Academic castes that dog us for life

Academic castes that dog us for life

Our school years hold many memories. Some of us remember playing football every day after school; others cringe at the memory of their younger, awkward selves. It was a mixed package for me.



Our school years hold many memories. Some of us remember playing football every day after school; others cringe at the memory of their younger, awkward selves. It was a mixed package for me.

School was a stage for the drama of academic caste life. Hailing from a school with over a century of tradition and history, there were Express pupils who mocked Normal (Academic) pupils who, in turn, would sometimes look down on Normal (Technical) pupils.

Even within the Express stream today, there is a constant race to be the best. Secondary schools have a system where being first is more important than doing well.

Some would argue that such is school life. Unfortunately, these formative years have a lasting influence. Some pupils never outgrow their shell, and carry the burden of being called “stupid” into adulthood, lacking self-esteem.

Others rebel against the system and the unwanted label, sometimes banding with other misfits, and become the children who sit in the corner of class and disrupt lessons.

While most teachers are instrumental in encouraging pupils to change their ways, some just fuel the stigma. An English teacher from the Express classes once told me that N(A) pupils would “never make it”.

It does not end here. On the Internet, we see junior college students slamming polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education students. People step on others even in university.

The conflict of academic castes continues into our working lives. It is reasonable to assume that our experiences when we were younger, largely our interactions in school, make us who we are.

As such, I would recommend abolishing the streaming system. It would mean that pupils of varying abilities would come together in the classroom to learn how to live with and interact with one another.

The common argument against doing so is that because some students would be unable to catch up, classes would proceed at a slower pace. This fear is ironic, given the increased demand for private tutors under the current system.

Others might argue that the education system reflects Singapore society and, similar to working life, unless you are No 1, you are nobody. What kind of memories, though, do we want our children to have when they are older?

That their childhood was spent trying to consistently get straight As? That their days were packed back to back with school, tuition and co-curricular activities, leaving them feeling drained and depressed?

The by-product of our education system, academic castes, is not its only problem. The education system is meant to prepare people for life, and we have forgotten that there is more to life than grades and rankings.


Oliver Michael is a final-year student at Kaplan Higher Education Institute and is taking a double major in Psychology and Communications & Media Studies. He was an N(A) student.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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