Monday, January 12, 2015

Scholarship, Meritocracy, Equality - 3 letters and an article.

SingTel launches scholarship for polytechnic students



SINGAPORE — SingTel has launched its first-ever scholarship for polytechnic students, at a time when the Government is pushing to de-emphasise the obsession with getting a university degree.

The 90 scholarships — worth more than S$2 million and handed out each year — will include internships, employment and development opportunities such as on-the-job-training.

Such industry-relevant training is similar to the recommendations made by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) committee to improve the prospects of poly and Institute of Technical Education graduates.

The SingTel Cadet Scholarship Programme, which was officially open for applications yesterday, will be available to top students pursuing diplomas in computer engineering and infocomm security management at Singapore Polytechnic (SP), and the diploma in customer relationship and service management in Republic Polytechnic (RP).

Upon graduation, scholars will also secure jobs in cybersecurity, network engineering and customer experience management as they serve a one-year bond with SingTel. Depending on their work performance, they will be offered a part-time or full-time university scholarship after completing their bond.

Speaking at the launch yesterday, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat lauded the SingTel move for being closely aligned to SkillsFuture and recognising that its principles can be replicated in many industries. He urged more employers to step forward to develop programmes to best suit their needs.

The SkillsFuture Council, set up last year and headed by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, is meant to help Singaporeans advance in their careers and be recognised on the basis of their skills.

“SkillsFuture is a tripartite, national endeavour. Employers and union are key partners. There is more that we can do to expand opportunities for applied and lifelong learning to more students and workers, and to help individuals advance based on skill,” Mr Heng said.

SingTel’s country chief officer Bill Chang said the telco chose computer engineering, cybersecurity and customer experience for the scholarship programme as these are areas where it sees a need for external, younger talent.

“Areas such as cybersecurity, customer experience management are all very key areas that we see there’s going to be more capacity that’s required. That’s why we’re starting this programme to build this over time,” Mr Chang said.

Mr Justin Tan, a second-year customer relationship and service management student at RP who is applying for the scholarship, said: “(It) provides us with a very good platform and stepping stone to better prepare us for the industry.”

Ms Siak Hui Mun, a first-year infocomm security management student at SP, was also drawn to the programme because it gave her more flexibility — she could either gain work experience by continuing to work with SingTel after serving the bond, or pursue a sponsored university degree.

Beware overcompensating in rush to recognise less academically inclined



Education has always been a key focus of Singapore’s pragmatic, forward-thinking society.

This was again highlighted in the report “SingTel launches scholarship for polytechnic students” (Jan 7),which stated that the SingTel Cadet Scholarship Programme will be offered to top students at various polytechnics and comprises a year-long bond and university scholarship.

While I applaud the public and private sectors’ efforts in offering more opportunities to students of diverse disciplines, I also notice Singapore’s push for a fairer meritocratic educational system has, in recent years, become somewhat condescending.

Lately, many of the new scholarships and programmes available have been directed at polytechnic or Institute of Technical Education (ITE)students. In fact, the SkillsFuture Council is directed at helping these students.

While this is commendable and has made our system less elitist, I wonder whether the idea of meritocracy is being forgotten. Some may say rewarding and commending citizens based on merit — the crux of meritocracy — is cruel, but under this system, the most capable benefit the most.

This is a harsh reality in which many civilisations have thrived, despite complaints that the less capable are left behind and that it breeds inequality and corruption.

Singapore has been a proudly meritocratic society, until complaints that people from non-elite schools and backgrounds were unable to get the recognition they deserve despite their capability.

I am all for Singapore redefining what talent is. I admit readily that polytechnics and ITEs are not short of talented individuals who deserve recognition. The point, however, is if too heavy an emphasis is placed on granting more opportunities only to polytechnic and ITE students, the meaning of meritocracy would be diluted.

This would be no better than spoon-feeding these students, who are capable and intelligent enough to attain awards and scholarships without the bombardment of programmes dedicated to them.

There would also be the subliminal idea that they require easily attainable awards because they are inferior to students from other institutions, which is an elitist, backward and prejudiced mentality.

