t Double Yellow's Musings: How we can become World Beaters
The warped mind of Double Yellow craves for humor everyday. His daily dose comes from The Straits Times, The Sunday Times, Today, Channelnewsasia, etc. He also thinks that because of this preamble, this blog will never get featured in the local media. And of course, please read the Disclaimer before embarking on the journey.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

How we can become World Beaters

In a HDB flat not so far away....

Father: Son, come here. I bought something for you.
Son: Yes Dad
Father: Here, this is for you

Father gives son a globe

Son: Thanks Dad. I’ll put it on my desk.
Father: No son. I want you to hit, punch and bang it.
Son: What?
Father: Yes. That’s about the only way you are going to be a world beater!


As if it were not enough that our local media keeps comparing us with other countries, Newsweek man Fareed Zakaria has done it too. The only difference in the latter analysis is that we are not the bestest in the world. He compares Singaporean and American students and asks why despite us doing so well in exams, we fare poorly in the ‘real world’.

The ‘real world’ according to Zakaria seems to be narrowly (and implicitly) defined as the world of ‘science’ and ‘business’. I don’t even want to dwell on the vast fields he has left out, not that Singaporeans have excelled any better in those. But what is lacking in Zakaria's assessment is causality - academic excellence in school does not necessarily translate into success in the world of 'science' or 'business', at least in Singapore's context.

In order to succeed in the world of science, there needs to be a passion for blue-sky research and a Phd is a must. The ‘problem’ with getting a Phd is that it takes a lot of time, commitment, money and passion to achieve. There are many Singaporeans with Phds and the zeal for science but once these people come back to Singapore, there is not much scope for blue-sky research. Why? Because getting the Nobel Prize is not one of our objectives. Read the following comment carefully and no prizes for guessing who made them....

'In Singapore, we have a small population, we have no such luxury to do basic science. The key is to be practical. We cannot have everything. By nature, I want to see some outcome...I want something I can feel and touch, and knock.'

'My job is to create jobs. It's not just to create great science and great things. Don't forget Nobel Prizes don't create jobs. Research, to me, is a means to an end. The end, to me, is to attract and encourage local companies and MNCs and create jobs for all Singaporeans, from the CEO down to the cleaning lady.'

From here....

Let me clarify. I am not criticizing the person who made the above comments (scared, kenna sue). I am merely stating that there is no ambiguity as far as Singapore's objectives in science research is concerned.

So the main area for research here is when it can be converted to $$ and this leads us to the ‘business world’. Doing well in Math, Physics and Chemistry Olympiads have NOTHING to do with creating a product to sell in the market place. Succeeding in business requires a totally different skill-set. Journalists thrive on correlation but when causality is brought into the picture, they dont have a story.

Anyways, I’m probably gonna buy a globe this evening :)

9 Comments:

Blogger Indi said...

"create jobs for all Singaporeans, from the CEO down to the cleaning lady"

creating a job for the cleaning lady defeats the idea of having knowledge based economy.

if you have 100% knowledge based economy you would not have to have cleaning lady anymore, am i correct?

5:22 AM  
Blogger doubleyellow said...

hey indi, if things are going they way they are, the cleaning lady might actually be out of a job...

7:13 AM  
Blogger The Void Deck said...

World beaters in areas of ground breaking sciences with no direct making money plan out of it?

Hmmm there is just not enough passion and institutional support for it like you said. But once in a while, if there is money to be reaped, killer ideas like SoundBlaster and ThumbDrive do show that, Phd (which is an awesome academic qualification) or not, Sporeans do have that passion and creative drive to be world beaters without buying a globe from Popular bookstore.

If only there are more of such Sporeans with that zeal. Oops back to that lack of institutional support (broadest sense) argument. Hmmm

8:02 PM  
Anonymous heather said...

I read the article, quite interesting comparison I have to say and I found What Shanmugaratnam said to be rather true even though I don't study in the states.

"We both have meritocracies," Shanmugaratnam said. "Yours is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well—like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are the areas where Singapore must learn from America."

In some schools in Singapore, you can't really voice out your opinions or if you think your idea is better than your teacher. Creativity or Ideas are greatly appreciated somehow here in Europe because there is no actual right or wrong answers to everything. I remember studying in Singapore and being reprimanded when voicing an opinion about certain topics and how my friend tell me that is so wrong. If even my friends can tell me that, it means that changes do not lie entirely on the teachers but even how the parents educate their children and the entire society. It is in our culture and it is very difficult to change overnight and we just cannot be like the United States because everything is now becoming a *fixed* mentally to some people. It will take generations to improve..

just what I think, (no one needs to agree :)... )

2:21 AM  
Blogger doubleyellow said...

Hey Void Deck, while the majority of Singaporeans run after the 5Cs as if they are runnning to nirvana, I do believe that there are some who have the brains and drive for scientific research.

What they are lacking is the right environment (you're right - institutional support) to put those skills into practice.

7:55 AM  
Blogger doubleyellow said...

hey heather, you raise some interesting points. I think your experience in Singapore schools is not isolated and many students probably do not feel the urge to speak up and defy authority, so to speak...

"...because there is no actual right or wrong answers to everything" - I cannot agree more :)

The part which you allude to and I dont fully agree is that the so-called U.S. model of "talent meritocracy" (TM) is the way to go. While TM may have its merits, it is not something that the U.S. conciously applies in its schools. The schools in the U.S. are not necessarily the best. Following them blindly will have pitfalls... hope MOE realizes this :)

8:06 AM  
Anonymous heather said...

doubleyellow, sorry I didn't actually meant we need to be like the states but just that we cannot be like them.

I agree with what you said, they may not be the best system to follow but perhaps we can emulate some of their success in certain areas. I also think there are many countries that Singapore can learn from, not just the states :)

10:06 AM  
Anonymous heather said...

Ack,I haven't finish writing and I posted that.. I was researching about the influence of ICT and the economy and I realised that in Finland, Universities are cooperating with companies to produce open source software for use in business and schools. The open and widely use of educational softwares and information exchange, together with the high knowledge and expertise they have in IT help them alot in terms of educating the Young to produce even better technology for the future. I think that is something perhaps Singapore can look at. I plan to write an article about that.. but right now, I don't have the time yet. Perhaps later, I will post it on my blog. :)

10:13 AM  
Blogger doubleyellow said...

hey heather, i read you wrong earlier but now i understand better :)

About companies in Finland cooperating with the private sector, I think something similar is in place in Singapore too. But I'm not sure of the details (hv no clue on what open source is) or how successful it is...

... the flavour of the month is 'entrepreunership'. I think the universities here are moving towards teaching less 'hardcore' science and more business skills. SMU is a case in point :)

7:05 AM  

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