Friday, December 29, 2006

Singapore. The art of keeping people subservient

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A vociferous demanding people can topple dictators. Best to keep the population half educated. Half informed. If they did not know, surely they cannot complain. That is why Pol Pot had all books burnt, and the workers sent to work in the fields. The wisdom is, the less they know the less they question. Lee Kuan Yew knows this. Unfortunately, Singapore is not Cambodia or Burma. It is a business center. Alas, the people have to be taught a little more. Education in Singapore is unfortunately necessary. But please, not too much. Hopefully, Lee can still control his people. That is why, Lee has deliberately obstructed opportunities for education.

My parents came from India. Just as many Chinese parents came from China. The Malays are no different from any of us. We all have one thing in common. The desire to give our children the best possible education. If given the opportunity, we could have given our children a life long education and opportunities. But it is not available. Deliberately, intentionally, opportunities are denied Singaporeans so that they can only advance that much and no more.

Schools are highly competitive. Everyone is given a primary and secondary education. But beyond that it becomes difficult. It becomes difficult to enter colleges. First because the exams are too difficult except for the small minority. Second because there are not enough colleges and universities. Law and medicine is almost impossible for the vast majority. Only the brilliant from the very beginning get the chance at tertiary education. And there is no second chance. If you are not the studying type from the start you are doomed to the half educated majority. Also the education system itself is one track system. There are no opportunities for part time education. And if you miss the boat the first time, that is the end for you.

I was born in Exeter Road in Singapore. Behind my house were PUB flats. The residents were PUB working class employees. Many of them Indian from India. They all, just like my parents, wanted their children to turn out into doctors and lawyers and high fliers. They tried hard to educate their children. So did the children try. I daresay, that in that entire neighbourhood of about 300 families, only myself and a handful managed a university education. The rest didn't get any. Not because they were stupid, but multiple factors, including overly difficult examinations, insufficient colleges and lack of any help from Lee's government, caused all these good guys to miss the boat. I too was a mediocre student. In my case, I had determination to get an education anyway. So I got mine by going to England. Had I not gone overseas, I too would be one of the half educated masses.

My childhood friend is Thanabal (his real name). He is very literate and really university material. But in the Singapore system he was not good enough. He finished 10th Grade and became a store man, a trade he learnt in the Army. Now he is in his fifties. He is a Security Guard now. He was late for Lee's education boat. He didn't concentrate when young. People like Thanabal would have been a lawyer or a doctor in any other country. There are opportunities for part time study. There are opportunities for adult education. There are opportunities for late starters. All sorts of possibilities are there in any other country for people to study whenever they want. To further themselves at anytime of their lives to be whatever they want. Their governments encourage this desire to learn. Of course educated people will ask questions. That is where the trouble lies. This is what Lee Kuan Yew fears. That is why he prefers Thanabal, to remain a "digit" as he calls them, with a 10th Grade education. That is why Thanabal is unable to ask the important questions, such as why he does not have the freedom of peaceful assembly, or the other even more important question, where is my money?

I had met Thanabal when I returned recently. I had told him that this harassment and imprisonment of Dr. Chee was all wrong, and that it was a question of a fundamental right of freedom of speech. I said it is the constitution. He said the government was wrong to hound Dr. Chee so, that it was all wrong. But he did not know the underlying reason for it, that important fundamental right of free speech expression and assembly. Thanabal is the product of Lee Kuan Yew's half baked education. To know just enough but not too much. It is not just Thanabal. Same situation with Bala. Bala is a great reader of the Straits Times. You could say, Bala is very literate. But just like Thanabal, he has been intentionally kept in the dark as to the whys and the wherefores. Not just these 2 individuals. The vast majority of Signaporeans are in this half educated limbo. Just the poeple that Lee Kuan Yew wants. You can read the newspaper but you cannot articulate why and wherefore I do this or that. You see, it is better to keep them ignorant, lest they become troublesome!

In the US where I live, there are education opportunities galore. I recently met a 40 year plumber. He his now going to Adult school to finish his high school accreditation. After that he says he is going to medical school He wants to be doctor. And I say why not. Such things are quite common here. Become an astronaut if you want to. It is your life. You pay your taxes. If you want to be a doctor at 50, why should anyone stop you. This is what a country should be. There has to be honesty. Not just lip service. In the US, you can study and pass exams, and enter your trade, anytime, anywhere. This is opportunity. The US promises it and gives it. It is not easy to be a doctor, just as in any other country. But at least in the US, if you really desire it, and work at it, you will get it. That is a certainty. In Signapore, you do not have that opportunity. That too is a certainty. And in a country where the politicians pay themselves millions of dollars of your money, like Lee takes from you, why should he not provide education benefits to all, schools and colleges for all? It is your right. Demand it now.

Even to learn a trade there are no real opportunities. Air conditioning technician, motor mechanic, aircraft technician, cook, construction worker and thousands of other trades require structured training and examinations to make real tradesman. But Singapore has no opportunities except for those of school age who take these up. There is no possibility for someone having missed the chance to study these trades when young to do it later. Schools require you to fill up various forms which require dates of birth and other particulars that make it difficult to be accepted. There are rules upon rules, like age limits. You will not get a place if you were beyond a certain age. Unlike other countries, various of these important trades are unregulated and do not require certificates and any formal training. You learn a trade by working under another and learning it through practice. There is no common standard of proficiency that the public can expect. Quality standards therefore differ in the trade. Sometimes they can be very low. And now, Singaporeans can't even find these tradesman jobs, since employers deliberately recruit foreigners for low wages. Singaporeans have the butt end of the stick both ways.

Singapore deliberately denies their people full oppurtunity for an education. This is deliberate. Since the less one knows, the less they question. And the less one questions, the better it is for Lee to keep his grip over what he calls his "digits". You should demand your right to be educated. You should publicly protest for your rights, as the 2 opposition members of Parliment are incapable of demanding it.

Gopalan Nair
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914

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