Our system need not start sub-categorising awards and leaving a quota for polytechnic and ITE students when it comes to scholarships that can be open to all institutions.

What our educational system needs is simply to accept that talent will ultimately manifest in diverse ways and that academic criteria alone cannot always measure and rank the talent in our population effectively.

Once our perspective on the definition of ability shifts, we need not rely on overcompensation to appear equitable — the system can select individuals who can and will contribute to the nation, and award them accordingly, regardless of educational background.

[There are two other letters below commenting on the above letter. I will just raise two points,

First is the case of the ASTAR scholar who would rather be in Arts. That's it. Make your own point from that case.

Second is, will some academically "gifted" students who view their chances in University to be less than secure, then apply for Polytechnics and perhaps have a better chance of getting a scholarship?

And is that a bad thing?]

Meritocracy must be tempered with equality



I wish to address certain points in the letter “Beware overcompensating in rush to recognise less academically inclined” (Jan 8).

Meritocracy is a value, not a system in which we exist. However, meritocracy becomes harder to adhere to with increased societal stratification.

Although it was ideal in post-independence Singapore and early United States, economic progress left some people behind as others benefited. These differing accumulated resources can then be used to perpetuate inequality through education.

A well-known Singaporean feature is tuition. Is one really more capable if one goes to four tuition classes and does better than another who cannot afford tuition and falls behind?

The writer mentions that meritocracy is a harsh reality in which many civilisations have thrived. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Establishing the imperial examinations in the Han Dynasty did not prevent war, corruption and political manoeuvring.

It sustained such instability because it intrinsically gave the most “intelligent” the right to rule as they saw fit. More often than not, they cared only for themselves.

Meritocratic progression under the British and Americans is racialised too, depriving various ethnic groups of their deserved progress.

The writer perhaps feels a tinge of reverse discrimination. However, this fear is misplaced. If one is capable, one need not worry about the state actively assisting those who may have been left behind in society’s progress.

We should build compassion for the less fortunate and greater self-awareness that our place in society is today a result of a multitude of factors, such as our parents’ resources, and not solely our own ability.

So, while maintaining the spirit of meritocracy, by encouraging competition and reward for ability, we must always temper it with equality. The state should actively support those who are hungry to succeed, but are lagging simply because of economic factors.

S’pore-style meritocracy should adopt a level field



Hard-road meritocracy, from the log cabin to the White House, is said to have made the United States the superpower it is today.

This should not be equated with a limousine ride to the best school and university, then on to an executive position in the family firm.

Billionaire Warren Buffett cannot be called condescending for his cross-class philanthropy.

His view is that one is as probable to get a smart, new idea from a poor child as from a rich one; therefore, they all deserve support.

Where that support is unavailable in the family, the obligation rests with the community at large to not waste hidden talent.

But many Singaporeans confuse the origins of meritocracy at this nation’s birth with the benefits of privilege prevailing today. (“Beware overcompensating in rush to recognise less academically inclined”; Jan 8)

I do not deny that many less-wealthy families struggle hard and sacrifice much to ensure their children have the best opportunities they can afford. But this sometimes leads to debt spirals that trap the student for years to come.

If it were sport, rather than education, we would take a different view. In athletics, runners start from the same line.

If they enhance their potential with artificial stimulants that improve their performance, we are outraged and they suffer eventually. Coming off a common base is our accepted measure of sporting merit.

Singapore risks accepting a flabby meritocracy if it does not applaud initiatives that open up access to the best educational opportunity for all, to reach their maximum at the appropriate levels.

Polytechnic study, for instance, is not evidence of lower levels of academic inclination. Nor is a layered approach to meritocracy any recipe for dumbing down a knowledge society.

The challenge is to let merit grow out of common soil, fertilising each plant with the best nutrients on offer. We might need to put a little more effort into fields where the soil has been parched, but in so doing, the harvest is richer.

In a small state with an ageing population, the future is not only in elite youth, but in every young citizen who is offered the best start possible. From an economic viewpoint, putting all your resources where success is already probable is bad business.

We must ensure that Singapore-style meritocracy does not contribute to yawning wealth gaps, but rather, adopts the Buffett philosophy of levelling the playing field.

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