Friday, November 30, 2007

MOE’s Latest Alumnus

I agree in principle (pardon the pun) with Rana’s assessment that “on the whole, Singapore has done well with Tharman Shanmugaratnam as education minister."

However, I couldn’t help but feel bothered by his emphasis on Institutions of Higher Learning (IHLs) as the only marker of success. To be fair to Rana, he qualified that falling University rankings and the ability (or lack thereof) to attract top colleges here, did not reflect too badly on Tharman’s tenure.

And to be fairer to Rana, who the hell assigned me to mark his work? But surely the report card of our education system can’t possibly be assessed with the grading of a single subject (I promise the puns stop here).

I myself am an unfortunate product of an inflexible education system, so I have many grievances with the system I grew up with. However, I do like the direction Tharman has taken, especially with regards to the primary and secondary levels – the very foundations for our grey matter development.

Of course, I pity the parents caught in the middle of all the education policy changes (and all the new textbooks to buy and dump). But our children will ultimately be the beneficiaries of the new flexibility that has been injected into the system. I shan’t go through the changes that have been made as many before me have already done an extensive review. The best examples are here and here.

But my interest lies elsewhere. When news broke of Tharman’s imminent relinquishment of his Education Minister post to take up the Finance Minister role he was so obviously groomed for, my first thought was not on his contributions to the education system. I see this portfolio change as a sign of more things to come....

Dare I say it? Prime Minister Tharman anyone?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Standing Up for Burma, Sitting Down for Myanmar

What better way to start off this fledgling blog than to write a short random piece inspired by recent events surrounding violent crackdowns in Myanmar, resulting global condemnation, and the concluding ASEAN summit.

My approach to this topic is a little more philosophical than socio-political, hence the seemingly illogical title of this post. For me, “Myanmar” represents the cold hard realities of modern-day national coexistence - a world swimming chin-deep in paradoxes. “Burma” on the other hand carries with it all the old world charms and romantic qualities of an age of innocence lost to modern-day excesses.

Such characterizations require neither deep nor accurate appreciation for the socio-political nuances of the country, as human beings are seldom moved by details but rather ideas. And that’s what they ultimately are, words that carry a collectively perceived meaning, stretched from an imperfect idea.

When beliefs clash with realities, when two incompatible cognitions meet, when Burma and Myanmar collide, we are left with the uncomfortable task of deciding whether we stand…. or sit.

What driving forces ultimately compel world leaders, local parliamentarians, opposition leaders, concerned citizens, to stand or sit depends on how each resolves their beliefs and actions.

What do we do when we want to stand up for “Burma”, yet at the same time, sit in fear of the metaphorical “Myanmar”?

What do we do with our desires to uphold the civil liberties of others, whilst protecting our own?

Singaporeans would undoubtedly appreciate the ever present cognitive dissonance involved. Compelling the desire to stand up may be, but other dominant thoughts justify inaction. Every no-show is evidence of our concerns. Every arrest is confirmation of our fears.

I shall leave it at that. A brief window into our world, and my thoughts. Perhaps I shall create a folder for my incoherent thoughts in order to separate my conflicting selves. Where this first post will go? Im not sure… im still sitting on the fence.