Saturday, February 03, 2018

Brutal truths about non-elite JC education.

First of all, my heart goes out to the students and alumni of the JCs which got merged. Years of history were flushed down the drain when the authorities decided to make it happen. What made me particularly furious is that non-elite JC students were made to memorise answers from top JC students because educators do not have the confidence that they can come up with arguments and ideas of their own. This was unheard of during my time.

The unPC reason for this merger is that the JCs were not elite enough. As much as we hate to hear this, this is a good answer.

JCs were merged because they were not elite enough. End of Story.

Here are some of my other thoughts on this matter :

a) Instead of blaming Eunoia JC, you should blame the Polytechnics instead

Certain quarters of the Web had their ire targeted at Eunoia JC and asked why Eunoia was not terminated instead. Let's get real - Eunoia is an elite JC with a specific targeted audience of IP students. It is an elite JC, why should it be shut down ?

I believe that the merger of JCs largely occurred because the recent policy is to include Polytechnic students in local universities in numbers that is lot more generous than in the past. This creates the illusion of inclusivity in our society. As such, the elite O level cohort, that in the past has almost exclusively gone into JCs,  has redistributed themselves in a 1:4 ratio across Polytechnics:JCs, this dampens the quality of intake of a non-elite JC if the total JC intake maintains its current size.

b) You need to understand the concept of the Golden Road in Singapore education

I came up with the metaphor of the Golden Road to see if things can be explained in a better way. The Golden Road is part of the education system that puts a person into a local university from primary school.

The Golden Road during my time was simply Primary School, Secondary School, JC and then University. These days the road has many splits and forks and for some really elite folks, it can now look like : Primary School, IP Program, University. The government clearly wants to build another Golden Road based on Primary School, Secondary School, Polytechnic and University.

Staying on the Golden road is crucial because it virtually guarantees a middle class existence. For most folks who succeed, it means $3,600 starting pay and a much easier time finding a spouse.

But the Golden Road has limitations. The width of the road must be kept small so that the middle class will continue to be prosperous. The government currently wants to widen the Golden Road to cover 40% of the primary school intake but widening it too much will result in an overeducated but underemployed population much like that of Japan and Europe.

So there are physical limits to the Golden Road. Personally, I doubt the Golden road can accommodate 40% of the population, I speculate that the final policy effect is that SUTD, SUSS and SIT will become second tier degree programs that will have incomes about 10% below the other universities. Let's see whether I am right in this regard.

c) The Golden Road is a Road of immense angst and unhappiness

Given the pressure to stay on the Golden Road, the pressure will be immense. On the Golden Road, emphasis will never be on education and learning.

The emphasis is on scoring and passing exams of increasing difficulty. Learning occurs as an incidental effect because of the emphasis on scoring well for exams. Teachers will be benchmarked primarily on scoring of their students. The Golden Road emphases on signalling and weighing students against one another, so don't expect to learn skills that are immediately practical in the real world.

And there will be cases of depression and suicide.

Ultimately, the brutal truth for non-elite JC students is this :

The Golden Road is brutal and inhumane. You can step off the Golden Road and attend a Polytechnic where even the top students there actually want a harder curriculum, but you obviously chose this road because you want a guaranteed middle class existence.

d) The Golden Road is a public-private sector collaboration

Why do I have so much conviction on this idea of the Golden Road ?

Professional Service Firms are starting to realise that the best path to profitably comes not from skills but from insecurity of their human capital, this pushes people to work 100 hour weeks. Year after year, thousands of students graduate into law, accounting and management consulting firms which have mastered the ability to turn this form of personal insecurity into company profits. Professionals and kept on their toes because the hours billed are benchmarked against each other.

You can work yourself literally to death, divorce or insanity under this system !

Our education system has decided to collude with this industrial complex to make Insecurity Singapore's greatest human capital export. Insecurity makes Singapore a great nation that is the envy of the International community.

I think there is a way to beat this system : Read our financial blogs and we will show you how you can be free from all this bullshit.


  1. The world in 10 years will probably be unrecognisable. You are very academically minded and sorry i have to disagree about the importance of higher level education in future. The value add of education beyond 6 years of basic education is probably negligible save for a few specialised vocations. People in future will work less as machines take over and certain technical skills will be in demand. Very different world.

  2. The moment tha masses adopt the path of financial bloggers, government itself will collapse. You may wonder why; here are some salient points.

    Loss of Insurance industry- Let's face it, being financially savvy means weaning off insurances with investment-linked components. This means whole life/ILP/ and maybe even endowment will not be taken by the masses. There will be a massive loss of about 30,000 Insurance agents out of the 40,000+ sales force there is now. Banks will lose a critical profit segment- DBS has about 20% profits in this wealth mgmt, OCBC's Great Eastern subsidiary earns profits in the region of 9 digits. All these means a fall in bank's profitability and valuation.

    Retail Industry downturn- Fnce bloggers tend to be prudent in our spending and will not spend too much on extravagances. Retail sector will take a hit; reits value will fall. With a fall in valuation, REITS have to embark on massive liquidity raising.

