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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hold Steady

Hold Steady To The Narrow Road
Have you tried steering a car along a narrow country road buffeted by strong cross winds? It is a massive effort to even hold the steering wheel steady. This was my experience when at the age of 19, my French friend let me take the wheel of her car. She was somewhat drunk. The narrow road had no street lamps. I wasn't even sure HOW to get us home.

I guess the Singapore government feels somewhat in this situation at present.

During the National Day Rally, our government has sketched the outlines of a strategic directional shift in country governance. True.. some people are not happy because they believe it is a shift of ever so infinitesimal proportions.

"You call this a big change?" they wail... sniff... scoff.

Whilst I agree with these naysayers, I also think that it matters how far along this new direction we will be traveling. A shift of 1 degree left of North, traveled by 10,000 km would put us very far away from the place towards which we were once heading.

I am happy with this 1 degree shift. For now. I would like to see how far along this road we can travel without shifting BACK.

Keeping the Bread Dough Together Governance
Some time ago, I wrote a post entitled Relating Bread Dough and Government Policy. The central idea in that post was that government policy needed to CONTINUE to spur the well-endowed CITIZENS (intelligent, rich, successful) to do well, and BEGIN to support the weak CITIZENS (not so intelligent, poorer, not as successful) so that they can level up. In this way, the whole society (the bread dough) moves up together without splitting into Rich VS Poor (two blobs of bread dough).

Maybe I am naive but I do find the strategic intent of the National Day Rally speech very encouraging. I'm not for a 180 degree shift in direction wherein we completely rid ourselves of top schools (oh dear... this sentence will rub a very good friend the wrong way). I am for ensuring Primary schools are ALL good (hmmm... tough promise to keep).  If we had no top schools we would press down standards at the top. The high performance delivered by the best and the brightest should be maintained. If we can maintain our standards at the very top and level up the poorer performers by a lot, the gap between them will narrow. It will never disappear but it will narrow. Hence, the children will not split themselves into 2 separate communities - the Smart Elite VS Stupid Masses.

I am not for pressing down property prices. I am for ensuring that even the poor can afford HDB flats at least. This ensures that the wealth of those who have wealth is maintained, but the poor stand now a fighting chance to get comfortable. The wealth gap will narrow. Hence again, Singaporeans will not split themselves into 2 communities along the fault line of Rich Elite VS Poor Masses.

The Narrow Middle Road Pleases No One
This sort of strategic direction is quite like traveling along a very narrow road. You're not going the direction that the RICH and SMART want... and you're also not going in the direction that the POORER and LESS Smart want. The result is that the government is buffeted from the left and the right.

I have only ONE encouragement to give my government - "Hold steady!" If you do, and we make it to the 10,000 km mark by 2016, we will thank you for it.

My Worry
I hope that the government is sincere. It's hard to believe in its sincerity after so many years of talking to a wall... and hearing echoes return from far yonder that sounded nothing like what we called out over the canyon divide to our government on the other side. For example, as far back as 2008, parents have been giving feedback to MOE about insufficient textbooks. Since 2010 (at least), we've been asking for a Finland-Singapore education collaboration. The Population White Paper went through parliament like a fireball through a hay barn, crisping every obstacle in its way, and lighting raging fires outside the barn. Wasn't it just last month when PM Lee revealed to the international press that he wanted more billionaires in Singapore? It certainly doesn't help to hear Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam declare that government policy played no role in the rising inequality. I don't know about other areas of governance but I do know that the Teach Less Learn More policy directly contributed to the fact that students in top schools mostly come from comfortable homes.

So... I am cautiously happy. Only cautiously so. A one degree shift in direction travelled for 10 metres won't change much.

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