Students of top schools worry more about elitism

May 18, 2007 at 7:36 pm 1 comment

ST survey sheds different light on debate about elitist behaviour
By Ken Kwek
MENTION the word ‘elite’ and most people here have something to say.
For students,notions of the elite are confined mostly to which school one goes to and how well one does in school, rather than wealth, power or family background.

They also tend to think of ‘elitist behaviour’ as that shown by those who look down on academic weaklings.

But those from neighbourhood schools are less likely to feel they are on the receiving end of such behaviour, compared to their peers in top institutions.

These were among the findings of a Straits Times survey conducted in January and February to assess students’ perceptions of the elite. Some 499 students aged 15 to 24 were interviewed.

The survey found that 41 per cent of students in 11 elite schools say they encounter elitist behaviour always or often,as compared to only 21 per cent of their peers in non-elite schools.

When asked what they consider elitist behaviour, the No. 1 choice in both groups was: to look down on those who are academically weaker.

The issue of whether one can become an elite member of society also seems to weigh more heavily on the minds of those from top schools.

The elite were defined as those who excel academically by most of those polled.

While 52 per cent of young people from top schools said it is very important or somewhat important for them to be a member of the elite group, only 43 per cent of those from neighbourhood schools felt that way.

These findings are based on a small sample but nonetheless they shed a different light on an ongoing debate over whether Singapore is turning into an elitist society, where those from more humble backgrounds feel disadvantaged and left out.

Such fears came to the fore late last year after a blog posting by Raffles Junior College student Wee Shu Min, in which she told a fellow Singaporean to ‘get out of my elite uncaring face’.

Speaking at the People’s Action Party (PAP) conference last December, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged successful Singaporeans not to assume they had made it on their own strengths and forget the debt they owe to family, friends and society.

In the Straits Times survey, most of those polled actually had a positive view of elites here.

When asked what they thought would be most important in helping them rise to the top of the Singapore system, hard work ranked No. 1 in both groups, followed by talent, whether in business, sports or the arts.

Very few thought family wealth was a deciding factor.

But the two groups seem to define success differently.

For students from elite schools, their No. 1 definition of success was winning a place in a top school or university. For their peers from neighbourhood schools, it was being good in sports, music or the arts.

The survey also found that wealthier students from English-speaking homes tend to cluster in the elite schools.

Some 71 per cent of those from elite schools speak English at home, and 62 per cent live in private housing, compared to 34 and 19 per cent respectively of those from non-elite schools.

The first group hailed from families with a median household income of $7,501, while the corresponding figure in the second group was $3,560.

Nanyang Technological University sociologist Eddie Kuo said this was a cause for concern as it indicates a tendency of socio-economic classes being perpetuated.

But he added: ‘You need to look more closely at whether elitist attitudes are due to school environment or family background, or both.’

The most important thing is whether there exists mobility to move up the socio-economic class.


Entry filed under: education, elite, Singapore.

The ever more Competitive Higher Education Landscape Elitism in Singapore (Con’td)

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. ed  |  May 18, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    “For students,notions of the elite are confined mostly to which school one goes to and how well one does in school, rather than wealth, power or family background.”

    What ST has failed to realise is that if students mainly focus on ‘which school one goes to’, etc, it is because they judge according to the standards they are judged – as students. However, this does not mean that they will not naturally progress to judging others by ‘wealth, power, family background’ once they move into the working arena. What ST ought to have asked is, ‘What advantages do you think being in a ‘good’ school affords you’? The answer to this question would, most probably, be ‘wealth, power, etc’.


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