Many paper 1 questions in GP or for O level English do ask about the impact of social media on society. There are many ways in which our society is affected by this new media, a common point would be how it empowers local communities. Be it in social activism, a platform to raise issues, to bypass censorship and so forth.
This article adds some nuance to that belief that the use of social automatically leads to empowered and active individuals
Does social media really empower local communities?
Social media can help to connect communities but it is not a shortcut to higher participation, says Mandeep Hothi
Social media has the capacity to alter traditional power dynamics. Consumers can influence the buying decisions of others by sharing their experiences of purchasing products or services online. Major industries find themselves disrupted by file sharing and citizen journalism, while governments have been challenged by citizens mobilised with the help of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The Young Foundation wanted to test whether social media could empower local, geographical communities. So we set to work with several community groups in Huddersfield, King’s Lynn and north Kensington.
Across these areas we supported residents who wanted to use social media to develop relationships between neighbours, increase awareness of local news and events, and ultimately encourage more people to get involved in community action.
So three years on, what have we learnt?
Our experience suggests that social media is not the shortcut to higher participation that we all hoped it might be. On the websites and social networks we helped residents set up, the numbers of people who are engaging in conversation with each other is quite small. It varies amongst sites, but the highest is around 10% of network members.
Community activity online seems to be driven by a handful of committed individuals, just as it is in the offline world. Why is this?
Well, participation is about people, not technology. Social media may remove some barriers to participation, such as time, but it does not really affect more important determinants of participation; our motivations, values, desire to belong or have influence (read the Pathways through Participation report for more about this). These factors underpin our sense of efficacy and if you believe that you can change things, you are much more likely to act.
For local communities, this sense of efficacy is also influenced by the attitude and capability of agencies like the local authority to listen to local people and act. Most local authorities actively engage with communities, but all too often it is through tiresome meetings where progress is slow, so only a few residents get involved.
We hoped that the spread of social media would change this; just as with major industries, citizens would use social media to force more interesting and responsive channels of decision-making, rather than waiting for local authorities to change on their own accord. But I do not see much sign of this happening anytime soon.
This conclusion is liberating. It means that we can free social media from the constraints of grand aims like reviving local democracy and concentrate on more humble ways it can help communities – of which we have found plenty.
We found that social media really helped activists to network and communicate better with one another. It meant that information flowed much quicker than it did before, with activists no longer dependent on meetings or chance encounters on the street to share news.
It makes community activity much more visible. Simply being able to observe means a wider group of people are informed, even if they choose not to take their involvement further.
We also found that email and SMS messaging should not be ignored in favour of newer social technologies. Email and SMS meet the needs of most residents, who want to regularly receive local information but do not want to use the web to make contact with neighbours. This finding is reinforced by the results of a survey we conducted in two London neighbourhoods, where only 8% of people said they contact neighbours online, but nearly 50% use the web to find local information.
On those occasions where residents do need to make contact with their neighbours, it can often be to request help or support. On one of the community websites we helped create, a girl joined up specifically to ask residents for help finding her missing dog. What followed was a fantastic show of support from several active members of the network; they didn’t find the dog, but they tried. The site had given the girl easy access to a small group of people who were willing to help.
These are the kind of things that social media can do for a community. There will be occasions where social media amplifies the unexpected – a story that mobilises a community or revelation that shocks the establishment. But most of the time it will form part of a communication network that spans email, SMS and face-to-face which helps underpin existing activity, strengthen and broaden it a little. Not a shortcut to empowerment, just a really useful tool.
This is an interesting article and highlights how as science advances, it raises new social dilemmas and even legal complications. It captures how the law needs to update itself to keep up with the new problems and moral implications posed by breakthrough in biotechnology. It is also a ‘fresher’ example than the oft-cited stem cell research that students use whenever an essay on science and ethics appear.
Commentary: In a world first, Singapore’s highest court rules that parents deserve kids with their genes
SINGAPORE: Blood is thicker than water, or so the saying goes, reflecting the value we put on biological relationships. But is it something the law should recognise?
Singapore’s Supreme Court recently ruled on a case that asks this very question, and it gave a fascinating answer: Parents have a strong interest in “genetic affinity” with their children, one that can merit compensation if subverted.
Genetic affinity is an entirely new legal standard. It has no clear precedent in any jurisdiction. But the court made a compelling argument that it has a sound basis in the way we value family and heredity.
Recognising that value will be particularly important as we advance into the genomic era, which will increase our ability to not only analyse but also alter our fundamental biological code.
ACB V THOMSON MEDICAL
The case in question involves an unfortunate mix-up. A couple underwent in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) at Thomson Medical Centre in Singapore. The process was successful, and the mother gave birth to a healthy baby girl (her second child via IVF) in 2010.
But the happy parents soon noticed that their daughter had markedly different features, including hair and skin tone, compared with them and their first child.
A genetic test found that the child was related only to the mother, not the mother’s husband. Thomson Medical confirmed a mistake had been made; an anonymous donor’s sperm, rather than the husband’s sperm, had accidentally been used to inseminate the mother’s egg.
