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I am Singaporean XXVIII – The Hubbub about being a Hub May 24, 2007

Posted by The Truth in I am Singaporean, Vol. I.

Just yesterday, UNSW announced that it would be pulling out of Singapore. Yet another blow to the Singaporean vision of being an Educational Hub. After so many setbacks, and so many wild drives to court foreign universities to open a campus here in the hope that we can draw young foreigners to Singapore to study and hopefully keep them in our labour force (thus displacing many other locals,) it is worth posing the question: can we really be an educational hub?

And by posing, i mean asking yourself that question, sitting down, reflecting. What the PAP says has fallen flat time and time again. Are we ready to be an educational hub, a transport hub, a whatever-hub? Yours truly truly (ha, ha) believes that you should sit down and reflect and not just accept what’s being fed to you by the States’ Times and the State. Can we be an educational hub?

Let’s start at home, shall we? Is Singaporean education the best? Are we ‘world-class’, so to speak? In terms of factual knowledge and the conception, it IS world-class. But there is one component lacking which makes it really top-notch: the ability to reflect, to think, to believe in what one believes and to defend it. What is, then, education? Education is the ‘process or art of imparting knowledge, judgement, and skills.’ In Singapore, you only have the knowledge component which is fully developed. There is little judgement being taught, apart from what is absolutely right and what is absolutely wrong, like how it is absolutely wrong to criticise the Gahmen. Skills which are taught range from the physical to the intellectual – sadly, the intellectual skills being taught rarely, if ever, get applied. The success formula for a Singaporean student is: study hard and memorise. Don’t think so much. Don’t use short-cuts. The old time-tested method will see you true.

Thus, these intellectual skills degenerate and fade into nothingness. As for judgement, in terms of syllabus, i think MOE has done a perfect job of exploiting the Asian mentality and depicted everything in the books to be the gospel truth. Personally, it was only through my reading outside the curriculum that i discovered the alternative dimensions. In school, however, an alternative dimension only brings you bad marks. This results in the cowing of generations of students, the refusal to accept a new view or even to formulate one, instead forever referring to the books, because what is said there must be right.

Why? It’s not just the exploitation of the mentality. There’s also the (maybe perceived) dimension of fear vis-à-vis the Gahmen, the bosses. Even if the Gahmen doesn’t do it anymore, but Singaporeans have become so self-conscious and so possessed by this fear that if, say, a student writes a very brilliant essay attacking flaws in the Gahmen and gets good marks for it, the teacher can expect to find himself in very, very deep shit. That’s why topics like philosophy (in the form of KI, only theory of science, math, language are taught – nothing about ethics since it makes people think and ask why) are left out of the curriculum (or very carefully tended to) and teachers in general are wary of approaching such topics because of their jobs. This fear, or this general refusal, leads to the dumbing-down of society as a whole.

This dumbing-down has caused Singaporean society, Singaporean culture to degenerate into a papers chase, a money chase. No longer is anyone interested in deeper issues, the question of identity (some people leave it to God and forget it), the problems of the society. Education has degenerated into a wild attempt to force-feed students with the gospel truth in the books (which is fine with math, but not with history or lit or GP – remember the teaching that we should write our essays LIKE THIS and not in any other way?) and the students’ attempt to memorise everything without even attempting to understand it. This lack of understanding, or the lack of an attempt to, is transferred from school (MOE says molding the future of Singapore. In this sense, it is very very true) to society – no one understands what’s around him anymore, and the lack of ability to reflect and think only causes him to be cowed, to bend to the first authority which appears to know what they are doing.

So from home, are we ready to be an Educational Hub? No, we are not.

It pays now to throw some light upon why then the Gahmen has this idea that being an educational hub will be the future of Singapore, Inc. Lately even, foreign undergraduates have been offered the chance to come to Singapore and earn as much money as they wish. Competition to the locals is one thing, but to what end is all this? This is blind courtship – unconditional permission for anyone and everyone to come and work – take note that not everyone is a foreign talent. And the locals? I don’t know about us anymore.

Why this blind courtship? Is it because we’re not alternative enough, is it because we’re too one-tracked? Well, we’re brought up to be so. We’re conditioned (not educated) to think like this – we’re conditioned to accept only one system and not see things from a greater perspective. And then the Gahmen uses this excuse to say that foreigners are great, foreigners are good – i’m sure they are. I have a lot of foreign friends here who are really very interesting people to meet, partially because of the diversity of thought, and their own philosophies. What do we think in Singapore? What philosophy do we follow? No one poses these questions. But if you were posed it, could you answer it?

For so much hubbub about being a Hub, i’ll say no, thank you. A better way out would be to sort out education at home before we even think about going transregional.



1. Ned Stark - May 24, 2007

There are some say we are a hanging hub, a libel suit hub, so on so forth. Well we can always be the Unhappy Hub!

