Alan Soh

I am my own columnist, sharing my own thoughts and recent experiences!

Leave a comment

The talk about Scholars, University graduates and non-graduates (Pt 2)

Mindset no.2 – Some kind of smarts matter more than others

This mindset is related to the first one:

If someone has excelled in formal education, he is assumed or perceived to be  intelligent – in every way and in all situations. He can take on almost any challenge thrown at him. While this may be true of that rare, truly gifted individual, it is hardly the case for most people.

People have different strengths, which are suited to different challenges. Yet, we tend to be narrow-minded in our view of intelligence and talent. We have been told to prize talent that can be accounted for through traditional qualifications, as well as through money and status.

Fans of television’s Japan Hour would know how the hunt for the best green tea ice-cream can take multiple episodes to be completed. I am always struck by how one of the world’s most technologically advanced societies can also embrace and retain their traditional crafts. But whether it is tradition or technology, their spirit is captured in the word shokunin – which means craftsman or artisan, but actually connotes a deeper meaning about the joy in doing something to the best of your ability.

Valuing different intelligences will not just make people feel better; it will help Singapore create wealth for all.

For decades, it has been an Asian mindset, having this perception that being a university graduate means one has come to a life stage that “he is to be respectable by everyone, and will become a successful person in society”.

But there are so many university graduates on the streets these days, it has meant nothing. 

That is why I often say – let’s respect fellow Singaporeans of different intelligence/abilities and talents, regardless of educational backgrounds. I believe we ought to embrace diversity of people talents.

We are now in the 21st Century. I consider it “backward thinking” if people still think that formal academic excellence supercedes all other kinds of excellence.

Mindset no.3 – Stinginess with respect to other people’s strengths

This leads me to the mindset that may be the MOST unhealthy of all: a judgemental attitude that looks up to certain professions and look down on others.

Respect is what we all crave for, say human pyschologists and behavioural economists. Economists like Richard Layard, for example, have long argued that it is not income alone that makes people happy but also a sense of belonging. People need to know that they matter to others.

Last year when we interviewed Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, I noticed that the room had several interesting paintings, which we discovered later were the work of prisoners. His choice of decor reflected his belief that Singapore needs to recognise different strengths. 

We need to treat one another better, he said.

Unfortunately, those who have not done so well in school are “very aware of what they didn’t achieve but not enough of them have discovered their own strengths”.

And at the other extreme, are those who are fully aware of their strengths but “are not sufficiently aware of their weaknesses, and not sufficiently aware of other people’s strengths”.

He posted a rhetorical question which I think goes to the heart of the current debate – how we value fellow Singaporeans: “Do you see them as equals?

Shifting mindset is a collective responsibility (among educators/parents). It starts with others – from the establishment and employers (be it private or public sectors) to other organisations.

Yes. I absolutely agree. It involves each and every single one of us as a Singaporean.

As long as it is a decent profession which allows one to tap on individual strengths, get to earn a take-home pay happily, to help himself or herself to make ends meet. Some examples: a hair stylist, a professional sports athlete or a restaurant waiter.

Yes I may be rich; and I may be a scholar or a company CEO but what right do I have to look down or condemn another fellow Singaporean’s profession? So what if he or she is not a university graduate?

High EQ thinking, job-ready skills, and a proactive work attitude counts alot more at the workplace today.

It also boils down to basic respect. And humility.



Leave a comment

Make room for ‘lesser lights’ in university

IN THE reports, ‘New varsity’s focus: Design and technology for innovation’ last Friday, and ‘An MIT for Singapore’ on Wednesday, Singapore’s fourth university, the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SU), states that it too wants to be a top local university which will attract the brightest in Singapore and regionally.

Singapore’s three other universities – the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU) – have a similar aim as well.

