When I read about the stories Adrian Tan shared with Lianhe Zaobao recently, I was almost moved to tears – perhaps also due to the awareness that he lost his mum to cancer earlier and is currently fighting cancer himself. I resonated with his experience when I first went to Chinese High myself. My parents didn’t have to pull any strings to get me there but they did do their part in emphasizing the importance of a good education (though not so much the results), and encouraged me to explore my intellectual interests.
Like how ACS changed the life of Adrian, Chinese High changed my life too. I didn’t feel too competitive in school but I never felt like I was an outsider despite the fact that the students who got to the school were mostly from Nanyang Primary while I was from an unknown neighbourhood school. I made friends, I participated in activities with the rest in school. I didn’t do any better or worse than my classmates. I didn’t have additional tuition or music instrument classes compared to my classmates, but it’s okay. I got into an Arts programme in school and spent so much time in the arts studio slogging away on my arts project. I developed my confidence, awareness of the world, politics, sensitivity to culture, work ethic.
For me, education was indeed a leveller. And though I missed out on further opportunities that a more privileged background would have afforded me, I’m really grateful. It was being in Chinese High and around people who had huge ambitions and big aspirations to change the world that drove me to aspire the same. And that was also what granted me access to scholarship applications, one of which eventually landed me in LSE and NYU.
Yet I’m not sure if Singaporeans today had that same access as me if they were from my background. I’m concerned there are greater disparities between the performance of students from better backgrounds compared to those who don’t. This is a reflection of greater and more intense reinvestment of the privileged family in securing educational advantages for their progeny. It is only natural; but the society will really have to try and even out the playing field more.