3 Things Singaporean Students Should Learn at School That Can Impact Their Finances as Adults

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I’ll be the first person to tell you that you can’t expect MOE teachers to teach kids everything. Asking why your kid can’t tie his shoelaces or isn’t a stock investing wizard by the time he takes the PSLE says more about you than the teachers who slave away to grade his and 200 other kids’ homework each weekend.

But it’s a little peculiar that armies of students graduate from secondary schools and JCs each year with the very same mindsets. Those who’ve done well enough to get into a prestigious university course display a complacent confidence that they’ll get a well-paying job when they graduate, while those doomed to enrol in less cushy courses or, worse, ITE assume they’re doomed to poverty.

While teachers and parents might not be explicitly planting these notions in students’ heads, there are some ideas that are nonetheless making their way into students’ minds. Here are three things they should be taught instead.


A job isn’t the only pathway to success

The Singapore education system is perfectly serviceable at producing employees. In fact, a huge number of students who succeed at school aspire to become high-status employees like bankers, lawyers or “iron rice bowl” civil servants. It’s a little disturbing that the brightest students are taking on the most boring jobs and declining to become entrepreneurs or create something of their own.

My own experience at school was that teachers impressed upon students the necessity of getting a “good job”, which more often than not translated to one of the professions—medicine, law, engineering and so on. Nobody ever mentioned entrepreneurship or the fact that there are ways to make a living other than working for a company till death.

While the rise of Facebook has led to more students aspiring to become entrepreneurs, there is little career guidance taking that into account, and students are often clueless as to what skills to build and what to study at a tertiary level.

Educating students on what it takes to be an entrepreneur and letting them know that the safe choice isn’t always the best choice can help to reduce the number of dissatisfied employees in our midst and lead to a more vibrant business environment.


It’s not just how much money you earn, but how you spend it that matters

It seems to me that there’s a great deal of emphasis on earning a high salary at school, but very little on being smart with how you spend your money. Students leave school with the impression that if they make it as a doctor or lawyer, they’ll be set for life and able to buy all the Prada and Chanel they want.

That could be why Singapore consumers display disturbing levels of credit card debt that’s rising every year, and so many people are overspending their way to near-bankruptcy.

While we’re not suggesting schools should start rolling out money management courses, it’s a good idea to impress upon students the need to not just worry about how much money they earn when they grow up, but how they spend it.

At this point, little can be done to reverse Singapore’s materialistic culture, but young people need to know that it’s possible to be a high earner who’s broke, and getting a “good” job by society’s standards doesn’t mean you get to go on shopping sprees every day.


It’s okay to fail

It’s no secret that the Singapore education system has produced generations of adults who are terrified of failure and highly risk-averse. And who can blame them? Screw up that one exam as a 12-year-old and you could be doomed to a life of toiling away in a menial job. Back in my time, there were teachers who shamed students who didn’t do well by giving out exam scripts in order of marks.

Not only does this stifle entrepreneurship, it also results in students choosing their future careers by default—based on earning potential.

Students who have studied in the normal technical stream report being actively discouraged by teachers to take subjects it was assumed they wouldn’t do well in, and are aware of the fact that the stream in which they’ve been placed limits upward mobility.

Until the present extremely rigid streaming system is removed, teachers need to impress upon their students that’s it’s never the end, no matter what the system might tell them.

What do you think the students of today need to know? Tell us in the comments!