Having lived in Singapore all my life, I have, naturally, led an extremely sheltered lifestyle. As far as I am concerned, Singapore is the best place to live in because it is safe, it has a high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, the education system is producing high achievers, it has fantastic diplomatic relations and trading partnerships with countries all over the world, it has a high Human Development Index (HDI)… In short, it is and has been, to say the least, a successful country, and one that I am proud to call my home.
But the word ‘education’ does not seem to carry much weight in this nation, and what concerns me is the younger generation’s ignorance of their ignorance. True, Singaporean students topped the world by significant margins according to the PISA and TIMSS results released in December, and yes, I was delightfully heartened by Singapore’s progress in, not just education, but in all aspects of life, considering she only gained her independence 51 years ago. However, I fear this has come with a few, albeit minor, backlashes.
I refer to ‘education’ in this essay as the kind of knowledge that goes way beyond the textbooks or the ability to resolve math and science problems instantaneously. It is not the kind that you can assess with a test or quantify with scores. This kind of education is the type that makes you more humane, more benevolent, more insightful, more passionate. It is the kind that is typically aired over the 9pm news with the news presenter skimming lightly over the story in a sentence or two, and then – and this is the important part – it being up to you to find out more about the story if it catches your interest.
Precisely because of the emphasis on studying hard in order to achieve good grades, there is simply too little time left for students to pursue the knowledge they are really interested in. The school curriculum is so intensive and rigorous that students spend a great deal of time grappling with the concepts and completing all their projects and homework. Apart from that, the typical Singaporean student still has to maintain a decent social life, catch up with the latest celebrity news, engage in compulsory twice-weekly-on-average extracurricular activities, take up various leadership positions and occasionally participate in community service. Talk about a holistic education that leaves no time for acquisition of knowledge and insights out of the classroom!
Consequently, most students in Singapore do not take an interest in current affairs around the world. Even if they use the mobile app to read the news, I get the impression that this is mainly to ace their General Paper* and not out of pure interest. While this may be an over-generalisation, and while it may not reflect everyone’s opinions on this matter, I do believe that not many take much pleasure in reading articles from The Economist or TIME Magazine. Personally, I find their opinion articles most intriguing and, outdated as I may seem to my fellow teenagers reading this, will not hesitate to share them on my Facebook page.
This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that our national newspapers discuss in depth issues pertaining mainly to our home country, rather than news around the world. A quick glance at The Straits Times’ (Singapore’s most widely-read newspaper) Facebook page shows the news that have been reported in the past hour are ‘Two men in altercation along Orchard Road’ and ‘Zouk opens doors at new home in Clarke Quay’, while the feature article expresses its highly debatable, profound opinions on ‘four nostalgic [soda] drinks making a comeback’. Clearly, Singapore is so tiny that a fight gives the parties involved internet fame over here on our sunny island.
To be perfectly honest, as long as we dutifully fulfil all that is expected of us as students, there is no real incentive to truly take a keen interest in issues around the world. Whether or not we derive enjoyment from global affairs, ultimately, is not quantifiable. Nor is anyone going to rob us of our opportunities to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer just because deep down, we don’t necessarily feel the way we do about global affairs as we communicate to the outside world. I know many who are perfectly content to remain in their blissful ignorance and I cannot change their perceptions towards news either. After all, I am, as a teenager, just the slightest bit jaded, a complete novice when it comes to most things that matter, but youthful and idealistic, and I’m still coming to terms with the idea that knowledge is power.
*a compulsory subject in Junior College (a form of pre-university education in Singapore) that deals with, obviously, current affairs
Note: As mentioned continuously in the beginning of the essay, I am extremely blessed to live in Singapore and this essay is in no way a criticism of the Singaporean education system, The Straits Times or Singaporean students themselves.