Co-founder of ReadAble Michelle MoMo Yeo took to her Facebook to highlight that no matter how hard underprivileged children try, they cannot “catch up” in their education and score well in their PSLE examination as compared to kids from a rich background.
The post was originally published in November 2018 but the comments from netizens started picking up once again now.
In her post, Ms Yeo said that she attended a dialogue session with ministers at a screening of Channel NewsAsia’s (CNA) documentary video titled ‘Regardless of Class’. During the dialogue session, she told Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance Indranee Rajah that “by and large, the children that we work with at ReadAble – no matter how much time and effort we devote to them as volunteers – we never catch up with a child born into a privileged family”.
ReadAble is a project that teaches underprivileged children on how to read.
Upon hearing Ms Yeo’s statement, Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary jumped in to state that he disagrees with Ms Yeo’s point that children at ReadAble are unable to “catch up” with those kids born into privileged family.
“He said (I’m paraphrasing a little here) that this reflected a narrow definition of success, and that the kids we work with can go on to succeed by a different metric, and that he for one Does Not Define Children By Their PSLE Scores,” she wrote.
However, Ms Yeo clearly disagrees with what Dr Janil said.
In her post, she attached the PSLE result slip of one of ReadAble’s students who scored C and D for English and Malay, respectively.
Ms Yeo said that she is extremely proud of this student because when they first met, the student only scored anything ranging from single digits to the high 30s in her primary 2 Grade. She could not even complete one written sentence in her English worksheet, Ms Yeo said.
However, in the end, the student managed to pass her PSLE, in which the student felt extremely happy.
“Yet this score, to me, represents a chasm between worlds. In one world, parents work unreasonable hours to keep their child fed. The lucky ones have no parents in jail, no fear of police authorities visiting their houses unexpectedly, no gangs recruiting them in late childhood,” she wrote.
She added, “In this world, it takes four years of dedicated volunteers working with a child, both on the weekends and during the week, on every single school subject; tears (for everyone really), arguments, exhaustion, nights of lying in bed asking whether we’re wasting our time, family and volunteer conferences – all for a passing grade in the PSLE. And in this world, passing the PSLE is a dream.”
“But, the situation is completely different for another group of students who are born into a more financially stable family where they have plenty of “money, relative familial stability, expectations and aspirations”, Ms Yeo expressed.
“It populates our society with its government leaders, civil servants and local and overseas professionals. In this world, most kids score at least a hundred marks more than this in the PSLE, and are disappointed that they didn’t achieve more,” she explained.
Additionally, Ms Yeo also said that people coming from this group are a lot luckier when it comes to securing better career and educational options. However, that’s not same case for those underprivileged individuals.
“In adulthood, they find themselves limited to unenviable, often low-paying, high-labour jobs. Some may find that crime pays better – and who are we to judge them when the incentives simply line up that way – perpetuating the stressors that so greatly affected them when they were children themselves,” she noted.
As such, the educator said that it’s time to now think what the PSLE score gap really means and how that affects the students’ lives when they become adults.
“The cycle is real. The aspirational gap is real. And maybe it’s time to start thinking about what the PSLE score gap represents, what societal sickness it symptomises, and quit glibly dismissing academic underachievement and its consequences on those without means.”
Netizens agree on the existence of a class divide in education
Upon reading her post, some netizens pointed out the irony of Dr Janil stating that success can be measured by a different metric and not solely on test results, given that he himself comes from a privileged family. They added that elite policymakers don’t understand the real situation among the people, and their “view of equal opportunity will be coloured” by their privileged background.
Jamie Lim said that it is “disingenuous of him (Dr Janil) to play down the importance of the PSLE and talk about ‘other successes’ when the entire educational and workforce systems are rigged to favour the academically successful”.
A bunch of other online users thanked Ms Yeo for her thoughts and penned their support towards her. They also thanked her for speaking up about this issue.
Facebook user Teh Garett said that he knows parents who are not well-versed in English and had to spend extra two years in Primary school. As such, he said that if the parents were rich, they could have engaged a private tutor for themselves, emphasising that Dr Janil’s argument is wrong in this case.
On the other hand, Denis Shalashov pointed out a year ago – when the post was first published – that it’s not right or beneficial for the society to deprive someone from a poor background education and creating situation in which they may not succeed. “Every kid should have a chance, especially if society is rich enough to afford it. Opposite is not only cruel, but also unwise and bitter fruits of this shall be harvested later.”
Separately, Ray Tan, who is a teacher himself, said that he fully agrees with Ms Yeo on the class divide in Singapore. He said, “Yes, they will never have the same starting lines as those who dwell in premium districts like Bukit Timah; they will learn invaluable values like resilience, self-reliance and empathy.”