The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Where every school is a "military" school

Foreigners can tell us more about a country than any native can. Foreign eyes see things in new ways, having evaluated them from a different perspective. That is why the wise listen to the comments of those from overseas: it is a chance to see one's country as it really is and not as it is said to be.

I have a friend from South America. He is living and working here, with his family. His attention is turning to the choice of schools for his daughter, since she is approaching that age. By chance, he visited my son's school (he lives in the same area as us), drank in the atmosphere, and had a look at the school rules. What he saw, surprised him.

The only type of school that bore comparison to the one in Singapore, that he saw, were MILITARY SCHOOLS back in Latin America. Only in such schools would there be so many school rules and so much restriction of behaviour. His first thought on entering the school was: "This is a military school". The strange thing is, it didn't call itself one: it is a typical Singaporean school.

The question is, therefore, are ALL schools in Singapore "military" by comparison to international standards of regimentation and regulation? Certainly, they seem so to South American eyes. They seem rather too regulated to my eyes, too.

Let us ask ourselves what is the purpose of a military school. It is to create absolute conformity of thought and action and blind, unthinking obedience to every command. It is to create little robots who won't mind getting themselves shot in the name of their country. Could it be, therefore, that the purpose of Singaporean schooling is to create absolute conformity of thought and action and blind, unthinking obedience to every command? What use would that be to a democratic society? None at all. However, it would be of great use if the purpose was to ensure that the population could never think for themselves and would be easy to manage.

I worry, therefore, for my children, receiving such regulated schooling. It is quite stifling to see the burden of rules under which they labour. Surely, there are better ways to educate children than to tie them down, too restrictively - so much so, that, to an outsider, they look like cadets in a military school?

Nothing is accidental in Singapore. I have come to learn that these past nine years. It is no accident, therefore, that Singapore's education ministers come from military backgrounds. They are all former staff of the armed forces. Clearly, they have been chosen for a reason. Clearly, they are expected to bring their military experience to bear on the task of guiding the nation's education. A military man is not to be put in charge of education, unless one wants that education to have a military flavour. That military men are always chosen, to be education minister, rather confirms the impression of my South American friend, that Singapore's schools are rather like military schools from overseas.

Indeed, it is most telling that the new education minister, whose name eludes me right now (he has just been appointed), is also, as I understand it, 2nd Minister for Defence. The connection between education and the military could not be more explicit, therefore.

There is, however, a problem in all this. Military people generally don't think too well. They act. In fact, thinking too much is counter-productive in the heat of battle: it might bring hesitation and that brings death. So, any school system which is militaristic in any way, would tend to suppress thinking in its people. Singapore's system is doing just that.

This is a foolish long term strategy for Singapore. Without a thinking people, Singapore is reliant on overseas talent. Yet, overseas talent will only come here so long as the offer is more attractive than the next place. That is an unsustainable situation, in the long term, because Singapore always has to fight to be more attractive than the next place. There are over 200 other places people could go. I don't see the odds being in Singapore's favour, in the long term. Other places will overshadow it. Other places will be able to offer more.

The answer is, of course, to encourage thinking in its own native population. To do that, one should drop the militaristic style of education here. A good start would be to begin to appoint education ministers who have actually been teachers - and good teachers at that. Preferably teachers who were not trained in Singapore, to teach in a Singaporean way. Then one might begin to get education that is actually about education - and not education that is about absolute conformity of thought and action and blind unthinking obedience to every command.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and seven months, and Tiarnan, two years exactly, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:08 PM 


Blogger sandy said...

I am glad your friend thinks all Singapore schools are "military schools". Perhaps he will be more concerned of his children's future and move back to where he came from. I hear in Canada, they have vending machines that dispenses condoms, instead of Yeo Hiap Seng drinks. Or he may decide on US of A, where they allow firearms in classes. Anything but plain old boring Singapore.

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Cawley,

I have two points for your consideration:

1. When the PM himself is an ex-Brigadier General, not only the schools become military schools but the whole country becomes a giant military camp as well.

