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I am Singaporean IV – Balderdash! August 31, 2008

Posted by The Truth in I am Singaporean, Vol. II.
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I read recently that some Young PAP dude felt that the Opposition was unnecessary.  Which riled me up enough to actually post a reply and come out of hiatus.  You see, what Mr. Lazarus is trying to say is this…

The Opposition has long used its ‘fear of the PAP’ excuse to explain why they lost the elections.  Recent happenings have disproved all the untruths of the lying Opposition, like the Baby Bonus, where the people actually stood up to the Government and PM Lee backdated his bonus to 17th August.  Also the table-tennis saga.  The Opposition has had nothing to do with this so far and there is no need for them to, for Singapore is becoming an Athenian democracy (ha, ha!) as more and more citizens engage the Government.  The people are the best check of the Government.  So isn’t the Opposition redundant?

First, let’s see if the people ARE the best check of the Government.  In an ideal, athenian democracy, the people ARE the government.  The people are billed as the best check of the Government, but there is a fatal flaw to this argument.  In Singapore, where there is no viable alternative to the Government, how can the people act as an effective check?  The Government only has one fear, and that is to infuriate the people enough to actually overthrow them.  And the Government has checked this very successfully with hardcore pragmatism and meritocracy, a word which is so overused in Singapore and is probably an euphemism for ‘it’s a dog-eat-dog world.’  Keep the people well-off enough that they don’t get mad enough to actually do something.

Mr. Lazarus’ drawing on two isolated, much-publicised cases effectively reduces his argument to propaganda.  What about the other less-publicised cases like, say, deporting Myanmar nationals?  With control of the media, the Government has effectively publicised what it wants to publicise to give the impression that change is at hand, and this is the trap which Mr. Lazarus falls into, or this is what he feels he should do as a young MIW.

Now dealing with the Opposition having had nothing to do so far with these issues so far.  The question needs a slight modification: can the Opposition do anything effectively?  The SDP was charged for circulating newspapers containing ‘untruths.’  So truth and false are defined by those who are in power?  The Opposition is kept so weak such that they only have a symbolic representation.  However, weak doesn’t mean redundant.

Lastly, the Athenian democracy.  I think you misunderstand what an Athenian democracy is, Mr. Lazarus.  In Athens, it was the duty of every citizen to be a politician.  Stonemasons, merchants, soldiers, potters, philosophers, poets – all of them were politicians too.  Singapore becoming an Athenian democracy is something which will happen after Hell freezes over, then some.  Who are the politicians in Singapore?  Secondly, look at what the Athenian democracy entails.  In Athens, politics was a very important topic, a topic which was debated every day, and becoming a politician was seen as one’s moral destiny.  In Singapore, there is more apathy than engagement.  If you want to see Singapore as an Athenian democracy in the making, then we should make it possible for 4 million people to vote on every issue, and i mean every single issue.

Vade mecum ad Latinum! August 26, 2008

Posted by The Truth in Im Allgemeinen.
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On a study hiatus. Latin exam on the 24th September…updates will be few and far between, but if something sensational enough shows up, you can bet it’ll be on here.

opto vobis vitam beatissimam – bibamus!

I am Singaporean III – Re-Education August 16, 2008

Posted by The Truth in I am Singaporean, Vol. II.
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So okay, there’s been talk about the education system and how it needs to be reformed. I will refer you to the transcript published by the States Times, and it is this text which is analysed and commented.

§2-§7 deals with the worldwide situation of education, and the bottom line of what Mr Ng is trying to say is that money is not equivalent to good education. Educational initiatives do not necessarily result in improvement, and public spending does not mean a sound public education system. In fact, the education is like a maze with many dead ends:

[2] Universally, there is strong interest and commitment to ensure that the young receive a sound education. But in practice, this yearning has not always resulted in approval when new educational initiatives are introduced. […] [7] Unfortunately, for many countries, the quest to educate the masses well through a strong public education system has been akin to going through a maze with inaccurate maps or directions. Many have taken wrong turns or landed up in dead ends. The best intentions and socialist ideals did and could not translate into practical and effective outcomes for students.

At the closing of §7, Mr Ng asks how the Singaporean education system has performed and how we are going to improve it.

I will now deal with §8 and §9, but will skip the history lesson. It is not my intention to deal with it here. In §8, Mr Ng says that Singapore has topped international rankings, and the lowest quartile still performs better in our system than others (but does this deal with the difference in methodology, as in how students are rated? It probably is easier to show that we perform better with poor students when it is based on simple black-and-white questions which can be crammed for than with questions which require thinking). But anyway, Mr Ng goes on to say that the elite schools send more people to top overseas institutions than any other international school (RI is an international school??) and topped other secondary schools (again, see methodology.) Again, Mr Ng takes up rankings in §8 and 9.

