Thu, Sep 17, 2009
The Straits Times
Beware of breeding elitism

I REFER to last Tuesday's report ('VJC's IP plan: Upset alumni write to minister') and understand why the Old Victorians' Association is averse to letting Victoria Junior College implement the integrated programme (IP).

When the Education Ministry implemented the gifted education programme in 1984, only 1 per cent of Primary 3 pupils were enrolled in it.

Interestingly, this 1 per cent cohort of gifted programme pupils had priority or access to IPs offered by some 11 schools even though they did not fare as well in their Primary School Leaving Examination.

The IP was started five years ago to provide a seamless and richer secondary and junior college education whereby students bypassed the O-level examinations.

It was aimed at letting students develop their intellectual curiosity and giving them a more broad-based education without being stifled by the exam culture.

But the pioneering IP schools have managed to attract all the top students, leaving some traditionally good JCs with no choice but to offer IPs as well to get their share of good students. Currently, the top 5 per cent of Primary 6 pupils can opt for integrated programmes.

During the 1970s and 1980s, most Singaporeans who performed relatively well in neighbourhood schools could enrol in the top five JCs without much difficulty.

Not so now. A good Secondary 4 student from a neighbourhood school, one with even a 'perfect' score of six points (that is, six A1s) in six subjects in the O levels, may find it harder to get into Raffles Institution and Hwa Chong Institution, National JC, Temasek JC and perhaps Victoria JC because most places would have been reserved for the IP students of the schools these colleges have hooked up with.

The Education Ministry must be sensitive and extremely careful in implementing more IPs for JCs or any other school as it may breed a culture of elitism.

In the past, we have had ministers, permanent secretaries, senior civil servants and MPs from various secondary schools.

What should not happen is a reversal of such a healthy trend, that is, future top guns in government coming from a handful of elite institutions.

Meritocracy works well but breeding elitism is unhealthy, and my sense is that many government-aided or autonomous schools have lost good students to the schools providing IPs.

David Goh

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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