2. I do not think that the Singapore system is an educational system but only a training system to churn out workers to fill the industries for economic survival.
The Ministry for Education is actually the Ministry for Experimentation. Why I say that? Over the last 50 years, from my primary school days in the 1960s until today, I have seen nothing but experiments. Every new "Education" Minister that comes along changes the previous "system" before it could take root. In such a disruptive and unsettling circumstance, how can a proper education system developed? That's why to me MOE means Ministry of Experimentation.

Food for thoughts.


Retired Teacher.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Sandy,

I don't know about Canada's schools and whether they have condom machines or not. I know Singapore's schools don't have them - they have teenage pregnancies and an epidemic of teenage STDs instead. I can't say I think the latter is better than the former.

As for America allowing guns in classrooms. This is not true. Sometimes someone does sneak a gun into school with terrible consequences, but guns are not actually allowed in schools. Many schools there have metal detectors to prevent weapons from getting on campus.

There are many countries in the world which don't have a gun culture. They also don't have militarized schools. So there are other places which exhibit a freer style of education without any of the problems you speak of.

As for my friend going back to where he came from...that is quite funny since he is one of those desperately needed high-tech experts brought into help run local industry. He is here, because his knowledge and skills are needed. If he does leave, it doesn't help Singapore.

Kind regards

4:31 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks for your comment, "Retired Teacher",

You make a telling point regarding the background of the PM. There does seem to be an awful lot of the military in the background of the leaders, here. That is unusual when compared to Western democracies. Often there, not even the Minister of Defence has a military background!

I would agree with your views regarding the lack of true education here. I have taught here and I see little evidence of a true ability to think for themselves being inculcated in the students - what I see is about knowing the correct answer - but rarely understanding how to work it out for oneself.

As a parent, there is much I would change about the education system...but sadly, I don't think anyone is listening to the parents.

Best wishes

4:35 PM  
Anonymous student1994 said...

Hi Ms Cawley;

I am myself a student of this education system. I agree with our opinion on the local education system, except for one part that quite prodded me, so to speak; the ending paragraph.

The often-quoted government reason to exhort the current system's virtues involve some dose of how Singapore is a small island without natural resources except its people, etc. The qualification may be uncomfortable, as well as in many ways a compromise on offering more open and diverse education.

Yet, this is indeed what Singapore is. There is no other country in this world that faces educational challenges that involve the same context and difficulties. Still, this is not to say at all that there should not be some measure of openness.

Singapore's education, in my view, should be reserved for bred Singaporeans, for they know themselves what is most needed. Would the Chinese government want, for example, the Malaysian government to advise them on such matters? The tooling of an education system has indelible marks on a nation's culture, especially in Singapore where local schools are mandatory.

The oft-blamed "oppression" of Singapore's "militaristic" system is not inescapable. Perhaps it is difficult, unreachable for many, but definitely not impossible. I am joyful for your son, for with a parent like you he will not become a mere passive product of the education system. Many Singaporeans can and do think; not expressing their thoughts openly is more often a symbol of practicality.

Often, sadly enough, the ability to offer a diverse, creative and open education like what is idealised in many Western countries is compromised by Singapore's absolute economic need to rely on every single possible worker. The system has deep fissures, but an upheaval and drastic changes are not likely to heal these.

Do forgive my lengthiness. I hope you might consider my opinion.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Marc said...

The last education minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam came from the finance sector.

As for the school rules, I see it more as matter of cultural perspective. Having been through the system for the first 19 years of my life, there was not a time when I felt the rules was infringing on my right to free thoughts and action. Unless, you count acts of violence and bullying as appropriate acts of free thought and action.

I can't say I can remember all of it, but the ones I can remember was rules against fighting, bullying, gambling and being late for lessons- rules which any self-respecting institute of education would have.

Perhaps you would like to expand on just which part of the school rules your friend found excessive.

As for rules regarding personal appearance- once again I think its a matter of cultural perspective. Perhaps coming from a country where children are free to dress up as they like he may find them to be a bit too repressive and excessive.