Unfortunately, rankings do not deal much with other aspects of being a student: it only deals with concrete results. I don’t know how many times this has been said, but concrete results are not THE ONLY marker, it is only the marker which is easiest to analyse. Until someone actually compiles a complete report on the education system and the students, these reports do not say much at all. They say we are good in one aspect but doesn’t say much about the other aspects. Pretty much like a drug which tells you that it is good in treating a disease but doesn’t discuss the side-effects.

The success of Singapore is summarised at §40, which i will quote in full:

40. To summarise, our success can be attributed first to socio-political considerations in the choice of English and the bilingual policy and then putting into place sound educational fundamentals of good teachers, instruction and streaming. These are the factors that maintain us on an even keel. We must keep each of these elements, but at the same time, we must also evolve our system to keep up with new challenges and structural trends in the future. I will just mention three broad directions.

This is referred to as a ‘Golden Mean.’ Well, I wish it was so simple. This is all based on the premise that concrete results are the most important. Good teachers ARE present, but how many of them are forced to teach less, and do more admin? Instruction is questionable: as long as this fixation on rankings persist, I am doubtful that this is good instruction. Good instruction should build passion, not kill it. Which comes to streaming. Subject banding is now used to avoid the sad situation where the students’ self-confidence is affected by streaming. Steps are being done, but the effectiveness is still questionable. But, maybe Mr Ng is right, because such humanistic ideals and the best intentions don’t work, as he said in closing to §7. The world wants concrete results. Pragmatism is the driving force behind our educational system, not some ideal which students tend to and want to have.

The next part, §41-§43, deals with “Great Expectations.” Basically, it means that schools should be given more autonomy and teachers better qualified to teach their students. A better teacher-student ratio is definitely something sorely needed in Singapore. “Employing good enough teachers with passion to teach and nurture” (§42) is going to be a continuing challenge. So how does this come about? The money solution? Teaching is considered by many to be a dead-end job, and unless teaching can be made as financially attractive as, say, business, you can bet that those who come to you are desperate, OR are the good teachers you are looking for. Also, the part on more autonomy: does that mean less red tape, doing less work on the side and teaching more, and the abolishing of the ranking system? If not, there is only a fake autonomy you are looking at: all schools are still caught up in the same quest to be number one.

Lastly, Mr Ng talks about “Values” – what values actually? He does not specify them, but he acknowledges that the young are becoming more questioning and they are more apt to go by self-discovery and discourse. Rootedness must increase, but as long as the policies do not agree with the real situation, as long as the educational system remains a system devoid of passion on the side of the students, and the work attitude in Singapore, although good, leaves one yearning for more (not materially, but spiritually), rootedness is difficult to build. People don’t leave just because things are better overseas. People also leave because they are unhappy with the way things are at home. Ideally, Values should also involve the very open recognition of the fact that Singapore is not perfect, and that the leaders are willing to listen and not challenge people with different ideas to come into politics.

My suggestion for values would be to instill a passion for learning and to de-emphasise the importance of results. De-emphasising doesn’t mean that it is gone: it is still there, but not the ultimate priority of schools. One way of doing it would be abolishing the ranking system, but keeping application criteria (e.g. PSLE to secondary school, etc) there. That way, students are under less stress from the school to perform for the school, and with the right cultivation of passion, will want to perform for themselves.

I am Singaporean II – The Apology August 9, 2008

Posted by The Truth in I am Singaporean, Vol. II.
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Our resident States Times psychologist, Chua Lee Hoong, has deemed it fit to write an apology for Singapore on National Day, explaining why the West hates systems like ours which are authoritarian, but successful:

What’s eating them? The easy answer is that both China and Singapore are authoritarian states. The freedoms taken for granted in the West – freedom of speech and assembly – come with more caveats in these two places […] The real sin: Singapore and China are examples of countries which are taking a different route to development, and look to be succeeding. Success grates, especially when it cocks a snook at much-cherished liberal values.

Right at the beginning, our author asserts that the West is jealous of our success despite having another system, one which is authoritarian. I don’t think it is a sin – I think the main problem lies with the West not being able to accept that this is possible. And this is somewhat true in Singapore, because success is measured here in economic terms, not in terms of happiness. Perhaps why the West thinks that our system is flawed is because, well, of the question if we are happy, although it is also legitimate to say that the West is jealous out of purely economic reasons. After all, most politicians are forced to see people as statistics, because there are just too many people for any politician to personally know.

