CNA Insider Class Differences Video

“A mixed class suggestion may not be very viable in terms of closing the gap. It might even increase the gap if these students do not feel like they can cope so they just give up completely.”

A female student from the Integrated Programme (IP) responded during a CNA Insider video on the infeasibility of mixing students from different streams.

Whatever the IP student said was poised, mature and well thought out, I thought. A great potential MP.

Nothing about her statement stood out to me. Except, I felt these students would have never conversed if not for this interview.

But people were enraged she had deprived the boy a chance to learn.


I quickly turned to my editor, Chevonne, who was clearly more in touch with the ground sentiment. “Maybe it’s not about what she said but how she said it,” was her response.

“It’s how she believed in the myth of meritocracy,” Cheryl, my fellow sub-editor added.

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Elite school indoctrination

Coming from an elite school, I was pressured to study hard. Success was defined by narrow terms—score well, get a scholarship, enrol into a prestigious University.

In schools (elite or not), the myth of meritocracy is perpetuated. Working hard leads to good grades, leads to success. If you failed, it was because you didn’t put in the effort.

Chasing grades naturally makes you want to have the right answers to everything. IP girl pretty much spouted whatever she had been indoctrinated with.

And I can empathise because I was just like her. That is until I mingled with tattooed bengs in NS who started smoking when they were fifteen.

They gave me an education on Geylang’s brothel scene and showed me a world I’d never known: clubbing, drinking, the underbelly of Singapore. I felt like Jasmine being shown A Whole New World on a magic carpet riiiiide. It was purely theory though, I didn’t try!


More importantly, they showed me success didn’t have to involve good grades. And they seemed much happier than me.

Living in New York shifted my paradigm further

New York City taught me not to be just a grade churner.

I dropped out of JC1 because of stress and went to study in a New York art school after my NS.

One of my teachers had a full sleeve and a whole neck of tattoos. He would have no place in the Singapore education system but he was one of the best teachers I ever had.

He taught me to question things, think critically and *gasp* find my own voice and opinion.

Studying in Singapore, I wanted to know which answers will score maximum points. In New York, I wanted to learn so I could produce quality work that meant something to me.

The professors there displayed a true passion for what they taught. And it inspired me to find authenticity in who I was and not just to score an A.

For the first time, education meant the joy of discovery and not performance anxiety.

IP girl and NT boy are both sides of a system

Having taught as an adjunct teacher in MOE schools for about two years, I can say Singaporean teachers truly want students to do well.

Sometimes, they feel stressed when less academically inclined students do not take their studies seriously. They might lash out by comparing them to Express students who are usually more well-behaved.

This could perpetuate the divide, an inevitable circumstance of a performance heavy school system that stresses out both students and teachers.

People side with the NT boy in the video. However as the boys admitted, they can be quite “chaotic” in a classroom setting. Put forty of them in a class and it is challenging to help them achieve as much as Express students within a given school year.

MOE has repeated time and again, they are unwilling to reduce class sizes, while elite schools coast comfortably with about 20 students per class.

Even in the working world, would you hire someone who went to ITE over an NUS graduate? Singaporeans continue to perpetuate elitism through their practices, just like how many girls feel elite school boys are sexier for some reason.

The class divide is a result of an unwavering belief of meritocracy. While we celebrate people who work hard, we unwittingly turn a blind eye to those who struggle as “they also have the opportunity to succeed.”

IP Student Believes Hard Work Is All That Is Needed

The NT boy has clearly been left behind in a system that favours children who are academically inclined, good at memorising and regurgitating right answers. And the IP girl probably worked hard her whole life and continues to struggle with the stress of succeeding.

What she said made her seem uncompassionate and cold. But it’s not her fault that she had the mantra “success, success, success” pummelled into her 16-year-old mind like a caged hen being force fed.

And not everyone has had my privilege of having those worldviews challenged by friends in NS and a rare opportunity to study in New York City—a place that celebrated my uniqueness.

This makes it difficult for her to understand an alternate worldview, like why other students struggle in a system she thrived in because of her ‘hard work’.

That’s meritocracy after all.

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Cover image: Source