NOMINATED MP Eugene Tan yesterday sparked a lively discussion among Rafflesians past and present by asserting that his alma mater was now less “representative” of Singapore.
He was speaking in Parliament about Raffles Institution (RI), one of Singapore’s top schools.
Later, he told My Paper that his sense was that the school does not reflect the social and economic composition of Singapore.
“Is my alma mater, one that I am immensely proud of, less of a beacon of hope (in meritocratic Singapore)?” he asked in Parliament, adding that it does not seem to attract as many Malays and students from neighbourhood schools as it ought to.
“I lament how this state of affairs has come to pass,” he said.
Choo Chiau Beng, chairman of RI’s Board of Governors, appeared to agree with Associate Professor Tan.
“We noticed this trend in the independent schools and RI a few years ago,” he told My Paper in response to Prof Tan’s speech.
He acknowledged that it was not easy for students from less privileged backgrounds to catch up and compete with their peers from middle-class and upper-class backgrounds.
However, he added that it all starts with early-childhood education.
“We have to try to give every Singapore child good quality, affordable, early-childhood education and assistance all through, so that they have equal chances in life,” he said.
Former RI student Koh Luwen, now an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, echoed Mr Choo’s views.
“When parents can afford to give their children more time and attention, they may be able to instil a positive attitude towards learning,” said the 23-year-old.
And that positive attitude is what leads to a good education, he explained.
He said parents who can afford a maid could spend the time they save on housework with their child instead – a luxury for lower-income families.
Another former RI student, who wanted to be known only as Ms Lim, said that she personally disagrees with Prof Tan’s views.
She was from another top secondary school and felt that the lack of diversity was more apparent there.
“My friends from RI would go to Roti Prata House, but those from my secondary school would only go to fancy restaurants,” said the 18-year-old, who recently graduated from junior college.
Another former RI student, Gan Wei Kang, 21, said that the impression that the school is elitist has been created because of a select few who are indeed that way. His friends from the school came from a “mix” of backgrounds, he said.
Although RI was unable to reply to a My Paper request for comment in time, its admissions page states: “Admission to Raffles Institution is based on merit, regardless of race, creed, social or financial background.”