23:明天的記憶 wrote : what I want to know is what happens then if you have a kid that is above-average but nowhere near scholarship material? Than what do we make of education, access to opportunities & social class in general?
Yes, being poor in Singapore sucks. It wasn't so bad years ago, but it is getting worse.
Years ago in the late 80's, I was one of many who took a Study Loan from the Singapore Public Service Commission for our university fees. To apply, all one needed was an offer from a local university (only NUS and NTU back then), financial records showing that our family could not fund our university education, and go through a harrowing interview with a panel (I think it was 4 or 5 persons) which vets through all your financial declarations looking for any loophole that you do not need the money. At 19, it was my first ever panel interview and the panel members started off asking why I did not apply for any of the PSC bursaries which carried a bond. I replied honestly that I did not think that my results were good enough to get a bursary. Then they kept questioning about my grandfather's money which was in a joint account with my dad which we couldn't touch/use. Finally they asked, "What would happen if you do not get a loan?" I burst into tears and told them, "That means I cannot go to university and have to work instead." At that point in time, my thought was "no money = no education = trapped in poverty". Luckily for me, I was granted a loan that covered the university fees.
A friend of mine wasn't so lucky. Her application for a PSC loan was rejected on the basis that she had 4 older siblings who worked -- but in blue-collar or clerical jobs with salary that could only support themselves and/or their own families. That was a period of high stress for her. Her parents worked lowly-paid odd-jobs and had little/no money in CPF, so a CPF loan was out of the question. She did not have any relatives able and willing to be her guarantors for the bank loans. I don't know how she managed to get a bank loan in the end.
Another friend of mine applied for a bond-free overseas scholarship and got it. That was back in those days in the 80's when Singapore was still considered a developing nation in the Commonwealth and special bond-free scholarships were available to its citizens from some UK universities. Years later, that friend asked me why didn't I apply for overseas scholarships like her. I smiled and told her that I didn't think of it. Actually, in those pre-internet days, applying for an overseas scholarship is a lengthy and costly process in itself. The costs of photocopying all your certificates, the application fees, the postage fees, etc, all adds up. For a poor family living almost from hand-to-mouth, it was beyond our means.
I have yet another friend who took the Polytechnic route.
Note: Polytechnic education costs less than university education in Singapore. In addition, one can enter the workforce earlier through the Polytechnic route because one skips the 2-3 years of JC/pre-University education.Then she worked and saved for almost 10 years, just to have enough money to upgrade to a degree from an overseas university. In the meantime, she was paid "Poly-grad" pay despite the job she does. As a Poly-grad ex-colleague puts in, "We do the same job, hold the same responsibilities, but because we are short of the degree paper, we are denied the Officer job title, pay and benefits." (even in the private sector). Yes, being born-poor means one may have to accept a 10-year delay to finally reaching one's career target. Even then, classism in Singapore was such that those who went through the "Poly-then-upgrade" route was seen as inferior to those who went to university directly.
Finally, I had a JC classmate who was an ace student. Her family was patriarchal in nature and she had to work part-time to support herself and her studies since age 15 (i.e. the legal age to work in Singapore). When we were revising for our GCE A-level exams, I casually asked her what course she planned to pursue in university. She gave me a slightly sad resigned look and said, "I don't plan to go to university." I asked her why, since her results were consistently good. She told me that supporting herself through A-levels was already a huge struggle, she didn't think that she would be able to do so for university studies. Thus, she preemptively gave up that option.
That is what being financially poor and academically above average in Singapore
[Addendum on 22-Nov-2011. Correction of the above.]
* Note: Correction on 22-Nov-2011. I just found out that both NUS and NTU offer up to 90% in Tuition Fee loan to its students. Therefore, it seems, the function previously served by PSC Study Loan is now moved to NUS Tuition Fee loan and NTU Tuition Fee loan, albeit with a 90% cap. So life is not so bleak for the financially poor but academically above average youths in Singapore afterall.
[Addendum on 04-Mar-2012.]
One of Mr Brown's readers shared about his life as a university undergraduate from a poor family.