Arguments that RI is elitist usually fall along these lines:
- RI caters to rich kids. In 2015, then RI Principal Chan Poh Meng alleged that RI is now a middle-class school. Presumably, because a majority of its students hail from landed houses or private condominiums
- RI discriminates by taking in only the brightest of each PSLE cohort.
- RI reinforces or encourages a view that its students are the crème de la crème.
In a letter to TODAY, writers Daniel Yap and Luke Lu had this to say:
The pressing concern for RI is not inclusivity, but representation.
It is not a direct result of RI's status as elite, but an outcome of the larger culture and environment. This was former principal Chan Poh Meng's concern when he said that RI was becoming "insular", not "truly representative of Singapore", and catered to students from the upper class of society.
As a former Rafflesian, I agree that RI is elitist. There is no sugar coating this. But then again, the same can be said about Hwa Chong, ACS, RGS and Nanyang. It is perhaps not entirely odd that RI is constantly being singled out. Being the best of the best does come with its perks and drawbacks.
The more pertinent (and yet routinely ignored) question to ask is: so what?
You call it elitism, I call it meritocracy. It becomes a game of jargon and labels. In many online debates, the discussion rarely moves beyond superficial labeling and inevitably devolves into name-calling and ad hominem insults.
Yes, there is indeed a difference between elitism and meritocracy, which can be distilled to an issue of attitude, the superiority complex of the elitist. One may argue that you can believe in meritocracy without condescending your peers, and I agree. I just think it is an irrelevant distinction. Society can function perfectly without tending to the egos of every snow flake.
When Daniel and Luke asked RI to be more representative, what exactly does it mean? Should RI admit students from particular socio-economic backgrounds? Should RI reserve places for students with abysmal PSLE scores? Should RI practice an ethnic or indeed a gender quota to ensure equal representation across all ethnicity, genders and, gasps, sexual orientation? Where does it all end?
Equality of outcome is equality for none.
Competition exists in life. This is an immutable law of life that transcends all species and is not limited to humans. Darwinian philosophy informs us that where resources are finite, competition is inevitable and survival is the prize for the fittest.
Applied to the modern day context, one must accept that competition exists in the form of "good jobs" because of the expected "financial security" they bring. Of course, academic excellence is not the only portal to "good jobs"; this should be self-evident from the preponderance of humble-brags we saw recently where moderately successful academics/professionals "selflessly" posted their laughable PSLE scores on Facebook. But let's not confuse anecdotes with evidence. The issue is not possibility, but probability. If you graduated from an ITE, you are likely to end up in a low paying job. Not definitely. But certainly highly probable. If you graduated from SMU Law School, there is a high probability you would land a good job.
This is why the continuous Government campaign on "multiple pathways" to "success" is so damn patronizing. Unless the G is prepared to be transparent on the statistical probabilities of each "pathway", piling on ever more anecdotal examples is going to convince a grand total of no one.
Don't get me wrong. Every profession deserves respect. But it is also undeniable that some jobs require more specialist skill sets and some are more critical than others. Imagine if Thanos snapped his gauntlet and killed off all the poets today. Life would go on as we know it, albeit in a significantly duller manner. On the other hand, if Thanos killed all the doctors and engineers, civilization would not last very long. It is eminently logical therefore that some jobs are remunerated more than others.
To that end, the pursuit of academic excellence is not for its own sake. I could not have cared less about my grades back in school if my future financial well-being did not hinge upon how many As I scored.
Which is why the PSLE-abolitionists are barking up the wrong tree. Removing examinations does not address the underlying problem that is competition and the finite-ness of "good jobs". You abolish one sorting mechanism and there is no doubt another will take its place. It is an inescapable result because competition exists and not everyone can lay their hands on the prized jobs.
This is also my gripe with the examination abolitionists. Long on problem, short on solution. In all this time, I have yet to read a single recommendation, and I will be happy to be corrected if I am wrong, on how to determine "who gets in where" if standardized tests were not the sorting mechanism.
To me, there is logically nothing wrong with RI taking in the best of the PSLE cohort each year. This is the essence of meritocracy; to the victors, the spoils.
Furthermore, the charge that RI caters to rich kids is, to me, more of an inane observation than a valid criticism. In a well-functioning meritocracy, this is almost an expected result isn't it? Back to the theme of competition, life is essentially a race. Except that, instead of a 100 meter sprint, it is an endless relay, with your parents passing on the baton to you, and you to your children, and so on. If your parents gave you a head-start, good on you. If your parents gave you a handicap, you run your lungs out to catch up. The role of the State is to make sure everyone gets to take part in the race, not to ensure that every god damn person gets a trophy.
Applying the "race analogy" to RI admission, it is certainly true that richer parents are able to give their kids a head-start and increase their chances of getting a place in RI. But should we begrudge or penalize these kids just because their parents worked harder when they were kids?
There are of course valid grounds to extend opportunity to the least fortunate among us, e.g., the children of abject poverty, and those living in abusive environments. Suitable interventions in the form of social and financial welfare should be provided such that kids from underprivileged backgrounds are not denied the opportunity to run the race. But let us be clear, these belong to the minority. Once and for all, we should kill the misguided trope of the "undeserving rich".
The median Singapore family income is around S$9,000 (Singapore Department of Statistics). This probably translates to the typical Singaporean HDB-dwelling family with two working parents. The average kid in this family probably has his/her own bedroom, fiber internet connection, at least one personal computer and a grossly overpriced cell phone. If this kid cannot make it to RI on his/her own merit, should we still scapegoat this to elitism? Patently absurd.
And finally, in any debate about elitism, there would be those clenching their teeth and indignantly pointing out that academic and indeed financial success should not be the only measures of success. To that I say, by all means, to each their own. But if you eschew the conventional definition of "success" and the attendant financial security, then why the fuck do you care who gets into RI?