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Evening,

I think all of you need to take a stress pill – have any of you asked yourself what schools in the West look like? Let me just give you a snap shot, security guards are regularly employed to body search students with metal detectors for switch blades and fire arms – don’t say, I am making this up as I have given talks in schools; you know, I am not joking when I say this, but in some inner city schools in the US its not uncommon for even some teachers to regularly wear bullet vest and even carry hand guns to class! I even know a teacher who happens to be my good friend who once asked me to teach her anti rape techniques because she lived in fear of being physically assaulted. I told her not to waste her time and recommended her to my good friend Smith & Wesson that pretty much settled the matter for good.

Now bear in mind, I am not saying all schools in the West are zoos, I am merely highlighting a very extreme case where freedom is taken to such ridiculous lengths that the entire system breaks down so completely that education ceases completely to be the mandate.

In reality most schools in the West especially the British Isle are basket cases – I not talking about public schools here, but you walk into the local under funded comprehensive school for example and once again I have given talks there, it is not unusual for students to behave unruly and even disrespectfully to their teachers – where is the educational imperative there? How are students expected to learn anything? I really have absolutely no idea? Usually when the teacher is not looking, I just pick the lead trouble maker and give him a few judo throws and everything settles down in a flash, but I don’t have to work in such a feral environment full, I am just there to fulfill a community service.

However, even if I did what needs to be emphasized is the laws in those countries are so screwy in favor of minors its no longer possible for even teachers to effectively discipline kids, not if they don’t want to regularly fight off civil law suits – again you have to ask yourself what happened to the imperative of education? How fair is this to students who want to really study and make something out of their life? Is this the sort of working environment which teachers should be regularly working in?

My feel is there is considerable room for improvement in Singapore, but in all fairness, at least we do not have to deal with this sort of zoo like environment and that’s simply a good basis to do something very constructive.

The real issue at hand IMO is how does one inure students with a higher level of creativity and innovation? We would like to believe education is simply rote style up loading of practical and functional skills like addition and multiplication and being able to string sentences properly, but as the term education in the Greek implies, it requires forcefully bringing to light – this suggest the best way to educate students may not be to peel open their brains and pour in information but rather to empower them with the skill sets to gather information, analyze it and hopefully this will enable them to be gainfully intellectually independent – but how one accomplishes this is really a deep spirited endeavor that goes beyond the chimera of whether one considers a school liberal or corseted, military or civilian, regimented or free spirited – it’s a fundamentally deeper question that cuts through these superficial trappings.

Darkness 2008

1:20 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi All,

I read an article somewhere on Tharman which said: "The last three education ministers came from the military...". Now, I took that to mean it was referring to Tharman, as well. That is my source of the information re. the military backgrounds of the ministers in question.

Anyway, to harp on Tharman etc. actual background is to miss the point entirely. The actual point is that the RESULT is militaristic: it has the same emphasis on conformity of behaviour, taken to what seems an extreme from a more liberal point of view.

For Darkness: you are comparing the worst cases imaginable in the West with the typical Singaporean. A worst case can't be compared fairly with an average case of somewhere else.

I studied in the UK. It wasn't anywhere near what you portray. Sure, there are bad schools...but most schools are reasonable and some are very good. It is notable that the UK produces an abundance of Nobel Prize Winners from its "basketcase" system. Singapore has yet to produce even a single one. So which is the "basketcase", I wonder?

There is a lot of variability in schools in the West. You can find a bad one if you look for one. As for guns in school: that only applies to the USA. One nation isn't the West entire - there are many countries in Europe where you won't find guns. They have schools, too. The US has a real problem with gun culture: that's why I am not living there, now...I don't feel comfortable where guns are freely available.

My friend didn't say which rules concerned him - I think it was the abundance, detail and number of them that did. The end result was rather restrictive by his standards and, as I have noted, reminiscent of a military school.

Another point: ALL ministers in Singapore have a military background in one sense - for they all serve National Service. So, they will have been influenced to various degrees by that - just as all male Singaporeans will have been. That is something overseas readers are not aware of: it is not possible to be male and Singaporean and not have at least some exposure to the armed forces and their way of behaving.