The couple sued Thomson Medical, seeking damages including the child’s upkeep through to the age of 21. The case wound its way through the courts, eventually ending up before the Supreme Court, which issued a final ruling on March 2.
UPKEEP AND GENETIC AFFINITY
The court denied the couple’s claim for upkeep costs because it would have a pernicious effect in that the child’s birth would be seen as an overall mistake, or loss to the parents.
The parents are raising the child, and an award would send a perverse and harmful message to the child that she was not valued, that her very existence required monetary compensation.
This reasoning has led many courts to deny “wrongful birth” upkeep claims. Such claims typically come up when someone parents a child after a botched voluntary sterilisation operation.
It was also the basis of Andrews v Keltz, a New York State Supreme Court “wrongful fertilisation” case involving a similar sperm mix-up.
Singapore’s Supreme Court was clearly dissatisfied with that outcome. It felt that the couple had suffered a very serious harm, one not captured by current common law.
So the court created a completely new category of loss – genetic affinity. It held that parents have a strong interest in being genetically related to their children, and that Thomson Medical had violated this interest.
Ironically, the court did set the award for loss of genetic affinity at 30 per cent of upkeep costs to the couple in the end. This was not because upkeep itself was a loss to be compensated; it was because there seemed no other principled way to settle the financial value of genetic affinity.
Awarding a portion of upkeep was at least less arbitrary than an absolute award. At the same time, it may raise the concern that the value of genetic affinity has greater monetary weight for rich parents, who have higher upkeep costs, than poor parents.
THE VALUE OF GENETIC AFFINITY
More fundamentally, the case raises the question of whether there’s really a value in genetic affinity. The court relied, in part, on an obscure 1999 law review article by New York University law academic Fred Norton. In it, he argues that “parents have an interest in having children with whom they share symbolically identifying traits”.
But Norton’s argument is problematic because it is skin deep. He focuses on traits like appearance as grounding the interest in genetic affinity. This implies that the harm involved in the case was not about the misplaced sperm as such, but about certain superficial features of the misplaced sperm.
In ACB v Thomson Medical, the couple were of Chinese and German heritage, while the genetic father was of Indian heritage. If the genetic father had – by chance – also been of Chinese or German heritage (or both), would there have been a loss of genetic affinity?
Norton’s argument gives no reason for thinking so. Yet there’s something very disturbing about this. Is the value of a familial relationship reducible to a set of superficial appearances or traits?
A more sound moral basis for the value of genetic affinity would go much deeper. It would hold that genetic affinity isn’t just about appearances; it’s about consciously choosing to create a child by a mixing of this mother’s egg with this father’s sperm, producing a child with half the DNA of each parent.
Society and individuals place great value on such biological relationships. Genetic affinity – rather than appearance – grounds a parent’s obligation to pay child support, for instance. And men who suspect their spouses of cheating on them often care deeply about whether their children are really theirs.
The court supports this deeper value at various points in ACB v Thomson Medical, and it is quite compelling when it does so.
It’s careful to note, though, that genetic affinity is not an absolute value. Adoptive parenting relationships should be lauded, not devalued. But adoption’s value derives in part from its consensual nature.
When parents are denied genetic affinity with their child against their will, as in the present case, it is plausible that a great harm has indeed occurred.
It remains to be seen whether other jurisdictions will recognise the value of genetic affinity. But the judgment occurs at an interesting juncture in human history. We are gaining unprecedented ability to tinker with our genetic code, and this raises interesting ethical issues.
Do women with mitochondrial disorders have a right to engage in “three-parent IVF” to ensure genetic affinity with a healthy child, for instance?
If we use CRISPR-cas9 gene-editing technology to alter the genes of embryos, does it constitute a loss of genetic affinity with parents? And is it possible to use such editing to shift genetic affinity, by making a child’s traits more in line with one parent rather than the other?
These questions will only become more pressing as science advances, and the concept of genetic affinity may provide a coherent lens through which to consider them.
This article is not about General Paper or O-level English but we feel it is still an applicable article towards education in general.
It helps outline how we, at Knowledge Skills, try to support and guide our students. Many, if not all, the students that come to us for tuition are usually doing badly in the respective subject.
In addition to teaching the essential skills, we try to help them in their self-confidence and nurture the right mindset; to help them enjoy learning and have a clear idea where and how they can improve
Improvement in subjects such as GP and English takes time and it is usually after many tuition lessons that students start to see improvement. There are also set-backs as well due to factors such as just misreading the question, stress and anxiety that they will never do well in the subject, harsh criticism from their school teachers etc.
During these periods, we remind our students that they can improve. Yet, we also ensure it is not empty praise. Because of our small class sizes, we know every one of our students and as we tell them they can do better, we also make sure we can provide clear guidance on how to do so.
We keep them grounded and give them achievable goals to hit. In time, nearly all our students make good improvement and more importantly, lessons were meaningful and enjoyable for them.
Helping children confront challenges requires a more nuanced understanding of the “growth mindset.”
