Singapore's New GenerationSingapore's
So tech-savvy and smart, yet so apathetic and dependent, an obstacle to building the future. By Seah Chiang Nee.
Nov 14, 2005
THE Singapore teenager can send messages via SMS with lightning speed, solve a Math problem faster than kids in most other countries - but is helpless without his maid.
He (or she) is well educated, computer and gadget savvy, travels more widely than his peers in other countries, but is naive about Internet predators or corruption or real poverty.
This MTV generation is also self-centred, materialistic, and probably knows the price of everything but the value of none, having grown up in an era of stability.
That means he will probably think nothing about spending S$4 on a latte, while his father, who supports him, spends only 70 cents on his teh tarik at the corner coffee shop.
The Singapore kid may know the name of the latest Japanese pop star but not his own Member of Parliament.
These instant-noodle children will likely change their mobile phone every two years or celebrate their high school graduation ceremony in a five-star hotel.
If the teenager here can be put in a stereotype box, these few paragraphs could best help do it.
In these youths, grandchildren of Singapore's baby-boomers, lie the country's future.
In the eyes of respected former civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow, the new generation has another flaw. "Many lack 'cultural DNA' due to educational neglect to teach history and literature," he said.
As a result, they're becoming too Westernised. "Without a sense of history, we will become a people lost in limbo."
Youths here are frequently placed under the social microscope in numerous studies to see what is wrong and how they can be improved.
Every society worries about whether its youths have the capabilities to build a better future. In the case of Singapore with no natural resources, the dependency on its youths is even greater.
The leaders and older citizens often fret that they may not have what it takes to achieve it.
After 40 years of independence, Singapore has raised youngsters who have powerful strengths and fundamental weaknesses.
In a New World in which countries compete on ideas as much as skills, Singaporean youths have a major shortcoming.
Some 40,000 youths were emerging annually from a school system that - until very recently - was based on grades, hard work and rote learning, rather than initiative and inventiveness.
The result is a workforce good in data knowledge but not very suitable for an economy that competes on entrepreneurship and ideas.
For years youths have shared a single objective: To acquire a degree that offers them the best job prospect, preferably a high-paying one in the government.
Singapore's brand of pragmatism doesn't always serve its people well. No want wants to venture out into the risky world of business when they can nestle securely in a secure job.
That puts them behind rivals like Hong Kong and Taiwan where becoming their own bosses is an ambition of many youths.
During the industrial era, Singapore prospered by producing obedient students and obedient workers.
Today, in the skills services that Singapore wants to develop, these qualities are far less crucial.
But the institutions are still producing risk-averse youths who shun taking the initiative.
Chief operating officers of foreign companies often complain that Singaporeans may have good grades but lack in enterprise and ideas. "They need hand-holding" is a frequent complaint, many content to wait for instructions rather than "make things happen".
A decade ago, the education system was intensively restructured from primary school to university in a rush to produce a new thinking and diverse workforce.
The schools have begun offering non-academic courses that range from music to the performing arts, from languages to sports. Many of them grade students for practical projects.
The polytechnics have also increased new studies to meet the changing economy, the latest being casino operations.
One weakness is harder to correct. Despite national service, the new generation is politically apathetic and has little interest in current affairs.
Critics attribute it to a top-down environment under an authoritarian government that controls many aspects of life. It's tough to get people to speak up or become creative.
A trait that doesn't augur well for a stronger future, youths today still prefer to leave things to the authorities for fear of invoking punishment if they make a mistake.
Singapore's youths are indeed self-centred, materialistic and risk-averse. But they are the products of the ruling party's social engineering process.
For many years, Singaporeans have been indoctrinated with the idea that good life is the copious consumption of goods and services and that education is the means to good life. This narrow-minded view of education has caused Singaporeans to learn almost nothing in school except to pass exams.