Best wishes all.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

The current Education Minister, Dr Ng Eng Hen, is also the current 2nd Minister for Defence. Some people are confused by his previous designation as 2nd Minister for Defence and have assumed that he is no longer such. He remains in Defence - and Education - at the same time. Thus, the State's thinking re. the linkage of Education and Defense could not be more explicit than at this time. They are clearly regarded as complementary portfolios to be managed with the same skills by the same man.

I should think that is clear enough for most people.

If you wish to confirm this for yourselves, you can go to the Singapore's Government website for its Cabinet at:

5:54 PM  
Blogger Eaststopper said...

Dear Valentine,

I have to admit most if not all of your postings in your blogs about the Singaporean educational system have touched raw nerves in all Singaporeans.
Yes, the Singaporean educational system needs remaking, it is undergoing changes as we speak. The Singapore government does not have all the right answers but I do give them credit for all that has been built up so far. Going forward, the educational system is as much a product of government policies and the Singaporean psychic. We, as a nation is slowly opening up to the different possibilities and the understanding that there are many ways to solve a problem, there is not just one way.
I take offense that in this posting, you have made many sweeping statements and generalisations which are not substantiated. I find it incomprehensible that you have made comparision of the Singapore schools to the military when you have never served in a military institution before.

Just as an observations, in all your posts about Singapore, there is hardly any posts I have read which is positive, and it makes me wonder if Singapore is the right place for you and your family. Surely there is something here that has attracted you here? Maybe you can blog about it so that at least we know that we are not such bad hosts?

Bon Weekend,

6:53 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Eastopper,

I do not know why you find yourself taking offense. In my post, I have simply conveyed the impression that an outsider has of the Singaporean education system in comparison to what he knows of overseas systems. By comparison, Singapore's looks military. I do not have to serve in the military to be able to relay my friend's I? That doesn't seem logical.

Furthermore, everyone who has ever watched TV or cinema for any length of time knows what military schools are like...they are regimented, conformist, obsessed with minor details of behaviour and appearance - and taken up by one hell of a lot of rules. Well, that sounds just like Singaporean schools, doesn't it?

You are wrong to characterize all my posts about Singapore as negative: many are simply reflective. It is true to say, however, that we have had a lot of negative experience of the education system here. It has proven very inflexible where we are concerned and our son's particular needs, to date.

What attracted me here, Eastopper, is the fact that my wife is Singaporean. Were she from Serbia, I suppose I would be there, now.

As I said in the beginning of my post, it takes foreign eyes to see a place as it is. Without comment from such foreign eyes a lot that is not yet right in Singapore would go unnoticed and unchanged. It is healthy to have comparisons made by those who have comparisons to make.

Singapore's education has profound problems...but the education system is not really aware of them. It cannot see itself. I have worked in education in three continents - but I have never seen these particular problems elsewhere.

Maybe you would rather I kept quiet and things could just continue unchanged forever. Then Singapore could just quietly sink into mediocrity without anyone really noticing. Would that be better, Eastopper?

Personally, I think a bit of searching discourse about the issues really helps provoke improvement. It works in Western democracies: there the media do it all the time. Here, bloggers do it.

7:41 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Eastopper,

You should note that I have worked in Singapore's education system, in the past, for several years. I am well aware of its nature. I have dealt with it and seen it first hand.

Another point: I write many posts, of many kinds. Only a small proportion are negative. However, I have noticed that the ONLY posts that other sites link to are my negative ones. It seems that the expression of negative thoughts is thought of greater interest to people than any positive post I have written.

People prepared to point out deficiencies do society a favour - for they give society a chance to correct them. It is the ones who remain silent who prolong the problems.

No society is healthy if its people are silent in public. Such societies are always in deep trouble.

So, you shouldn't really be offended by this or any other post - you should be content that at least someone is pointing these things out.

8:03 PM  
Blogger Eaststopper said...

Dear Valentine,

There is one similarity between a school in singapore and the military - based on my experiences in both institution. They are a social leveller which plays a hugely important part in a multi-racial society like Singapore. Regardless of the colour of your skin, the occupation of your parents, the neighboourhood where you come from, in a school or the military, everyone is the same in the eyes of the officer or the teacher. We wear the same uniform because it makes us equal.

