Ex-MOE policy officer says We’re Not Free to Define ‘Elitism’ As We Please

By June 5, 2018Current

TL;DR – MOE’s fault again ah?

You might have seen this Facebook note being shared,

And wondered who is Yann Wong?

He is actually an ex-Ministry of Education policy officer who was in charge of the Direct Schools Admissions (DSA) Scheme from 2011 to 2012.

Elitism is a much talked about topic these days and everybody seems to have their two cents to weigh in on this topic. But if you have been following the different povs by the ministers and members of the public such as Yann Wong, you’d probably have the same thought as Adrian Choo:

So with that, we will try to decipher what Yann Wong said and unscrambling it to “plain English”. Or maybe we should just go one step further and do it in Singlish.

To be honest, this severity of this topic might be lost in translation when we try to rewrite it but we will try anyway.

Wong pointed out three ways how meritocracy/elitism can have significant real-life impact on the psychology of students:

Shame, Performance Anxiety and Validation-Neediness

Plain English: STRESS LOR. SI BEI STRESS LOR. Simply because those doing well get acknowledged, those doing not as well get stressed and hence shamed directly. According to Yann, this damages the mental health of children.

Me? I think this is inevitable? When we have results, we will bound to have comparison and along with it, stress. Be it school or life at large, we have our own KPI to meet. We have sales figures to meet, work hours to fulfil, even by what age we’d like our first child – everything can be put into numbers. If you ain’t doing well, even by your own benchmarks, then it’s up to you to play catch up. However, I’m no psychologist and can’t tell you the actual damage or impact it has to one’s mental health but this is life. But YOU can help yourself get better.

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Normalisation of Condescension

Plain English: It’s becoming okay to look down on others.

What is success to you? I know not everything in life is a competition unless you want to make it one. If your neighbour is driving a BMW and you ain’t into cars, it’s probably not much of a race.(Bad pun, I know) But if you think he is looking down on your Honda, then you’d probably feel very sore about it.

You know how some people like to say that success is measured by how happy you are with life? But if you choose to make everything a competition and says that the guy with BMW is happier than you despite you being happy, how can you ever really be contented and successful by your own yardstick? I’m not asking us to celebrate mediocrity and always be happy with how little you have instead of striving for greatness. But my point is that nobody can look down on you until you decide to allow it.

Yann might be right about meritocracy and Singapore. I probably am one of those people that he generalised in his article. I do believe that success is a fruit of hard work and so is failure. You might be given lousier cards in life to start with but I do believe that if you put in your effort and hours you will eventually reach somewhere. However, I have to disagree that not every individual is given equal opportunity to earn dignity. Maybe not equal opportunity but in Singapore, everyone is given opportunities especially with more and more help and efforts to level the playing field between the “elites” and “non-elites”.

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Intellectual Conformity

Plain English: Singaporeans do not know how to think out of the box. Only know how to look for “correct answer”. In fact, Singaporean can’t even argue properly.

This I have to agree and the essence of the whole point lies in this line,

“We failed to prepare our students to be self-critical and to disagree well”. 

It might not be this way for the silent majority (especially on the Internet) but I sure see this being displayed every other day that Singaporeans can’t make a good argument. And when they can’t get their point across, they end up getting personal.


Although I do agree with what some of the things Yann has pointed out, is this really the government’s responsibility to come up with a solution?

Is this whole elitism thing really MOE’s issue and entirely caused by our education system?

In fact, are we sure that this is just something unique to Singapore? Is the rest of the world free from this issue because of their different education system? Can what he mentioned above be “corrected” by parenting? Is this a case of how our society is simply these days that has caused such issues? If it’s the society and not MOE, who should we even direct this to?


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Smith Leong

Author Smith Leong

Social Media Trainer @ NTUC | Youth Mentor | Labour Champion | Photographer | Content Creator |

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