    Lower Deposit amounts in banks- With fnce savvy people, we tend to invest our money in stocks and CPF etc, i tend to keep only a small amount of of my cash in bank accounts. Unlike our older generations who love Fixed Deposit and bank fnce instruments, this may mean banks will lose a source of liquidity. With a shrinking deposit base, it will force banks to try to raise rates to attract deposits. With the current property climate requiring a low fixed deposit rates, imagine the dire consequences a higher local interest rate will have to our property market.

    To summarize, we need the masses to be financially foolish for the Singapore Economic Growth Story to continue.

  3. Hi Chris,

    There will always be competition everywhere, like it or not. I went through the polytechnic route last time before entering a local university. During my time, competition for a place in NUS/NTU for poly graduates was also tough. Because places in local university was limited for poly graduates, competition was keen. I have to basically score a lot of As and Bs plus some distinctions in my polytechnic grades throughout my 3 years to get into NTU. I also needed a decent set of O level results to help me. Some did very well in polytechnic but their poor O level results will not get them into a local university. One basically have to be consistent and perform throughout the 3 years in poly.

    Though there might not be many elite O level entries in polytechnics last time, there are Malaysians and ASEAN students and they are one level above us. They mostly claimed the the top prizes and we are left to scrap for the remaining places in NUS/NTU. It was not easy too last time in poly. But it is possible and certainly with more places opening up, there are more opportunities and pathways for poly graduates nowadays. I think poly graduates had proven themselves in local universities for many years and our government had open up more places for them. I am happy for them, being one myself. However, I do believe that they should continue to work hard and hopefully one day, they can be on equal par and even better than top A level graduates from elite schools.

  4. Anonymous4:14 PM

    What's so surprising? The world is brutal and competitive. Especially in Singapore where resources and "good job" types are limited. You have to start learning this from young. I am one of the fortunate few who are pretty smart and was able to sail thru the edu system with high scores. In fact, I think the O and A-Levels are quite easy as the exams are pretty route-based. Just keep practicing and understand the logic behind what you learn and how exams are scored and you will do well. To me, O and A Levels are quite a waste of time, I wish I could condense them to 2-4 yrs and enter university earlier. Primary school kids should be taught algebra and some of the Sec 1 materials so as not to waste time.

    In the US, you have people entering MIT , etc. at 16. Imagine that. Let's face it, according to population statistics, the top 1% will ALWAYS BE GENIUSES. In China alone, the number of geniuses is more than the entire SG population.

    There will ALWAYS be division between the rich and poor, smart and dumb , etc. The rich and smart are ambitious and want to grow quickly. The gov recognises this and that's why it
    introduced PSLE streaming, etc. to groom the top 1% and to facilitate this social division. To say this in the public is political suicide, hence NO ONE ever mention the brutal truths.

    As a smart person myself, I understand the fact of the matter is smart people mostly just want to work and learn with smart people. Not being arrogant. That's why you have companies like Google attracting the cream of the crop, and keep on producing breakthrough innovations, and thereby creating a virtuous cycle.

    If you're rich, most likely you hang out with peers that are equal in status. Likewise, a smart person has no patience to work with the slow and dumb. That's a fact of life. Instead of trying to work hard to make things equal, it can NEVER be equal!

    In places such as the US, there are multiple pathways to succeed. You can be an artist, a chef, an engineer, a banker, an actor, etc. and still do decently well.

    To be frank, you need to adopt a "growth" mindset, meaning continuous learning and optimising your life (e.g. climbing job ladder, increasing income, improving skills)

    I believe in what Jack Ma said, "if you're still poor by 35, you deserve it." You have to learn from the great man who could take hardships and tried ways to succeed.

    Poor people will always keep complaining about being poor, but what have they done to improve their situation?

  5. Anonymous4:22 PM

    Agree with Choon Yan, you need foolish people to boost the economy.

    People like us are frugal and spend very little.

    No spending means economy downturn.

    In this perspective, We're actually leeching off people who spend a lot.

  6. Wow ! So no one is sympathetic to the non-elite JC folks so far ???

  7. Hi Chris,

    Well, they have a choice between poly and JC. Since they have chosen to enter a non-elite JC, they would have been prepared to be "second class" A level students. They would have a fighting chance in poly but they have chosen the A level route.

    So no sympathy in my view. They have made their choice.

  8. ghchua,

    I'm not sure whether they have a fighting chance in poly like what you say. 80% of JC can get into a degree program. Ditto for 20% of the poly intake.

    Some folks would fall into the bottom 20% of a JC and bottom 80% of a Poly and not qualify either way.

    A JC lets them take up a few humanities subjects so this becomes the reason for their choice.

  9. Hi Chris,

    Some people are aware that they will fall in the bottom 20% cohort. However, it does not mean the end for them. Once can devise strategies to ensure they beat others in the academic game, get a decent degree, get a good job and learn the art of investing. All you need is a little "Sun Tzu Art of war".

    This author took this route and turned out fine after realizing how to "fight the war"

  10. Polytechnic and ITE permanent employment rates are going down as we speak.

    I'm not sure how much Sun Tzu they can channel to give themselves a better life.