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What happens when academic achievement is valued more than anything else?

A 16-year old student decides to spend her holidays working to earn a little extra pocket money by working as a salesperson. She comes from a good school and post of her encounters with parents that she knew from those kinds of schools were pleasant people, so she refuted the stereotypes that parents from more elite schools were arrogant.

But all that changed after a week of working. In a reddit thread on r/Singapore, a 16-year old shared her less than pleasant encounters with parents whose children attend these elite schools.

She says, ‘I hate to admit it, but most of the difficult parents are those whose children are from the "good schools".

The long post goes into detail about several interactions she’s had with parents who were unnecessarily rude and condescending to her and other sales people.  She pointed out the 180-turn that these same parents would make upon finding out that she had actually attended a good school and has already accepted an offer from a ‘good’ junior college.

She writes, “are they implying that they're only nice to me the moment they find out that I'm going to a "better" school than their child? Your child's brand of school doesn't make you any better than others.”

And that certainly does raise a good point. Elitism in Singapore is alive and well, in fact it’s thriving, no matter how much people try deny it. The author says she realised that many of the parents who were nice to her only treated her well because they know she’s on the same level and so want their children to be treated with respect as well. But that’s just a status thing – someone from a higher class of society expects to be treated better just because of their status and not because of their own merits. They see it as a right, not a privilege.

She continues, “This post isn't about me. It's for the full time working "aunties" who have to deal with the attitudes of these people on a daily basis. I'm starting to really empathise with those who have to deal with these elitists who think they're better than everyone else simply because of the school their child goes to. And honestly, even as a student from one of such schools, it really isn't that big a deal. You aren't superior.”

Again, a valid and important point to make. The streaming of students was meant to be helpful system that allowed students of similar learning levels to learn among their peers. It was a way to ensure that slower students weren’t left behind and stronger students won’t be bored. But this streaming of students based on academic ability has built quite a strong divide – not just between the students themselves but in the parents as well.

It’s common knowledge that Asian parents tend to measure their respectability based on their children’s accomplishments and now even which school you get into has become a status symbol. And with that status symbol, people are more comfortable being elitist.

It seems common courtesy hasn’t developed as fast as technology has. Just because one child performs better in school than another doesn’t mean that they deserve less respect. They’re humans after all and I think we can all agree that every person deserves to be treated with respect. The author was accurate in saying “there's no need to turn your child's education into some complex politics.”

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A few other users also shared similar experiences and pointed out that this brand of elitism happens everywhere, not just in Singapore. And while that is true, just standing by and allowing it to happen will only give space for this kind of rudeness to grow.

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A few others also made points about how parents focus so much on academic intelligence that they forget about emotional intelligence. Getting A’s and getting into the best schools look great on paper but if you lack even basic emotional intelligence and human decency, you’ll never go far.

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A different user shared how this lack of emotional intelligence can manifest when students enter the workforce based on his own experience with medical students:

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Society in Singapore needs a serious paradigm shift on what is considered important, a reevaluation of core values that shape the community and a realisation that our children learn more from observing out behaviours and mannerisms than what we tell them to do. Really, change starts at home. So long as parents place academic achievement over emotional intelligence, this change can't happen.