As a young researcher, Carol Dweck was fascinated by how some children faced challenges and failures with aplomb while others shrunk back. Dweck, now a psychologist at Stanford University, eventually identified two core mindsets, or beliefs, about one’s own traits that shape how people approach challenges: fixed mindset, the belief that one’s abilities were carved in stone and predetermined at birth, and growth mindset, the belief that one’s skills and qualities could be cultivated through effort and perseverance. Her findings brought the concepts of “fixed” and “growth” mindset to the fore for educators and parents, inspiring the implementation of her ideas among teachers—and even companies—across the country.
But Dweck recently noticed a trend: a widespread embrace of what she refers to as “false growth mindset”—a misunderstanding of the idea’s core message. Growth mindset’s popularity was leading some educators to believe that it was simpler than it was, that it was only about putting forth effort or that a teacher could foster growth mindset merely by telling kids to try hard. A teacher might applaud a child for making an effort on a science test even if he’d failed it, for instance, believing that doing so would promote growth mindset in that student regardless of the outcome. But such empty praise can exacerbate some of the very problems that growth mindset is intended to counter. A new edition of Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, updated to address false growth mindset, comes out at the end of this month. I recently spoke with Dweck about how she wants her ideas to be applied. The interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Christine Gross-Loh: Could you tell me about the development of the idea of growth mindset? What was it intended to correct? What were you seeing that you felt growth mindset would help improve?
Carol Dweck: I’ve always been interested, since graduate school, in why some children wilt and shrink back from challenges and give up in the face of obstacles, while others avidly seek challenges and become even more invested in the face of obstacles. So this has been my primary question for over 40 years. At some point, my graduate students and I realized that a student’s mindset was at the foundation of whether [he or she] loved challenges and persisted in the face of failure.
When students had more of a fixed mindset—the idea that abilities are carved in stone, that you have a certain amount and that’s that—they saw challenges as risky. They could fail, and their basic abilities would be called into question. When they hit obstacles, setbacks, or criticism, this was just more proof that they didn’t have the abilities that they cherished.
In contrast, when students had more of a growth mindset, they held the view that talents and abilities could be developed and that challenges were the way to do it. Learning something new, something hard, sticking to things—that’s how you get smarter. Setbacks and feedback weren’t about your abilities, they were information you could use to help yourself learn. With a growth mindset, kids don’t necessarily think that there’s no such thing as talent or that everyone is the same, but they believe everyone can develop their abilities through hard work, strategies, and lots of help and mentoring from others.
Gross-Loh: When I first interviewed you about growth mindset a few years ago, I remember that it was a relatively unknown idea. But growth mindset is now so popular that I’ll hear people who aren’t steeped in educational theory say, “Praise the effort, not the child (or the outcome).” Why do you think this idea struck such a chord, and how did you find out there were people misunderstanding it?
Dweck: Many educators were dissatisfied with drilling for high-stakes tests. They understood that student motivation had been a neglected area, especially of late. So many educators, as well as many parents, were excited to implement something that might re-energize kids to focus on learning again, not just memorization and test taking, but on deeper, more joyful learning.
But a colleague of mine, Susan Mackie, was doing workshops with educators in Australia and observed that many of them were saying they got growth mindset and were running with it, but did not understand it deeply. She told me, “I’m seeing a lot of false growth mindset.” I just did not get it initially—growth mindset is a very straightforward concept, and besides, why would people settle for a false growth mindset if they could have a real one? But I started keeping a list of all the ways people were misunderstanding growth mindset. When the list got long enough, I started speaking and writing about it.
Gross-Loh: Could you elaborate on false growth mindset?
Dweck: False growth mindset is saying you have growth mindset when you don’t really have it or you don’t really understand [what it is]. It’s also false in the sense that nobody has a growth mindset in everything all the time. Everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. You could have a predominant growth mindset in an area but there can still be things that trigger you into a fixed mindset trait. Something really challenging and outside your comfort zone can trigger it, or, if you encounter someone who is much better than you at something you pride yourself on, you can think “Oh, that person has ability, not me.” So I think we all, students and adults, have to look for our fixed-mindset triggers and understand when we are falling into that mindset.
I think a lot of what happened [with false growth mindset among educators] is that instead of taking this long and difficult journey, where you work on understanding your triggers, working with them, and over time being able to stay in a growth mindset more and more, many educators just said, “Oh yeah, I have a growth mindset” because either they know it’s the right mindset to have or they understood it in a way that made it seem easy.
Gross-Loh: Why do you think these misunderstandings occurred?
Dweck: Many people understood growth mindset deeply and implemented it in a very sophisticated and effective way. However, there were many others who understood it in a way that wasn’t quite accurate, or distilled it down to something that wasn’t quite effective, or assimilated it into something they already knew.
Often when we see kids who aren’t learning well, we might feel frustrated or defensive, thinking it reflects on us as educators. It’s often tempting to not feel it is our fault. So we might say the child has a fixed mindset, without understanding instead that, as educators, it is our responsibility to create a context in which a growth mindset can flourish.
Gross-Loh: So it seems that the danger is that some teachers think they have growth mindset and believe it will transfer to their students, even though they themselves don’t really understand it. How about this: Are there educators who do understand the idea that abilities can be developed, but don’t understand how to pass it on to students? Are there certain children who are more vulnerable to this sort of misunderstanding of growth mindset?
