Recently, I've seen many praises (here and here) on the ASEAN scholarship, which is provided by Ministry of Education, Singapore. As a former ASEAN Pre-University scholar, I think it's my responsibility to share with everyone a more balanced view on the ASEAN Scholarship. There are many cons as compared to pros, and the public needs to be aware of this.
1. Is ASEAN Scholarship really a scholarship?
The figures here was at my time. It should be slightly higher now but not too far different.
The annual "scholarship" is only a mere S$2,300. School fees are FOC for scholars, which actually is very low even if you're not on "scholarship". The S$2,300 is not even enough to cover my daily living expenses - accommodation in a hostel cost me more than S$100 per week. (same price in Presbyterian Hostel and Anglican Hostel in the East Coast)
I managed to secure a scholarship from a foundation for my tertiary education, and was given RM48,000. Now that's real scholarship - not a mere sum of S$2,300.
2. One Way Ticket
Going to Singapore with an ASEAN scholarship is like taking a one way ticket. Singapore government is very smart. They know that if you're already there, you'll still need to be there to continue your education even if they stop renewing your scholarship. Ask around how many who went there since Sec 1 and how many actually managed to clinch ASEAN Pre-U scholarship? You'll be surprised.
The other reason is the lack of choice after your pre-u scholarship. Either you continue your study in Singapore, or you get good grades and get another scholarship elsewhere, or unless you're filthy rich and sponsor yourself overseas. Otherwise, you can say bye-bye and start working (hopefully you can get a job with only secondary or A-level, good luck to you).
I was fortunate to be able to secure a scholarship from a foundation to continue my Bachelor Degree. Otherwise, I'd have lost it all.
3. Brainwashing by PAP Machineries
Every morning, all the students are subjected to brainwashing session. All students must pledge loyalty to Singapore, pledge loyalty to Singapore government and sing Majulah Singapura every morning.
Does Singapore education system really follow true meritocracy? Maybe a little bit,... but ask those girls who got flying colors in their A-level and how many actually make it to the medical faculty in NUS.
An officer from PSC made it very clear to the ASEAN Scholar during one of the seminar regarding tertiary education in NUS and NTU that we can forget about Medical and Law. As for female, the chance even for Singaporean female, is almost zero. And that's the comment came directly from a government officer!
5. Higher Standard in Cambridge O-level and A-level?
Singapore exams follow the Cambridge O-level and A-level. If you believe that Cambridge O-level and A-level is of higher standard than Malaysian exams, you're in for a surprise. Just look at the results for both O-level and A-level and see the number of A's. It's like sea of A's. In TJC, the number of people who obtained A's for their Mathematics was higher than 80%!
Even British academics recently question the quality of the Cambridge exams. See this article in BBC here and another article here. The only advantage of taking the Cambridge exams is that the medium is in English, which is very useful when the students come out and join the workforce.
6. Opportunity Costs
Due to limited choice for tertiary education after the A-level, one must choose Singapore universities (unless you can escape by managing to get another scholarship overseas, or enter local Malaysian universities).
By taking up the offer at either NUS or NTU, you'll be locked up for a minimum of 3 years by the so-called Tuition Grant. You'll need to serve a bond of working in Singapore for at least 3 years. The grant was supposed to lessen the "actual" tuition fees of more than S$20,000 to S$6,000. Now, if Singapore government believes the actual tuition fees in Singapore could be more than the average Ivy League University in US, then Singapore government must be dreaming. The only obvious reason is that they want to lock you up for 3 years.
One thing that struck me instantly in the Singapore education is the quesionable maturity level of Singapore students. For 17-18 year old students of A-level, I find it very weird that their favorite activity is sitting around in circle and sing. Even when I was younger, we never do that. Our favorite activity could range from football to joining certain activities of some clubs or societies, but never sing like young pampered children. Some friends in Malaysia at that time were already starting their own business. My form 5 class monitor had his own small stall in pasar malam. Now compare that with my A-level classmates,...
8. Rote Learning
Singapore education systems are very good at churning out rote learners who completely lack of deeper analytical mindset. General knowledge is appalling. I still remember my GP teacher asking about the junta in Burma, and no one even knew where Burma (or Myanmar as it's known now) is located, not to mention what "junta' means.
9. The System in Singapore is not Conducive for High Flyers
Singapore government believes whatever they think is the only correct way and this is applied across the society. This makes the system in Singapore extremely rigid. Everything has been thought out and planned for you.
Now this may be good for the average person on the street. But it's not good for high-flyers who prefer to do things their way. Due to this culture and thinking system in Singapore, things were very constraint. Creativity, deeper analytical mindset, think out of the box concept were all very lacking and not even encouraged.
10. Unhealthy Competition
I was placed in the top class in Temasek Junior College. TJC was the top 3 colleges in Singapore at that time. While certain competition is definitely good, what I've seen happened in TJC will make anyone with some sense speechless.
There was a case where a student stole her classmate's lecture notes and dump it into the dustbin. She was caught, and confessed to her "crime". And the reason given was that she couldn't stand seeing her classmate did better than her in exams.
The 2nd case was the principal of TJC, Mr Ro**rt T*n, at that time forced several weaker students to take their A-level as private candidates. Why? So that their exams results will not pull down the overall grade of TJC. Incidentally, in that year, TJC was the top in the A-level (excluding General Paper, No. 2 after including GP), beating Victoria Junior College (TJC main "rival").
I'm not sure whether I want my son and daughter to grow up in such environment. Having spent my time in Singapore for more than 10 years, both as an ASEAN Pre-U scholar, and later studied my degree course and working there, I see more disadvantages than advantages in the ASEAN scholarship.
It could be the biggest legalised con-job by the Singapore government on unknowing Malaysian talents.