HDB Kids Don’t Perform as well in PSLE


Don’t let mainstream media headlines like “Most top PSLE students stay in HDB flats” (link) mislead you into thinking that HDB kids are top students.

All it takes is a sharp eye and a thinking mind to see the facts. Straits Times reader Mr Visakan Veerasamy wrote to the papers today:

“The statistics given in the (newspaper article) are as follows: About 82% of Singaporeans live in public housing. More than 60% of the top 10% of PSLE scorers live in HDB flats. More than 50% of Sec 1 students enrolled in Integrated Programme (IP) schools live in HDB flats. But the same statistics also mean that while only 18% of Singaporeans live in private housing, they account for almost 40% of the top PSLE scorers and more than 40% of IP school enrolment.”

There you go. The official statistics tell us that HDB kids on the whole don’t perform as well as their counterparts in condos and landed houses. Period.

This is also in line with our past observations that rich kids do better and doctors come from rich background.

And our reporters choose to use positive-sounding headlines like “Most top PSLE students stay in HDB flats”.

Do you know why our reporters are so keen on such creative reporting? It’s not the first time – see another good example here.


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  1. I think condo kids score better result may well be a case they have smarter parents who can earn more money and more importantly pass down the “smart” genes, rather than more money/resources being invested by these rich parents so that their kids do well.

    Because it’s also not hard to imagine the same type of arguments that say parents who work long hours have kids who do better in PSLE, but it does not imply everyone should go work long hours, so that their kid do well in school.

    A good dose of freaknomics will be good for everyone.

  2. that’s why the rich get richer.

    having fair policies and a good education system is perhaps the only way to level the playing field. it takes a minimum of 1 generation of sacrifice to bring about a permanent change for future generations (unless the rich kids choose to stupidly squander off their rich inheritance of genes and wealth).

  3. I’d be SO much more surprised if kids who lived in condos DIDN’T do well.

    I admit it’s so lame to use those headlines – but we shouldn’t sway the story to the other extreme either. Look at reality objectively.

  4. kevin don’t be stupid. what do u mean rich kids get ‘smart genes’, so they do better in school?! apparently from this remark ur not a rich kid.

    go read the outliers by malcolm gladwell. the richest people in history have an average IQ of 130, which is just about little higher than average. the fact that rich kids do better than poor kids is because they have so much more opportunities to do well.

    after school poor kids help out in their parents’ hawker stalls, while rich kids slack or do their revision. poor kids work during their holidays, while rich kids get sent to all those enrichment courses, british council etc. rich kids get all the resources at their fingertips – parents who can help with their homework, the best tuition teachers if they are not doing well etc.

    in fact, if a rich kid does not make it into a top u.k. or u.s. university in the future, he must be considered a failure. it’s got nothing to do with genes and everything to do with all the money poured into their education.

  5. Why so concerned about “Most top PSLE students stay in HDB flats”? Is there anything worth discussing at all?

    Why not “Most criminals stay in HDB flats”? You can practically write a new article everyday using the same pattern.

    For the record, I stayed in HDB and not top PSLE and not a criminal.

  6. We are not talking about outliers here… e.g., top 10% PSLE, top 20% staying in private housing, so I am not sure if you can apply outliers arguments to this discussion.

    Suppose it does, borrowing what you said, you already state that the richer people have higher HQ than average people, and 5 points difference is considered significant in most research studies comparing a factor with all else being equal.

