Monday, May 15, 2006

The Dragon Child

I refer to my previous letter Singapore is a developed country, but where are the social graces? It was published in ST on 12 April 2006.

As one of the Four Dragons in Asia, Singapore is “success” oriented. You can call it the “dragon-power”, or the quintessentially Chinese or Asian “drive.” It is probably more appropriate to described it as an insatiable desire and obsession to hoard, possess, win, acquire and conquer.

The typical Singaporean child is taught at a very tender age that the school’s playground is the killing field. Social Darwinism, some perceive, is the empowering force that drives all Singaporean children to dread defeat, and to hunger for success. Failure would mean, as Opposition MP Chiam See Tong has aptly commented[1], elimination from the killing field. Only the strong survives in this reality of “jaws and claws.”

The streaming, or rather, the systematic elimination and the unnatural selection of allegedly superior, examination-smart kids from the yearly host of primary school students is repeated annually and perennially. Those that are able to mentally retain and regurgitate the yearly syllabus requirements are allowed to progress further in their rite of passage. Perhaps this streaming is performed at a too early age. Consequently, those that are streamlined to survive examination stress may not be the ideal leaders of tomorrow. We would require leaders with more promising qualities than “kiasuism.”

Should we, therefore, blame the parents in Singapore for the emphasis placed upon their child’s academic success? I have a nephew who had been initiated - since he started using the potty to empty his bowels – to read books well beyond his level. His mother would reiterate the importance of reading and studying ad nauseam. Apparently this young lad had taken his mother’s indoctrination quite well. He is now in a gifted class at primary 4. However, I would be horrified to initiate any conversation with him.

Unlike any other child his age, his linguistic milieu consists not of “Power Rangers” and “Ultraman,” but mature, adult themes that are suspiciously sinister. He had acquired the sensitivity of a cactus plant, and the loquaciousness of a feline in heat. Apparently, the only comfort is that, his rendition of Singapore Idol Taufiq’s songs is not performed at the dead of the night. That is because his nocturnal activities would have exhausted him long before midnight. By that I do not mean procreation per se. Mind you, he is only primary four. The educational system would be obliged to furnish him with a list of daily chores so as to facilitate regurgitation. This is known as “homework,” and usually functions to allay the parents’ anxiety. The normal child shouldn’t be playing at home. He must be working, just like his father.

In Singapore, the hoi polloi is inducted into a regime of mass streaming, not only in education, but also at work. Unnatural selection would eradicate the old, the weak, the handicapped, the poor, and those with alternative voices. Unless we acquire the “tunnel vision” of a mole, and the persistence of a rabid dog, it is unlikely for us to reach the top of the social ladder. Worse, we may become prey to stronger carnivores.

The rank and file Singaporean child is taught these realities of life as soon as they can open their eyes. It is, therefore, of little wonder that my nephew was not taught the pleasures of playing with a “Transformer” toy while defecating on his potty. In its place is a thick, 400 pages Harry Potter and the constant mantra chanted by his mother: “You must study hard. You must do us proud. You must top the class.” Because, “you are the son of your mother.”

[1] See

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