Thursday, November 14, 2013

Does the school you come from determine your success or failure in life?

Recently, i saw a comment on Facebook being shared by one of my friends. The comment was about how this girl debated with another guy that his study for a private Australian university degree in Singapore is useless and cannot be compared with her own local NUS cert. She went on to say that ITE cannot be compared to JC and in a sense an A level cert is better than an ITE cert.

Here's what she wrote:

This has gone viral on facebook with more than 900 shares and massive number of comments. It gives people the impression that those who come from good schools look down upon others who come from normal schools. There's also another blog post by a guy from RI (raffles institution) comparing his school with neighbourhood schools. That also went viral online.

Why do people have such mindsets that people who come from good schools are better off? Does the school you come from determine your success in life later on? Let me share my comments and views on this issue.

I've always heard people debating on whether JC or poly is better and if local or private overseas degrees are better? This is a never ending debate and I tried to find out the answer. One day while I was working, I met a guy from another company and we were working on a project together. This is the first time I met him and a conversion strike off between us. He started to ask me if there are more foreigners in my company now? In which I replied yes and said its a normal trend in Singapore currently. He too said there are more and more foreigners in his company. We went on to say how crowded the MRT is now and if we look in the MRT cabins, Singaporeans seem to be the minority. I'm sure you have had this feeling before. Now, I have to state clearly that I have nothing against foreigners in general. I have friends who are from overseas and we get along very well. This is however a sensitive topic and has been debated fiercely during our previous general election.

The next comment I hear from this guy whom I've just met surprised me and left a deep impression in me till now. He's in his 40s and I'm in my 20s.

So he said: "don't study too hard in Singapore, its not worth so much of the effort now".

I was shocked at this and thought why would he say this? Then I realised something. Where you get your certification/degree is not so critical to companies now. Think about it, foreigners graduate from their own local university back home say in Malaysia or Phillipines and come to work in Singapore. Do companies hire them? Yes they do! And they are hiring more and more. If you think companies pay them lower salaries, you're wrong too. Most of them come to Singapore with relevant work experience and they get much higher pay than fresh graduates in Singapore. Well, my boss is a foreigner too (hope he doesn't see this :p)

Many of my friends struggle in local universities because of the rigorous curriculum and the many modules and electives they have to take. There are cases of students committing suicide also as they cannot handle the stress. Is it really worth the sacrifice?

On the other hand, I have friends who graduated from private institutions with an overseas degree mostly from Australia or UK. They are doing very well in their careers now and have no problem getting a graduate level job with decent market rate pay. My uncles all of them have overseas degree and they even say they got an MBA in one year without attending any lessons. Just have to self study online and take an exam. They are earning more than 12k per month now.

When you're a student, your job is just to study. There is no EQ involved where you need to network well with your classmates(colleagues) or get along well with your teacher(boss) to get good results(promotion and higher pay).

In the working world, it takes a lot more to survive. Graduating from a local university like NTU and NUS does not mean you can get along well with your boss or determine if your working attitude is good. Likewise whether you're from a neighbourhood secondary school or a elite high school in Singapore does not mean you will be successful in life in the future. Well, many top scholars deviate from the way of life and get trouble with the law as seen on news just this year alone. Remember the MOE scholar caught with child porn in UK? He's in jail now. How about the NUS law professor with the sex for grades case? He got into trouble too. Plus the many other corruption cases in Singapore. Good grades and character sometimes do not come together. We should not judge a person's character base on his or her education alone.

Coming back to success in life. What does it mean? Does it mean you earn a lot of money? Live in a big house and drive a luxurious car? To me, that's not called success. You can be drawing a big pay check but heavily in debt. You can be driving a luxurious car but can't pay for your credit card bills.

As a financial blogger, I would say many times we need knowledge to make sensible financial decisions. Making the wrong decisions or developing a wrong financial habit will destroy your adult life completely.

When it comes to financial knowledge, it does not matter if you graduate from local or private institutions. It does not matter if you're from ITE or JC. It does not matter if you're from RI or a neighbourhood school. We do not learn how to save money from schools. We do not learn how not be over-leveraged on debt from schools. We do not learn how to make wise investment choices from schools.

Back to the Facebook post. The post was featured on and many comments flood the site. Some of the comments are quite interesting. I'll quote it here:

We have been brought up this way. Smarter ones go jc n poly. Not so good grades go ite or dropout. Tats a fact. But eventually we succeeds or or fail in life or work depends on our heart n mind n hardwork.

Why criticise ite student. My brother not even jc graduate and his earning 5k. While I'm myself ite graduate but bucking up myself to take private diploma. No matter how successful you are if you ain't humble it won't get you nowhere.

Having past the uni education system for abt 3yrs, all I can say is that people with these kinda mindsets usually ends up at the bottom of the food chain. EQ is more impt than IQ when you come out and work. Yes, ur IQ and results land u ur first job, but its ur eq and attitude that gets u further. I've seen people with Straight A's honors students going into work and starts at mgmt lvl, but no one listens and works for her, end up dept head sack her cos she screwed up the whole team. Then there r the so called ITE students who started at admin level went into sales and then supervisory role. End of the day, the company sponsored her to study overseas. So who do you think is more successful in the end? 

Thus, success is not about graduating from a top school in Singapore. It is also not about getting straight As or an NUS degree cert. Success is about how you make life decisions wisely and how you get along well with other people. Studying only takes up the most 20 years of your life but your life after that is another 50-60 years. Having success in studies does not automatically make you successful in life.


