Monday, 11 December, 2006
Numbers may be an indication of Singapore’s economic growth, but numbers will not be able to tell us the social development of our society.
The future of every society lies with its youth. It is the youth who will rise and take the reins of leadership, and lead society to the inevitable future. As such, societies worldwide recognise the importance of youth in their society, and go to great extent, to nurture the development of youths. Singapore society is no exception.
The emphasis placed on education has created results, such as those seen in worldwide surveys, where our children are ranked high, if not the first, in mathematics and science – the subjects where performance can be quantified.
However, as Fareed Zakaria has mentioned before, few of our young people end up becoming world-beaters around the world. Answers have been proposed to this paradox, and all of us have our individual answers, but still the questions remains, why don’t we have geniuses?
2 important, pertinent questions
As I started going on this train of thought regarding the education of our youth, it led me to more questions, none of which are fully resolvable. The most pressing question that I asked myself was, what will be needed to face the challenges of globalisation and integration now, as in the present? And the second question, are our youths able to meet those challenges?
I understand that our education system is continuously undergoing changes, so as to prepare our youths for the challenges of working in a society. The concept has been seemingly drummed into us, that the future economy will become based more on knowledge, creativity and innovation. During the course of my education, as students, we paid only lip service to those ideas, rarely ever contemplating the immensity of the challenges that we were being pushed into. As I matured, I soon realised the immensity of these challenges, and through observation, have reached my conclusion that Singapore society as a whole, is barely able to meet those challenges, and that radical revisions will have to be made, to make our society viable and prosperous in the future.
My investigation into globalisation started with the works of Thomas Friedman. To those not familiar with the person, he happens to be a multiple-Pulitzer-winning journalist, whose articles are informative as they are thought provoking. In one of his books (The World is Flat), a sentence appealed to me, that I could almost recite it. It is about the immensity of talent that exists in China, awaiting opportunities to be realised and utilized.
Singapore is still vulnerable
To paraphrase him, it says, in China, when you are one in a million, there are still 1300 people like you (by the way, China’s population is about 1.3 billion). It immediately dawned upon me that Singapore is really vulnerable, and even despite the best efforts in our education system, our lead is only temporary – in a world where people talent is an important consideration for investment, we may still find ourselves vulnerable to the talent that exists in abundance in China and India. Yes, we may still be leaders in some areas, but should we ever be complacent, we may find Singapore’s competitive advantage slowly eroded to the point where investment will just pass us over…
My second observation comes from a statement made by an educator, whose institution and details I will not mention, but nonetheless, the statement seems to be representative of sentiments and attitudes. I can only paraphrase it as ‘when you are in a JC, you are in the top 20th percentile of the student population in Singapore’. To me, it was an indication of an inequality that pervades our education system, and the question to ponder is whether this inequality is necessary, and whether this inequality should be corrected. It reflects the access of knowledge; of which others are seen to be more deserving of knowledge than others.
The Singaporean youth
I have observed ignorance and apathy in our youths, whose lives may sometimes be the pursuit of a fashionable life, in the realms of fashion and music, of MTV-esque presentations and slogans, though nice, deny the viewer of reflection because they are too obvious. There is the silent apathy that our youths seem to possess in abundance, yet there is no cause for concern among them for not knowing, simply because they don’t even know that they don’t know.
It seems to me that the economic future of our nation is dependent on 20% of the youths, a figure that reminds me of the size of the JC-cohort. Yet, the only way a knowledge-based economy can work is with a knowledge-based society, and it seems to me that the rate of information penetration isn’t as high as it should be, for Singapore’s viability to continue. Of course, critics will press me for actual statistics and questions about methodologies and techniques, and though I can’t answer these questions, the message remains; that a significant proportion of our youths are drunken on apathy, that they don’t see their ignorance. How can a knowledge-based-society arise from youths who are unconcerned about what happens in the world from which we are so integrated to for our own survival?
Of course, such generalities will offend many, but they will only offend those who bother to read this article. I am aware of those who spend their entire lives in pursuit of their passion, people who have overcome great difficulties just to be where they are today, anonymous, yet equally powerful testaments of the good that comes about when people do care.
There are those who call for greater passion for our youths, and there are those who have become flag-bearers of passion. Yet, for the passion to arise, there must be inspiration, reflection, contemplation and action, all of which are badly needed in our youths.
There are many paths to many futures, and the future of Singapore society will rest in the minds of our youths, more so than anything else.
About the author:
Eddie Choo is currently serving his national service.