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Mediocrity in Meritocracy: There must be, there cannot be
MEEK
mollymeek
40% of  Secondary 5 students do not do well enough to get into a Polytechnic. 60% do. So you should just go to ITE.

But, some would say, why not take the 'O' Levels if you have a 60% chance?

But it doesn't quite work that way. Students' results are not like lottery. Just because 60% of students in Secondary 5 do well enough to qualify for polytechnics, it does not mean that each student has a 60% chance, regardless of their intelligence, academic competence or what have you. For instance, imagine that Molly is a Secondary 5 student. (OK, Molly is half a year older than many Sec 5 students, but please suspense your disbelief for a while.) Maybe Molly's command of English is so weak that she has been scoring F9 for the subject even though she has been working very hard all this while. Do you think Molly has a 60% chance of passing English and getting into a Polytechnic?

So why not advise students to go straight to ITE?

Because it's not politically correct. And because the principal dispensing such advice could have done so selfishly, not wanting to affect her KPI (or whatever she's judge by).

Yet, if we put aside the motivations of the principal and those of the minister defending her, why do we feel offended on behalf of the girls who were advised to go to the ITE? Isn't there a rather Singapore-ish ideology at work here?

For in Singapore, there is no room for mediocrity. With our meritocracy, there must be mediocrity. But there isn't room for mediocrity. It's a dirty word. You can't do badly for your studies and still be a complete, successful person. (Well, not unless you become a Bill Gates kind of figure. Then you will be marketed in another way - entrepreneur, successful ITE student and the like). But otherwise you can't be mediocre. If you do badly in your studies, it's because the teacher didn't teach you well. Or because you simply didn't study well. (One of the rules: somebody must be at fault.) It's not because studies simply isn't for you. 

You can't drop out of school and be a toilet cleaner or cosmetics sales assistant fighting for a job with the speak-Chinese-only talent from the PRC. That would be so shameful. (But in our kind and grace-aspiring society, we don't look down on cleaners lah. We really don't.) People would know that you used to neglect your studies. Your dirty secrets are written all over you.

It's offensive to tell people to go to the ITE. But, amazingly, it's not offensive to assume that Secondary 5 students cannot do well enough to qualify for a JC. (Mediocrity has to exist, but we have to set standards for the mediocre too.)

It is not only students that cannot be mediocre (despite the rule saying that some people have to be so). Teachers and principals cannot be mediocre either. And they must show it by making sure that their students are not mediocre.

And how do they do that? Simply by erasing these students from their list of 'O' Levels candidates. Teaching is a profession and our teachers are expected to be very professional. Which means that they must produce results.

Teachers are not teachers. They are counsellors, police officers, babysitters, makers of economic robots. They cannot indulge on mediocrity. The world-class factory has very stringent quality checks. If instead of a robot, you produce a human being, you have failed as a so-called teacher.

We must pretend (and by pretending, believe) that every student has the potential to succeed in the very narrow, prescribed sense of success. And if they don't, they are just not trying hard enough.

We cannot acknowledge that some people just can't do it. Actually we can and we do. But only indirectly - by valorizing and praising those who can do it, particularly the extraordinary talents that are capable of writing million-word circumventory non-replies such as "A is not B because A is A and B is B and so A is not B unless I tell you that A =B". (Ok, that was a bad example.
This is probably a better example.)

To answer Mr. Wang's question, "why not try [to take the 'O' Levels]?", it's a matter of practicality. In Singapore, there is no space for mediocrity because we must saturate ourselves with practicality. Studies cannot be for studies' sake or even for personal satisfaction. It's a sin to waste one year of your economically productive life. A sin not against yourself, but against Singapore Inc..

We can't just let people be. Students or not, it the same. There is no logic to these things because they are their own logic. Call it conventional wisdom or what you like. (As a perverse contrast, maybe you would like to ask why NS men must take their fitness test even when they know that they are going to fail. Because it is so. It just is so.)

