Tuesday, August 08, 2017

How Singaporeans can be their worse enemy !

Every National Day, I will try to write something to get readers thinking about some important issue they are likely to experience in the future.

Of late, I have been trying to get my daughter into the primary school that is the located closest to our HDB EC. Westspring Primary School has recently been in the news in a good way lately so it is highly sought after by residents in my area. To keep the long story short, we got extremely worried when we had to ballot under Phase 2C but in the end we managed to get a seat in the Primary school of our choice.

While you may want to congratulate me for my good luck, I recently discovered that my own primary school,  Bukit Panjang Primary School, an extremely silly and mediocre place in the 80s (where some of us had to engage in melee with Primary 8E and 8M students) has climbed up the ranks and now positioned at 36th place nationwide. My alma mater is now one of the upper tier primary schools in Singapore.

Not putting my kids into my own primary school was not a straight forward choice. We are confident of the high standard of education in all primary schools in Singapore but have no illusions about the social economic status of classmates my daughter will meet and the lifelong friends she can hope to have when we vary our primary school choices.

In the end, a short commute would save costs and give my daughter more time to sleep. So neighborhood school it is.

The ability of Singaporeans to secure their children in top primary schools through legacy admissions is one of the biggest weaknesses of our meritocracy and belongs to a class of behaviors known as opportunity hoarding.

While it is very convenient to blame the top 1% in wealth and income, a lot of opportunity hoarding is conducted by folks largely by myself  and readers of this blog who belong to the top 20% of the Singapore population.

Yes, we, Singaporeans of the top 20% are the worse enemy of Singaporeans.

The upper 20% has evolved from just buying better toys and game consoles for their children to doing something with time and money that can entrench their kids in the upper crust for life.

Consider this, a neighborhood primary school is often lacking in volunteers. In contrast, in our best primary schools, a presentation on the human body can be made by a medical specialist who wants to volunteer to give a head start to his own child via Phase 2B. A fairy tale can be narrated by someone who is a legal counsel for the same reason. The upper crust volunteers in the best places to get their kids into the same slots that gave them the social networks that played a role in their success. The situation in universities can be worse when rich folks can pay to put their kids in foreign universities and can insure them from bad A level results.

Opportunity hoarding can also be subtle. Some medical guidelines state that babies should be optimally breastfed for 6 months. In Singapore, however,  maternity leave lasts only 4 months. The most powerful couples can afford this luxury for their children because the father is capable enough to hold the fort while the mum finds some way to spend more quality time for their kids. Assortative mating, where the best graduates marry each other, account for 40% of income inequality in many Western societies.

For interested readers who want to know more, how the upper middle class is leaving everyone else in the dust in the US can be found in Richard Reeve's Dream Hoarders, which in my opinion, is a lot worse than what is faced in Singapore.

At the end of the day, I can't change the way I play the game because the future of my own kids are at stake. In fact, I intend to play it to the fullest and bring the financial markets into the picture to boost their chances of succeeding in the future.

So expect no quarter from the top 20% of Singaporeans.

Amazingly, PM Lee, is already on the case putting enhancements to pre-school education as a top priority which is heartwarming.

Our government needs to be a government for all Singaporeans, not just Henry Park Singaporeans.

But we can do more.

I can imagine Singapore mining a new kind of crypto-currency that can be used when wealthier parents volunteer in the neighborhood schools. Mining of the coins is inversely proportional to school popularity and awarded proportionally to volunteers and these coins can then be traded to get their kids into the best primary schools in Singapore. This currency can scale to provide some sort of remuneration to volunteers and do-gooders in our society. I would definitely spend more time giving library talks to get these SamaritanCoins in my wallet.  

That is the least we can do - eliminate the ability of old boys from sending their kids into their own primary schools and create a system to grant incentives to folks who help in schools that need help the most.

This way we can build a better age for our children where our generation's best is yet to be.


  1. Hi Chris,

    This is the reality in Singapore. Parents definitely want the best for their children. It's getting more and more competitive in which such mentality has been spreaded to the school.

    One will have to make do with the current situation and make the best appropriate decisions which he or she deem fit based on the available information.


  2. Which is not good enough by my book.

    Parents will optimise but the policy makers can adjust the play book.

    Parents benefit in the end because there is much less pressure on them to succeed.

  3. It's herd think - like currency if enough want it there is value.Most don't think what the real value is and that's a problem for our future

  4. The currency does have tangible value.

    The kids in better primary schools develop the cultural capital of the rich, their accents give them an edge for medical and law interviews decades later since everyone already has good grades.

    And parents do form Tiger Mom networks as well.