Meritocracy – Thank your Lucky Stars

Luck, cannot be scientifically quantified and is beyond our sphere of control. We are afraid of it, deny its existence, and downplay the importance of its influence to our lives. As the Mule ages, his intelligence shrank, but at the same time he gained much wisdom, that is, blame everything to luck.

Need proofs? How do you explain a person who just struck the first prize in lottery? No, it was his systematic approach, coupled with years of analysis of the winning numbers, and betting on the most efficient combinations of the numbers.

If there is no luck involved, action A will always have consequence B, a perfect Newtonian equation. Why is it sometimes you speed on the highway and get a speeding ticket, and sometimes not? No, it is because I have studied over the years the pattern of traffic police patrol…

Think you got the idea.

When critical junctures of our life is determined by one examination, pray that bad luck doesn’t strike you on that day or weeks before that event. This will affect your next school, next path, and probably the rest of your life. You might still be successful in life, but some goals might be forever beyond your reach.

By our human nature, we tend to take more credit for success, and tried our best to shred our responsibilities for failure. So when reading biographies and listen to success stories, always read with a little pinch of salt. Bill Gates will never say, our lucky stars shone brightly on that fateful day when Allen and me bummed into a software company executive who didn’t know what to do with their operating system software!

For the rest of us, who does not have much luck, pray that the company that you are working now does not relocate or close down…

One final message to the elites a highly successful person, don’t congratulate yourself too much, besides thanking your fortune and the current system, don’t forget to thank your lucky stars, because sometimes you are just at the right place at the right time, and nothing bad had happened to screw your examinations.

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Meritocracy – Thank the System

Will they be able to make a career out of violin?

The mold is too small for me!

It probably is too early to tell, but the Mule thought Mathematics might not be the Chieftain’s strength. The Chieftain’s has demonstrated his mathematics skills here and here.

Furthermore, out of the 3 core subjects, the Chieftain seems to have “problems” only in mathematics, that is, he made more mistakes in his math homework than his mother tongue and English. The Chieftain is more of a right brainer– he is a lefty and responded very well to music since baby. He enjoys pure music, like music from John Williams, David Garrette, and to a certain extend, Joshua Bell. He would occasionally switch the radio channel to classical music in the car too.

As much as the Mule would love to support and develop the Chieftain’s interest, there is this lingering fear that, he might be a reject in the current education system where the emphasis is on science and mathematics even though we often have the words “holistic approach” being thrown to us left, right, and center. His merit will be determined by his capability in science and mathematics, through examinations.

There are a few things the Mule can do to boost the Chieftain’s chances in the current system:

  1. Forcibly push the Chieftain through the mold, give up on his interest, and put him through endless tuition as much as the Mule can afford.
  2. Push him all the way in his violin, while maintaining a tuition for his academic subjects, and hopefully his skill is good enough to be a concertmaster for a back door entrance to a good secondary school.
  3. Cleverly switch him to another instrument where the road is less congested, example, due to his size, he might be suitable for a double bass, and be courted by schools that demand his skill in their String Ensemble or Orchestra.
  4. The Mule could join the his Alma Mater’s Alumni, and couple with points 2 & 3 above, should help to boost the Chieftain’s chance.

If you are born with a knack for mathematics and science, things will be a lot different. It all comes naturally to you and it is something that you can do well and score well, you are made for the system. If your strength and interest is something else, bad luck, put in a little more work, because your merit is judged on skills that you despise. Console yourself that if you are able to move through the system, you will emerge stronger– you can be a doctor and a violinist at the same time!

Finally, another message to the elites a highly successful person, don’t congratulate yourself too much, besides thanking your fortune, thank the current system, because you fit into the mold nicely or your parents are shrewd enough to maneuver around it.

 

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Meritocracy – Thank Your Fortune

Education is a hot topic recently again, the Mule dug into his old archive and found some articles that were not published, and here is one of the articles:

The Chieftain told his Mule about a pair of twin girls in his class. Apparently, they do not hand up their home assignments most of the time. The school has a diary system for the kids to jot down their homework, and parents can check what are the homework for the day, including reminders about tests and spelling.

So, for the kids not to attempt any homework at all, parents do hold a large part of the responsibility. There maybe numerous reasons for that, and that’s not the topic of discussion here. Though technically, the twins were given the same chance of success as other kids in the school, but in reality, they are already in a greatly disadvantaged position which is of no fault of them, and unfortunately, if there is no help in place, they will be penalized in future in the form of examinations (unless they are super genius).

The Mule has a good friend who is a teacher with a heart. He teaches the disadvantaged kids, and at one point of time, was with the Northlight School. During their usual night out, over a beer, he would tell the Mule stories of some of his students. There was this girl in his class who would absent from school frequently, the reason? Her mum had left the family and she has a bed ridden dad to take care of… A father of another kid would call the friend almost every month end, and hope he could understand that the kid wanted to go school, but they have run out of transportation money.

