Singapore is No.1.
"Singapore is No. 1", is a phrase I have heard so many times since coming to Singapore. When I first heard it, I thought it was absurd and couldn't understand why anyone would ever say it...now, however, I see it as something else: it is what those in power would like the Singaporean people to believe.
Do Singaporeans believe that Singapore is No. 1? Well, it seems that the conditioning is working and that they do, in fact, believe this mantra, at least in some cases.
The other day, I was talking to an intelligent Singaporean about recent changes in how an international survey of University standing is done. I mentioned that in previous surveys that Singapore's Universities had done relatively well - because the measures only took the quantity of research papers published into account. I told him, however, that now the new measures took QUALITY of research into account as well, by including a measure of citations per paper (the number of times other researchers reference the paper).
"How well do you think Singapore's Universities did with the new measure?"
"They were No.1?", he half asked, half stated.
"No. They did rather badly...they have fallen dramatically in the rankings. You see Singapore produces a lot of research, but it is cited less often, than research elsewhere. The quality is not there."
The intelligent Singaporean in question went very quiet. He didn't know what to say. His deep seated belief that "Singapore is No.1", had just been confronted by an undeniable truth: Singapore's research quality was nowhere near "No.1". He didn't address the issue but, after a long pause, changed the topic and guided the conversation elsewhere. I didn't press the issue, or revisit it: I had learnt enough from his instinctive belief that Singapore should be No.1.
Singapore is a society filled with people who always like to win. They fight each other lifelong to do so. This is termed the "kiasu" attitude: a fear of losing. The idea that "Singapore is No.1" is a kind of cultural delusion that Singapore has somehow "won", against the whole world. The whole thing is very strange. Many Singaporeans seem to really believe that Singapore is somehow the top of the global heap in all respects. At least, it is not hard to find one, who will utter the famed "Singapore is No.1", in all kinds of situations.
The truth is, of course, that Singapore is doing OK in many respects. It has done quite a few things well. It has created an efficient, stable, relatively prosperous society. That is true. However, there are just as many things that it is not doing well (and I am not going to list them, lest I be accused of being too critical). Singapore is not a society without problems or flaws. It is most certainly not "No.1" in all things, or even in anything. I think the idea that "Singapore is No.1" is a dangerous one. It is an idea that leads to complacency, that leads to an attitude that "we don't need to change because we are the best already"...well, it just isn't true. Like all societies, there are many things that could be improved. Like most societies, there are other places which are better, in any respect you care to examine. Yet, the overall package, in Singapore, is relatively good. It would be truer to say not that "Singapore is No.1", but that "Singapore is doing OK..." Perhaps then, Singapore would actually have a chance to BECOME No.1 in some things...because there would be the awareness that improvement was necessary and possible. As it is, the mass delusion that "Singapore is No.1" creates the mass conviction that nothing needs to change, for all is perfect already. In other words, the propaganda that "Singapore is No.1" dooms Singapore to be mediocre, for it deprives any drive to improve of any real motivation.
So, give Singapore a chance to get better...and stop saying it is "No.1" already.
(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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