Monday, July 11, 2005


I actually started writing a post about this awhile ago but got derailed when my flu medication kicked in.

Recently, I've been reading alot of blog posts evaluating the Singaporean scholarship system. Reading them made me feel like I wanted to add on to it a little bit more.

Last night I spoke to a friend of mine from school who was enormously sad about his semester's exam results. He was so depressed he told me he even doubted his own intelligence. He talked about the smart people he knew who won scholarships, got straight As and were doing really well now.

My own problem with PSC scholarships and the scholarship system has always been that they tend to view academic achievements as pretty much the only way to measure an individual's capabilities and intelligence. The entire Singaporean education system is geared toward that view.

As Mr Wang Zhen stated, generally scholars are favoured over non scholars for promotions and high ranking posts. To me, this simply defeats the whole purpose of a meritocracy. There are many many straight A students who seem intelligent on paper but who may turn out to be complete duds in a workplace. Academic qualifications, even with a good CCA performance cannot be a complete measure of an individual's intelligence or capability.

It is true that looking at paper qualifications are an easy way of pinpointing potentially capable and intelligent people. But it cannot be the only way. To blindly promote scholars over non scholars, to keep going back to one's 'A' or 'O' level results without considering actual, on the job performance is a huge mistake.

Some people mess up in school, some are just poor in certain subjects while being extremely talented in others( I believe Mr Wang's example was a brilliant economist who got a D for Literature) and finally some are just late bloomers.

In order for our system to be truly meritocratic, we should be promoting people based on how well they can do the job, not on the basis that ten years ago they happened to do well for their A levels.

This is why I love Mr Wang's 1st Brilliant idea (which I read days ago but was too sick to say anything about). In any industry, on the job performance should be the most important factor to be taken into consideration when hiring, firing or promoting. ( Disclaimer: He called a brilliant idea, not me. I'm NOT trying to suck up to him by over praising him.)

Aside from the civil service, I honestly think that we're missing out something when we overlook people who don't seem to perform in school. History should have taught us that many brilliant people didn't seem to be great performers in school either. Roald Dahl was criticised in school for his essay writing skills, Einstein once flunked an entrance exam to a school of engineering(!) and Thomas Alva Edison's first schoolteacher thought he was 'addled'.

( Although, history should also have taught us that men just don't learn from history.)

Academic success is usually a good predictor of intelligence but not always. Its just that in our system, we take it as the only indicator which is a mistake. Being exam smart is not enough if you have zero interpersonal skills or find it difficult to think on your feet.

(Update: Wow, Mr Wang not only linked me but also carried on this discussion in far greater detail than I could ever have. Go read his discussion on the different kinds of intelligence and how PSC has got it wrong. )


Blogger Woof! said...

well.. I'm currently working with quite a lot of assistant directors in a couple of ministry and stat boards, and whilst I don't doubt the intellect of most, it scares me how they are sending out these dudes and dudettes with an ivory-tower education and little work / life experience to make important decisions which affect your life and mine, not to mention my tax dollars..

4:11 AM  
Blogger adinahaes said...

ivory tower education just about describes it.

You know what scares me even more? The fact that so many scholarship holders come from rich families too.

They will not only have little life experience, they may also have no idea as to the needs and circumstances of ordinary Singaporeans.

Yet they'll be the ones up there calling the shots.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Woof! said...

yup.. totally agreed..

10:53 PM  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

I agree generally with your article. I think late bloomers are the worse lot - they excel later, but it's too late for them...

4:23 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home