My parents and my wife were once teachers in public schools. They have taught in both neighbourhood schools and independent schools. I have personally spoken and met with the kids and I have seen the changes which have been made throughout the past decades and I see that the changes in the system is taking effect surely but slowly.

You mentioned you work in the Singapore's educational system. May I ask which segment of the school's population you have worked with?

Once again, I have enjoyed reading your posts and do keep blogging.

Have a great weekend!

8:53 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Eaststopper

I am glad to hear that things are changing in education here in Singapore (because they really have to).

I have worked, at various times, in both government schools and an independent school, at primary, secondary and tertiary, in various years - stretched over an eight year period. I have seen quite a broad picture of what is out there. I have taught the "good" students and the "normal academic" students, too.

If I was in charge, the system would be more flexible than it is. I hope to see more of the changes of which you speak. We have encountered a lot of difficulties in getting a flexible response from the system where our own son is concerned. There are a lot of issues I haven't made much of in the blog that are really not good about the way the system behaves. I saved you from that.

I will try to keep blogging. I think it is important to do so. If people are silent, the country is not well...

Best wishes

9:06 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Hi Cawley,
I have been following your posts and this one has to be one of the most enlightening posts. Yes, you are correct in your observation as I can attest to it having served as a combat soldier for 2.5years NS. One important thing is to execute task without question. ( This reminds me of LKY when he spoke that army will interfere if opposition party did win and setup government as it is freak result (Note that . Could this be the reason we have to go NS and be brainwashed and just follow LKY's order ?

"Without the elected president and if there is a freak result, within two or three years, the army would have to come in and stop it" -- MM Lee Kuan Yew " (This may well indicate PAP = Singapore) Did we ,the citizen, elected President Nathan or the PAP ? The government abolished election of president by citizen after President Ong's admonishment of the government, we are know too well why because Ong is a non-conformist that dare to question the establishment on unjust and exploitative policy.

Even the police officer in one of the trial against Dr Chee unadvertently admit PAP is tantamount to Government. Is this act of conformism or ignorance ?

"Sergeant Kenny Quek raised eyebrows in court today when he told the Judge that there was no difference between the PAP and the Government."

From the comment made by others, I can easily see the pattern of Singapore conformism that uncanny similar to our politician. Well, we are conformist because the government policy and idealism imposed on society actually encourage us to be one because not becoming one pose a threat to a regime ? Just read everyday mainstream, all about money, economic growth, qualifications, this and that. And even having one's dream is about making money not dream. That culture seems pervasive.

What so uncanny about Singapore politician ? We, the citizen, have unknowingly become to think and talk like them, and becoming somehow arrogant.

For example in the case of
"I find it incomprehensible that you have made comparision of the Singapore schools to the military when you have never served in a military institution before."

Now compare this,
"Our Prime Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong tells you to "go join a Political Party -- if you want to talk about Politics." That effectively silenced Dr Catherine Lim and the rest of Singapore. No more talking about politics. You need to join the PAP or us -- if you're still keen to talk politics.


As for your reply to Darkness's personal experience and comparison
"you are comparing the worst cases imaginable in the West with the typical Singaporean. A worst case can't be compared fairly with an average case of somewhere else."

compare it to Minister's Tharman
"Rejecting investors in the name of avoiding rapid growth would not make food more affordable or Singaporeans better off today, he said."

Yes, taking the worse case of total rejection of investor. Did we say we eradicate investor in Singapore ?

But minister need worse case to prove and strengthen his point, a tactic that prominiently use in political defensive arguments.

Taken from

As you can see, Singaporean has a narrow mindset that perhaps better expose through other foreigner's perspective because it is especially built to conform.

10:03 PM  
Anonymous Onlooker said...

Bingo that is the right question.
NS Convert Teen to unthinking worker.
School Convert Kids into unthinking Teens.
kindergarten (Notice the lighting in circle) Yap thats right.
Resistance is futile.
Guess that why The real Foreign Talents either decided not to stay or choose Montessori method to home school their children.
Side hint: School to implement a system of hierarchical Thought management.
Eg Streaming, uneven resource distribution. You would think that the best teach goes to the most needy children.

2:20 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, David, for your enlightening comment: it really deepens my points and extends them to other areas of Singaporean life.

