Had my department Chinese New Year dinner just now. Was seated next to our Chief Operating Officer.

During the dinner, the conversation somehow steered to the pressure cooker education system in Singapore. My COO who’s from Holland was very against it. He said that children should not be straddled with stressful exams. One of the comments he made was, “Look at the children in USA or Europe. Do they grow up to be any worse than Asians?”

To Bubbs’ credit, she said that Asians are definitely much stronger in Maths.

Her boss, who’s Australian, then said (in what I felt was a slightly condescending tone) that Singaporeans are only strong in technical subjects.

I agreed with him but I also clarified that this was inevitable. Given that Singapore was a 3rd world country in the 1960s, there was a very strong push for locals to be technically trained in engineering & other subjects. The government’s emphasis was to groom a generation of technically sound people to build the country.

In a mere 30 years, we’ve gone from a back water village to a 1st world nation. Without the hunger, drive and pressure cooker environment, would it have been possible?

Although still as competitive as ever, now that we’ve become a developed country, our schools are more open to grooming talents in the arts. We’re also slowly grooming athletes to excel in sports.

I did not mince my words when I told my COO that one has got to understand that without relentless drive, Singapore would not have gotten where we are today – stamping out corruption, eradicating secret societies and making the leap from itinerant blue collar workers to degree holders in 2 generations.

Apart from the practical push for meritocracy, one also has to understand the historical & cultural aspects. Most of the early migrants to Singapore came from China. In a country faced with poverty and where the vast majority were engaged in agricultural jobs, the only way to a better life was through education. It’s no surprise that parents often push their children to obtain good results in order to secure a better future. Coming from such a background, is it any surprise then that Singaporeans place such importance on education?

While I do not agree with parents taking their children to multiple tuition & enrichment classes from a young age, I do not see anything wrong with having an education system based on merits. If our ancestors didn’t stretch themselves, we could not have achieved so much in such a short time. We must not go soft now & fail our founding fathers.

Posted by Wordmobi

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February 2010