Reflections on Education and Inequality from Polytechnic Forum 2021

Last week, 10 changemaker members from A Good Space was involved in the poly forum held at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. The changemakers designed a series of virtual activities and workshops for 300 student delegates across the 5 Polytechnics to have a deeper understanding of Singapore’s progress on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

As one of the changemaker members, our founder Louis Puah was involved in curating the learning experience for delegates interested in SDG4: Quality Education, focusing on Singapore’s context, where the tension between Meritocracy, and Inequality formed the central dilemma.

Photo Credit: A Good Space


Forum Activities

Day 1 involved guest speakers such as Liying and one of her students Sharifah (from Hatch), Si Hui (from Glyph), and Shiyun (from Let’s Go Play Outside), sharing their experience on the ground working with youth across the socio-economic spectrum in Singapore.

For Day 2, Louis brought together students, teachers, and alumni from mainstream and independent schools, to help delegates hear directly from stakeholders in the education system so that they might see the diverse lived experiences and unequal playing field, while also identifying areas of similarity across all the stakeholders. As one of the primary trainers for Day 3, he also brought the 300 delegates through an ideation framework adapted from the Crazy8s method, while supporting them in selecting the best ideas to further develop.

Photo Credit: A Good Space


The final day of the forum got students to pitch ideas that they had to a panel of expert judges, with a number of them committed to making the ideas happen.


Emerging Themes in SDG4: Quality Education

One of the emergent themes of the forum was how inequality could be hiding behind the facade of meritocracy when we investigate the varying levels of privilege that each student possesses.

While meritocracy is held as the primary way of deciding who deserves what, the idea that every Singaporean is afforded equal opportunities is becoming increasingly invalid. As Singapore matures, generations of Singaporeans accumulate wealth which bestows intergenerational benefits to younger Singaporeans. Upward social mobility for the less privileged becomes increasingly challenging, resulting in increased inequality.

Simply put, wealthier families can afford plentiful growth and developmental opportunities for their children, giving them an advantage in the education system, such as:

  1. Easy access to quality private tutoring with personal attention

  2. Boost in confidence and non-academic skills through enrichment programmes

  3. Overseas holidays that serve to broaden horizons through global exposure

  4. Preferential work attachment opportunities through parents and connections in leadership positions

  5. Regular conversations on sophisticated topics in current and global affairs

On top of this, not worrying about family finances (which many less privileged children do) is also a huge contributor to a child’s ability to focus in school and perform well.

The effect that privilege has on the ability of a child to perform was clear during periods of Home-Based Learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, where resource limitations at home led to drastically different experiences by students.

While the solution should not be to eliminate the advantages rendered to privileged families (it’s not possible to do so anyway), a lot can be done to create opportunities for the less privileged to climb the socio-economic ladder, lovingly described using the ‘trampoline’ analogy by DPM Tharman.

Our founder Louis, identifies himself as someone who benefited greatly from privileges accorded by his family’s above-average financial situation. However, his belief is that advantages gained through such privileges should be devoted to creating more equitable and beneficial outcomes for society. That was one of the driving motivations for him in creating Praxium, and Crater after all. To create opportunities for those who don’t have them.

Our next stories will investigate this issue of privilege further, but hearing from individuals across the socio-economic spectrum, and how it affects their experience going through education and work.


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