NUS and NTU are already among the most respected regionally, and in the world too. SMU, once accredited, can be expected to achieve the same and its stringent admission criteria only lets in the best, as do those of NUS and NTU. But if all four universities only recruit the best and the brightest, where do the ‘not so bright’ go? Traditionally, they enrol in private schools where fees are not subsidised and are often regarded as second class compared to the big three. Alternatively, they must go abroad to obtain a degree.

It is unsurprising that many who are accepted abroad were rejected by Singapore universities, which shows the difference in educational focus between local universities and those in the West.

Education should not aim only to develop the brightest but also help those who are less clever realise their potential.

In the West, while all universities claim to be good in their respective disciplines, not all will claim to attract only the brightest. The best universities will always be at the top. But many universities in Australia and Britain cater to lesser lights who nevertheless qualify for a place.

In the West, many universities accept students on the basis of work experience and not just academic performance.

Often, these students perform well and graduate with a degree. They know they cannot compete with the brightest but they still deserve a chance for a university educaion and to be recognised.

In Singapore, the education system seems skewed towards catering to the cream of the crop.

While it is important to allow the smart ones to shine, it is equally vital to help less brilliant Singaporeans develop their latent academic talent.

So, where do the ‘not so bright’ go?

Frankie Yee

The ST Forum Page dated 6 November 2009


My thoughts?

Unlike those academically gifted kids, quite a number of us are people who bloom much later in life. Sometimes talents are crafted and nurtured, and thus discovered much later. Therefore I will never pass judgements like “this kid is so damn stupid”. Even to my future son or daughter. Because you never know.
I fully support the above idea and could understand the logic of extending more help to help the less brilliant to achieve their potentials. I would like to think that each and everyone of us have been given different inborn talents. Hence I see education as providing opportunities for eagles to fly, fishes to swim, deers to leap etc etc…yes to enable people with different talents to develop their fullest potentials.
I was never a brilliant kid. My O levels grades were not good enough to go JC or polytehnics. I went to ITE but picked up my self-esteem, served my National Service and later managed to obtain a diploma in mass communications at a private recognised institution. I am now eligible to go pursue my Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications anytime.
I was an EM2 student, but I always feel more for the EM3 students. They need help. Not labelling. I just don’t understand why must all the help go to the elite bright? It isn’t fair.
Yes yes, life isn’t fair. I am now still ‘struggling’ to do my best to try getting ahead in life. :p
Thank heavens MOE finally realised the mistake and decided to abolish the system of streaming exams for EM1, EM2 and EM3. For the genius clever ones, I urge you not to become too happy and complacent either..because the late bloomers are hardworking and may become smarter..or better still, even surpass you in whichever field you are playing at.
My bottomline message here is that, late bloomers put in a lot of effort because they want to catch be on par with others. Very often, they really want to show others that they can do it.

If they have the inner desire to become outstanding, why should our present education policies deny the less brilliant ones the chance to get ahead in life?

Again, I would like to ask; why must all the opportunities and resources goes to the elite bright?

No offence meant to anyone.
To me, it seems like instead of helping late bloomers, there are “penalties” such as streaming examinations, labelling/stereotyping of students which can be quite insulting, years of additional detours and glass ceilings.
 I hope that our Singapore society would really evolve towards the direction such that Singaporeans would have a mindset change and recognise that there are a myraid of talents among us. Talents who may be academically inclined, as well as talents who are not so. Isn’t it true that we need people of different capabilities to perform certain jobs?  We are talking about human capital, which is so important to Singapore.
I believe that as long as one is not intellectually disabled, each and everyone of us is empowered and should be encouraged to contribute to society in his or her own way, regardless physically handicapped or not.
Come on, we are all not Mr or Ms know-all. We are just normal human beings. Who are we to pass judgements ascertaining that someone is useless because he/she can’t do something?
 The answer could be that he/she has no aplitude in doing that something or need more time to master it. We must give opportunity and time to people to learn.
I just hope that there will not be such a day when Singapore becomes an elitist society. A big nightmare! :S