  7. “all else being equal?” hardly applies in this situation does it? after ALL the advantages rich kids have. and not to forget these advantages snowball: headstart in studies = going to ‘elite’ schools = getting best teachers/classmates and opportunity to be sent to ivvies w/o scholarship etc.

    the smartest person tested, as stated in outliers, DIDN’T come from an rich family. yet, he did not achieve much in life ‘cos he didn’t have opportunity to. double the IQ of anyone, yet a college dropout. smarts ain’t anything. born into a poor family and lacking opportunities caused his ‘failure’.

    opportunities are everything. all one has to be is of average intelligence (i.e. not mentally disabled), and given ample opportunity, anyone can perform well in school. rich kids have plenty of opportunity and advantage. this is why they do well.

    i was from what many would call an ‘elite’ school. and while there were many rich kids in my class, the geniuses, those who grasp math concepts instantaneously, and those with photographic memories, are incidently from ‘hdb homes’. saying that ‘smart genes’ are passed on by rich parents is just demeaning to all parents from hdb homes, and completely unsubstantiated.

  8. who cares abt psle results? most of the top psle students (now in their 30s) I know are doing just so-so now. The psle students who did not do that well worked hard and many of them are currently doing well in their careers.

    The key is having the right attitude and working hard. Luck plays a part as well

  9. if you define success as being rich, then with ‘all else equal’, success is seemingly random- eg a top psle kid works hard and scores his way into academic obscurity while an equally hardworking BUT less academically inclined kid works her way to be a top insurance agent. however i believe in our society the odds are against the exam scorers as they’re less inclined to get into good paying ventures. count them ‘unlucky’.

  10. jack-> I take issue with the IQ of 130 being “just a little higher than average”.

    If you consider the top 2-4% band as a little higher than average, that what consitutes moderately higher? 99.5th percentile?

    However, I fully agree with you on the part that rich kids get a LOT more opportunities to expand their performance in just about everything. Money can’t buy success, but it sure can buy lots of help in getting there.

    Once again, however, if you’re from the ‘elite’ school, you should know that although the outliers (super-imba students who have insane IQ) may live in HDB flats, we’re talking about aggregates here.

    In general, a higher proportion of rich kids are smart. However, they almost always get better enrichment and support as compared to their less well-endowed counterparts; hence their performance in life is so much better.

    jack, if you believe that raw intelligence is genetically linked, are you telling me that kids whose parents are high-performers (especially in demanding professions) aren’t smart? Yes, they have TONS of help on the side, but in *general* they also have that baseline advantage of starting at a better position.

    You can raise many examples of not-so-rich people who are really smart – but those are isolated examples. There are bound to be TONS of examples – but on aggregate.. is it logical?

    Of course, I only disagree with your point about

  11. message got cut:

    Of course, I only disagree with your point about the non-existent role that nature plays.

    Though I do agree 1000% with you about the overwhelming advantage that nurture provides.

  12. so what?

    maybe you can ask a PSLE student staying in HDB what he think is the reason and he probably can talk as much sense as you as well.

    my point is so what if we know the real reason?

  13. What’s new? The Government seems very fond of doing number torture these days to support their (flawed) arguments. There are three kinds of lies, Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics.

  14. Come on guys, whats there to argue about? Rich doesnt mean intelligent and poor doesnt mean stupid. There are rich kids who are stupid or rich kids who are intelligent but failed to achieve anything significant in life and this is the same for the poor. I am not rich and i have achieved much more than my peers who are far richer than myself and there are a number of dudes who are poorer but have achieved much more than me. So what is the problem here? Like what HDBkid said, who cares about PSLE results? I have peers who were from top JCs in spore and graduated from local unis with first/2nd upper class honours but they are earning lesser than me. By the way, i grew up in a HDB and i could not even get into a JC during my school days.

  15. it’s the spineless reporters who think up such career-preserving headlines. not the fault of statistics. but we should be magnaminous and understand why they’re spineless in the first place. put ourselves in their shoes and we’ll probably do the same. with invisible ropes binding our hands, legs and minds, it’s hard to mature as a society.

  16. Bro, give them some credit. They are doing their best within constraints. I enjoy reading their analyses on property and the general economy, and of course those self-deprecating writings from Sumiko Tan! 🙂

  17. She used to be quite chio. Now she’s a lau chio… harharhar. I like her writings lah- brightens my day to know there are interesting people like her who can still make it to become senior editors or something.