Dweck: Yes, another misunderstanding [of growth mindset] that might apply to lower-achieving children is the oversimplification of growth mindset into just [being about] effort. Teachers were just praising effort that was not effective, saying “Wow, you tried really hard!” But students know that if they didn’t make progress and you’re praising them, it’s a consolation prize. They also know you think they can’t do any better. So this kind of growth-mindset idea was misappropriated to try to make kids feel good when they were not achieving.
The mindset ideas were developed as a counter to the self-esteem movement of blanketing everyone with praise, whether deserved or not. To find out that teachers were using it in the same way was of great concern to me. The whole idea of growth-mindset praise is to focus on the learning process. When you focus on effort, [you have to] show how effort created learning progress or success.
Gross-Loh: What should people do to avoid falling into this trap?
Dweck: A lot of parents or teachers say praise the effort, not the outcome. I say [that’s] wrong: Praise the effort that led to the outcome or learning progress; tie the praise to it. It’s not just effort, but strategy … so support the student in finding another strategy. Effective teachers who actually have classrooms full of children with a growth mindset are always supporting children’s learning strategies and showing how strategies created that success.
Students need to know that if they’re stuck, they don’t need just effort. You don’t want them redoubling their efforts with the same ineffective strategies. You want them to know when to ask for help and when to use resources that are available.
All of this is part of the process that needs to be taught and tied to learning.
Gross-Loh: Is there a right way to praise kids and encourage them to do well?
Dweck: Many parents and teachers who themselves have growth mindset aren’t passing it on because they are trying to protect the child’s confidence, focus on the child’s ability, and kind of boost the child’s view or protect the child from a failure. They’re conveying anxiety about ability.
But we have a new line of research (with my former graduate student, Kyla Haimovitz) showing that the way a parent reacts to a child’s failure conveys a mindset to a child regardless of the parent’s mindset. If parents react to their child’s failures as though there is something negative, if they rush in, are anxious, reassure the child, “Oh not everyone can be good at math, don’t worry, you’re good at other things,” the child gets it that no, this is important, and it’s fixed. That child is developing a fixed mindset, even if the parent has a growth mindset.
But if the parent reacts to a child’s failure as though it’s something that enhances learning, asking, “Okay, what is this teaching us? Where should we go next? Should we talk to the teacher about how we can learn this better?” that child comes to understand that abilities can be developed.
So, with praise, focus on “process praise”—focus on the learning process and show how hard work, good strategies, and good use of resources lead to better learning. Be matter-of-fact, with not too strong or too passive a reaction.
You can see evidence of fixed mindset as young as 3.5 or 4 years old; that’s when mindsets can start becoming evident, where some kids are very upset when they make a mistake or get criticized and fall into a helpless place. That’s when children become able to evaluate themselves. We collaborated … with researchers from the University of Chicago who had a longitudinal project with videotape of mother-child interactions. What we found was the more praise was process-oriented—not a ton, just where the greater proportion of the praise was process praise [versus outcome praise]—the more those children had a growth mindset and a high desire for challenge five years later, when they were in second grade.
Gross-Loh: That’s very helpful to know for parents of young children. But what about older kids who might feel discouraged and worn-down after years of feeling that they weren’t smart enough or a fear that they would never be able to be successful? Is it ever too late to foster a growth mindset in students?
Dweck: No—we’ve developed a number of online workshops addressed at adolescents and shown that when we teach [those] students a growth mindset, many of them regain their motivation to learn and achieve higher grades, especially students who have been struggling or students who have been laboring under a negative stereotype about [their own] abilities.
Research conducted last year by my former graduate student, David Yeager [now a professor at the University of Texas], on 18,000 students entering ninth grade, shows us that students who took growth-mindset workshops are seeking more challenges.
You can’t tell adolescents, “We’re adults, we have the answer, and we’re going to tell you what it is.” So we said, “We’re scientists from Stanford University and the University of Texas, and we need your help. We’re experts on the brain and how students learn, but you’re the experts on being a freshman in high school and we’d like your input for a program we’re developing for future freshmen.”
We then taught them about how the teenage brain is especially open to learning. We talked about how it’s a time of great plasticity, a time they need to take advantage of, and that they can grow their brains through taking on hard tasks in school and sticking to them. We had the students write a letter to a struggling freshman, counseling that person in terms of the growth-mindset principle, which is often very persuasive. We had testimonials from some public figures, talking about how a growth mindset got them to where they were.
Finally we talked about why someone would want a growth mindset. We realized that some kids would be overjoyed to hear you can develop your intellectual abilities, but others might not think it was the most exciting thing. So we then had a whole section on why you might want to develop your mind. Teenagers are really excited about the idea that they can do something to make the world a better place. So we asked them what they want to make their contribution to in the future—family, community, or societal problems—and then talked about how having a strong mind could help them make their future contribution.
We’re excited about this because we know the world of the future is going to be about taking on ill-defined, hard jobs that keep changing. It’s going to favor people who relish those challenges and know how to fix them. We are committed to creating a nation of learners.
