Counting down the days before my new internship begins at the Early Childhood Development Agency (a regulatory and development authority for the early childhood sector in Singapore, jointly overseen by the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Social and Family Development), a fraction of this month has been dedicated to a series of workshops and courses as part of the Ministry of Health Holdings‘ Induction Program for Healthcare scholars. Every experience carefully designed to prepare scholars for the journey ahead, offering insight about Singapore’s healthcare system while encouraging us to forge friendships with fellow scholars. Thankful for this privilege, this piece is one about the sense of disconnect I wish to fend myself against and one to serve as a reminder of what this opportunity should mean for me.
Days ago, a return to my alma mater found meaningful conversations with some of the most nurturing educators I have had. I have missed these exchanges incredibly, for they represent our mutual agreement to pursue truth. In one such conversation our Year 4 Form Teacher, Mr. Faizal, expressed his exasperation and almost disillusionment towards students pursuing achievements rather than valuing process, obsessing over themselves and forgetting the larger community around them. He highlighted that the choices we, as the more privileged in society, have had at every point of our lives are those of the minority – to be discussing the scholarship options and university choices rather than questioning the possibility of entering university; to be enjoying the freedom that a quality education allows for instead of suffering the anxiety that a financial burden can cause. With every choice that allows us to enter an even more exclusive pool of ‘talent’, he fears the sense of disconnect from the rest of society that we fall victim to. Being a scholar is one such choice.
There is no purpose in the blame game of who has allowed for the flaws of this system to be as such and no meaning in pointing fingers at ‘meritocracy’ for ironically, allowing those who’ve lived immensely different lives from the rest of the population to end up at leadership positions and managerial roles. Our awareness of this privilege and difference should, instead, translate into a heightened sense of responsibility to meet the needs of society. In short, ‘noblesse oblige’.
I recall vividly the Managing Director’s words at our first gathering as a batch of scholars. “The scholarship is not about money,” he said, “it is not a study loan and much less an entitlement. It is the use of public taxpayer’s money to train a selected pool of people.” It is the investment that the country has made based on the consensus that we shall have those with the potential to perform most effectively for public good to afford the training and education that they require. It is the means to an end, which is service to public good. Just yesterday, lapses in enforcement of scholarship bonds made the headlines on Channel News Asia. Reports had found that the Ministry of Education had not maintained necessary monitoring measures to ensure the enforcement of scholarship bonds, and henceforth failed to ensure that tuition fee loans and study loans due were promptly recovered. What is more appalling than the inadequacy of regulations is the prevalence of scholars who default or ‘break bond’. The Ministry is careful to qualify that these scholars are a minority, but the only acceptable number to this profile of scholars should be ‘zero’. Following the stern definition of what the scholarship should be, the Managing Director said to “bear in mind that (we) have arrived at this position not solely by (our) own effort… There is a moral obligation to give back to the society that has nurtured (us).”
Exceptions made due to our unforeseen circumstances aside, there must be emphasis made on the fact that resources invested into funding scholarships are exhaustive and zero-sum. The place taken by one to have his/her further education sponsored by the public’s trust that he/she will return to serve public good denies another from this same opportunity. The rigorous selection, followed by the generous investments can mislead one to believe that you have proven yourself worthy of these entitlements. There is danger in viewing our privilege to be scholars as an entitlement, for the intentions of our signing on the dotted line will be clouded by self-centredness and rid of gratitude.
You’re special but you’re not. Due credit given to the ‘potential’ that we have displayed, little of this potential would matter if we prove to be, ultimately, irresponsible to our commitment towards public good. The most valuable takeaway from the Induction Program commitments this July has been the reminder that the heart of service should be at the centre of a scholars’ commitment – to dedicate our ‘special’ to being part of something larger, something that is not an end in ourselves. Congratulations to my fellow peers who have been given the privilege of service to the nation and the freedom to pursue excellence with financial burdens aside, don’t forget: auspicium melioris aevi.
The Healthcare Scholars’ Pledge
I am a healthcare scholar.
Patients shall be at the centre of everything I do.
I will perform my duties with integrity and pride.
I will care for my patients with compassion and respect.
I will work with my fellow care-givers with humility and grace.
I commit to excel as a Healthcare Professional.