Today is National Day, and in the Truman Show-esque Singapore which our leaders want us to believe that it is, we are all smiling. In fact, in 2006, we put on Four Million Smiles, remember? And the guy who did 400 Frowns got investigated by the Police. If all, National Day being today, it should be a time for us to not just celebrate our achievements, but also to remember what has gone wrong.

But still, I don’t know why Singapore is always harping on the economic success it has. True, Singapore is economically successful. But successful as a country? Success as a country involves having an identity, and a Singapore Spirit, which up to now, is probably a political construct, seeing as some of the things which constitute the Singapore Spirit, like Singlish, are frowned upon. All for economical goals. I would say the Singapore Spirit is one of earning as much money as possible, because the State sure ain’t gonna take care of you.

Come to think of it, that is a rather good idea. After all, that is the only way we can think, right? Hehheh.

Mr Kampfner seems in a genuine intellectual funk. He cannot quite understand why otherwise normal, intelligent Singaporeans would trade certain freedoms for economic progress, and accept the Singapore political system for what it is.

But perhaps he has got the wrong end of the stick. The problem lies not in the Singaporeans, but in his own assumptions. Namely: If you speak English, if you are well-educated and well-travelled, you must also believe in Western-style democracy. They are a package.

Are they not a package? If they weren’t a package, then probably Singapore shouldn’t be called a democracy. China sure as Hell isn’t a democracy, but China is flourishing. Instead of placing the blame solely on the West, perhaps the blame lies partly on the Singaporeans too. Having seen more and been well-educated, they should have the choice to opt for the political system they wish for their country. Instead, Singaporeans let the Government conduct walkovers, because the Opposition is kept in such a weak manner. That the PAP’s political might is partly based on walkovers and that there isn’t an Opposition which can put up true resistance doesn’t mean that our system is necessarily the best, too.

One observer draws an analogy with Pavlovian behavioural conditioning. So conditioned have Westerners become to associating cosmopolitan progress with certain political parameters, they do not know how to react when they encounter a creature – Singapore – that has one but not the other.

Interesting you should say that. It works both ways, too. Take the baby problem, for example. In a Pavlovian way, we choose to put off having kids and all, because we need the money to survive. Now there’s been talk of going Swedish, and people don’t know how to react because they have encountered a creature – gasp! the West.

Lastly, she speaks as if the Pax Singaporeana is something which detractors have to work against and head off. You have to be careful with what you say, because Caesar can cause the people, who fear the state (timor rei publicae) to become very angry (ira rei publicae), indeed. That’s why Caesar was murdered…because the dictatorship was something the people could not get used to.

I am Singaporean I – Birthday Wishes August 8, 2008

Posted by The Truth in I am Singaporean, Vol. II.
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Happy Birthday, Singapore! 43 years and going…and welcome to Volume II of ‘I am Singaporean.’

As we celebrate National Day again, one has to ask: are we celebrating the Singapore Spirit? What is the Singapore Spirit? More ERP, Chee in jail, defamation, tax hikes, etc? No, that’s not the Singapore Spirit we should celebrate. I’m thinking the people you’ve known for forever, the food, Singlish, and more.

Indeed, my birthday wish for Singapore would be this: that the Men in White start wearing red, and that they see us for what we are – people, not their workers.

The Singapore Spirit, and Wearing White August 5, 2008

Posted by The Truth in Im Allgemeinen.
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Time for another NDP post, since NDP is coming up on Saturday…

Aaron is right when he notes that everyone is in red except for the politicians in white. Of course, it could be a freebie which the masses wear out of pure gratitude, but symbolically, i think it is supposed to mean that the people are the blood of the country, and the politicians are white, i.e. incorruptible. I think that’s what it’s supposed to mean, or maybe it’s in the textbooks.

But in doing so, the politicians have separated themselves from the people. It’s also a symbolic separation, one which one can probably see today too in the form of policies which have questionable results, although the intention may be good. In other words, the difference between theory and praxis. Also shows in the way some politicians appear to be arrogant and be better-than-thou.

So Singapore Spirit is supposed to be celebrated in a stadium where the two groups are fully separated from each other? Probably Singapore Spirits should be celebrated instead. Maybe the politicians wanted to wear red, but, like Pontius Pilate, who ‘washed his hands’ off Jesus’ case, they’ve washed theirs too…they’ve washed off the everyday person’s persona and life, and moved on to better things.