Meanwhile, Molly relishes her marginal status as a mediocre bimbo-blogger. But there probably won't be regular updates just as yet. (Unless someone offers me . . . one year one day of PM Lee's salary.) Because shits still happen. And Molly is mediocre but not allowed to be mediocre. :(

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Interesting insights.

The thing is, I'm not mediocre. :P Well, I'm mediocre when put in the midst of other non-mediocre people. Which leads me to assume that mediocrity depends on who is around you. XD

But I digress. I agree about being economic robots. I feel like a failure (or am made to feel like one) because I have no ambition whatsoever. Or rather, my ambitions do not suit the purposes of Singapore Inc, therefore any ambition I could possibly have is invalid as long as it fails to serve the economic miracle of Singapore. Meh.

Is it so wrong to want to study for the sake of studying? I can't imagine any other life for myself. I can be very working class and take up menial jobs that nobody else wants to take, but sometimes I really rather prefer to do what I love, of course, we don't always get what we want. In Singapore, if your aims don't suit official policy, it is highly unlikely that you will succeed. Oh well.

But I'm ranting. Haha. -sneaks away-

Yeah, mediocrity is relative. That's also why they set "standards" for mediocrity. Mediocrity amongst (supposed) non-mediocres are expected to do better than mediocrity amongst mediocrity. So "mediocrity" in RI are expected to score perhaps 6 A1s and 3 A2s whereas mediocrity are expected to "just" pass...

Studying for the sake of studying is terrible. It's as bad as ... blogging when you know you can't change things and can't earn half a cent from it.

Well, I study because I like knowing things. I'm probably not being very productive, but hey, if we all just blindly seek economic progress without reflecting on where we have come from, I think that's sort of silly too. Ah well.

Naughty! You are supposed to be economically productive and not indulge in the pleasure of knowing things.

ahem

(Anonymous)
please excuse me, but i'm going around the web on a crusade here because I grimace every single time I see someone use Bill Gates as a "prime example" of someone who did badly in school and still succeeded.

he's not.

do some homework. read up about him. he got into Harvard, for chrissake. he had near-perfect SATs which in those days meant he was in the top 1%, top 0.1% or top 0.01% of high school graduates in the whole America, forgot which. he did VERY well in school. it was a conscious choice, and not a lack of ability, that made him drop out of school because - tadah - he wanted to pursue his computing dreams. does Microsoft ring a bell? cos that's what he left school to come up with.

kthxbye.

Re: ahem

(Anonymous)
and oh, if anyone's still in any doubt, go read this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_gates

he's a freaking genius. so unless you're certain you're one and have a definite dream, please don't do a Bill Gates - it's not for everyone.

Precisely, darling. The point wasn't that Bill Gates did badly in school, but that he's often portrayed or marketed as someone who didn't complete his studies but succeeded. I'm not using Bill Gates as an example. I'm using the way people use him as an example. (I suppose I shouldn't have mentioned Bill Gates after talking about doing badly in school). To put it in another way, the "Bill Gates kind of figure" isn't really Bill Gates himself, but the Bill Gates of popular imagination and portrayal...

The question is really why anyone would have to be successful or smart if they so wish to drop out (whether at the university level or whatever other level). Why can't I drop out and be a toilet cleaner and be happy? Why must I be an exceptional drop-out and not a mediocre drop-out?

Again, I'm not saying that people should do a Bill-Gates stunt. But why not? What do you mean by "it's not for everyone"? Can't one just be a "failure"? Can't failures be respected?

(Deleted comment)
The stress on academic qualifications is probably everywhere. But I just find that there is this unsaid lack of respect for those without such qualifications... It's as if there is a secret hierarchy in people's hearts while everyone pretends that people are all equal.

Interesting ...

I remembered in one of the General Elections we had, a Minister was quoted as saying scoring a 60% win was a "landslide victory".

