One of the areas that Singapore can be very proud of is how we have been able to make education so available to our kids, to the extent that we can say that no child will be denied a chance to go to school. In the previous generation there many capable people who had limited opportunities simply because they did not have access to education. But not anymore. Education has indeed been the great leveler for this generation. Because schooling is now accessible to every child regardless of his/her socioeconomic background, career opportunities are limited more by abilities and skills rather than the individual's socioeconomic stratum. Likewise for gender and ethnicity.
But sadly this appears true only to a certain degree.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) should be congratulated for making examination data available to the public. One wishes though that they would put up more detailed data, and not only cherry picked information for public consumption.
The recent data is quite instructive. They are really quite similar to previous years' data and therefore really doesn't say anything new. True, there are some wiggly movements in percentages, but they are relatively small changes. Over a long period one can see that the performance data is relatively stable. Boringly stable. This stability is actually both comforting and alarming. Comforting because it means the MOE has done an excellent job in providing education. Not much more to do. Alarming because despite all this effort, fixed disparities in educational performances between ethnic groups are apparent.
If we look at the performance at the Primary School Leaving Examinations,we see more than 90% of students pass the exams. But only the Chinese outperform the national average. The Malay students, as a group, under-perform everyone else.
This is alarming because the data is not improving despite what the amount of resources the MOE has put into the school system. I am sure the MOE is aware of this problem. But I hope they are not ignoring it. Something drastic needs to be done because the current models are not working.
To an outsider, looking at the data, such 'fixed' differences suggest a number of possibilities:
a] Our delivery of education has ethnic biases;
b] Our way of assessing has ethnic biases;
c] Ethnic biases exist in both instruction and assessment; or
d] There are real ethnic related limitations in abilities.
Since I do not subscribe to there being biologically and ethnically related limitations in ability, it must be that the first three are valid.
The MOE must spare no effort to get to the bottom of this problem. It must not rest on the laurels of its past accomplishments. There are unintended ethnic biases in how education is delivered to the public as well as ethnic biases in how the examinations are set. It is not adequate to congratulate ourselves on the performance at a national level, because this is invariably defined by the performance of the largest and most successful ethnic group. This is unfair to the minority groups who may have unaddressed special needs and considerations.
We need to remodel our educational paradigm to level the playing field for all ethnic groups.
6 years ago