GP is a subject with no ‘fixed answers’ and a question can be approached in several ways. A student who wants to improve must first understand why their essay lacked depth or why an answer was irrelevant. Hence, improvement in GP can only come about with close guidance.
That’s why we only conduct small classes. We strongly believe that GP tuition must be meaningful and that we have time for each student. We welcome every student, regardless of their grades! No matter how weak you are, we will support you.
Join our classes to receive:
A) Individual consultation (yes, we do set aside time for every student! 🙂 )
B) Personal feedback for every piece of work submitted.
C) Meaningful use of lesson time – While work will be set, it does not dominate lesson time. Most of the lesson is spent on learning, teaching and feedback; the help that students need.
Our students succeed because we:
Provide clear strategies that produce results – these include close reading techniques, P1 analysis skills, AQ structuring, essay coherence, summary heuristics, inferential questions methodology, paraphrasing skills and more.
Clarify why their work is of a certain grade and guide them on how to improve
Provide structured and detailed notes that cover the essential content
Show how such content can be applied practically for the exam especially for the essay component
Provide ample supplementary materials. These include exam tips, model essays, current affairs updates and past-year exam papers.
Provide close guidance on how to improve their individual argumentative and writing skills.
Success in the General Paper goes beyond the mere memorisation of facts or a strong command of the English Language. The ability to think critically, and construct well-structured and meaningful arguments is the key to doing well in GP.
For every batch, our exam notes and proven strategies have helped more than 85% of our students jump by 2 grades and with a distinction rate that is more than double the national average!
Contact us for further details or to join a trial lesson now
Class size: 5- 6 students Duration: 1.5 hours GP Tuition Schedule: Please refer to schedule.
“Since the very first lesson, Mr Cheong has been an incredibly approachable and engaging tutor who doesn’t hesitate to go the extra mile for his students. His lessons are well structured and concise, which makes it easier to absorb and retain information and skills. Mr Cheong is very dedicated and often takes time outside of lessons to look over any extra work that we have done, such as practice essays, and gives constructive feedback to help us improve. Furthermore, he also provides us with comprehensive notes, sample essays and extra practices that have been essential in honing our GP skills and ensuring that we are constantly improving. Overall, Mr Cheong is a really skilled and encouraging teacher and I have thoroughly enjoyed being taught by him! :)” Rachel Tan, Hwa Chong Institution
“An experienced GP teacher, Mr Cheong understands the GP syllabus thoroughly. He knows what is needed to do well and helps his students gain confidence as they master the skills and techniques. I especially appreciate the time spent to personally guide and help me understand my mistakes. I improved from being below the 50th percentile to the 95th percentile within a year! Most importantly, through his infectious passion for the passion for the subject, Mr Cheong taught me how to break down any issue or topic and think critically before presenting sound arguments. This will definitely continue to help me in the future. Thank you for being an inspiring tutor. “
Michelle Chan, Anglo Chinese Junior College
Paper 1 (Essay):
To enable students to do well for Paper 1, we will train students in writing effective argumentative essays. Essential writing skills will be taught along with question answering techniques.
Skills taught would include
i) Analysis of key terms and unpacking question requirements
ii) Crafting effective introductions and developed thesis statements
iii) How to compose relevant topic sentences and maintain paragraph coherence
iv) Knowing how to craft a counter-argument and when to insert one
In addition, content knowledge will be covered extensively for deep understanding of relevant GP topics.
Examples of areas that will be covered:
a) Social Issues
d) Science and Human Values
e) The Arts
Paper 2 (Comprehension)
Students will be taught specific comprehension skills to handle the complexity of the ‘A’ level General Paper passages including how to approach the Application Question.
These include the techniques for the different types of short answer questions, how to effectively handle the Summary (and how it is different from the ‘O’ levels), and the means to handle the AQ within a limited time period.
Furthermore, the methodology will be based on the latest reports and briefing materials provided by Cambridge
Mr Cheong is an amazing tutor. His lessons are informative, interesting and concise. I learnt a lot through the content lessons as well as the skills lesson. I appreciate the individual feedback and personal consults provided. I’ve never gotten anything above an E for my GP back in CJ and I was even sent to “GP Clinic” due to my poor performance in GP. But with the help from Mr Cheong, I got a B for my GP in A levels. 🙂 I sincerely wouldn’t have done it without Mr Cheong. Thank you so much for your help Mr Cheong! Ang Hui Yee, Catholic JC alumnus
What I really enjoyed is how Mr Cheong made the lessons interactive and engaging. I really like how instead of only spoon-feeding us with information, he guided us on how to use such information and taught us how to improve our writing and structuring our arguments. It was very assuring to know that he was always ready to give us feedback and help us whenever we need it! Thank you for helping me improve from a D to an A! Leonard Lau, River Valley High School
“Thank you Mr Cheong for being very supportive through my studies. I really appreciate the effort you have put in to guide me. The AQ and Essay techniques you’ve shared have undoubtedly been very helpful in raising my GP standards in such a short period of time. Furthermore, your notes on a wide range of topics have also aided me in boosting my content knowledge. Once again, thanks for helping me secure an ‘A ‘
Nicolette Wong, National Junior College alumnus
This article raises interesting points regarding whether meritocracy truly creates a fairer society.
