Last week, it was reported in The China Post that our primary and secondary school education system has managed yet again to churn out “the world’s top performers in science”.

While rankings did drop for the mathematics category, Singapore was nonetheless within the top 5, out of the 37 countries studied.

Of course, the high global standing will certainly give the Ministry of Education (MOE) something to rave about in terms of its world-class education standards and parents should be relieved that their children are receiving top-notch academic training in school.

Taken from the MOE’s mission statement, the Education Service aims to develop “good citizens, conscious of their responsibilities to family, society and country”. But looking at the inconsiderate ways of Singaporeans, it’s really hard to convince myself that our education system has truly succeeded at all.

For me, there is a world’s difference between individuals who have been “schooled” and those who have been “educated”.

Someone who has been “schooled” has merely familiarised himself or herself with an wealth of facts and figures. But an educated person goes beyond that and actually has a cultivated sense of civil-mindedness and appropriate moral values which he or she acts on.

Sure, we may be able to tell the difference between a virus and bacterium*, or calculate the multiplied total of the first seven prime numbers** in a snap, but so many Singaporeans fare poorly when it comes to exhibiting considerate public behaviour.

I take the bus to school daily and it just infuriates me to know that I have to squeeze shoulder to shoulder at the congested front of the bus because individuals in the middle refuse to move to the rear.

It doesn’t help either that the person standing next to me is blasting his playlist of techno hits on his low fidelity speakerphone for all to appreciate.

What about collecting your mail from your void deck mailbox in the evening? Don’t be too surprised if you can’t actually see the floor tiles anymore because of unwanted flyers strewn all over – swept out indifferently by the same Mrs Tan you just greeted on your way out this morning.

These and a torrent of other inconsiderate acts are well documented and ridiculed on websites like STOMP, so obviously these aren’t exactly acceptable public behaviour.

But if we know that it’s wrong, why still do it? Why do we even need fines to restrain us from littering when we should not be doing it in the first place? Have the years of being in school taught us nothing?

As far as I recall, Civics and Moral Education (CME) classes were always seen as “a waste of time” and something peripheral to core subjects. After all, it is a non-examinable that preaches stuff that we seem to already know.

Yet in reality, developing your social standing and how you interact with others (strangers included) is critical and perhaps more important than any academic knowledge you can possess. I would hate to see Singapore go down as a nation of rude, inconsiderate, self-absorbed but booksmart intellectuals. Perhaps a revamp of the CME curriculum is due but we also have to stop viewing academic performance as the single most important defining aspect about education.

Current and future generations need to comprehend that developing and maintaining a gracious society is markedly important in order for us to make any headway in truly becoming a world-class city and truly developed nation.

For that we need more to be more forward-thinking and selfless individuals, like American entrepreneur Dean Kamen or Bangladeshi professor Muhammad Yunus, who see that the well-being of others is just as important, if not paramount, to their own.

Perhaps one day, Singapore may make the headlines for being the most esteemed society in the world. Until then, let’s just start with moving towards the back of the bus so that fellow commuters can also have a more pleasant morning ride during the rush-hour.

* Viruses are much smaller in size, are not single cell organisms like bacteria and cannot reproduce without a host.

** The answer’s 510, 510.