Best wishes (I might have time to comment more later).

6:34 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Onlooker,

The system you describe would give any parent the shivers. What you describe is the OPPOSITE of true education.

You know what is funny about this. If the educational system aimed to create THINKING children, there would be no need for foreign talent. That it erodes the capacity to think leads directly to the need to import thinkers (who don't and won't stay for that long).

Someone is being foolish along the way...

Best wishes

6:36 AM  
Anonymous robynhood said...

Your friend has used the wrong word to describe what he saw. The correct word is "discipline".

What we hope to have in Singapore schools are disciplined children. Discipline is not a dirty word. Without discipline, nothing cannot be achieved. Even the greatest scientist needs discipline to see his idea through.

Discipline is not an antithesis to being "thinking". Many of the Singaporean mavericks you read in blogs and who are social activists also underwent the Singapore education system. Are these the failures of the system? I do not think so.

You said if a system were to "create thinking children, there would be no need for foreign talent". If it were true, that would be applicable to the US, UK, Australia and many other countries as well.

8:16 PM  
Blogger corine said...

hello everyone! i am a 100% singaporean with a latino husband and 2 children. we've lived in singapore, the US and now in London for 7 yrs. reading the overwhelming comments, i hv to say the following:

1) The world, its governments/systems and its peoples are not perfect. There are certainly flaws in the Singaporean system, but there are also many pointers to learn from. being away for so many years, my children having schooled in Singapore and abroad, i must say i miss the discipline and respect imbued in the children by the Singaporean system. i dont care so much if the ministers come from military background since most half of the male population has that background from conscripted service with the army. but what i am looking at are the results. what i see is a people with unparalleled efficiency, great work attitude and resourcefulness. these attributes are big contributions to wherever singaporeans go. of course there's always the ugly side as with all types of people. hey but for a tiny island, its contributions are not negligible. for a short history and not so much experience to learn from, singapore is doing well. maybe no nobel prize winners yet. some other factors such as population size and how far back it goes play a small part statistically. but here are some stats from the economist to be proud of: singapore is

no.2 on economic freedom index
no. 2 on overall global competitiveness (after the US)
no 2 on business environment (after denmark)
no. 16 on business/IT innovation index (UK no.18, france no.19)

2)i used to hate the fact that singapore was/is so autocratic and hence the education system according to cawley. but i think it worked well given the circumstances. now it has changed and is changing more to adapt to different circumstances. be patient cawley. i have seen changes over the years. singapore realizes the need to change and acts faster than many other countries i know. interestingly, now that i am living in the UK, i see alot of singapore in UK. of course! singapore was a british colony hence the education, legal systems were all adopted. system of fines/summons, whole lot of speed cameras, cctvs etc! yikes!

i hv to go...hv enjoyed reading the comments. but i think we are lacking contructive criticisms and specific problem & solutions here. no wonder some bloggers are so upset:)

5:33 PM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

Hi Corine

I have worked in Singapore's schools and so, perhaps, see its problems more closely than you do. Singaporean children lack creativity: it is discouraged, in fact, by the system - conformity is what is sought. This leads to later problems for Singaporeans in the work place. A better system would be one that encouraged individuality and creativity.

As for things changing: I don't see much sign of that and I have been in the Singaporean education system for eight years: it is just as bad now as it was eight years ago.

It is easy to feel fine about autocratic ways when you are living in democratic England. Perhaps you would think differently if you lived here again.

For its size and age, it should have had a few Nobel Prizes by now, if the population were of average creativity: but it hasn't. I blame the education system for that.

I think you will find that Singapore ranks highly on competiveness indices for negative reasons - such as no minimum wage or social support system. These allow it to be more "competitive" but at huge social cost. All is not as it seems with such indicators. What they say about the situation may actually be a negative. Singapore is a hard place in some ways - so is the US.

You are right that surveillance is out of hand in the UK: it is their reaction to crime and terrorism - cameras everywhere. It isn't that great.

The legal system is very different in action in Singapore than the UK. So are legal rights. The UK framework may have been adopted but the implementation is very different.