It is quite American-centric but it does open up some points for further discussion. We will cover meritocracy’s Pros and Cons from a Singapore perspective at a later date.
Some of the key issues that our GP tuition and O-level English tuition classes cover are: Does Meritocracy truly help the underprivileged? What can be done for an effective meritocratic system? Does it lead to more social mobility or entrenched elitism? Is every school truly a ‘good school’?
The False Promise of Meritocracy
Managers who believe themselves to be fair and objective judges of ability often overlook women and minorities who are deserving of job offers and pay increases.
Americans are, compared with populations of other countries, particularly enthusiastic about the idea of meritocracy, a system that rewards merit (ability + effort) with success. Americans are more likely to believe that people are rewarded for their intelligence and skills and are less likely to believe that family wealth plays a key role in getting ahead. And Americans’ support for meritocratic principles has remained stable over the last two decades despite growing economic inequality, recessions, and the fact that there is less mobility in the United States than in most other industrialized countries.This strong commitment to meritocratic ideals can lead to suspicion of efforts that aim to support particular demographic groups. For example, initiatives designed to recruit or provide development opportunities to under-represented groups often come under attack as “reverse discrimination.” Some companies even justify not having diversity policies by highlighting their commitment to meritocracy. If a company evaluates people on their skills, abilities, and merit, without consideration of their gender, race, sexuality etc., and managers are objective in their assessments then there is no need for diversity policies, the thinking goes.
But is this true? Do commitments to meritocracy and objectivity lead to more fair workplaces?Emilio J. Castilla, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, has explored how meritocratic ideals and HR practices like pay-for-performance play out in organizations, and he’s come to some unexpected conclusions.
In one company study, Castilla examined almost 9,000 employees who worked as support-staff at a large service-sector company. The company was committed to diversity and had implemented a merit-driven compensation system intended to reward high-level performance and to reward all employees equitably.
But Castilla’s analysis revealed some very non-meritocratic outcomes. Women, ethnic minorities, and non-U.S.-born employees received a smaller increase in compensation compared with white men, despite holding the same jobs, working in the same units, having the same supervisors, the same human capital, and importantly, receiving the same performance score. Despite stating that “performance is the primary bases for all salary increases,” the reality was that women, minorities, and those born outside the U.S. needed “to work harder and obtain higher performance scores in order to receive similar salary increases to white men.”
These findings led Castilla to wonder if organizational cultures and practices designed to promote meritocracy actually accomplished the opposite. Could it be that the pursuit of meritocracy somehow triggered bias? Along with his colleague, the Indiana University sociology professor Stephen Bernard, they designed a series of lab experiments to find out. Each experiment had the same outcome. When a company’s core values emphasized meritocratic values, those in managerial positions awarded a larger monetary reward to the male employee than to an equally performing female employee. Castilla and Bernard termed their counter intuitive result “the paradox of meritocracy.”
The paradox of meritocracy builds on other research showing that those who think they are the most objective can actually exhibit the most bias in their evaluations. When people think they are objective and unbiased then they don’t monitor and scrutinize their own behavior. They just assume that they are right and that their assessments are accurate. Yet, studies repeatedly show that stereotypes of all kinds (gender, ethnicity, age, disability etc.) are filters through which we evaluate others, often in ways that advantage dominant groups and disadvantage lower-status groups. For example, studies repeatedly find that the resumes of whites and men are evaluated more positively than are the identical resumes of minorities and women.This dynamic is precisely why meritocracy can exacerbate inequality—because being committed to meritocratic principles makes people think that they actually are making correct evaluations and behaving fairly. Organizations that emphasize meritocratic ideals serve to reinforce an employee’s belief that they are impartial, which creates the exact conditions under which implicit and explicit biases are unleashed.
“The pursuit of meritocracy is more difficult than it appears,” Castilla said at a recent conference hosted by the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford, “but that doesn’t mean the pursuit is futile. My research provides a cautionary lesson that practices implemented to increase fairness and equity need to be carefully thought through so that potential opportunities for bias are addressed.” While companies may want to hire and promote the best and brightest, it’s easier said than done.
GapJumpers, a Silicon Valley start-up, is focused on making meritocracy a reality by taking a skills-first approach to identifying the highest-performing talent. Modeled after research showing that blind auditions block biased evaluations, GapJumpers developed an online technology platform that enables hiring managers to hold blind audition challenges. In the challenges, job applicants are given mini assignments that are designed to assess the applicant for the specific skills required for the open position. All submissions are evaluated and ranked, and the top-performing submissions (minus any applicant identifiers) are then reviewed by the hiring manager who selects candidates to bring in to interview. The result: About 60 percent of the top talent identified through GapJumpers’ blind audition process come from underrepresented backgrounds.Hiring managers do not expect this outcome. “The high percentage of underrepresented applicants that make it through the skills-first screening process is often met with suspicion,” says Sharon Jank, a social psychologist and Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University, who is conducting her doctoral research with GapJumpers. In her work, Jank has observed that “hiring managers tend to be surprised that the top performing submissions they pick to advance very often come from applicants without an elite education, training, or experience. This suggests blind performance auditions are a powerful tool to manage bias and address the pervasive and incorrect assumption that elite pedigree best predicts performance of on the job skills.”