  18. Let me restate it more academically or in more consultant-speak.

    There is a strong likehood that the main contributor of why a significantly larger percentage of top PSLE students comes from private housing rather than public housing is attributed to the fact that the average intelligence of the parents of the private housing group is higher than the average intelligence of the parents of the public housing group and these intelligent traits are passed down genetically from the parents to their kids.

    There are various areas where we can disect the statement but let me concentrate on the interesting few.

    First, we are not discussing about success in life. We are discussing very narrowly about PSLE success, i.e., being placed in Top 10%.

    Second, I do not rule out that opportunities may play a significant part (for the PSLE success), but I postulate that parents IQ may well be more important than having the opportunities.

    Third, as kash rightly point out, we are talking about aggregates (averages), and it is pointless to the argument to talk about specific individuals, unless you can claim that the few specific individuals is a fairly representative sample of the population at large. I think some of you may have fallen into the trap of proof by contradiction you learn in school, e.g., we find one case that does not hold true and therefore the statement must be false.

    While it is insensitive of me to make statements around intelligence of the rich and poor, or any other segmentation you may like to think of, it is essentially the same type of statement (insinuation) that have been taken from Gladwell, e.g., if successful people has above average IQ, then not successful people must have below average IQ, so when you add them up, you get the average IQ.

    So what’s the point. This blog entry leaves the impression that rich have better performing kids because they have more resources to invest in their kids, and I am saying they could well be doing better because they have the smarts. I hope both points could be taken into consideration.

    And in a way, it is like the blog author pointing out that the newspaper message is misleading, I am pointing out that s/he may have actually committed the same mistake in the way this entry was written.

  19. The newspaper being misleading is much worse than this blog being misleading. The former has about a million times more reader than this lousy blog. And everyone knows we shouldn’t trust what we read on the net. 🙂 OTOH most people trust the things Straits Times say!

  20. let me put my position more simply then.

    smart parents do not (and not even more likely) produce smart kids. this has not been scientifically proven, and there are just too many examples of smart offspring from less-than-smart parents (and even mentally retarded parents) to given this theory serious thought.

    secondly, we are talking about rich parents producing kids who do well in school. rich parents need not be smart parents. in general, however, rich kids do better in school than poor kids.
    therefore, coming from a rich family has a DIRECT correlation with doing well in school. kevin’s hyphothesis is not furthered by the fact that rich kids do well in school, and as i put forth earlier, cannot be a theory to be given serious thought.

    simply put, born rich gives one more opportunities and allows one to do better academically. lots of these rich kids who do well are only of average intellect, and they have displaced many poor kids of equal or even greater intellect simply because of the opportunities given to them.

  21. Heard of eugenics? You marry a non-graduate, then you worry about whether or not your son or daughter is going to make it to the university.

  22. What has been said is that rich kids (from rich family, obviously) do well in school. I am not disputing the fact (assumed to be true from newspaper data). Stating the same basis in three different sentences does not invalidate my hypothesis in any way. The question still remains why rich kids do better in PSLE.

    Jack’s position deserves a more logical taker to articulate the points. It is not entirely without merit. Anyone?

    For those who like to know, I was an HDB kid, currently staying in a condo.

  23. of cos IQ n $$ success depends more than inherent “superior” genes. but sometimes, u are jux borne with it. sometimes, u can make it up with hardwork, sometimes, u can make it up by more opportunities, sometimes, its just ur own choice.

    we need to accept facts and not argue pointlessly or for the sake of arguing.

    not all swans are white.

    some swans are black.

    most swans are white.

    so? why argue against law of nature?

  24. eugenics: yes i’ve heard of this eugenics. it works wonders if you are trying to breed superior racing horses or milk cows. in humans – not so much. it does not factor in the other important elements like environment and opportunities. in this case condo kids may have the better factors thus leading to better results in studies vs HDB kids. but that does not validate eugenics. there’s a difference.