On the other hand, the Chieftain has a fair chance of success, though his mathematics is pretty weak, he is lucky in a sense that his Mule will put him to tuition if needed be. Other more well to do families, could on top of sending the kids to top tuition centers like Whitney Houston (sounded something like that), enroll them to other enrichment classes that will “spur their interest and open up their mind through active engagement”.

Though education is virtually free as far as basic is concerned, but as in the case of ancient China, the kids born to well to do family even if he/she is of mediocre caliber, will have a far better chance of success in life.

Finally, a message to the elites a highly successful person, don’t congratulate yourself too much, part of your success is owed to the family you are born into. Thank your parents for not depleting the family fortune, thank them for the ability to guide you, or at least have a thick wallet to hire external tutors to help you.

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Vocabulary

The Mule bought a couple of exercise books (assessment books) for the Chieftain to practise during this June school holiday. One of the book is on vocabulary and has little pictures as hints, asking the students to form word describing the picture from  string of jumbled alphabets.

So, we were on this picture showing a boy with a big nose tilting his head slightly.

The Chieftain was scratching his head and asked his Mule for help.

The Mule, not willing to give the answer directly, pointed at his nose, and asked, “What is this?”

Nose.

No, the holes, what are those call?

The Chieftain, thought for a while, and shouted excitingly, “Nose Lobang!”

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Meritocracy II – The Tortoise and the Hare

A couple of years ago, when Jie Jie was preparing for her ‘O’ Level, the Mule seeing how stressed she was, decided to share some of his misconceived wisdom.

“Life is like running a marathon, and not a 100m sprint. When you see many dashing ahead of you, don’t despair, they might not have the stamina to complete the race. The smart ones are usually lazier too.”

Going on, the Mule talked about the story of the Tortoise and the Hare where the Tortoise eventually succeed through perseverance, and the Hare, which is more talented, lost the race because of its laziness. It was a happy ending, except the Mule added that in reality, if you meet a Hare, and if it keeps its pace, and if you are the Tortoise, you will never beat the Hare in the race, implying that sometimes life is unfair– even if you worked double hard, you couldn’t beat the genius who just need to work half as hard. So don’t feel despair if you didn’t get what you want (in this case, her ideal Junior College), it’s part of life.

“Unfair!” She screamed.

It was an unfair race to begin with. The Tortoise should challenge the Hare to a swimming contest instead. Unfortunately, the race organizer is single dimensioned, and measures success as winning the road run only, if it were a biathlon, the Tortoise would have won hands down, because the Hare… can’t swim.

 

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Where are our Engineers?

There is another letter to the Straits Times forum today querying why companies thought foreign engineers are more qualified than local engineers and urged the universities & polytechnics to re-design the engineering courses to meet the industries’ demand.

Sensitive topic. Let the Mule shares his distorted views on this topic besides *gasps* foreigners are cheaper.

Local Engineer is a dying breed, more endangered than the Panda.

The Mule and friends grew up in a very pro-engineering environment. Firstly, when we were young, we were exposed excessively to Taiwanese movies whereby the main handsome actor would almost always hold the position of an engineer. The Mule is not sure about others, but at least he thought engineers are girls magnet then.

When the Mule was in secondary schools, we heard our leader and we thought it was a better job than lawyer. At least a third of the Mule’s patriotic classmates went into engineering in university.

Then came the 90s, where there was an exodus of electronics companies and hard disks manufacturers. Many engineers lost their jobs, and some lucky ones found a breather in the Semiconductor industry, but the industry is in danger now, and many are living in fear of another mega wave of retrenchment…

How about Civil Engineers? Besides standing under the hot sun most of the time, withstanding the verbal abuses from main contractors, you are always asked to perform the impossible – cheaper, better, faster, plus safer. You are probably better off performing magic shows on stage.

Chemical Engineers? With Malaysia opening up a huge Petrol Chemical Park, how many of these companies will remain here?

Many bruised engineers in their prime are disheartened and left the industry entirely, but aren’t we training new blood every year from the local Polytechnics and Universities to fill the gap?

In this short circuit era, many smarter ones do not want to get into engineering where the duration is longer (4 years vs 3 years general degree), and on top of that, the courses are more difficult to score. Engineering degree probably ranks slightly higher than a degree in Puppetry in terms of popularity. As Universities and Polytechnics are facing less engineering students intake, some cleverly re-designed the courses to make it a rojak diploma, where it sounds hipper and more interesting, but lacking depth.  If the students are, unfortunately, being enrolled into engineering, they tend to pick the easier modules (easier to score again) too. So it is left with mostly foreign students in Engineering courses, and especially the more difficult modules.

The Mule does not have a figure on the percentage of Engineering graduates going into related industry, but would think it is fairly low, and if they eventually get into one and not retrenched, they will be disconcerted within a couple of years, hey, my friends in banking industry are earning so much more, and even those who become property agents are making much more money than me! What am I doing here? Lower pay, dirty & shitty hot environment, no respect, and no sense of job security… Might as well become a teacher.