“Our biases lead to sub-optimal talent selection decisions when evaluating resumes,” says GapJumpers cofounder Kédar Iyer. “By scaling the successful and proven method of blind performance auditions, GapJumpers’ results show that real work performance trumps labels on a resume.”In addition to blind auditions, transparency and accountability also support more meritocratic outcomes. Recently, Castilla published the results from a longitudinal study he conducted with the same large service-sector company that he had studied years earlier. After learning from Castilla’s analysis that there were pay disparities in their organization (white men received more compensation than equally performing women, minorities, and non-U.S.-born individuals) the company asked Castilla to recommend practices to close the pay gap.
Drawing on research showing that transparency and accountability reduce bias because, among other things, transparency provides the information needed to track inequity and accountability puts people on notice that their decisions will be monitored, Castilla counseled the company on actions they could take.
The company then made many changes such as creating a performance-reward committee to monitor compensation increases and sharing information with top management about pay broken down by gender, race, and foreign nationality. When Castilla analyzed the data five years after these changes were introduced he found that the demographic pay gap had disappeared.
American beliefs about the rightness of meritocratic ideals often leads to the belief that those ideals are what guides society. But research shows that a real commitment to meritocracy requires understanding that America hasn’t gotten there—at least not yet. It is this insight that leads to the adoption of practices that will ultimately result in a society where merit truly does equal ability + effort.
– copyright Knowledge Skills LLP – General Paper (GP) tuition & O-level English tuition specialists
One common topic students should be familiar with is how Singapore handles Social Welfare. It will be a common essay question for GP or O-level English paper 1, as an oral exam topic or even Social Studies.
The following sections taken from DPM Tharman’s Interview at the 45th St Gallen Symposium gives some insights into the rationale for some of our policies. In particular, we will focus on just a small section mentioned by DPM, which is how we don’t have a safety net; instead we have a safety trampoline.
Understanding such perspectives will help support your arguments. More details will be covered during the respective GP Tuition or O-level English tuition sessions
Appended is a partial transcript from DPM Tharman’s interview:
Sackur (the interviwer): Another challenge you face is on the size of government. You’ve talked already with me about the investments made in housing for example. That’s going to increase and I know it is a huge part of the public budget. Education – British politicians in elections talk about our failing education and they say look at Singapore, and they cite your amazing exam records, numbers of skilled graduates and the way in which you scale up your people. So you invest huge amounts in education. If you look at the figures, your government is actually an advocate of massive state spending. That’s the way you run your country. Because you’ve got such a successful economy, you’ve managed to do it with budget surpluses until last year when you just fell into a deficit. I don’t know whether you are worried but looking forward, particularly if you mix demographics with the size of your government and the ambition of your government, you are going to run into real problems.
Tharman: I think we’re a very interesting case of a country that has low government spending, by the way, by most standards, as a percentage of GDP. Low taxes.
Sackur: As long as your GDP keeps climbing.
Tharman: Yes, but our starting point is not a bad one. We’ve got relatively low government spending and revenues, but we’re able to achieve the social outcomes that countries with much larger spending do. And how do we do it? I think one of the very important lessons of the last 50 years is that traditional concepts of welfare, social expenditure and government intervention have led to a weakening of private initiative and personal responsibility. Not because that was the intent. It was never the social democratic intent to weaken private initiative and family responsibility.
I mean, look at the Scandinavian countries. They used to be among the most hardworking countries in the world. The Swedes were incredibly hardworking, industrious people.
Sackur: You’re using the past tense, are you? The Swedes have become lazy? Or what’s happening?
Tharman: Present active tense. They’re a good society in many ways, and they’re willing to pay high taxes to keep their system going.
Sackur: Well, Swedes will get the chance to comment on this at a moment.
Tharman: But the point is, there are ways in which an active government can intervene to support social mobility, develop opportunities and take care of the old, which doesn’t undermine personal and family responsibility. And that’s the compact that we’re trying to achieve. And it’s almost a paradox.
Sackur: You mean you’re a bit more ruthless. Is that what you’re saying?
Tharman: No, we’re achieving a paradox of active government support for personal responsibility, rather than active government support to take over personal responsibility or community responsibility.
Sackur: Do you believe in the concept of a safety net?
Tharman: We believe in a concept of support for you taking up opportunities. So we don’t have unemployment.
Sackur: I believe in the sometimes simplicity of yes-or-no answers. What about this idea of a safety net? Does Singapore believe in the notion of a safety net for those who fall between the cracks of a successful economy?
Tharman: I believe in the notion of a trampoline.
Sackur: So people are just bouncing up and down in Singapore?
