Last Sunday, PM Lee held his 10th National Day Rally and announced a slew of very promising social policy changes that were intended to transform Singapore into a “compassionate meritocracy”. Although Compassionate Singaporeans generally sound like an oxymoron to me, I remain optimistic towards many of these changes that attempt to level the playing field for children/young adults and also offer aid to some of our less well-off pioneers. And among these policy shifts, the two most talked about changes are the introduction of Medishield Life and the impending abolishment of the PSLE T-score.
Healthcare expenses is something that the elderly will always be constantly worried about. You never know when a chronic illness might strike that could wipe out your life savings and if you’re afraid of the Inflation Monster, you haven’t seen Healthcare Inflation in its full glory (double digit growth!). Therefore, most of the analysts celebrated the introduction of Medishield Life to help reduce the cost of medical expenses for Singaporeans.
No more opting out and every Singaporean will be covered……Hurray!
Coverage for life instead of up till 90 and pre-exisitng illnesses to be included too……Hurray!
Higher premiums for the extended coverage……Understandable, but the government needs to step in to help fund this Medishield Life, right?
Unfortunately, from what I read in the papers, it seems that the policy makers intend for Medishield Life to break even. And that’s really where I have some issues with. I can agree with making it compulsory to prevent adverse selection (otherwise, only the more unhealthy will join Medishield Life leading to a vicious cycle). However, if the government does not step in to subsidise the higher premiums, it’s somewhat forcing healthy citizens to help subsidize for the less healthy, which is pretty ironic and “punishing” the healthier ones.
I understand that the government would be subsidizing the less well-off for these higher premiums. That should be a given, but there needs to be more. I suggest an initial subsidy (funded by taxes/revenues) should be provided to all so as not to penalise the healthy middle-income Singaporean. Let’s see if they have taken this consideration into account when the details are released in the next few weeks.
Abolish PSLE T-Score
Instead of judging 12 year olds by their PSLE T-Score to determine their secondary school postings, PM Lee suggested using a wider band of grades instead. He gave the example of how a one point difference, which is so minute, could result in the student who scored 230 instead of 231 not getting into his preferred school. With this change, he predicted that there should be less stress for both parents and children.
But would things really change for the better if we just relied on the alternative of grade bands?
If you got a B for Chemistry/Biology at A levels, there goes your chances of becoming a doctor. Scoring a B3 instead of an A2 for O Level English and you can say bye bye to getting into Raffles Junior College during my days. As long as there are limited spaces in the best Secondary schools, there will always be someone who will just fall short of an admission criteria. 1 mark is all it takes since there will always be a cut-off.
In fact, entrance to secondary schools based on grade bands instead of the PSLE T-Score is going to generate a different kind of problem.
15 years ago, I had these two classmates. Let’s call them Tom and Jerry. When we gathered at the assembly for the release of our results, Tom’s name was proudly announced by the Principal as he scored 3 A* and an A. However. Jerry did not enjoy such a privilege since he had more modest grades of an A* and 3 A.
But when they collected their result slips, we realised that Tom’s T-score was lower at 255 compared to the 260 achieved by Jerry. In the end, Jerry got into a “better” (with a higher admission score) school than Tom .
I know, I know. This problem exists largely due to a very wide A band (from 75 to 90). And the new PSLE bands are likely to follow a tighter range like those seen in the O Levels. However, you can’t deny that after this major change, a student with two extremely strong subjects (i.e full marks for math and science) but considerably weaker at the other two would likely be disadvantaged compared to another student capable of scoring 85-90 for all four subjects.
And since Singaporean parents are absolutely pragmatic, I can imagine more of them engaging tutors to boost their children’s weakest subject. Similar to the emphasis on English at the O Levels since it’s the only subject most students use for L1.
To a certain extent, you can’t blame these parents. The PSLE has been elevated in the stakes level ever since the Integrated Program was launched. Instead of re-evaluating all students at the O Levels, a 12 year old who scores above 260 in the PSLE is now guaranteed a place in a top school for the next 6 years. It’s no wonder parents are forcing their children to grow up faster and reach their potential earlier.
The perception is that if your kid is taking the O Levels, he ain’t that bright. And so what if he achieved a top score? He isn’t competing with the very best.
In a society that is becoming more unequal, people will start to fight tooth and nail to get into the top 10% that enjoys the bulk of the economic fruits. That’s really the crux of the problem. Unless such a reality changes, this abolishment of the PSLE T-Score will not change anything. Unfortunately, the competition begins at PSLE and we live in a meritocratic, pragmatic and capitalistic country.