"Pity the student who does not surpass the master."
The new Education Minister announced a new focus on Civics and Moral Education a few days ago.
Let's leave aside the issue of how ineffective classroom teaching generally is on imparting a values system. If you need comic relief on a related topic (the so-called MBA Oath), look here.
Mr Heng Swee Keat spoke on the importance of inculcating "social responsibility, personal and citizenship values in students".
What I find remarkable is how anyone can take seriously this pledge to uphold the importance of personal and citizenship values in Singapore.
Oh, I do not doubt the intent to place high importance on this initiative (although I have much darker things to say about the nature of that intent), but I question how much anyone can really expect to reap in terms of results, when so much in our environment demands a survivor's mentality.
The harsh environment begins as early as childhood, when students have to claw their way to the top of the heap in our highly competitive education system, one that allows no room for failure, since streaming starts so early. This is an education system that gave birth to acronyms such as ITE ("It's the end"). In addition, the fact that so many parents feel the need to resort to extra measures outside the state educational system, such as tuition, reveals the ineffectiveness of the educational system to act as a social leveler, and to improve social mobility here on this island.
Once kids reach adulthood and join the workplace, they have to compete with the numerous foreigners here for employment, and it certainly doesn't help that government imposed handicaps like National Service disadvantage citizens in their own country. Then there are the tax-payer sponsored inducements that are used to attract foreigners to come here that our own citizens aren't entitled to (such as university scholarships).
All the while, we are repeatedly told that there is "no free lunch", that we need to be "hungry" and have "spurs stuck in our hide". All this amid the highest levels of income inequality just about anywhere on Planet Earth.
We are also admonished frequently by the government that we have to avoid the dangers of a welfare state, that we need to take personal responsibility for our employment / health / retirement / elderly years etc.
It is sometimes ironic how Singapore can be thought of as a nanny state when in reality, many of our policies are designed for mandatory inclusion precisely so that the state can unburden itself of responsibilities onto the individual (e.g. CPF, Medisave and CPF Life), responsibilities that I might add, have traditionally been borne by the state in many developed countries.
The evidence of daily living in Singapore for the average citizen points to an existence marked by individual struggle.
And the flip side of meritocracy, as it is so avidly pursued here it is almost a state religion, is that individuals that 'make it' often feel they deserve their success, and can blithely ascribe their success solely to their own talents and abilities, and that those that fail deserve every iota of misery they endure.
Here in Singapore, it's every man for himself. If you want lunch, you had better go out there and get it yourself. There is a reason why every NSman knows and understands the acronym of SAF, "Serve and F*** Off".
Daily living in Singapore will inculcate values in students stronger than anything that can be taught in a classroom setting, government-sanctioned, civics, moral or otherwise. What those values are, you need only look around you in everyday Singapore to see.
And since the experience of daily living is shaped by government policies, it is only natural that students, upon growing to adulthood, will apply those same strictures that they have learnt in life to evaluating their own country and their government, with the same or greater degree of exactitude.
Pity the student who does not surpass the master.
The government shouldn't expect a free lunch themselves; the ever more pragmatic and survivalist Singaporean of the future will not pledge anything, much less his loyalty, to a place and its people simply because he was born and raised there. This breed of Singaporean includes, perhaps more so than any other group, those who are fervently pro-PAP and supportive of the material benefits that the PAP promises to deliver year after year.
Here's an interesting chart showing the negative correlation between income inequality and levels of social trust. And let us not forget that we have official confirmation that the income gap is not important. Old fogies like me who are just barely 30 may argue this point with the PM, but the PM need not worry.
The kids younger than me will be much more obliging towards taking the PM's words at face value. They will simply internalize this truth, adapt to reality, and concentrate on making more money for themselves. Just like the foreigners who come here because this is a great place to make money, enjoy the rich living (if you can afford it), and move on to someplace else if and when the weather changes. Hey, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Just as the system encourages survivalist and individualistic leanings in its own citizens by design, it attracts foreigners with the same values system.
As for the personal and citizenship values Heng Swee Keat wants so badly, well, let me put it this way.
The government has long wanted its citizen proletariats to put in their all for the economy, which isn't exactly a positive for family life. Belatedly, the government decided it wanted the fertility rate to be higher, which it is failing miserably at raising.
The government wants "hungry" citizens as well, which students are today internalizing the importance of. Now, the government wants social responsibility, personal and citizenship values to be emphasized in addition.
I think that's going to work out about as well as the fertility rate.