Living in the UK you have many more rights and freedoms than you would have back in your homeland. Yes, Singapore is "disciplined" but the price for that is very high. Singaporean children lack spontaneity and creativity. It is not something they are likely to ever recover later in life, once it has been lost.

Singapore has come far as a nation, economically - but most people have quite low wages by international standards, so all is not as it seems. Singapore has further to go yet, even on the economic front.

Have fun in the UK.

Kind regards

5:36 PM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

Hi Robynhood,

No country I know is as dependent on foreign talent as is Singapore. The other countries you mention have much less of it, proportionately speaking, than Singapore does. They are largely able to meet their own needs internally.

Were Singapore to have a more creative education system it would have less need of foreign talent. That is clear.

The discipline of which you speak is not admirable - it is at the cost of the creativity the children do not generally show (I know because I have taught them for eight years). Creativity is much more valuable than discipline alone and no system should punish the former to create the latter. Singapore's system does just this.

I understand that self-discipline is useful but there are ways to encourage it without being militaristic about it. Singapore has yet to learn that.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I totally agree. The funny thing is students end up if not with "conformity of thought", but with over-rebellion or not giving any regard to what people tell them in future. But on the other hand values in Singapore may be better than in other countries, just because Singapore is smaller and has fewer students to keep in check. I think wherever you go parents or guardians have to play a big role in upbringing, and schooling is a matter of preference, most of the time except in extreme cases where schools are very bad for some reason.

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am curious. A Malaysian friend tells me that his neighbours son, is attending a Military School for three years in Singapore.

He is currently 13 and only gets to come home at weekends (but has to be back at the school 6.30pm every sunday).

Is this a specialist school he is attending?

A Singaporean penpal told me that they don't usually join Military Schools (or National Service) until they are 16?

Can you shed any light on the subject?


PS - Loved Singapore during my week visit in March 09 :)

12:38 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks Rodger for your question.

Offhand, I don't know about this school...but I could try to find out. All schools here...government schools, anyway...seem rather militaristic compared to norms elsewhere: they are highly conformist and disciplined.

I will ask around for you. I don't invest too much of my time in following the doings of the military!

Thank you.

P.S: I am glad you enjoyed your time in Singapore. It is rather different from the West...and can be very interesting. Also, if you are a certain age, you might find a warm welcome from the local women...

7:14 AM  
Blogger Edmond said...

Creativity without the discipline to seek out its expression is stillborn. I have been educated primary and secondary schools that were stricter than how you describe singaporean schools. We had corporal punishment measured out according to the degree of delinquency. For college I went to the state university where you were pretty much left to your own "rhythm". You hang out in school for as long as you could find courses to shift to and thus I became a "professional student" drifting from one course to another. Creativity is cultivated mainly from parental motivation and is not the sole responsibility of the school. Not all the flexibility in the world will encourage creativity, talk about necessity instead. Finally, I think creativity is only a half step forward, you need the commitment and iron discipline to carry out your dreams....

3:39 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes. Creativity must be backed up by some discipline if it is to manifest...but you know what: the discipline that is required is not so great as you think. One just has to work hard enough on something that it will doesn't have to be an all out, all encompassing obsessive to the exclusion of all else, type of preoccupation. There are creative people who manage to live balanced lives.

Then again all the discipline in the world will not give you any creativity. Just look at a good army: zip creativity in the typical soldier...just a kind of reflexive mindlessness. Nothing creative will come of that.

Great creativity and a dash of discipline, will go further than great discipline and a dash of creativity - at least, in most areas.

Thanks for your comment. I wish you luck in finding your niche.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Edmond said...

I am glad you point out that discipline and creativity are necessary components to productivity, Mr. Cawley. Allow me to further the point that schools aren't 24/7. Parental authority is, until emancipation of the child and therefore the creativity or lack of it is for the most part a family responsibility. I stress this point because from the thread of discussions it appears like the schools are to be blamed more for what is believed to be a perceived stunted development of creativity. As for the Nobel Prize, Mother Teresa received hers because of the degree of service she gave to the poor, nothing novel about that cause...Of course someof us now how conducive convent life is to creativity.

2:37 PM  

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