The Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) committee recently released a report detailing the 12 key issues preoccupying Singaporeans. While most of these topics have been extensively discussed these past few weeks (housing, transportation, immigration, identity, etc.) education seems to have been left out.
This is despite the fact that “achieving an all-rounded development for students” has been made one of the many priorities for the 2013 budget.
Concerning pre-schools, initiatives to strengthen opportunities for lower- and middle-income pupils include:
– more than doubling the spending on the Pre-school sector over the next 5 years.
– expanding capacity so that more pre-school centres are closer to homes and workplaces.
– bringing more operators onto the Anchor Operator scheme, providing 16,000 more places by 2017.
– building up teacher quality with salary grants, scholarships, and training grants.
– developing best practices for kindergartens.
– establishing an Early Childhood Development Agency to drive improvements across the entire sector.
At the school level, the government plans on supporting disadvantaged students by:
– extending learning support programmes beyond the early primary school years.
– expanding the number of school-based student care centres.
– developing rich online materials to provide additional support for students.
– expanding the Opportunity Fund by $72 million.
– extending the Opportunity Fund to Polytechnics.
– topping up the Edusave Endowment Fund by $300 million.
These measures show how much of a priority it is to reinforce all aspects of education to develop other core elements of the national agenda (employment, income, equality, inclusiveness, etc.).
In fact, it could be argued that there are many other non-material and non-financial aspects of education that deserve policy-makers’ attention.
Children that are taught early on that “success” or “failure” are not representative of their own personal value can grow into confident and well-adjusted professionals.
Pupils who understand that getting good marks is just as important to their future as developing other aspects of their personality (community involvement, sports, arts, and hobbies) can become multi-skilled and adaptable adults.
Students who see University not just as an investment to get a high-paying job but also as a period of discovery and self-affirmation can expand the world view they will one day instill to the next generation.
Teachers and professors who believe in the idea that one’s path and potential in life are not necessarily determined by the amount of mathematical formulas one can learn by heart can propagate the true values of meritocracy and equality.
It could be argued that these are essentially non-curricular aspirations that go beyond a teacher’s or a school’s missions. That it is up to the parents to inculcate these values into their children and up to the school to make sure students get the most out of the educational system.
But the fact is that there is no clear way to differentiate the degree to which involvement, motivation, and success relies on one entity or another. The only quantifiable way of measuring the impact the education system has on a person’s overall development is the relation between government expenditure and socioeconomic outcomes.
Numerous studies have shown the direct correlation between government spending in education (salaries, infrastructures, equipment, textbooks, etc.) and positive outcomes (literacy rates, enrolment rates, completion of secondary or tertiary studies, employment prospects, career development, wages, etc.). Meaning that the more a government invests in its education system, the better the adults that come out of that system do later in life.
Singapore has, in fact, always been a big spender in in this area. After all, the backbone of its rapid industrialization was the government’s emphasis on making education accessible to most, expanding the skills taught, and guaranteeing employment for those that complete their studies.
Over the years, this priority has led to significant improvements in overall economic growth, inclusive social configuration, and equal opportunities.
So why are Singaporeans suddenly worried that spending on education may not be enough? Why are they pushing for tougher curriculums and stricter admission processes? Why are parents spending so much money in private tuition and other support strategies?
The answer is that now, more than ever, parents have little or no confidence in their children’s prospects. No matter how good the school, no matter how high the marks, and no matter how prohibitive the education fees, parents are no longer confident these efforts and sacrifices are worth it.
The labour market has become so competitive and unpredictable that excellent performance in school no longer guarantees an exceptional future.
That’s why part of the expectation is for the government’s high level of investment in education to rebuild that divide between investment/aspiration and outcome/expectation.