Unlike entry to Primary Schools, admission into Secondary Schools is based on meritocracy. PSLE results are used as key admission criteria. Discuss everything related to PSLE and selection of Secondary Schools here.


Postby FanFanX » Fri Aug 22, 2014 8:10 pm


http://therealsingapore.com/content/5-d ... rsonal-exp

I was not very surprised that during the recent National Day Rally 2014, PM Lee spoke about the de-emphasis on grades and paper qualifications again. I looked through some archives and realized he has been talking about this for the past few years since National Day Rally 2010 to be exact.

The whole narrative since then has been like: “As a government, we are trying to de-emphasize grades, school prestige and university degrees in our society”

I think this whole “Every school is a good school” thing is a nice initiative with good intentions. If effective, it will boost the dominant party’s popularity and make the lives of many Singaporeans easier. However, the attempts are still pretty much superficial and don’t really target the root of the problem (will discuss in my next few entries).

In fact, few people are really convinced that Singapore is going to shift away from school prestige and grades. Not the general public, the educators or even our leaders.

Last year, Jurong West Secondary principal said

"How many of our leaders and top officers who say that every school is a good school put their children in ordinary schools near their home? (Only) until they actually do so are parents going to buy (it)."

This statement went viral with many people coming forward and expressing their respect and agreement with this accidental hero.

Even though the Ministry of Education has decided they will no longer band schools or reveal top scorers, parents have set up a list of top students on their own in Kiasu Parents forum to find out which school produced the top scorer.

However, there are some pretty idealistic people who think going to a neighbourhood school and elite school is the same. I see plenty of comments on news articles and Facebook saying things like

“Oh it doesn't matter which school you study in, you can still be successful in life if you work hard.”

“School doesn't matter at all. It is really about parenting,”

I do agree that parenting is one of the key factors that influence how children turn out but that doesn't discount the importance of the school and it's impact at all.

Having studied in both a mediocre secondary school and elite JC, I would like to share my insights on the difference between both institutions.

Before I begin, I think it is important to differentiate what a neighbourhood school and elite school means. It is not about the name of school because clearly institutions like Xinmin Secondary School, Anderson Secondary School are really good. Rather I think I will classify both schools based on how tough entering the school is with elite schools being institutions which highly competitive admissions and neighbourhood schools being those with low admission requirements.

Please note that these are just generic observations that do not represent every single student studying in those places.

Just to share a bit of my background:

I studied in Fairfield Methodist School (Secondary). To be honest, I don’t really know how to classify my school because the status is “autonomous” and the kids are mostly English speaking. However, most of the kids here come from primary school. If you enter by affiliation, you only need 188 but if you enter through non-affiliation, you need about 240. Students in this school are generally wealthy. Many of my classmates live in Upper Bukit Timah, bungalows in Clementi, Private housing around Dover Road etc.

However, on the other end, there are also the normal academic and normal technical stream students, who are pretty much similar in terms of demographic, family income and behaviour as the kind of kids you see in other neighbourhood schools.

For JC, I went to Victoria Junior College. The school population is made up of people who are somewhat wealthy but there are also the hardworking kind who made it there despite family background. VJC is ranked third behind RI and HCI. Admission requirement is 4 O level points but if you are good in your CCA and willing to help the school win prizes through that CCA, you can always DSA your way in. Most of the kids here come from schools like St. Nics, RGS, Cedar, Dunman High and Anglican High.

Here are the differences I experienced

1. Networking vs negative influence

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”- John Rohn

I think that generally elite school offers a lot more opportunities for you to mix with the type of people who would be useful to you to your career or higher education in the future.

Like elite schools like RI, HCI and VJC, you see your seniors and alumni doing things like getting good grades, H3, taking more subjects than required, excelling in sports, music, building portfolio, being involved in research with ASTAR, internships, securing leadership positions, organizing community service initiatives with pretentious titles like “Community Leaders Forum” or “Global service learning conference” etc.

Most people in Singapore think the best of the best are just nerds but the truth is that there are plenty of all-rounders who excel in all fronts.

Being in close proximity with such ambitious and high achieving people, you automatically know what is important for scholarships and having a good CV, and work hard to achieve those aims. You can even ask your ever so accessible seniors for advice/help.

