February 15, 2004
Insight Down South with by SEAH CHIANG NEE
WHAT began as a jealous boy-girl dating complaint has developed into a full-blown Internet debate that highlights the divisive impact of Singapore’s school ranking system.
It was an innocuous message of a student from the elite Raffles Girls’ School dating a boy from an under-achieving neighbourhood school.
Few people could have anticipated anything worth to comment about, but it provoked a Raffles Junior College student – RJCdude – to call on lower-ranking students to “quit trying to climb the social ladder by dating students from top schools.”
The explosive discussion pitched the present, and former, students of top-ranking schools against those of neighbourhood schools, to which average or below-average students generally are streamed.
They end up – at best – with a diploma rather than a university degree.
The Web debate stretched over a period of four months, attracting more than 400 postings in two chatsites.
Cynic, who suggested that the couple break up, said: “It's not going to work out. She's going to be ashamed of introducing him to her friends and her family.”
What about the future? he asked. “Will he be happy wallowing in her shadow when she starts earning three times more than him? Inferiority complex will soon kick in.
“There also will be a great communication problem. I mean, what has a graduate from Cornell in common with Ah Beng on the streets?”
Cordonbluu wrote of the different social class and intellectual mentalities and the ability to provide.
“The one weaker in academics will not be able to provide nourishment for the mind and cannot engage in intelligent discussion on politics, for example,” he said.
“And the more intelligent one will probably have to lower his/her standards and eventually will degenerate to the same level.”
He added this bombshell: “We are afraid of genetic dilution.”
“Leave the RGS girl alone-lah! Leave her to other high-flying guys. It's good to know one's limits once in a while,” declared Get Real.
One forum participant said the Raffles schoolgirl was earmarked for higher things in life, so the guy should not spoil it for her.
Another “elite” student, Super-infector, said he would never go out with a girl from a neighbourhood school because of “social and intellectual disparity.”
Declared another: “You guys should know your place in society.”
But underneath all the juvenile froth is something more important to the nation.
It raises a crucial question about character-building of our top students.
While the education system can produce excellent engineers and scientists, can the same be said of raising potential leaders who are sensitive to society’s needs?
The views of some of Singapore’s “elite” students are revealing and disturbing.
They lend weight to an observation by some foreigners that the new generation of Singaporeans is arrogant and self-centred.
One is the former Chinese ambassador here, Chen Bioliu, who said Singaporeans need to shed their “arrogance” and “air of superiority” if they were to further improve relations with China.
According to her, some Singaporeans, with their superiority in English, tend to look down on Chinese nationals.
Her comment reflects the fears of some leaders who have been warning people they must do more to drop the “ugly Singaporean” image that some neighbouring countries have of them.
One of Singapore’s (retired) top bureaucrats, Ngiam Tong Dow, recently said some civil servants had behaved like mini-Lee Kuan Yews but without his achievements.
The current crop of highly-paid bureaucrats comes from elite colleges through government scholarships to study in the best universities.
The consistent top two have been Raffles Junior College and Hwa Chong Junior College.
Their academic results have been breathtaking because the crème de la crème in secondary schools scramble to study there.
Some 80% of all government and government-linked scholarship awardees are from the top five junior colleges (2002) – Raffles, Hwa Chong, Victoria, National and Temasek.
But if the debate is reflective of our best scholars and potential leaders, it doesn’t offer much hope for optimism in the future.
Many come across as arrogant and self-centred, looking down on others who are less academically capable. They seem to have a jaundiced view of life, believing that their distinctions somehow guarantee them success.
Not all the “elite” ex-students, of course, share this arrogance; in fact a few condemn the arguments.
But there are enough of those who agree with RJCdude.
If they are insensitive to the less capable in college, can they be depended upon to provide leadership and compassion to the needy when they become adults?
Ultimately, the question arises as to whether the ranking system is shaping an elitist mentality, breeding a class division in Singapore.
Sgstvoy, who admits he came from a top school, argues that students with limited capacity, or the lower class, “exist for the service of the upper class.”
To the lesser students, he advised: “Know your limits and develop your other niche abilities for I do believe an academically inept person will have other abilities that may not be valued by the current system.”
The arguments against these views were overwhelming, describing them as “worrying” – which explains why the government is bringing in foreign talent.
“No creativity, no analytical skill, arrogant and think too highly of themselves but yet is in fact a pathetic bunch who live in their own small little world. This is really sad,” one declared.
“You guys are terribly childish,” said Jenn. “If you think you're going to make it big with that attitude, you're in for a big surprise.”
In the working world, nobody cares what college you come from, only how well you perform, says another.
“This thread has gotten out of control. The school ranking system has gone all wrong.”
Finally, from ex-elite ExRGS: “One day when these arrogant bigots have to step out into the real world where no one knows what your old school name means, you will finally learn to grow up.”
o Seah Chiang Nee is a veteran journalist and editor of the information website littlespeck.com (e-mail: cnseah2000@ littlespeck.com )