Employers are also more open to different educational paths. A multinational recruiting manager tells volume how a graduate from a private university approached her at a career conference.

His elevator pitch was compelling because he showed resilience and a positive attitude. The hiring manager ended up hiring him for a sales position – and he proved him right by shining in his role. He was soon promoted to a marketing position within the same company, a move only made by the top performers.

Despite employers’ belief that conventional academic success is not a prerequisite for being good at work, our country’s meritocracy is a well-oiled system. The related belief that doing well in school equates to doing well in life persists, especially among teachers, parents, and students themselves.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung later underscored this disconnect at a forum in 2019. “Every CEO, board member, president I talk to will say (that they have an HR policy and hiring tools that are not limited to academic grades) but students, you always feel differently on the recipient side.

Minister Ong added that he was not suggesting moving away from the principle of meritocracy – but expanding our definition of merit beyond academics. Yet the emphasis on academic achievement remains, perhaps because it begins at an early age.

Nursery schools, for example, are now seen as a necessity rather than an option. Although early childhood education can lead to better academic achievement and interpersonal development later, providing one could become an arms race where parents pay more to provide the best for their children.

Fast forward to a child entering primary school, in an environment of high stress and anxiety. While the Primary Leaving Examination scoring model has changed to reduce fine differentiation at a young age, students still need to achieve a certain mark to enter high schools of choice.