Does Singapore take a long-term view?
I wonder, often, at the decision-making we have seen, in Singapore, with regards to Ainan. So often, the decisions don't seem to have been taken with any vision or perspective on what Ainan could be, given the right support. No doubt, to a lesser extent, other parents of gifted children, have experienced elements of the same problems that we have faced. Yet, I find it strange that anyone should experience any such problems at all. The only thing that would be needed for such problems to go away, would be a little vision and ability to look ahead, by those empowered to (but disinclined to) help.
Ainan was put into contact with ASTAR, the research institute, by a journalist. We went to meet them and a lot of pleasant things were said and a certain hopefulness about the future was created in us. Yet, since that time, about a year ago, nothing has happened, at all. There has been no initiative from ASTAR, at all. Anyway, Ainan and I have a project that we wanted backing for: a project that would lead to interesting scientific results. So, we approached our contacts at ASTAR for backing for the project. We received a swift and definite "No.", despite the fact that the Director at ASTAR didn't even know the details of the project in question. It was something that they could have enabled and which would have led to a useful and interesting outcome - but they were not interested in facilitating it. This is typical of the way we have been treated in Singapore: our requirements and initiatives have frequently met with a "No.", even if the "No." doesn't make sense when set beside the facilities and capacities that exist within the institution itself. This is a pity. Singapore is a place with a local reputation for being "No.1" but an international reputation for being a bastion of mediocrity. So, which is true? The local impression of being "No.1" - or the international reputation of being mediocre? Who is more likely to be accurate in their assessment? If, Singapore is, indeed, mediocre on the world stage (note I don't say the South East Asian stage, to which Singapore often compares itself), could the cause be the Singaporean institutional reaction to anyone who wants to do something new? There is an automatic tendency to say "No." here to anyone who seeks to achieve something that is non-standard, or unexpected. There is no room to allow the unorthodox to thrive or grow. Ainan is a one-off - an unusual case, indeed - and they seem not to know what to do with regards to him. Well, should they not be guided by what he wants to do? Should they not enable those things for him...instead of resisting his progress? Would that not lead to all the creative outcomes they SAY they want (but actually do nothing to enable, and much to oppose)?
Singapore will remain forever mediocre as long as the mediocrities in charge, oppose the rise of those who have something to offer, in ways which are new, or different. There must be space, in this oh-so-conformist society, for those who are different, for those who don't fit in to the standard mould. Not only must there be space for them, but there must be resources available to them, to allow them to fulfil their goals. Singapore would benefit immeasurably were it a place that facilitated the creative people in their midst, instead of opposing them, through either indifference, or deliberate obstructiveness.
Ainan has ideas. Ainan has projects he wishes to make happen. However, if Singapore gets its institutional way, Ainan may either have to wait many years for them to happen, when he is an adult - or until another country with more vision and more open-mindedness, offers him the chance to bring them to being. Perhaps, then, Singapore would realize the folly of its short-sightedness.
I feel that Singapore is a short-sighted nation, that does not take the long-term view of what its nation and citizens might be. What is important, here, is control of the population, now, at this time and not enabling the population to become whatever they may. Research here has short-sighted goals, directed, usually towards short-term financial returns. Education here is about becoming a cog in the economic machine - and not becoming a thinker and creator, who could make something new. Everything that we have learnt through experience, about the education system and scientific infrastructure, indicates that people here, do not think of what might become, in the future, if they facilitate those with promise, in the present. There is, however, an over-arching need to try to ensure that everyone conforms to expectation: all must be within the norms. Unusual requests, of any kind, of any local institution (except for the Singapore Polytechnic) tend to be denied, without much thought. It is clear, that they are not thinking ahead.
Given that ASTAR refused to support Ainan on his project, I think it very likely that Ainan would choose not work with ASTAR when he grows up. Why would he, when they have showed their lack of vision, already?
In a way, there is a benefit to this. All those institutions which choose not to facilitate Ainan's projects now are all places that he won't waste time working for in the future. They are basically selecting themselves in, or out, of his future path. They are showing him, now, the kind of place that they are. So, in a sense, I am as thankful for every "No." that we receive, as every "Yes.". Each "No." is as informative, as each "Yes." The negative answers show us which doors not to knock on again, when he grows up. The positive answers show us who is worth thinking of for the long-term.
I do wonder, though, how many doors will be worth knocking on, by the time Ainan is an adult. Some doors that one would expect to be open (or which pretend to be) turn out to be unworthy of a knock. Again, I see that Singapore is just not thinking of the long-term. Institutions here don't realize that if they block Ainan, now, that he will not work with them, in the future. I don't see any benefit to them, to that.
We will keep knocking on doors. We will keep trying to make Ainan's projects happen and keep his interests engaged. We will learn who is worth our time, and who is not. However, we have already learnt that institutions that one would have thought would have a long-term view, do not. These are valuable lessons. If they don't have a long-term view with regards to Ainan, they won't have a long-term view with regards to their research either. So, they are not likely to be places worth researching with. It is a valuable selection process.
Perhaps, part of this is because of a difference of perspective. I know Ainan very well. I know what he is. I know what he is becoming. I know, very, very well, how well he thinks scientifically and creatively. I know how much he has to offer. ASTAR, for instance, does not seem to understand that. They haven't delved enough to realize what they are missing. However, I find it amusing that one day they are certain to realize their oversight - when it is too late to do anything about it. Ainan will have found a more open-minded institution to work with. There is no time, in life, to waste on persuading those who cannot immediately see the value in the request, we have put to them. It is better to ask someone else...until some other says "Yes."
I take a long-term view, of all things. It is interesting to see how few people do, in Singapore. In the long-term, Ainan should be of great value as a scientist. It remains to be seen which institutions, in Singapore, will have shown themselves worthy of consideration as a research home, for him. Will any have done so? We will see.
(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.
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