"Tue, Apr 06, 2010 The Straits Times - Scoring high in grades but not in values
OVER the past two weeks, the words 'meritocracy' and 'elitism' have stirred feelings of loyalty, indignation and dismay all at once.
Just ask the old boys of St Joseph's Institution (SJI), who have been making a very public case for and against the lowering of the school's entry requirements to enable more students from its feeder schools to make the cut.
Meritocracy must prevail, argues one camp. Easing entry requirements will only cause academic standards to slip. But SJI must not become elitist, counters the rival camp. Boys from the Christian Brothers' schools, based on that affiliation alone, should qualify.
The pursuit of intellectual excellence to the exclusion of character or value excellence breeds an exclusionary attitude towards the rest of society!"
This is a piece by the journalist, Ms Sandra Leong, who was from the top high and junior college in Singapore, reflecting on her early life as a Rafflesian and how some of the unintended consequences, not so good ones, escaped her then!
Lessons for me are:
1. the leaders in this country are too skewed in meritocracy by academic results. I just learned from a person who learned of a comment by one of the nation most senior leader asking an officer why he is in that position when he is NOT a scholar!! The most senior leader seemed to be saying: 'if you are NOT a scholar, how can you be at such a senior position of such a strategically important project!'. He obviously was not looking at what this officer has achieved or demonstrated his capability for that job described for that project!!;
2. people in the 'elite' circle do not believed that they behaved or will behave snobbishly or inappropriately to the rest of society even if they hear honest feedback from the people who perceived them to be so!! It is obvious to me that if 1 mirror shows me I look funny, I can dismiss it as an anomaly. However, when 100 mirrors all show me the same image, it cannot be the fault of the mirrors anymore! So, it is important, critical actually, for leaders to be able to listen to factual but unpleasant feedback. It has to be a constant reminder of not falling in love with yourself! i.e. prevent narcissism from developing!!;
3. it is wonderful of the young journalist to realize the incomplete picture she had of the 'world' and to take actions to make it whole. She is the lucky one or should I say, the truly thinking and reflecting one. If we have more intellectually brilliant people also focusing on excellence in characters and values, there is still hope for the nation.
Be smart. Be compassionate as well. Be good. Be happy!