by Marilyn Peh on

Are Singaporeans elitist?

Do we judge a person’s worth by how well they do in life?

Do we define people by the schools they go to, how well they perform in school and the kind of jobs that they do?

In the wake of Singaporeans searching our souls on inequality and elitism earlier this year, a 16-year-old student working a holiday job as a salesgirl has reminded us that elitism seems well and truly alive.

In a post published on Reddit yesterday, the student, who goes by the username kloimo, explained that while waiting to go to junior college, she’s been working at a shop that sells school supplies to students.

Ahead of the new school year, parents have been coming to the shop with their children in tow to stock up on school supplies. Kloimo’s job is to serve them and coordinate their orders.

To her surprise, she’s encountered nasty parents, many of whom she observed to have children going to “good schools”.

For example, on her first day, after seeing kloimo repeat and check their order with a colleague, one parent openly said to her own son: “You have to wait, she’s not smart you know.”

Some parents would also come up to her and say the branded school’s name, without specifying if it was for the primary or secondary school. And when asked to clarify, kloimo observed that some would look offended and ask her: “Don’t you know (branded school)?”

Parents would also brag about their children from top schools to other parents whose children attend neighbourhood schools, then adopt a different tone when meeting another parent whose child is going to the same school as theirs.

In a similar vein, when they find out that kloimo has accepted a place at a reputable junior college, she noted that they became nicer to her, and “their tone actually does a 180”.

Her post prompted other Reddit users to speak up with their own brushes with elitism in Singapore. Some said they encountered similar arrogant attitudes when they worked at hotel banquets and in F&B jobs in the past.

One shared that despite coming from a top school, she once had a customer say to her child in the user’s presence: “You better study hard, or you’ll end up like her.”

Another – who was in the normal technical stream – said that when asked, he would say that he just finished his O levels despite not having taken the exam yet. He does this because he feels many people treat him differently when they know that he came from the normal technical stream.

In response to these accounts of elitism, many felt that good grades and prestigious jobs shouldn’t be seen as the be all and end all.

One said: “Be respectful, be courteous, and try to be a decent human being. Just because someone works a job doesn’t mean that they are any less of a person than you are. They are there because they want to work, and provide a service and earn a living.”

And addressing kloimo, another user wrote: “You or your peers will be parents one day. On top of telling off people (nicely) about this, if/when you become a parent or an uncle or aunt or a teacher, remember this feeling and these words. And don’t become that parent.”

For kloimo, the experience has opened her eyes to the prejudice against those who are less educated or less well-off, such as the full-time staff she currently works with who encounter these attitudes often.

In her original post, she wrote: “I’m starting to really empathise with those who have to deal with these elitists who think they’re better than everyone else simply because of the school their child goes to. And honestly, even as a student from one of such schools, it really isn’t that big a deal. You aren’t superior.

“I just hope that people treat others with more basic respect, there’s no need to turn your child’s education into some complex politics.

“Please teach your children to be nice to people, and do it by setting a healthy example.”