(The following is a letter submitted by Bryan Lee)
Like many young Singaporeans, I have been thrust into this dilemma that plague my generation – I seem to be living in an affluent society, yet I am the recipient of the clear messaging that I have to despise and oppose the government and the system I live in.
For the better part of the 23 years of my life, I have constantly been barraged by criticism and cynicism about everything associated with the government here – from policies, the government’s “direct role” in certain areas and why it isn’t doing enough in others?
Growing up with this cynicism has also brought me to be sceptical and suspicious of the government and its actions, no matter how well-meaning they may be. You can’t really blame me for thinking this way, can you? After all, subliminal messaging can be a convincing tool, especially when it happens regularly. Worse still, some of this scepticism has also extended beyond the government to bring me to be disengaged with the country. So when I served my national service a few years ago, I asked myself, “Why am I doing this? Why should I dedicate my 2 years to the country? After all, what has it done for me?”
Call it a prickling conscience or the desire to learn and understand for myself, but I was uncomfortable feeling this way. My life is pretty good. I seem to be in a better position than many of the people I see in neighbouring countries I have visited. What is it that this country has given me?
Serendipity struck and the by-election in Punggol East suddenly arrived. I thought to myself, “Here is a chance for me to do some introspection.”
So on Friday night, I went to the first by-election rally, incidentally that of the ruling party. I heard many individuals go up and make speeches amidst the rain to a crowd, which I suspect may not be as large as one may see at a WP rally for example. But then, I didn’t expect anything else as facts and figure often do not make for exciting fodder. Admittedly, some of the speeches were delivered eloquently and with passion but a couple made me wish I were elsewhere.
But one thing struck me during the speeches, particularly those made by the PAP political leaders on air during the rally. Education.
That one word, reiterated by many of the PAP leaders on that wet Friday night in Punggol East, answered the burning question inside me. That is what my country has given me: A world-class education system. One that will stay with me for the rest of my life. That is the best gift any parent can give any child, and any government can give any citizen. A system that will provide you with an education, that will not only suit your abilities, but one that will make you employable so that you are empowered to be able to provide for yourself and not be dependent on handouts by the government. In short, an education that is the pillar of our self-esteem.
On the way back from the rally, I pondered over this a little more. I thought about my neighbour, with whom I had honed my footballing skills with. He didn’t do too well in secondary school and went to ITE. But that wasn’t the end of the road for him. He has just recently completed his polytechnic diploma in electrical engineering and has landed a job as a technician with a MNC here.
Then there is also my younger cousin, who didn’t have a conducive learning environment at home and fared poorly in her PSLE as she had problems reading complete sentences. Many of our relatives spelt doom for her. She went to Northlight school, completed her education there and moved on to the ITE. In her second year in the ITE now, she has new found confidence and is even being sent abroad by her school for an industrial experience program.
Such is the influence of education that even those from more fortunate backgrounds benefit from it. Education is a great social leveller, even in today’s age, and has helped Singaporeans bolster their self-esteem, financial and emotional well-being. For that alone, I am indebted to Singapore and the government.
The PAP leaders were right in identifying education as their key contribution to Singapore. As PAP Koh Poh Koon candidate reiterated: ““Give the man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.