The city is as verdant as ever and the sky cerulean. A bubble dome erected by the Ministry of Environment, Resources and Geo-engineering, keeps the island in a sunny 24°C clime.
The children, however, do not think of going out to play. Inside, standing in front of fourteen heads, a teacher picks up the remote control. The students eagerly pull grey virtual reality headsets over their eyes. Each child observes the Big Bang, the formation of stars, and picks one to ride on while points of light pull away from them as the universe itself expands.
Look at a star that doesn’t move, Mr Lim says. Do you think it’s really not moving? The kids like astronomy examples, especially after the six Singaporeans who earned places on Space X’s 100-strong Mars Colonial Transporter team were celebrated as heroes in the media. Besides, school isn’t what it once was. You could still do the exam, but so could you go to the computer lab and create 3-D printed models for your geography ‘A’ levels.
There are more like Mr Lim now. This is not just the result of a large expansion of the teaching service, increase in teachers’ salaries, and the hiring of administrative assistants at schools to handle non-teaching related work. Due to a sustained NGO-led, government-funded campaign combating harmful gender norms in society, cisgendered men like Mr Lim do not feel less of a ‘man’ for entering nurturing jobs like teaching and nursing, which by now have roughly equal proportions of men and women. “Manliness” is quaint; so is homophobic legislation, which was relegated to history when 377A was repealed and gay marriage legalized.
With an increase in male mentors in government schools, boys, especially working class ones, caught up with girls academically. On the other hand, corporate boardrooms, government ministries and Parliament now are proportionally filled with women.
Most jobs are in the service sectors and in the arts, music, sports, science, technology and academia. As predicted in The Second Machine Age, with advances in digital technologies such as ever-smarter Artificial Intelligence and exponentially increasing computing power, most 20th century middle class jobs are being replaced.
Just like technological revolutions before it, the Second Machine Age caused a large socio-economic upheaval followed by unprecedented increases in productivity. Thanks to educational reforms and redoubled efforts in funding a nascent community of tech start-ups, Singapore was able to capitalize on this trend. A group of Singapore-based financial-technology firms helped develop the world’s most digitized financial system on our shores. Finance was gradually eroded away by intelligent algorithms that traded capital far more cheaply, efficiently, and ethically than their forebears. These were also far less likely to engage in the risk-seeking behaviour of human financiers, and thus lead to greater financial stability.
The widespread adoption of labour-saving technologies such as drone waiters at restaurants reduced the need for cheap foreign labour, while helping local business thrive and increasing the wages of those that do remain. Reduced pressure from imported labour and the de-financialization of our small city-state helped housing prices and rent to fall back to bearable levels. The reduction of the average weekly working hours to 35 hours freed Singaporeans to engage in more fulfilling pursuits.
All this might not have been possible without the 2017 general election, at which the ruling party retained parliamentary majority but received less than half of the vote. Realising that its electoral problems stemmed in part from increasingly embarrassing attempts to regulate discourse, the government accepted the fact that the free exchange of ideas – and the ideological conflicts that ensue – is unavoidable in this age.
Basic formal logic and other reasoning skills were incorporated into Social Studies’ curriculum, with strong emphases on ethical and political reasoning. Viewpoints from Chinese, Indian and Islamic philosophy were not ignored, and in fact were included in a broader push towards an educational model that was more appreciative – and critical – of the our nation’s civilizational inheritances. Students would read simplified translations of the Ramayana in English and watch Javanese renditions of it. Teachers would facilitate classroom debates on whether the social harmony advocated by Confucius necessarily leads to oppressive gender roles.
Singaporean students got better at the verbal give and take of argument, whether online or off, and developed the social, intellectual and cultural self-confidence to take on a cosmopolitan adult world. The political maturity that these reforms brought about in the populace paved the way for the more pluralistic, participatory politics we see in society today.
This essay was submitted for the “My Singapore, My Future” essay contest organised by The Opinion Collaborative Ltd, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s nationhood.
Comments from the judges –
“Very enjoyable read, very nice vision for the future – perhaps the most expansive and daring vision of the future from among the entries. Well written.”
The Monsoons Book Club is a non-profit-making association of concerned individuals interested in books and ideas relevant to the social, political and economic progress in the South East Asian. It aims to create a platform for people from all walks of life, including writers, intellectuals, artists, researchers and politicians to inform, share their thoughts, challenge conventional views; and to disseminate reports and recordings of such events to a wider audience through written and audio visual media. Monsoons Book Club is the trading name of Monsoons Book Club Limited (registered in Cardiff, UK).
About The Opinion Collaborative Ltd
The Opinion Collaborative Ltd (TOC Ltd) is a social enterprise registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority under the Companies Act. TOC Ltd is interested in the development of the online media sphere in Singapore, with the view of promoting an open and diverse media environment that values the constructive collaboration of ideas and views. It aims to do so by supporting websites that seek to enlighten readers and provide diversity of opinion, so as to ignite passion and responsibility in nation-building.