Upon graduation, elite school children benefit from having a network of elite friends too. Most of my friends are studying in places not just in our big three local universities but also places like Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, Peking University, University of Tokyo and other popular US and UK universities. Generally I find students who go abroad to study at top schools a lot more ambitious. I get most of my ideas from them about how to become even more successful through social interaction or watching what they do on platforms like Facebook and Linkedin.

In contrast, many people from mediocre or neighbourhood jcs and schools didn't even know about the importance of building portfolio. The driven ones there just focused on good grades and CCA. While many top jc students sought to secure prestigious internships or run their own startups after JC and NS, the others chose temp jobs or admin work.

Thus, I think that being in this type of social group or circle has benefited me a lot in my career and education by setting high standards, pushing me forward and inspiring me.

On the other hand, I didn’t really experience as much role models in my secondary school or accessible help which would take me from good to great. A lot more focus and resources are being devoted to the average type of student to make it through their exams.

Another strange area of emphasis for mediocre school was also attendance and attire rules. In FMSS, there was a huge emphasis and resources being spent on getting kids to conform to attire rules, skipping classes were very difficult which I felt was really stupid because why were things like not wearing ankle socks so important that they had to take up one hour after assembly? Or, doesn't it make sense for the student to self-study if the teacher wasn't an effective or good one?

VJC didn't give a shit about forcing all students to conform to attire rules. Skipping classes were very easy. In fact, the school often handed out half-days and off-days more freely compared to other schools. The impression I got was like as long as you win awards and get good grades can liao. The extra time off school will help you do that.

I think that most NA and NT students don’t really have a conducive environment where they can flourish in. In my experience in school, most of the youth crimes and rule breaking were done by this group of people. The ‘model and popular student’ is not really your peer who excels in every field but rather your rebellious gangster senior who stood up to authority.

Why the difference in behaviour and goals? I think that mostly neighbourhood school children are a lot less richer than those from elite schools (will discuss this in point two).

Many of them also come from dysfunctional families where there is neglect, abuse, one parent in jail, divorce blah blah. As such, they lose focus of their studying and end up in those streams. At that age, they are also vulnerable to the influence of older figures which make them feel powerful, and loved such as those ‘pai kia’ seniors, which makes them susceptible to all these negative influences. =(

On the contrary, if you were to place a kid from a dysfunctional family in a top school probably he or she may be even more motivated to study because the status symbol there isn't being the baddest and most intimidating kid but the smartest and most elite one.

2. Family income

Another major difference I noted in neighbourhood schools and elite schools generally is family income and level of education of the parents.

In fact, I think many of the students in elite schools are not there because of capability alone but because they had many advantages in life to begin with. In 2010, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew shared some glaring statistics about how privileged children with parents who are university graduates have a much higher probability of exceling in school.

More than half of students studying in top schools like Raffles Institution, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and Nanyang Girls’ High had fathers who were degree holders and came from rich families.

In contrast, the percentage at Chai Chee Secondary School, a neighbourhood school, was only 13.1 percent and this was the highest percentage amongst four schools where data was obtained. I noticed the same trend when I compared my peers in Victoria Junior College to my friends in the Normal Academic and Normal Technical streams in Fairfield Methodist School.

The reason for this startling statistics, according to former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was that privileged children had a “more favourable learning environment at home” shaped by better-educated parents.

Better-educated parents are more supportive generally because they know what is important. They have been though university, have friends who teach there and are more updated with the latest trends on what is needed to excel.

A simple example would be that educated parents tend to see enrichment as necessary for growth or an advantage, while the less educated parents may see it as a ‘waste of money’. I have had friends who could not go on overseas programs because of lame reasons like ‘safety’, ‘waste money’ and they could only watch as their more well-to-do peers had something prestigious and new to add to their portfolio. Similarly I faced the same problem in trying to convince my dad who is a business owner but a non-graduate about concepts like portfolio, overseas internships and even simple things like why I need tuition or I will lag behind classmates who had tuition for every subject due to the bell curve system.

Besides which, richer parents also have a higher amount of disposable income. This can be used to “buy a qualification” for their child or channel these resources into their children’s education and development – enrolling in tuition, paying for premium co-curricular activities (i.e. fencing, bowling, golf, tennis ) and enrichment courses. Some educational policies such as Direct School Admission based on special skills like sports and arts may favour richer children as well. More educated parents would usually have the sense and financial means to develop their kid in a particular sport or art/music i.e. piano, violin, giving them a distinct advantage even if they do not do well academically.

