Archive for February, 2011

Employment enclaves

Mar 1, 2011
The Straits Times

‘While there is a quota for foreigners in public housing, there is none to prevent foreign bosses from preferring fellow citizens over Singaporeans.’

MS LAURELLE HO: ‘Mr Cheong Tuck Kuan raised an important point about hiring Singaporeans first (‘Target white-collar foreigners instead’; Feb 23). While this may not facilitate the movement of talent best, it is a point to consider in preventing foreigners of the same nationality from congregating in a multinational corporation (MNC). While there is a quota for foreigners to deter ethnic enclaves in public housing, there is none to prevent high-ranking foreign bosses from preferring their fellow citizens over Singaporeans, which results in foreign colonies forming within organisations. When an Indian Singaporean friend of mine answered a job interview for a vacancy in an MNC recently, she was the only Singaporean. The other interviewees were Indian nationals. When she went into the interview room, she understood the reason. Two of the three directors were Indian nationals who dominated the interview process. She had a sinking feeling that she would not clinch the job and she was right. Ironically, when she finally landed a job, the employer was an Indian national. Her team was dominated by Indian nationals, which made her feel out of place despite working in Singapore.’


February 28, 2011 at 6:53 pm Leave a comment

Tuition and Socioeconomic status

Feb 12, 2011

Skewing a level field

MS PHYLLIS Christe’s letter (‘A matter of means, not just genes’; Jan 31) raises a pertinent point about an increasingly uneven playing field in the paper chase, which appears to favour the more affluent.

As a student of a decent neighbourhood school who made it to an elite junior college, I have experienced first-hand how students have such vastly different access to resources, especially in terms of academic aid.

In my neighbourhood secondary school, most students were from lower-income families and there were those who strove hard to pursue academic excellence, knowing that it was the most realistic way to climb up the social ladder in the future.
Nearing the exams, many would unfailingly seek extra lessons from teachers, settling for every scrap of free time the teachers could spare after schooling hours.

Tuition was the next viable option for those who really wanted the extra push. However, many had parents who simply could not afford it. Many turned to community tuition programmes offered by the Singapore Indian Development Association, Chinese Development Assistance Council and Mendaki.

While helpful, such programmes were compromised by an inflexible schedule that often clashed with the students’ co-curricular activities (CCAs). Many students could not afford to ignore CCAs because an excellent record allowed them to hive off two points from the raw or gross scores of their O-level exam results.

Class sizes of the community tuition programmes also averaged around 15 to 20, so personal attention was diluted.
The environment in the elite junior college I attended was the opposite. Many of my peers were from more affluent families and could readily afford private tuition. They did not have to contend with inflexible tuition hours and enjoyed personal coaching by quality tutors such as professors and former teachers. So, in my experience, excelling academically appears to be becoming as much a matter of means as it may be of genes. Being able to afford and have access to private tuition seem to tilt the balance in favour of the more affluent, skewing what may once have been a more level playing field for all students.

Lee Min Shing

February 12, 2011 at 1:43 pm Leave a comment

Non-grad parents, but they made it to top schools

Non-grad parents, but they made it to top schools
By Rachel Chang

THE first glimpse 12-year-olds get of their secondary schools, their homes for the next four years, is on Reporting Day every December.

What Isdiyanah Dulkifli, now 15, saw then were big, shiny cars parked on every spare inch in the Raffles Girls’ School (RGS) campus on Anderson Road – which her future classmates had arrived in. ‘I was taken aback,’ the Secondary 4 student recalled.

‘These people are so rich,’ she thought to herself, and wondered if she had made the right choice of school.

Students like Isdiyanah who hail from humble backgrounds are now the minority in several of Singapore’s top secondary schools, statistics released by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew two weeks ago showed.

In RGS, 72.3 per cent of students have fathers who are university graduates, putting them in the uppermost socio-economic bracket.

The figures for other top schools like Hwa Chong Institution and Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) are similar – all above 50 per cent.

In contrast, in neighbourhood schools like Jurong West Secondary and Bukit Merah Secondary, the share of students with graduate parents hovers at around 10 per cent.

The Straits Times interviewed ten students who have bucked the trend, to find out how they did it.

Of the ten from five brand-name schools, four are minorities and two have a parent who died.

Some are the exception in their families, with siblings in polytechnics or the Institute of Technical Education.

But when they are the oldest child, they seem to have pulled along their younger siblings, who also do well academically.

While it is not easy being different, these teenagers believe that as long as they work hard and shut out impulses to be envious, the sky is still the limit.

The culture shock many of these students felt upon entering the hallowed halls of their brand-name schools was not limited to the iPods and iPads on display.

Hwa Chong student Wong Kang Ming, 16, was surprised that his classmates would buy all the recommended assessment books, but not do the exercises in them.

‘They spend money without thinking,’ he said. When he buys an assessment book, he uses it from cover to cover.

Kang Ming’s father passed away when he was six years old. His China-born mother is a cleaner.

He said that he copes with his relative lack of spare cash by planning ahead.

If there was a last-minute need for a book, he could not just pop down to the bookstore to get it like his classmates do. He must first ask for extra money at home and buy it the next day.

‘But all this is minor stuff,’ he insisted. ‘As long as I have enough money for the basics, it’s enough.’

Like many of the other students interviewed whose parents are not university-educated, he was an academic self-starter from young.

These kids cornered teachers after lessons for extra help, went to libraries on their own, and gathered their siblings for joint study sessions every night.

Their parents believed that education would better their lot and encouraged them to work hard – even if they did not always have the financial resources or expertise to help directly.

Although Kang Ming’s mother helps him with his Chinese classes, he is used to relying on himself, even researching the type of financial assistance Hwa Chong could give him before settling on the school.

‘I just feel motivated, as I’m already from this type of situation,’ he said, referring to the hardships of a single-parent family. ‘I feel that the least I can do is cope by myself.’

Time and again, this self-motivating fervour emerged from the students interviewed.

Never having enjoyed luxuries such as tuition, they simply managed without.

Ms Dina Ee, 20, a former Nanyang Girls’ High student now studying medicine at the National University of Singapore, said: ‘There comes a point when you realise that you can’t rely too much on others. That probably came earlier for me.’

For a student like Raffles Institution’s Ahmad Musthofa, whose father passed away when he was 12, what drives him is his desire to provide for his family.

‘I want to work hard, support my family and lift the burden off my mother,’ he said.

RGS student Isdiyanah still feels out of place at times.

When she goes out with her friends, she takes along a packed lunch rather than spend more money. Her friends accommodate her by eating at an open-air area in town, instead of in a restaurant.

‘My classmates’ parents are all doctors and professors,’ she mused. ‘I do feel embarrassed sometimes. Here I am, always at the Accounts department asking for money.’

Isdiyanah’s parents are divorced – and for a while in primary school, she lived in a rental flat in Redhill with her mother and siblings.

‘But I know this embarrassment cannot last for very long,’ she said.

‘Even those professors and doctors, they may not have come from a very educated family. They had to work very hard to get to where they are now.’

February 7, 2011 at 5:51 pm Leave a comment

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