  1. This person is obviously ignorant! He or she'd be surprise how many bosses out there don't actually own high educational certs!

    Two important things I learnt in life,
    "Humility"-Don't look down on people. Treat everybody fair and equal.

    "Don't bite the hand that might someday feed you"-Like I mentioned, he'd be surprised!

    1. Hi Pok Chow,

      Wow, you're fast! Haha. I just posted this minutes ago only.

      I saw the comment on Facebook as my friend shared it. The post was also talking about people studying for private degrees are not as good as those who study in local unis. Wanted to reply to it later but the post was gone in awhile. Then it went viral online. This kind of thing cannot escape. Many people will be unhappy.

    2. "Fast" is my middle name ;)

      I mean, it's really inappropriate to say those things. Is it really fair to judge everybody to their academics? Not everybody's born to study right? Some are more academic based, some are more action based like cooking, crafting, application of things.That person's ignorance would probably cost him in the future. Oh well!


    3. Well, that person is a she. Haha. In Singapore, we always hear people say that certification is important. Stressing the kids to study and get good results. In the end, life is completely different after that. Most of the things we learn in school are no longer applicable.

  2. I am sending my son to a private school for the rich. Is not the education that matters but those that you know and the connections that you make that will make you rich.

    Education only gets you an interview. NOTHING more.

    1. Hi TEAB,

      I agree with you fully on the connection part. Its the network that you build up over the years that gives you opportunities.

      Education sometimes do not even get you an interview nowadays. People enter companies and secure interviews through referrals now. Its back to connections again.

  3. Hi SG YI

    I think the post by the JC person above is a one-off and shows the level of maturity that the person has.

    It's fair to say that the person who goes to ITE probably did not fare well in their exams but to say that their future is bleak is just plain brainless.

    I remember my dad didn't even finish primary school and he had to bring us up and build his empire from the start. He has now multiple properties and success all over the world. I think humility and drive is the key to success. Sadly, these are the two traits that most Singaporean teenagers are lacking these days.

    1. Hi B,

      We have a completely new generation of young people in singapore now. Its a generation that lived a good life and didn't have to worry about having not enough to eat. Humility is indeed important but sadly like you said its lacking now.

      Recently there was a discussion on why students need to go for tuition. It was said that tuition is no longer for students with weak results but for students to maintain their As. Straight As students are going for tuition just to make sure they continue to get As. Sometimes I wonder why do parents have this mentality that their child must get good results to show that they are smart? Lose face because their child cannot score in exam?

  4. goin to good sch is all about braging rights to ur friends and for ur parents. to paste a branded sch car decal doesnt make you any smarter. at the end of the day, we are all working our butts off juz to pay off bills.

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Its all about the pride, face and ego. Cannot lose to other people here. It is this kind of bragging mentality that destroys a person's EQ when he or she grows up. No wonder we see very few humble people nowadays.

  5. Hi SGYI,

    "don't study too hard in Singapore, its not worth so much of the effort now"

    I am inclined to believe that 50% of the children born in the past two decades will go through a university education. Whereas a generation ago, only about 10% of the population had a degree.

    If we assume that the supply of white-collar jobs is the same and only the top 10% of them are "desired", it is inevitable that a huge majority of future graduates would be left disappointed.

    Therefore, my advice is that unless one is academically-inclined/gifted or willing to put in tremendous time & effort to come out on top, it might be more worthwhile to pursue other paths (hawkers, anyone?)

    And so, back to your main story. Even if we adopt income as the parameter of success, I don't think many would consider an electrician/chef who earns >$5,000 a month to be a failure compared to most office workers.

    In the end, the key is to do well in the field you choose, and the academic conventional route is starting to get saturated.

    1. Hi 15HWW,

      A degree no longer guarantees a job now. I'm in fact believing that diploma holders have an easier time finding jobs. But of course the pay is lower.

      My parents were hawkers a few years ago. I don't think young people will want to be hawkers. I helped out my parents when I was younger and have to say its tough work. Even though they can earn $5000 on average and on good months sometimes more than $7000. However, that was when rental was much cheaper then.

      I just heard from a friend who's working in one of the government ministries that there was a job post with one vacancy only but more than 200 people applied for it. Isn't that crazy? Its just an executive post. Nothing glamorous. Times are indeed changing.

  6. I believe you should have properly defined success and failure before you started this post.

    It would make the discussion a lot more constructive. You will find that everyone is talking about success and failure but they are not all meaning the same thing.

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Thanks for your feedback. I'll take note of that. Its true that everyone has different meanings of success and failure. What is successful to one may not be successful to another. I think as long as we're happy and live a meaningful life that would be better than having lots of money but feeling sad everyday.

  7. Yup I agree with your definition of success. Well if that is the case then the answer to the post title will logically be a very simple and clear no and there is no need to go any further.

    But still it is a good discussion you have put up. Thanks for a thought provking post.

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Well, it's just a sharing of what I see or hear around me. Some may agree with me while some may not. Thanks for dropping by here :)

  8. Hi SGYI,

    I agree with your article. I would like add something on.

    A positive attitude is always welcome by employers. Although we may not always like what we are required to do in our jobs, as a matter of principle, I believe we should still give our best. 敬业乐业。

    Many successful people are like that. They win others over not because of their qualifications but by their passion and commitment.


    1. Hi Solace,

      Indeed a positive attitude is an attraction for success. I think in whatever we do, we should have a good attitude and do our best.

      Like you've said, successful people have passion. This is the drive that brings them far. If we have passion in life and love the things that we do, I'm sure life will be more meaningful then just the routine lifestyle.