ST Forum Editor was right after all

Leong Sze Hian/

I refer to the article “Straits Times! Why you edit until like that?” (theonlinecitizen, Mar 24).

In my view, the Straits Times Forum Editor was not wrong to edit the letter.

Quoting the wrong statistics

From a statistical pespective, the forum letter writer, Mr Samuel Wee, was quoting the wrong statistics.

So, the Straits Times Forum Editor, was merely amending his letter to cite the correct statistics, cited by the Education Minister.

For example, the Education Minister said “How children from the bottom one-third by socio-economic background fare: One in two scores in the top two-thirds at PSLE” –

But, Mr Samuel Wee wrote “His statement is backed up with the statistic that 50% of children from the bottom third of the socio-economic ladder score in the bottom third of the Primary School Leaving Examination”.

Another example is Mr Wee’s: “it is indeed heartwarming to learn that only 90% of children from one-to-three-room flats do not make it to university”, when the Straits Times article “New chapter in the Singapore Story” of 8 March, on the Minister’s speech in Parliament, clearly showed in the graph “Progression to Unis and Polys” (Source: MOE  (Ministry of Eduction)), that the “percentage of P1 pupils who lived in 1- to 3-room HDB flats and subsequently progressed to tertiary education”, was about 50 per cent, and not the ’90 per cent who do not make it’ cited by Mr Samuel Wee.

Quoting out of context?

As to Mr Wee’s: “Therefore, it was greatly reassuring to read about Dr Ng’s great faith in our “unique, meritocratic Singapore system”, which ensures that good, able students from the middle-and-high income groups are not circumscribed or restricted in any way in the name of helping financially disadvantaged students”, there was nothing in the Minister’s speech, Straits Times and all other media reports, that quoted the Minister, in this context.

In my opinion, the closest that I could find in all the reports, to link in context to the Minister’s faith in our meritocratic system, was what the Straits Times Forum Editor edited – “Therefore, it was reassuring to read about Dr Ng’s own experience of the ‘unique, meritocratic Singapore system’: he grew up in a three-room flat with five other siblings, and his medical studies at the National University of Singapore were heavily subsidised; later, he trained as a cancer surgeon in the United States using a government scholarship”.

To the credit of the Straits Times Forum Editor, inspite of the hundreds of letters that he receives in a day, he took the time and effort to:-

  • Check the accuracy of the letter writer’s ‘quoted’ statistics
  • Find the correct ‘quoted’ statistics to replace the writer’s wrongly ‘quoted’ statistics
  • Check for misquotes out of context (in this case, what the Education Minister actually said), and then find the correct quote to amend the writer’s statement

It is one thing to interpret, analyse or extrapolate statistics, but to purport to quote statistics which are blatantly false, is something else altogether.

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