2. kevin.l - May 25, 2007

and we’ve already got starhub 😛

3. guojun - May 25, 2007

Ha? Starhub? zzz…

4. Gretch Worth - May 25, 2007

You know the state of education of a country or society should be called into question when there are “set correct answers” for exams in the area of English Literature (poems, prose, Shakespeare, plays…)

5. guojun - May 25, 2007

Correct answers do play a practical role, however. For example, the giving of marks. However, for questions of analysis, there should be more leeway, not the so-called ‘textbook’ answer. This is what i find most problematic

6. Ned Stark - May 25, 2007

As long as a person is able to make a sensible argument, then he can and should be awarded the marks. Of course practice is different from what ought to be.

7. MM - May 26, 2007

There is another business dimension that is worth exploring beside the education per se issue. It is the EDB – econmic issue appears to be the over riding factor in this exercise – of course brand name then will be important. International students provide big income for many universities in Australiia, UK and US. Internationalisation is a trendy word in many UK universities which also have armies of staff trwaling the globe for students. Singapore wants a slice of this pie.

As to academic standards – sadly we all know about what education is, well stated in your blog, but translatied into some measurable crtieria – Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) in UK, UKSPEC for enginnering in UK, etc. some of these may be lost. However, the ability to analyse problems independently and interdependently is an important aspect that they are looking for – the means to achieve that is another matter.

So, yes, we want to be a hub, or hubs – but have we think carefully about what it takes or how to achieve this objective? Singapore, together with Malaysia, Taiwan and other countries in Asia are already education hubs. We are awash with private institutions that run frachised degree course, even reputable “red brick” universities are represneted here through these colleges so how would an gahment established university comapre to these? Malaysia has a number of foreign universities on her soil – how do they do it?

One possible problem is our attitude of wanting everything big world first etc and not realising that like everything else in life, reputation needs time to mature. Media hub, for example, how would we achieve that status? The South Koreans spent decades, mostly private endeavours -OEM production studios for Western animation mdeia and computer games – before they arrive at today’s position. Governmental encouragement is in the form of incentives to help educate local small industry through direct funding/low interest loans to start ups, education investment etc. The instant culture of importing ready made solution was the the route taken by them – it is not surprising given their nationalistic characteristic.

All in all, it seems that we still have a fair bit of learning curve to climb, and hopefully not making the same mistakes twice. We professed ourselves to be pragmatic – are we pragmatic enough to learn from mistakes or are our egos blurring our vision?

8. jolly - May 26, 2007

good post. the singapore government is too naive and single-minded when dealing with complex issues like research and education. build factory and make semiconductors they can, coz it’s a mechanical job. but when it comes to higher level industries, they simply flounder, because they attempt to deal with them with the same simplistic mindset.

9. scb - May 27, 2007

Singapore is basically a ‘greedy hub’, anything, anyhow that are deemed by our super elite talents to be a money spinner, they put their hands and brains into it. The consequences that follow shall be dealt with later, think money first! There had been shortages of hospital beds(space) each time there was an outbreak of bigger proportion such as the recent Dengue Fever and Influenza, imagine what will happen in a more dire situation and yet Singapore wants to be a Medical Hub! Now I am contemplating to opt out from the Organ Donation Scheme after having stop from donating blood for some years. The reason is I do not know if the blood and organs are going to the local patients or FOREIGN COMMERCIAL PATIENTS!

10. George Orwell - May 27, 2007

Singapore wants to be a hub for everything. The fact of the matter is that singapore is a hub for nothing. Even the so called “financial hub” is nothing but a hub for corrupt Indonesian businessmen and Burmese drug lords to park their ill-gotten booty. The daily financial news media in the U.S do not report on the the activity of the Straits Times Industrial Index although it does report on other financial markets like the Hong Kong Hang Seng Index, CAC, Australian All Ordinaries, Japan Nikkei, London FTSE, etc. However, there is one thing that singapore is truly a hub. It is definitely a hub for the World Toilet College. Another 1st for a 3rd world country!

11. The Truth - May 29, 2007

Mister Orwell, you need to calm down. The simple fact is that we’re not going to be a hub if we want to be a hub for everything. The Gahmen needs ONE direction and they have to stop wandering around like a bunch of headless chickens. That’s what i’m saying.

Of course, any Gahmen spy reading this, you will attempt to remind me of the need for multifaceted development and being the top in everything. But let’s be realistic. You are giving us promises which you never fulfill and which you renew every 5 years with a similar, but slightly modified vision and mission statement. Wouldn’t it be better to be good in ONE and then trying for the other?

Singapore may be a success story but Singapore is in no way the City of God!

12. David - June 3, 2007

The only hub that gov can guarantee 100% successful is the BULLSHIT HUB !

The bullshit hub should be the one of the mandate for PAP election. I will support PAP for this hub since PAP lead by example of bullshiting.

13. Ned’s Reflections « Winter Is Coming - July 2, 2007

[…] From thereon I “branched” out into other areas such as the quest to become a multi hub, foreign talent, and whether Singapore has any lessons to be gained from the […]

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