National Education

The months of October and November went by in a blast. It was my busiest period this year chasing deadlines, preparing papers and presentations, organising events and attending numerous thank you meals. And it sucks that this had to come at a time when everyone else in my department is winding down.

Yesterday I had the chance to get away from it all as I had to attend a National Education seminar where typically we get ‘brainwashed’ into understanding why we have the policies we have and why the government made certain decisions in the areas of economy, social cohesion, defence and foreign policy. Earlier I had already attended a seminar on social security system so this was left out of the module.

Well these are some thoughts from the relatively engaging session about our nation building.

1. Having been born and bred during the 80s when Singapore enjoyed a time of peace and prosperity, I never really got to know the trials we had to go through in the early years of independence. And as far as I can recall, these stories were not taught in our history lessons as well. In history, we learnt about the Indian and Chinese civilisation and honestly how is that relevant to us? I sure hope they have revised the curriculum today.

Singapore’s history should not be taught as part of national education but as part of our history curriculum. I know it is not very long but it will definitely help our youths see the relevance of it in our today’s society and help them understand why we are the way we are. Otherwise they will continue to grow up apathetic towards politics.

Having known our past, we can appreciate where we are today and the kind of progress we have made over the short span of a few decades, thanks to the dedication and tenacity of our leaders to always do what is right, not popular. But I wonder if our leaders are also too caught up in their past achievements to have made themselves relevant in today’s society?

I think that’s what the new leaders are for. They don’t have the baggage of the past which may haunt them in their policy making and I do hope to see more of them rising up in the ranks.

2. On the issue of social cohesion, a lot of emphasis was placed on establishing multi-racialism and multi-religiousity in our country. We are really unique as we are probably one of the only places where people of different colors and beliefs can live harmoniously together and everyone be given the same opportunities. And it was drilled home that we should not take this for granted.
One of issues brought up is about respect for other religions and Christians should refrain from evangelising to others without their prior approval. And we are told to place nationality before race or religion. Now this is an ideology that is difficult to accept. Because I am first a Christian. God is above all things so how can one regard their country above God?

The other thing that I thought was lacking is that there was little mention about how the government is helping the uneducated low wage workers fit into our fast progressing society as well as the hoards of foreign immigrants to integrate into our culture. Instead of spending so much effort on race and religious differences, they should focus on income and nationality differences. This is evidence of how our leaders have detracted from the present to concentrate on issues of the past.

Although we have our stereotypes of people from other races and make jokes about them, we have been brought up to accept friends and neighbours of a different race and be polite about it so this is hardly a widespread concern.

I am surprised to find out that even in 2015, we will still have 35% of the labour force who do not have post-secondary education. It is worrying indeed as Singapore is importing many degree holders. What do we have for our low wage counterparts if we are constantly upgrading our industries into high tech ones?

3. We had a very entertaining presentation by a general of the armed forces. He is in his mid 40s and still going strong in national service. He shared with us many stories about the strength of our military and why we need to keep vigilant. I like his analogy of locking our doors before we leave the house. We don’t question that so why do we question our country’s need to defend itself. But that is of last resort – first to deterrence and diplomacy.

On the area of diplomacy, the general described it as making friends. After his presentation, we had someone from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to share with us the principles behind our foreign policy. He started out by saying that diplomacy is not about making friends. In fact contrary to what was said, ‘wars’ are being fought everyday but just in a different manner. I like that. So intriguing.
I don’t think I can ever be a foreign diplomat. If anyone were to ever condemn us for certain behavior which I agree with, I think I might be forced to concur. But then again, there’s always the pride issue that we rather do the condemning ourselves than have it come at us from outsiders.

Due to the lack of a world government, basically the world of diplomacy is all about fighting to get what each country wants that is to its best interest. Already seeing it at play at work, I can imagine how ferocious this battle is fought on the international front. I don’t think Singaporeans appreciate how small we are in the global arena. We are always told we are no. 1 in this and that but we don’t see that this gives us little edge else in twisting the arms of the big nations.

If for some reason that our economic policies and the many other difficult decisions that are made is to help us survive despite our small stature, then please let us know. It is just like my own department. We are one small fry in the whole organisation but we behave as if we are so important. It was only when I was exposed to how others regard us that I finally felt that our internal struggles to be meaningless in light of the bigger scheme of things.

The government has to trust the people to understand. If they keep withholding information, we will never know the truth or appreciate where we are yesterday, today and where we will be tomorrow.

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