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Schooling’s success challenges the narrative of the Singapore-styled meritocracy

By Mark Lin

The Schooling phenomenon is amazing – it stir up so much curry in the pot.

Truthfully, it is never about hard work alone or the capacity to dream big like what PM would have proclaimed. If he followed Meritocracy – Singapore-styled – August 13 would probably be a rather uneventful day. The brutal truth of his success is not just because of the factors above, but because his family did things that are totally Un-Singaporean; like spending more than a million dollars by selling their house and investing painful growing years in providing the best environment to train their son in competitive swimming… with no guarantee of winning of course. The Singaporean-type of cost-benefit practical analysis would have failed miserably – no matter how you weigh them.

The Schooling success, contrary to popular belief, does not reinforce the idea that Singapore-styled Meritocracy works, but seeks to challenge its core philosophy.

This miracle would never have happen if Joseph wasn’t born to this family. Period. If he is born in a different family marred by poverty, family violence and abuse - honestly, what Olympic dreams are we talking about here? Supposedly, he is born in a loving but probably more average middle class family with no million dollar house to sell and support his aspiration, would this miracle be possible? Not likely. Your average Singaporean family ‘might consider’ selling their HDB flat to sponsor their son to study Medicine, but for swimming? Honestly guys – don’t kid yourself.

In addition, you must have not just supportive parents – but the all-out-supporting-don’t-care-just-cheong parents who fight to negotiate with MINDEF and all. As a fair statement, if the State refuse to defer NS for him, the win may not be possible too. And to be fair, the fact is that the State did endorse the deferment (regardless of who is credited for this effort, but the State must still agree to endorse right?). If the situation is that deferment failed, he siam NS, kanna AWOL, but win a Gold medal for Singapore – would it change the Singapore story?

Singapore-styled Meritocracy is challenged because nobody succeeds with pure effort alone – there are privileges that exist in our society that inherently provide advantages in achieving better ‘outcome’. These privileges are bestowed upon us through the lottery of birth, of which one cannot account for our own ‘efforts’ for these privileges because we have never spent a single ounce of effort to ‘work’ for it – we just happened to be born in the ‘right’ family. Sometimes, we owe many things to our society too and when we succeed in life, we must be mindful not to think condescendingly that those people who ‘didn’t make it’ are lazy, unmotivated and deserve to be where they are – without first having to question all the privileges that comes with our lottery of birth that we unconsciously enjoyed and made us unequal to begin with.

Hence the irony of my conclusion; one big part of the reason why this miracle happened is because the family pursue decisions that are completely Un-Singaporean (the other major contributor is that they had some resources/network to work with). Had they ‘just follow lor’ or if Joseph happened to be born in a different family – no amount of hard work alone can produce such a miracle.

This was first published on Mark's Facebook page and reproduced with permission