The Singaporean educational obsession with A grades even extends to the political class, here. Indeed, the political class seems to have a particularly bad case of it.
Recently, the leadership of Singapore were quoted in the newspapers as saying that they were in search of the next Prime Minister to take over after Lee Hsien Loong becomes too old for the job, some 15 years hence. I write this knowing that Western readers will find this assumption, that one party will still be in power in 15 years time, rather strange. In Singapore, however, the political structure is as unchanging as the weather (here everyday is the same, give or take).
More strange than the assumption of eternal power, though, was another assumption made: that the best candidate would be found among an elite 600 or so, who, secured perfect A grades in their A levels every year (I believe 4 A grades were spoken of). I find this hilarious in what it reveals about the State's understanding of human nature. The assumption is that the best leader will have the best grades. This is just not so. Grades at A level tell us very little about leadership quality - and tell us almost as little about true intelligence. The biggest variable in how well someone does at A level is how hard they are prepared to work. It is just as likely that selecting someone for their A grades will end up choosing the hardest worker in the group, rather than the brightest. Too often, the brightest students don't find A levels interesting enough to work hard for them. If you are really bright, all of education will seem a bit pointless.
There is more, however. By focussing on the select group of 600 or so, every year, with perfect grades, they exclude almost everyone in Singapore from being considered. It is mathematically far more probable that the true best candidate is OUTSIDE that select group, than that they are inside it. Why is this so? Well, because leadership has very little to do with intelligence (just as A level grades themselves don't say as much about it as people believe). Even if intelligence were correlated with leadership, not as much of it would be needed as people believe. Studies show that a leader should NOT be brighter than 30 IQ points above the average of those led - otherwise effective communication becomes problematic and virtually impossible for the brightest of the bright.
Thus in Singapore, a leader would need to have an IQ of 130 odd, at the outside. Thus, they would need to be no more than moderately gifted, at best. About one person in 44 would meet this criterion. So much for there being no-one good enough to take over. It would be unnecessary and unwise were the leader much brighter than this because a leader who can't communicate to his or her people is a leader who can't lead.
If you truly have selected the brightest possible leader, he or she would be too bright to lead Singapore effectively, anyway.
However, I am happy that this would not be so, given the selection criteria. I went to Cambridge University and I have met many people in my life with perfect grades. They didn't, however, have perfect minds. Some people with lesser grades had much more interesting minds. They just weren't bothered about A levels as a worthwhile pursuit. They did, however, turn out to be much more interesting and able people than those who outshone them, in A levels.
There is another factor to consider: how were the perfect A grades achieved? If, as is most common in Singapore, they are achieved by the total exclusion of the rest of life and an absolute focus on studies, then that person would be among the WORST possible candidates for political office. Why is this so? Well, because life skills and social understanding are much more important for political life than A grades at A level. Academic knowledge is of almost no value at all, if it resides in a socially inept, dull individual of no character or life experience. The latter description would suit many who have perfect A grades at A level. It is much less likely to describe those who have led a more rounded existence and grown other characteristics than a monomaniacal tendency to study.
That being said, there is the possibility that the best candidate might reside among the 600. This would be a different case though. This would be the candidate so bright that he or she could excel at A level in all subjects, with relatively little work, while having a complete social life and developing a full range of life skills and experiences. Such a person would make a good candidate. That is not to say, however, that another candidate of lesser grades might not be even better, because of their personal qualities - and perhaps unexpressed intellectual ones.
The Government expressed regret that so many of the 600 leave Singapore every year to work elsewhere. It seems to me that they would not leave, had they suitable opportunities here, for personal growth and career development. Provide those opportunities and many of them would stay.
It is time to drop this excessive regard for perfect grades in Singapore. The ones with perfect grades do not necessarily have the best minds. In fact, I would say that they are more likely to be less interesting people than others who have more diverse interests, and lesser grades as a result.
"Good" people may be found in many more places than the Singaporean government seems aware. There is a reason for this, of course. They are all, themselves, drawn from the ranks of the perfect graders. So they believe in it. They feel validated by it. The pity of it is, of course, is that it is utter nonsense. Having perfect grades does not make you a genius. Having perfect grades does not make you politically adept. Having perfect grades does not make you creative. In fact, having perfect grades does nothing but give you perfect grades.
It is time people realized that, here, and looked at people more broadly. Then, eyes would open and interesting people would be found in abundance. Until then, of course, "good" people, will seem so scarce as to be almost absent.
What is wrong here is not the number of "good" people - but the way in which they are identified. An error has been made in thinking that A levels are the best measure. They aren't. They measure something else than that which they are being used for. There is not, at this time, an A level in Prime Ministership. It is time the Prime Minister himself realized this and started looking more widely for his own successor. He would find the task a lot easier if he paid heed to this observation.
(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: Lee Hsien Loong, PAP, political succession, Prime Ministership, Singapore, Singaporean Education