory practices represent an unacceptable waste of financial resources - much of it expended by private students at tertiary levels. Given the need to develop the skills and mastery of all workers to take the economy to a higher plane - an exercise deemed critical to Singapore's future - the treatment of private school graduates betrays a significant weakness in Singapore's education system. Logically, public and private schools should be pulling together to produce graduates sought by the economy. All institutions ought to develop niches and build certain capabilities, instead of just feeding the mass craving for paper qualifications.
Private schools can help their students by focusing on employable skills and offering up-to-date programmes in a nimble manner, which larger institutions might not be able to implement speedily. Increasingly, they must go beyond popular degree programmes and also look at new fields of study or those undergoing rapid change. Being smaller, private schools might be able to zero in on specific skill shortages in the marketplace. Private education must also factor strongly in plans to ramp up continuing education courses, alongside autonomous universities and polytechnics. As many of these courses might be in modular form, there is value in establishing certain standards so students can progress from one module to another in an interlinked manner. Public and private education systems ought to be interoperable in a sense and not be characterised by artificial distinctions or lingering forms of bias.