Don't get me wrong. I am of course not saying that all rich kids will definitely make it in life. I mean if you parents are business owners or professionals and you still end up not going to elite school then perhaps the problem is in you and not the system.

I have discussed all the factors about how our education system is very advantageous to those who come from wealthier families in my commentary for TOC last year. You can read it here – Meritocracy: Romantic idea, poor application.

3. Opportunities and resources

I would say that elite schools generally more opportunities than neighbourhood ones.

As I have mentioned earlier, there is an opportunity for affiliation. For instance, if you enter Nanyang Primary school, you get an advantage in admissions for Nanyang Girls which would lead you directly to HCI and so forth.

It is the same in Fairfield where you only need 188 to move from FMPS to FMSS and get easier entry into ACJC. Even if you are slightly below average in intelligence, as long as you work hard and fulfil your basic student obligations of studying, you definitely can make it.

Teaching wise I would say mostly elite schools have slightly better teachers. In VJC, my geography and literature teachers were all imported from the UK. However, it is not always the case because I got a really mediocre mathematics teacher and average GP teacher.

I won’t say VJC had better notes as well. In fact, I had to outsource my notes for some subjects. I bought Jurong JC’s economic notes and ACJC’s geography notes which I found to be way more useful than the ones I was getting in school. Basically I just skipped all the lectures and did my own self-studying.

However, it is worth noting that while elite schools have a lot more funding and opportunities, I think that competition for all these resources are way tougher. Everyone wants to go for this conference, this seminar, this study trip, this conference to build their portfolio. I applied for a lot of stuff but failed to get in because admissions were just so competitive. Thus, you see many elite JC kids helping out at NGOs, Meet-the-people sessions and grassroots (Youth Executive Commitees) because opportunities are a lot easier to acquire outside of school than in school.

Whereas if you are in a neighbourhood jc, all you have to do is be a big fish in a small pond to access these opportunities and it evens out eventually.

4. Exposure to society / Maturity

A lot of people think that elite school kids are not really exposed to society. I agree but I think it is about exposure to different things.

If you come from a neighbourhood school, generally you are more exposed to shit that happens to some of classmates like how they have a lot of problems in their families, being involved in gangs etc.

If you come from an elite school, you are exposed to a different kind of environment which makes you less impressed by things. For instance, a neighbourhood school kid may be very impressed by a peer who is a national player. However in elite schools, having classmates who are Singapore national players are like a freaking norm. I had one or two in my class of 20 people and they were scattered throughout my level too.

Read my other blog post - Debunking the myths about JC-University students

5. Ethics and personality

Character wise, I don’t really like the attitudes of some of my acquaintances from top JCs. There is this whole elitist mindset and judging people for their achievements thing going around.

I even had schoolmates who told me things like they will not consider dating a girl or guy who scored 9 points and below for their L1R5 in O levels. LOL. At inter-JC events, I have encountered many students who ask my JC and credentials before they ask my name.

I also had a classmate who would deliberately suck up to people who scored good grades, came from other elite schools or who were popular. Interacting with such people was a huge turn off.

I think there is a lot of snobbery going on because many of them feel very insecure about themselves because they are in an environment where it is hard to stand out and everyone is just too smart and high achieving.

Another contributing factor is because they are unaware of the concept of inherited meritocracy and think that working hard and being smart were the only two main factors that got them where they were, thus assuming everyone else are useless bums.

However, this doesn’t mean that neighbourhood or mediocre schools are entirely free from discrimination. There are other kinds of discrimination, like lookism was one of them. In my secondary school, girls deemed as ‘fat and ugly’ were often the target of mockery by other students. It was a really disturbing thing for me given the fact that it was a Christian school and the teachers did almost nothing to intervene.

Conversational topics wise, I would think that elite school children and neighbourhood school ones talk about very very different things because they generally have different concerns and focus in life.

When I mixed with the neighbourhood kids, topics revolved around things like Maplestory, Gunbound, how to look nice, how to be slim, which senior they like, popular culture etc. When they grow up, 'maplestory' and 'gunbound' changes to things like KTV, Clubbing and Pool.

These topics were also prevalent in elite school environments. However, they tend to discuss other things which were not say nerdy but indicative of a person who came from a higher social class like literature, society, history, insights, H3, the scholarship they wanted, entrepreneurship, whether they wanted to go to NTU open house or US university fair or the college they wanted to go to. When they grow up, the topic of higher education changes to what business they wanted to start, their bond at X organization, their business or the MNCs they applied to.

