Are we overdoing elitism in our education system?

8 May

A letter by a parent and blogger, Ian Tan, really illuminated many current thoughts about our education system. I am glad the newspapers published it and the ensuing response was indeed hearty. Sadly, the reply from MOE in a separate article published today was rather stark.

Stark because of the disparity between the aims of education that MOE espoused and the reality that are experienced by students, parents and indeed even some teachers. The disparity is worrying, not only because the system would not churn out the best in our students if parents and teachers and MOE don’t see eye to eye, but more so because our children are less well-rounded, less mentally healthy and more driven by ends and results rather than by methods and processes.

MOE says, “During these formative years, the focus of schools must be to build his confidence and desire to learn, while providing him with a good foundation in literacy and numeracy for him to access secondary education.”

But Mr Ian Tan says to pass (and not to excel) Maths, “it is mandatory to have tuition to fill the gaps that school teachers sometimes struggle to fill. If so many students require tuition, then it means our education system has failed in its basic goal of imparting the correct skill sets.”

In fact, almost half of the teachers that TODAY spoke to, felt that tuition was no longer a luxury but a necessity. If students  have to attend tuition over and above normal classes just to understand basic concepts and pass their exams, I really wonder what sort of childhood they have.

Pretty hectic and perhaps pretty stressful, always worrying about passing their exams yet finding it difficult to balance their bodily demand for play and rewards. I remembered when I was studying in pri school, I knew I would never make it top of the class; in fact I was often purposely weak so that I could be with my best friends at the bottom of the pile, but I also knew I would pass if I studied hard last-minute before the exams. I didn’t remember being so stressed out!

Not to mention that there have been recent reports of parents employing additional tuition teachers to coach their kids in tuition homework given by other tutors. That’s like two sets of tutors! How competitive is that?!

Tuition in my school days was only when you couldn’t cope with the subject. Nowadays, it seemed like it has become the norm, look at the various tuition centres springing up in every HDB estates. And there are many types of tuition as well, just as there are branded schools and neighbourhood schools (okay, I know all schools are equally good).

The average Joe would probably go to the usual tuition classes at the nearby HDB town centre while those who are economically well off can attend the super elite tuition schools that produces almost half of the top 20 PSLE students; provided they can pass the entrance exams to these tuition centres. Read about it in my earlier post.


Personally, I find this trend very disturbing. An elitist mindset not only in schools but also in tuition centres and perhaps even the type of ECA/CCA one takes. Look at just how much angst is created when kids enroll for Pri 1, the pains parents go through to get their kids in certain creme-de-la-creme schools, look at the furore when people alleged that Zoe Tay went by the back door to get her child into Henry Park Pri.

Coupled with the packed curriculum and teachers who set excessively difficult question to tease out the bright students, are we stressing out our kids too fast too young and pigeon holing them into miniscule categories that would actually deter from pursuing their true interests and fullest potential when they grow older?

I understand the need for teachers to set tough questions to separate the strong from weak and then designing specific curriculum for these different groups. I see the need for some form of elitism for this society to operate as there should be thought leaders and creative people.

But having read some of those PSLE maths questions, I share Mr Ian Tan’s concerns that at some point time we gotta reflect and entertain the possibility that we might be over-doing it.

You can read Ian Tan’s letter here.

The TODAY article here.

And Ian Tan’s reply here.

8 Responses to “Are we overdoing elitism in our education system?”

  1. anon May 9, 2012 at 8:57 am #

    tks for highlighting this. i had no time to read the papers becuz of kids. i was thinking maybe moe could set a higher maths paper to tease out those who are really good? less stressful for the kids maybe.

  2. sally May 9, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    it seems that whole education system has become a big big parents complain. teachers and parents should have more dialogue on what is going on here. moe should have feedback units to gather what is good and bad in the current system. moe should come out with a road map and everyone can commit to it and make everyone belong to the system and make it better.

  3. Kall Geez May 9, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

    we should really relook our pri sch education…too many kids and parents unhappy

  4. Unbranded bread n butter for President! May 9, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    I think you write better than Lucky Tan and SDP’s TOC. You will be the next star blogger. Honestly.

  5. mikey May 9, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

    Singaporeans complain too much. No competition how to be successful. No sacrifice how to be world-beaters.

  6. Anon May 9, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    I share the need to go back to basics, especially eng lang. Children are not drill in proper grammar. They expect to fly from the word to at pri 1.

  7. Unbranded BreadnButter May 10, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    for your consideration

    A road map does sound like an interesting idea


  1. Daily SG: 9 May 2012 « The Singapore Daily - May 9, 2012

    […] Our Youth – Unbranded Bread n Butter: Are we overdoing elitism in our education system? – Empty Vessel: It’s a strong foundation that counts – The Singapore Globalist: A Generation […]

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