Finally, the Mule thought we are too dependent on MNCs to create engineering jobs, MNCs being MNCs, the bottom line is more important and would not blink an eye to relocate their plants to a cheaper production location. In the 70s, we need them to help create jobs for the locals, but we are now in 2013, we should look into creating our own enterprises like HTC, Acer, Asustek, and Foxconn of Singapore who would be more concerned about livelihood of Singaporeans than foreign MNCs, and even if their factories are located overseas, their HQ will most likely be located in Singapore because it is home.

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Shopping Spree

The Chieftain brings his own food and drinks to school everyday. He is not comfortable to buy food from the canteen because he is not too sure of counting the coins. The Mule and Mum have to try hard to encourage him to buy some food to boost his confidence and independence.

There is some improvement, that is, the Chieftain will now buy Soya drinks from the drink stall in school. Recently, he is beginning to explore the school book shop and paid 30 cents for a Ping Pong ball a few days ago. Yeah, it’s a waste of money, but the Mule just have to keep encouraging him to try buying things by himself. (In a few years time, will the Mule yell, why are you wasting money buying things everyday?)

The Mule could not find the Chieftain’s Portfolio file at home 2 days ago. Not knowing how much does the Portfolio file cost, the Mule passed him a 10-dollar note to buy another one from the bookshop. The adventure begins.

At the end of yesterday, the Mule asked him how did the purchase of Portfolio goes, and how much does it cost.

“3 dollars, and you gave me 10 dollars?” The Chieftain sounded unhappy.

You can pass the 10-dollar note to the auntie, you know?

“Yeah, I did, I gave her one note, and she gave me back so much!!!” Angrily, the Chieftain poured out from his little purse three pieces of 2-dollar notes, three 1-dollar coins, and other coins from his daily allowance balance.

We need more practices.

 

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Meritocracy in History

zhuangyuan

The ultimate prize

Long long ago, in the ancient China, the Imperial Court would hold civil service examinations opened to all scholars in China regardless of one’s background. This was one big event, many had studied for years, gone through at least two  rounds of trials, bankrupted their families, just to attend the examination, because selected finalists would usually be offered governmental posts.

The Grand Prize, the Numero Uno– “Zhuang Yuan” (First Scholar), if he is young and handsome, might even have a princess betrothed to him, becoming part of the royal family, attaining great fame and wealth, living happily ever after.

Errr… Is this a fairy tale? No, it is not, except the marrying the princess part. However…

Substantial number of First Scholars were from the nobles and rich merchants. Why? Well, even if we disregard corruption and assume fair competition, the rich would still have an edge over the poor, that is, they could afford to hire good tutors for their sons.  Furthermore, the rich kids did not have to work and could spend their entire time studying if they decided to.  Having said that, once in a blue moon, an exceptional talent would emerge from the poor, who, against all odds, attained the highest honour.

Is this a fair system? Yes, if you compare it against Nepotism, Cronyism, and other “ism”, however, the odds were still stacked greatly against the poor due to the cost– behind every success story, there were probably thousands (if not millions) of undiscovered talents buried in the rice fields.

 

A little snippet from the village:

According to the family annals, the Mule’s Great-Great Grandfather observed his sons from young, and selected 3 lucky ones to concentrate on studies, that is, the rest of the brothers would have to plough the fields, worked as mules to support the 3 smarter kids. The Mules’ Great Grand Father was one of the lucky ones, and eventually attained the status of Xiu Cai. If not because of the civil service examination being abolished in the late Qing Dynasty… the Mule might be holding a bird cage, walking the street with a big entourage, teasing girls and bullying the old folks, as seen on TV.

 

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Colour Blind

Kids are colour blind.

The Chieftain was excited to tell his Mule about the new boy from the Philippines in his class.

The young Chieftain is blind to nationalities and races– the Mule recalls that the Chieftain’s closest buddies during his kindergarten years consist of an Indian nationality, a Filipino (whom he talked about the most), a few locals including Chinese, Indian, and Malay. The Chieftain’s current best friend in school is of a different race as well.

Maybe all of us were once like the Chieftain, but unfortunately along the way, we developed many stereo-typical views and ended up wearing tinted glasses. We judge by race, nationalities, and even dialect groups instead of individual. The Mule must also admit that as much as he tries, he blurted xenophobic nonsense sometimes.

In a few years time, when the foreigners start to top the scores in Chieftain’s school,  hmm… Will he complain, “The damn foreigners play cheat, how can we have so many of them here?” Or he will refer them as individual and acknowledge their achievements, “You know, Carl did so well in school and got first in standard!”

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Chieftain Goes to School

The Chieftain is now on his 2nd week of formal school. He was very anxious the night before school and kept quite most of the night, and finally blurted his worries before bed time, ” will you be at my school tomorrow?”

“Where will mummy be waiting for me?”

The Chieftain did well for the first day albeit a little nervous.

On the 2nd day, parents weren’t allowed to go into the school, and the Mummy had to drop him off at the school gate. This was one big test for the Chieftain – he didn’t know where to go, and neither did the Mummy, luckily there was this kind security guard who gave him the direction and assurance that the teachers were just right up in front. That was the longest distance the Chieftain ever walks alone.

One small step for a boy, one giant leap to his next stage of life for the Chieftain.

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