The Ministry of Education (MOE) in Singapore has a strange practice of presenting national examination results along racial lines (the Primary School Leaving Examination, for instance). The MOE tracks how students from a particular race – that is, test-takers from the Chinese, Indian, Malay, or “Others” communities – have fared, before analysing whether their performances have improved from the previous years. The primary justification, I presume, is so that the race-based self-help groups (CDAC, Mendaki, and SINDA) can then provide the necessary developmental assistance or tuition programmes to the households or students.
Naturally, the presumption is that problem-solving through the self-help organisations would be the most effective. Yet, such categorisation first entrenches divides between the dissimilar groups, and allows unfounded stereotypes or perceptions to manifest: “Oh, look at the Chinese student; he must be smarter than his counterparts, because the statistics say so”. The curious, underlying assumption is that Chinese, Indian, and Malay schoolchildren require varying kinds of academic-scholastic instruction, and has to be managed by the respective race-based associations. The convenient generalisation is also inadequate, because it fails to give credit to individual test-takers who might have done exceedingly well. Pedantic adherence to this problematic status quo also means that we are missing an opportunity to promote genuine interactions between schooling Singaporeans, regardless of their race.
[Further, thanks to a friend: What about children from mixed race parentage, who might not come under fall of these associations?]
Some – especially during the elections a couple of years ago – have called for the integration of CDAC, Mendaki, and SINDA. That deserves another commentary, but at the very least within the education system (or as a starting point), we can and should think of more useful ways to present the overall academic results. I propose two.
First, the most effective way would be to present the examination results based on the socioeconomic income of households, so that the MOE – and the administration – can properly evaluate if the playing ground is level (or not disproportionately skewed) across socioeconomic income distributions. If not, strategies can then be designed to assist parents and students, in terms of dedicating more resources through platforms, or providing intervention programmes and affordable enrichment classes. This is in line with present plans to empower kids from young, to ensure that they get a helpful head-start from young. Moreover, understanding how students from each income bracket perform can be beneficial when planning socio-political policies, to see if the problems of inequality are within control.
Second, knowing how students within a certain neighbourhood or constituency perform can be constructive, because interested non-government organisations or government agencies can seek to explore the possible explanations, before designing strategies or centres to work with students who may be underperforming in their academic-scholastic endeavours. This form of segmentation has practical application, especially when it is used in conjunction with the first recommendation.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.