Tharman: No, it boils down to what policies you’re talking about. If you provide help for someone who is willing to study hard; if you provide help for someone who is willing to take up a job and work at it, and make life not so easy if you stay out of work; if you provide help for someone who wants to own a home – and we are very generous in our grants for home ownership, which is why we have 90 per cent home ownership and, among the low-income population, more than 80 per cent own their homes — it transforms culture.
It’s not just about transactions, it’s not just about the size of grants, it’s about keeping alive a culture where I feel proud that I own my home and I earn my own success through my job. I feel proud that I’m raising my family. And keeping that culture going is what keeps a society vibrant.
Consider how Singapore’s government does provide for its people but not in the way that other nations do. What does DPM Tharman mean by promoting and supporting “personal responsibility”? What examples are there to show that we enable people and at the same time not driving ourselves into fiscal trouble like some welfare states?
These points will be covered in relevant GP Tuition and O-level English tuition notes.
– copyright Knowledge Skills LLP – General Paper GP tuition & O-level English tuition specialists
One topic covered by many schools, be it for O-level English or for GP, is the impact modern media has on society. The recent US elections highlighted the impact of ‘fake news’. If social media is ubiquitous and surveys have shown that most people these days obtain their news from their social media feeds, then it’s worrying when the news is not always factual.
This article from The Guardian, “Fighting fake news: societies using technology to search for truth” by Kate O’Flaherty outlines some of the challenges faced by governments and the public . It also provides a slight insight why there’s greater skills in critical thinking, a section covered in our Social Issues: Education package.
Fake news has been accused of influencing election results and giving rise to populist movements. Is there anything governments – and citizens – can do to fight back?
Some interesting responses to the fake news phenomenon are now in place around the world. The Czech government’s interior ministry, for instance, has opened a Centre Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats in a bid to fight fake news. The centre was set up after 40 Czech language websites emerged containing false stories, predominantly about migrants. Specialists working for the centre are attempting to counter false information via a dedicated Twitter account, as well as a website devoted to communicating the government viewpoint. The Interior Ministry now wants to work with Facebook to stop the spread of fake news ahead of parliamentary elections in October.
Of course, there are ethical issues around removing content, so governments must tread a fine balance. Rather than eliminating the stories altogether, the ministry said it aims to work alongside technology companies and news organisations to help citizens make more informed choices.
Meanwhile, the German government is hoping social media sites and their users will help in the battle against fake news. Germany has expressed concern ahead of its 2017 election after reports that false stories were emerging about its chancellor, Angela Merkel. The country recognises that social media companies are needed to control the issue, with German justice minister Heiko Maas warning firms such as Facebook to respect the country’s strict laws against defamation.
Facebook is already partnering with fact-checking organisations in Germany and France. As part of a recent update, users are able to flag articles they suspect contain false information. These are then handed over to an independent evaluation centre. When a false story is identified, rather than being removed, it is tagged with a warning that it contains fake news and appears lower down in users’ feeds.
Another initiative aiming to help citizens make informed choices ahead of the 2017 French election is the First Draft News project CrossCheck, a collaborative verification programme involving technology firms including Facebook and Google.
The project sees journalists from across France working together to find and verify online content, including photos, videos, memes, comment threads and news sites. The public are encouraged to participate by submitting questions and links to content for CrossCheck to investigate.
Claire Wardle, research director at First Draft News, says fake stories can be identified using similar methods to those deployed by companies that work with brands to make sure adverts don’t sit beside problematic content.
Community involvement is a common theme in the battle to tackle fake news. In Taiwan for example, vTaiwan is a government initiative that uses a range of digital tools to involve citizens. Government departments are signed up to answer queries, while larger consultations, on topics like the sharing economy, also use social media to direct participants to the project.
“The communities start by establishing a commonly agreed set of facts and then talk about their views,” explains Eddie Copeland, director of government innovation at thinktank Nesta. “There are also active moderators but overall, it is down to the communities.”
And in the UK, MPs on the Commons culture, media and sport select committee has set up an inquiry to help tackle the threat posed by fake news.
Governments are starting to tackle false online stories, but there are challenges to overcome.
Part of the problem is technology: analytics tools are not yet sophisticated enough to handle the complex nature of identifying fake news, says Jamal Elmellas, chief technology officer at Auriga Consulting. “In order for the tools to work, you would need to have artificial intelligence nailed. It’s not. We can solve rudimentary puzzles, but nothing as granular and wide as fake news.”
Mike Upchurch, co-founder of data analytics firm Fuzzy Logix, cites the example of a US government programme to mine news stories from around the world to identify insurgencies or the spread of disease. “It’s actually really difficult to extract information from news sources and social media at the kind of scale involved,” points out Upchurch. “Now imagine that some material percentage of the data is fake. The challenge of weeding out fake news makes the job of understanding and predicting events that much harder.”
At First Draft News, Wardle says collaboration between governments, technology companies, news organisations and citizens is necessary. “Everyone needs to work together. The whole system, not one institution, is needed to solve this.”
And the real answer may be even more deep-rooted and long-term. Daniel Faraci, a director at Grassroots Political Consulting, believes in education so users can debunk false stories themselves. “Education should be more localised and of a better standard,” he says. “Then people can self-determine where they get their news from.”