Personally, I feel that is exactly what a "fighting spirit" is all about ....

When you have a 100% chance, then you try - that's what the PAP ministers are good at.

That's why Singaporeans are quitters, I guess.

That also explained why the government only wants to take care of the top 20-30% of Singapore. The 60% or so are plain "hopeless case" in their beliefs.

How sad....

Molly, isn't it the other way round - i mean 60% do not make the cut for entry into the polytechnics? I remembered being taken aback (not overtly dramatic though) by that fact when I read it in the straits times. Anyways, it's typical of ST to publish an article "in defense" of the powers-that-be. As usual they fail to address the issue, but since this attracts much debate, why not bring it on since it sells the papers? mediocrity is like a stain on a shirt that simply won't come off - and most of us wouldn't settle for that. Teachers (and Principals) are "supposed to be role models" for their students to look up to, so it really isn't appropriate to tell their charge to settle for something lesser because "they won't make it in the end anyway". And heck, life has always never been just about grades.

http://mrwangsaysso.blogspot.com/2008/01/27-hapless-girls-and-one-unhappy.html

I got the information here..

What the principal said wasn't appropriate. Then again, it may not be something personal to the principal. She has to do a job that both requires her to give students a chance and to be "practical". People are all trapped in awkward positions in the system.

Hence I will say get out of the system. Unplug from the matrix.

Someone above spoke about being a toilet cleaner and yet happy. Doing something one is really passionate about without thinking too much about ROI and returns, I think more often than not that is the key to success and happiness.


Sure, the 40% might do better going to ITE. But why tell the other 60% who might want to and be able to go Poly to go ITE as well? Is it detrimental to them to take 'O' levels and go Poly?

Nothing wrong with advising those unlikely to pass O levels that it might save them a year if they go ITE. But the principal seems to be writing them off totally i.e. they have abolutely zero chance at O levels. Real educators should instead respect the decisions of students, whether it is to go to ITE or to make a serious attempt at O levels despite it being an uphill task, and give them whatever help necessary.

meh....I think all this talk is really not very impt, surely, these politicans, educators can say all they want, but why isn't anyone asking the students for their opinion? They may be young, but they still need to make such decisions for themselves, and not regret later because they took the advice of so-and-so without thinking. What they should really know, is how going to a poly, or ITE, or even just taking the O-level exams will help them, make their lives better etc

And actually, there are more options than what some pple may have laid out for them: working (hey at least this does put bread on the table!), or allow themselves to be retained (this is not such a bad idea if the extra time can really help their grades). The only problem (which may not be a problem depending on one's attitude) is that low educational qualifications are often co-related with low pay.

Molly is back!

(Anonymous)
we need a dash of mediocre bimbo blogger's satirical viewpoint to get us through the practical realities of life.
Haha...
Hope you managed to sort out the personal stuff that bothered you.

"It's offensive to tell people to go to the ITE. But, amazingly, it's not offensive to assume that Secondary 5 students cannot do well enough to qualify for a JC."

Amazingly? It's not really that amazing actually.

I think the use of the word "amazingly" fits only if disbelief that a person cannot make into a JC is a considered worse insult than telling them they should "just go ITE."

Maybe I'm missing out something, or I'm going to kick myself in the hind for being "blur" and misreading that section, but I thought I'd comment anyway and ask for clarification.

It need not be a worse insult. It can be an equally bad or even less serious "insult". But it's less obvious.

The question is, why are people protesting about one flawed assumption whilst they are potentially holding another flawed assumption?


If only there were a study to evaluate students' autonomy and the perceptions of success - an education sociology study - that would catalyse some real changes. Many people seem to have their fair share of feelings of injustice - closure of ccas, derogatory teachers, education as economics and not enrichment, forced to take/drop certain subjects - yet a loose collection isn't enough to justify remedial action.

The only thing is: will the govt allow a willing and able sociologist to conduct such a study and publish it PUBLICLY?

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