Gossips were different too. One complained about their classmate being flirty or annoying. The other one would rather discuss who got what marks, topped in which subject, was selected for what book prize etc. Like conversational topics, gossips extended to adulthood as well.

I think it is this difference in interest and attitudes, along with snobbery, which contributes to elite-school-background and neighbourhood-school-background kids not understanding the vastly different social world and lingo. It feels like we have two very different worlds and different lives even though we are all Sngaporeans.

When I told my scholar-ex-boyfriend about the importance of learning how to communicate with neighbourhbood school kids, he remarked in a rather snobbish way "Why should I? I don't need them for survival and I am not going to work with them in the future." Wake up your idea dude, in the working world, even if you are in some super selective firm, you have to mix with this type of people and sometimes even por them to make your life easier.

For me, I felt it was important to learn how to mix with neighbourhood school kids so I picked up Singdarin (I don't speak Chinese at home and have only been exposed to Standard Mandarin tutors) through working at events and clubs. Being familiar with the language, lifestyle and conversational topics really helped me a lot in both being a better person (understanding their circumstances and why they turn out this way), reducing snobbery on my part and being a more effective worker (who can get along with all social classes).

Having shared my experience, I hope you realize that being in an elite school and neighbourhood school does provide a rather different environment for young people and sometimes, this is really out of the government's control.

I am not sure if any policies in place can really address the differences I highlight above.

However, what I know is that if you want successful kids, I don't think it is wise to ignore the difference and go on being idealistic about how if you work hard, you will make it big in life.

See: Hardwork is overrated. Here are 3 other things you need to get ahead in life.

It is important to drop such naive ideals because many people who make it out of their undesirable circumstances are most of the time, an exception rather than a majority. The government can strive to help as many disadvantaged people as possible but it will never work out for every single person.

From what I have described, I will leave it to you and your own experiences to decide what kind of school you think if better or what type of school you would like your child to study in.

Personally, I would like my own children to attend elite institutions. At the same time, I hope to rid them of snobbery and reinforce the idea that they are not there because of their hardwork and capability alone but also because of the support of society and their parents.

Ending off, I will like to emphasize that what I have highlighted does not represent ALL elite school or neighbourhood school kids. However, I dare say my description of the generic culture if pretty accurate.

Jeraldine Pheah

*The writer blogs at http://www.jeraldinephneah.me/

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Postby zbear » Sat Aug 23, 2014 10:00 am

Thanks for sharing. I couldn't help but agree with what the writer says.

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Postby Mdm Koh » Sat Aug 23, 2014 6:17 pm

I think there are different advantages for both. Students from neighbourhood schools are more knowledgeable about the different cultures and races in Singapore. Also, a lot of students have tuition. It's not true that the most costly tuition (some parents pay above $90 per hour for secondary school tuition) is better than a tutor who charges less. Students from neighbourhood schools can have good enrichment and tuition too.

But I concur with the author on lack of opportunities. I won't mince words. I think MOE is the main culprit. I noted that when important personalities and political leaders came to Singapore to give talks, the students' places in the audience were always given to students from HCI, RI, RGS, etc. They assumed that students in other schools were not interested without even asking them.

Certain prestigious universities also give talks in top schools to promote their courses while completely ignoring neighbourhood schools. Such bias will create a shrinking pool of talent. We are restricting the growth of talented people who may be late bloomers.

Mdm Koh
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Postby layperson » Sat Aug 23, 2014 10:49 pm

A well written analysis of the difference which drives parents to send their children to attend a handful of popular schools.

I whole-hearted agree with the writer. There are also further points to bring out. Even with the handful of popular schools, the subculture of the students in the top classes(in particular the GEP) and the mainstream can be very different. From what books they read, games they play and the past time.

The sad fact is bullies also tend to concentrate on a certain spectrum within such school.

While there are infamous claims by certain self-proclaim elitist whom shun students who underperformed due to snobbery, there are other interpersonal issues such as the like-mindedness that gather a pod of whales. They are often seen to hang together as though in an exclusive clique. They may be criticized to be aloft, weird, nerdy, lack of social skill...but the sad fact is some really enjoy the company of like-minded individuals who understand them and share the same interest, sense of humour and sharpening of each other. Special considerations have to be given to understand and build up social interactions.

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