Should Singapore change ?

You could consider this post as a response  to another  blogger’s  post ( yes, indeed. I had agreed to the content of the post with respect to the Singaporean education system and its over emphasis on meritocracy – if meritocracy meant memorizing.

However I tend to believe that Singaporean schools don’t insist on memorizing, atleast in so far as science, maths and english are concerned. I have seen a large part of the english tests concentrating on comprehensions and the like that tend more towards the creative side.

But some questions do remain.

  1. Why do you need to classify / stream peple / children so early when they are aged 9 and 10 ?
  2. How is that an exam that is written by children at the age of 12 enough to determine the paths that they need to take ?
  3. Why do ‘gifted’ children need to go to special tuitions ?
  4. Why is there an abundance of supplementary schools a.k.a. tuition centers when the schooling system is supposed to be so good ?
  5. Under this schooling system, why have there been no nobel prizes for science and math yet – not that other streams have been awarded.

These are some of the valid questions that I have along with others.

Next the author talks about producing a timid nation ( or was there a link that suggested that ?)  and that the education system is such that only ‘obedient’ people are produced. Before going into that let us look at what Singapore is and how did it come to be.

Let us get our facts straight.

Singapore is like a sparrow. A sparrow is not designed for flight. Yet I flies. Similarly Singapore does not have any characteristic to exist as a nation.  Not that it does not need to, but that the odds are arraigned heavily against it. The nation exists as a nation because one man thought that it needed to exist as a nation.

With no natural resources, even water until recently, there was no justification or need for this piece of land to exist as an independent nation. Yet, one man, Lee Kuan Yew, decided to give this piece of land an independent life and a decent livelihood to its inhabitants and thus was born Singapore.

While countries that have abundant natural resources and wealth and of all things, land, find it difficult to exist, this piece of tropical land called Singapore exists and flourishes as a developed first world nation. And that needs special people at the top and  various kinds of people in different levels of society. To arrive at this very structure,  the educational system and the scheme of national service, have been designed. And this combination has worked together successfully to provide housing to 95% of its people, water and electricity to all and a safe environment and a work culture that provides for the best companies in the world to come and invest in Singapore.

If this society doesn’t have this meritocracy based governance model, in no time would this region become another third world society.

Becoming a third world nation is easy. Just lower your guard, allow any Tom, Dick and Harry to legislate and you have a third world nation already. Take a look at some of the major countries in the region. Making a first world country in an environment that has only third world countries is definitely a feat.

And to sustain this feat, the schooling, meritocratic governance and the associated paraphernalia are needed. If that needs some moderation so be it. Let there be more emphasis on arts and creativity for not all children are born engineers and mathematicians. Let us remember that the Indian Mathematics prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan never passed in English. And not all late boomers are at fault. A child not performing in Class 6 ( the year the PSLE is written ) would bloom later. So given them a chance.

‘In any case why is the system so elite-oriented ?’ people ask. I think Singapore still follows the ‘Mandarin’ system of administration – the one followed in China during the earlier emperor reigns. The bureaucrats were chosen after a rigorous system of testing and filtration so that only the very best come to hold positions of power under the emperor. Probably this, in a modified fashion, is being followed in Singapore. I believe it is a culture thing. And the bureaucrats  and elected representatives in Singapore have raised the standards of governance.

And this is the system that has helped millions of ordinary Singaporeans get a decent living with a cover over their heads and decent schooling as well. There could be flaws here and there and those might need to be corrected.

If one thinks of dismantling this system in its entirety, then the sustenance of Singapore as a first world nation would be in jeopardy.

I want Singapore to survive and flourish.

But you might say that that does not justify the ‘obedient men’ in the country.

Well, a child in its infancy needs care. And it needs to be protected, especially if the child has some dangerous health problems. In the case of Singapore, it is still a child. And it has great problems of survival – doesn’t produce anything edible for its citizens to eat and survive. Hence it needs special care for some more years to come so that the child can sustain on its own. Until such time, the child needs to be nurtured with strict dos and don’ts. And one such ‘don’t’ is internal disturbance and crazy opposition to anything the establishment says. And we saw what that internal dissension did to the image and prestige of the USA in the debt-ceiling crisis. America can afford this kind of cacophony as ultimately the world would continue to use their dollar for buying oil and hence they would continue to survive. Can Singapore afford that ?

What good is a liberal democracy if it cannot provide shelter to its citizens and a safe environment for its women ? So, a moderated democracy, even if not liberal, would be better if it can provide security and a higher quality of life to its citizens. Wouldn’t one agree with this line of thought ?

But does that justify ‘obedient’ citizens and the processes to make them so ? That is the question that one needs to answer by being part of the system and not being outside of it. If the methods adopted 40 years ago sound preposterous now, then  look at a moderated version of those rather than completely eliminating them as you cannot afford a void just in case a complete elimination creates one. Any drastic change, as science says, creates a void and all junk comes in to fill.

Wth junk ,Singapore wouldn’t exist, leave alone flourish.


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