Singapore has many surprises for an attentive observer: one area that is rich in such surprises is Singaporean education.
Singapore is a country that prides itself on its uniformity and conformity. Thus one would expect that all within its borders would be treated in the same way, with regards to educational opportunity. In an ideal world, everyone would have access to the opportunities they need. Yet, this is not so.
There is an educational scholarship scheme which many people may not be aware of. Its express purpose is to recruit scientifically and mathematically competent students from other Asian countries and bring them to Singapore. The ones that I have taught are about 95% PRC (People's Republic of China) mainland Chinese students and the rest have happened to be Vietnamese. I haven't met one from anywhere else.
These almost entirely mainland Chinese students are given free education in Singapore. They are given free accommodation. They are even given a monthly stipend on which to live. One particular group even had a paid holiday in Malaysia (probably to show them what a wonderful place Singapore was by giving them the contrast of poverty - since it was a poor area they went to), recently. They basically have a free ride of it, for their time in Singapore. They are even given a choice of where they might like to get a degree out of a selection of overseas countries. Singapore pays for it all.
I can see why they do this. It is so as to recruit scientific talent for Singapore's tech and science industries. The idea is that many of these students will come to settle in Singapore and work here. So, in that sense it is a smart move for Singapore. Yet, I am not particularly happy at this particular programme. Why? Well, because Singaporeans are not treated so well.
We have sought special provision for Ainan's scientific educational needs for over a year and a half, now. Long term readers will know that we have encountered a less than generous attitude in this area. At various times, we have been told: "It is resource intensive to give him practical chemistry classes" and "There is no funding available" and "Why don't you go to a private school and pay for it yourself?" (This last was said by a member of the Gifted Education Programme...a very unhelpful organization, in truth.)
In that entire time, we have managed to secure six practical sessions for Ainan out of the education system (at Raffles Insitution and Raffles College). We were also offered one hour a week at NUS High School of Maths and Science, last year, which we ultimately rejected, because it was of material (at early A level) which he had already covered - and they refused to let him take practical classes. It simply wasn't worth going there, since nothing new would be learnt. All in all, it is not much of a response to Ainan's particular needs.
Now, Ainan was born in Singapore. His mother is a Malay Singaporean - so Ainan has Singaporean nationality. Yet, the contrast between the way PRC science students are welcomed to Singapore and enticed by large bundles of money and educational freebies, and the way we have met obstacles and refusals of support, in Ainan's scientific education, could not be more marked.
I find myself puzzled. Ainan is Singaporean. These PRC imports are not. Ainan gets little support. The PRCs get everything. Surely, this is strong evidence of double standards in Singaporean education? To get what you need, here, you have to be a foreign student on a scholarship. If you are a locally born Singaporean, you need not apply, seems to be the message.
Perhaps they take Ainan for granted. They think that, because he is local, that he is theirs already. The PRCs, however, have to be won over to Singapore's side. The funny thing about this is that Ainan is much brighter than any of the PRC imports I have met and taught over the years. He has much MORE to offer Singapore in terms of scientific talent, than any of these PRCs (or Vietnamese) students. Yet, except for a few token exceptions, Ainan's needs have not yet been met by the Singaporean education system.
Double standards are never fair - nor are they wise. In pursuing this course of action, Singapore will recruit some scientifically talented PRC students - yes. However, they will also alienate LOCALLY DERIVED scientific talent - unless they SUPPORT THEM EQUALLY WELL. The fact is, however, they don't. If you are locally born talent, you can expect no special support of your gifts - or very little indeed, certainly not enough to optimize your intellectual growth. If, however, you were born in Beijing - expect every cheque book to be open. That is the clear message of this programme.
Ainan's education proceeds at home, with us. Were it not for our support, he would be receiving NO scientific education, at this time, from the Singaporean education system. Is that the way to nurture future scientists?
I am sure the story would be very different if Ainan was a PRC child showing the same gift. He would be flown in, with his mother (probably), given a house, a scholarship at a good school, and money every month to pay his way. Unfortunately, for Ainan he is locally born. What he gets instead, is a lot of bureaucratic delays and time-wasting from the educational establishment. Far from receiving a scholarship, we are repeatedly told that "there are no funds available" and no resources, either.
So, the lesson is this. If you have a special child and they were born in Singapore, you should emigrate to China, at once. There you should revoke your Singaporean citizenship and become Chinese - and then apply for the Singaporean scholarship programme. You will be welcomed with open arms and suddenly everything you need for your special education would be made available. For true authenticity, you should speak English exceptionally badly for the first couple of years back in Singapore, just to make sure that you don't look out of place (just like all the other PRC recruits).
We have had to make our own arrangements for Ainan, since the educational system has proven unwilling to do so. Every other special child we have heard of, has run into difficulties too. They share one thing in common: they were born in Singapore.
It would be good to see a Singaporean education system that allowed all children to flourish - and aided all along the way, to reach their potential. It is not enough to focus on grooming PRC children to become Singaporean: they need to give equally good opportunities and support to locally born talent too.
Otherwise a strange thing will begin to happen: just as the PRC "talent" arrives, the local talent will leave. That is precisely what has happened to some of the Singaporean gifted children that we are aware of. They haven't received what they needed in Singapore - so they left for America etc.
Now, is that a smart education policy?
If Singapore did more to nurture its locally born talent, they wouldn't have to recruit PRC students to make up for the shortfall in talent. They would have created it in their own backyard, instead.
The next step for Ainan has been arranged, and will be announced at an appropriate time - but you know what: we arranged it ourselves. Those in the education system whose responsibility is to attend to these matters did nothing to help us, at all. Were we less persistent, nothing would have happened.
The others that we are aware of did not battle on, to secure what they needed here: they just emigrated.
The priority should be: first look after locally born talent, then look to recruit overseas talent. They should not begin to do the latter until the former has been addressed. Otherwise, the result will be that one's own people leave, never more to return. The foreigners who replace them, have no real ties to Singapore. There seems little wisdom in that.
(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and seven months, and Tiarnan, two years exactly, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html
I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)
Labels: Ainan, double standards, mathematics, People's Republic of China, PRC, scholarships, Science, Singaporean Education, unfairness