Saturday, September 22, 2012

PSLE: Barking up the wrong tree

I think the change of mindset Lawrence Wong talked about would take about one generation to happen. By that time lots of people will learn that PSLE and even the A levels; frequently the university degree too are not sufficient and may not even be necessary to be materially well off.

The Chinese and Koreans are ahead of us in this game. Soon it may even become fashionable to label a jobless grad a fool.


As our economy becomes more sophisticated and diverse, meritocracy will take a backseat to luck. That's why it is often said that who you know is more important than what you know. Warren Buffett went even further with his striking lucky in the ovarian lottery.

What happens when meritocracy fails to deliver? Who is thinking and preparing us for that day? The Spring shoots for a new society where luck counts more than merit are already visible.

Kiasu, kiasi parents are barking up the wrong tree and wasting their children's time failing to prepare them for tomorrow. Meanwhile savvier parents who mostly were the winners of the last meritocracy are quietly noting the shortfall in the system and have the resources to direct their kids appropriately. This is our version of the ovarian lottery.

The PSLE problem will reach a natural expiry date because of the fallacy of belief as explained earlier. To avert luck from trumping meritocracy, a superior government must do away with the PSLE by executive decision rather than leaving it to expected disillusionment. Unfortunately this call for courage that this government do not possess. To be fair, they are already more courageous than most governments today but not good enough for our longer term security.

Abolishing the PSLE and introducing the sort of developmental programs that savvier parents are arranging for their kids would strengthen meritocracy. The risk to the government is that we might not show up well in TIMSS rankings. You know how this government obsess how we are placed on international benchmarks but do not seem to question or qualify if these league tables make sense to our circumstances. Those benchmarks saddle us into the fix of the good becoming the enemy of the great. Others can get by being good especially when they are often mediocre, but we need to be great to survive. Pockets and episodes of great work we display are not infecting and growing across our economy and society. Why? Because we are elitist; because our PSLE and educational strategies produce a small core of great elites (debatable) and lots and lots of the struggling good who are overworked and over stressed in a hyper competitive world.

If we stick with this present system, we will all have to tire ourselves out putting more than a day's work every day because instead of trading a horse for a car, we are just flogging the animal harder. The PM always tell us to work harder because it makes his job safer and easier. When his government cannot do better, it naturally fell on us to do the heavy lifting. Foreign governments should be admiring us rather than the government. Just do a simple what-if, i.e., if they could have us for their people rather than what they have. We are so easy to govern despite being a querulous lot. We make a lot of noise but other people are faster to vote you out of office. Most important, voters elsewhere believe in getting a free lunch but we are always suspicious of such promises.

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