  25. jack/kevin: ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.’ : Charles Darwin

  26. Humans are mammals too :-). Heritability applies to human in general, such as things like height, colour of eyes, etc. Even for a more complex trait like intelligence, there is no argument that genes plays a signficant part. Just as there is no argument that more resources play a significant part too. The question is which is more significant (for PSLE results, I may add).

    It is really not about winning or losing, but about having reasonable arguments in favor or against the various positions, and to encourage people to assess these arguments, participate in them and come to a conclusion themselves.

    If you go back to my first comment, I did not state it as a fact. I state it as “may well be”, meaning that it might be a possibility to consider before you accept everything that is written in the entry. But of course, to simplify arguments, I chose to be clear and committed to one side. I am quite happy to take on the other side if everybody is now thinking that gene plays the more significant part.

  27. kevin: yes you are right that it was misquoted. but i would still believe that the idea is adaptability behind evolution that is more important than whether a human being simply his genes from Stephen Hawkings or Usain Bolt.
    As for PSLE results i’m not sure either since I’ve never been that big on academic results being an indicator of success(potential success maybe).

  28. sorry, but this is something i would not take a step back on.

    the more we believe that rich kids do well in school because they inherited ‘smart genes’, the less we attribute it to the many, many more opportunities and advantages that come from have rich parents supporting their education. this way, policies that would help poorer students do well in school would never be implemented. and smarter poor students would, as i said, be displaced by less capable rich kids just because they did not enjoy the advantages that money brings.

    and, of course, i firmly believe kevin’s theory is wholly unsubstantiated and does not present itself in actuality. there are so many examples of capable parents having bums for kids, and stupid parents having exceptionally smart kids, that cannot be written off as mere anomalies or exceptions to the theory.

  29. Another case of positive sounding reporting from Straits Times: rather than saying “more than one-third of the population are foreign citizens”, they choose to say “almost two-thirds are Singapore citizens” and simply ignore the cold hard truth that our country is now flooded with non-citizens. Whether they create jobs for citizens is now very questionable now that it’s highly probable that they have taken away jobs that could have gone to Singaporeans. Not to mention that they also have a hand in pushing up housing prices, which may be a good thing for people with a roof but not so much for those without.

  30. pls lah. why don’t you also blame the 12% increase in electricity price on the foreigners? imagine all the foreigners leave at once, who’s going to play jackpots in our two big casinos? we already have 2 useless durians. are we going to have 3 more tombstones in marina and 1 ugly brown town in mati island? 🙂

  31. Apart from ‘smart genes’ and opportunities, which I believe contributes to the success in an individual, the time contributed by a home-staying parent helps alot in the kid doing better in PSLE. So, in this hypothesis, a richer family will be able to cope better with a 1-man salary. And so, with 1 parent staying at home to groom the child, the child would naturally performs better in school.
    based only on my observation, I see most children who do well in school or other activities, has 1 home staying parent.

  32. For each primary one cohort of students, what respective percentages of those who went through Junior College or Polytechnic, were able to enter the 3 local universities i.e. NUS, NTU, SMU. Any statistics?

  33. Someone out there said rich kids get best teachers/classmates? You are undermining the teaching profession. What makes you think only certain schools have the ‘best teachers’?

  34. I was born in the 70s. During those times, alot of kids lived in HDB. Fastforward for more than 20yrs later, I guess I have to agree that rich kids has more advantage especially those extra lessons like MindChamps, etc that their parents can afford to enrol them in

  35. With the age of IT and Information, any answers from exams can be bought for little as nothing from students in India. Students from India are widely doing peoples reports and answers for exams. The rich know this but the HDB kids have a lot to learn. One day the tides will turn!

  36. if we were to advance, we should stay away from model reports and answers. It just doesn’t help in the long run. Anyone watched the movie 3 idiots?

    I believe rich kids stand out from having more resources, not just money-wise, but also having more time to explore enriching activities rather than doing the non-value adding stuff like cleaning the house or getting a part time job as a waiter.

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