Friday, November 04, 2022

Market Deployment #1 : What society are we trying to build?


Two weeks ago, I could finally volunteer at my own secondary school. Blog readers will note that, for one reason or another, I tend to be invited by RI or ACS to speak about the importance of personal finance, but somehow, I never was given a chance to speak at my alma mater.

You cannot call Swiss Cottage Secondary School a bad school, regardless of how negative my personal experience was when I was there from 1987-1990. Swiss Cottage is ranked no. 1 amongst the non-autonomous secondary schools, and entry is extremely competitive with a PSLE cut-off of an AL score of 11 or below. 

My volunteering work was fun and drama-free, but I thought I had one issue to raise, not so much about my secondary school, but what kind of society Singapore is building. 

According to upper management of the school, Swiss Cottage was a leader in educational desegregation. For several years, Swiss Cottage mixed express (AL < 11 ), normal(academic) (AL around 21)  and normal(technical) (AL around 25 ) students within a class. To ensure that nobody gets stigmatised, only the form teacher knows which category a student belongs to. Subject-based banding was imposed so students study with others at their own pace for specific subjects, so a kid can find themselves in a fast-moving Maths class but a slow-moving CL2 class.  

I was fortunate to be able to hobnob with the teachers of my school, and taught me things like always using "positive words". I admitted that to help special needs kids, I told the strongest kids to help the "weak", but professional educators are discouraged from using words the way employed.  I did feel kinda bad after day 1, but when I started on day 2, I was able to just get the fastest kids to help the slowest ones ( to earn a longer recess ) without being too judgmental about them. 

All things considered, I'm proud of my secondary school for trying hard to create the semblance of what Singapore society should look like in the future. Less discrimination and more inclusiveness.

But there are issues with this policy.

Parents are now stigmatising secondary schools for mixing Express and Normal students. In parent chat groups, my wife told me that the perceived value of autonomous schools like Bukit Panjang Government High is no longer sought after because some parents had traumatised children who cannot adapt to having boisterous normal-stream kids in the same class. This is a tad elitist, but I'm sympathetic because there were normal stream kids in my ECA group when I was a teenager, and they love annoying the "mugger-toad" kids like me. In those days, you just shrug it off because it's great training for NS anyway.

If we want to retool the education system to be inclusive, we should not adopt half-measures.

Swiss Cottage clearly has high standards for an Express stream program, but the cost is desegregation. Another school I checked online, Anglican High, has a cut-off of AL12, which is a lower standard but does not offer desegregated classes. As an SAP school, the price to pay for admission is a pass in Higher Chinese.

This is perverse and disturbing. 

Elitist parents can get a safe harbour if they volunteer their children as Chinese elites. Pump enough tuition money into your kids, and they can live in their own "gated communities" free from minorities and normal-stream students. 

I'm not raising the alarm on the really elite schools like Raffles, ACS or Chinese High because good grades are a strict criterion, and they are a small part of the population.

No matter how you improve the system, parents will not change their mindsets overnight. The incoming principal of my secondary school gave me a spiel about choosing a secondary school based on my kid's special interests and talents. I smiled and said that that was not something most parents would believe in. The old boy networks are just too powerful to miss out on in life.

If you want to reform the schools, do it across the spectrum and don't give rich, racist parents a safe harbour.

I've actually done something I might regret later with the funds I got from liquidating my margin accounts. I put most of them into just one DBS stock at the moment. The move is simple and elegant, and I hope to get about 4+% yielding instruments that can benefit from rising interest rates.  

No, I did not diversify between the banks because my objective is to collect dividends in November and slowly liquidate DBS into ultra-high-yielding REITs from December onwards. 

It's arguable whether I'm better off with SSBs or T-bills, but right now, I want a liquid instrument that can bet that markets will underestimate the conviction of the Fed to raise interest rates further beyond 5%.

Also, I can easily stomach the volatility, which is not high anyway because... it is DBS.


1 comment:

  1. Dear Christopher, glad that you can give back to Swiss Cottage. One thing that connected me to your blog was having the same background, coming from SCSS, NUS Engineering. Love your direct style of writing, keep it up!