Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s speech at the annual National Day Rally attracted several views from prominent socio-political figures, with many challenging the three topics the PM chose to speak on: enhancing preschool education, the war on diabetes, and the focus on developing Singapore further to be a truly smart city.
Socio-political commentator, Dr Wong Wee Nam added his voice to the chorus of criticism.
Wong, a medical doctor, expressed that he was puzzled over the Prime Minister’s selection of these three “low-priority topics in view of the many issues bothering Singaporeans like the economy, terrorism and the poor health of the MRT system.”
“Isn’t he not worried that the problems may cost the PAP votes? Apparently not. If anything it has raised his statue a bit.”
How could the selection of “low-priority topic” increase the PM’s clout? Wong puts forth that the PM deliberately positioned himself in a specific manner through each of the topics he chose:
“To the 70% the first part established the PM as being very concerned to give Singapore’s future citizens a headstart over the rest of the world. In the second part, he is seen as a very caring father figure will to go the distance to look after their health, and in the third he is going to modernize the country making us proud.
“Whether these three policies will bear fruit eventually will be left to be seen.”
The political observer also criticised the preschool initiatives unveiled by PM Lee at length, before asserting that “given the enormous scope of the pre-school problem, raising the issue really makes the people think less of the present and more of the future.”
We re-publish his articulate post in full here:
Quenching The Thirst By thinking Of Plums
Two days ago I wrote an article on the PM’s National Day Rally 2017 Speech in which I had expressed my puzzlement over his choice of three subjects to speak. To me they were low priority topics in view of the many issues bothering Singaporeans like the economy, terrorism and the poor health of the MRT system.
Isn’t he not worried that the problems may cost the PAP votes? Apparently not. If anything it has raised his statue a bit. To the 70% the first part established the PM as being very concerned to give Singapore’s future citizens a headstart over the rest of the world.
In the second part, he is seen as a very caring father figure will to go the distance to look after their health, and in the third he is going to modernize the country making us proud.
Whether these three policies will bear fruit eventually will be left to be seen.
Yes, life has been hard for the average citizen., with these visions of the future, they give them hope amidst their misery. Let the voters think of their children and grandchildren’s future. Voters think less of their problem than worry about the future generations. Whatever pains that are present in 2016/17 will be mitigated by the glorious years that would come in 2022. Whether we will achieve our goal is another matter. Doesn’t this remind us of “The Swiss Standard of Living” aspiration?
I am a believer of good early pre-school education. The aim must be to prepare the lower income adequate enough to bring him to the same starting line as the rest of the cohort. Otherwise it has failed. Those who can afford can go to the private play schools and kindergarten, supplemented by good nutrition, good home environment and extracurricular/classes like swimming, ballet,art and holidays to get a headstart. Even at the pre-school level, there is already a difference in mental and social development between the various social classes and a disparity in linguistic and motor abilities even before they start.
For the children of the poor, English is a second language and if they have not mustered this in pre-school, they would be greatly disadvantaged when they start school. The formal school would also not be able to remedy this deficiency because the classes, too, are big and teachers are rushing to finish the syllabus. Not only will they struggle with English, they will also have to struggle with problem mathematics and understand science that uses English.
In 2009, research by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) shows that reading skills are more reliable predictors of economic and social well-being than the number of years spent in school or in post-formal education. Moreover, when in school, it is not likely for a child to develop the self-respect without some mastery of reading and verbal skills. Only with a good pre-school foundation can this gap be closed.
According to a working paper, Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships, by the Harvard’s National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, “Children who develop warm, positive relationships with their kindergarten teachers are more excited about learning, more positive about coming to school, more self-confident and achieve more in the classroom.”
For children of the lower social class, therefore, there should be specialised pre-school centres, adequately financed and run by the state with well-trained professional teachers and specially-designed programmes.
The class size should be small enough so that the teacher can pay attention to each and every child’s needs and the curriculum should be cognitive-orientated. Teachers must be trained to have the skills and attributes to detect and help the child overcome common behavioural problems so that the relationships would be one that is nurturing, stimulating and reliable.
With such a big responsibility, the teachers must be paid adequately so as to encourage them to stay in the profession and accumulate more experience and be a better teacher with time.
The Harvard’s National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, it is recommended that the early childhood education include:
1. All early childhood programs must balance their focus on cognition and literary skills with significant attention to emotional and social development.
2. The science of early emotional and social development must be incorporated into services in support of parents.
3. Providers of early care and education must have sufficient knowledge and skills to help children who present with early emotional problems early on, particularly those who exhibit significant aggression or difficulties with attention and “hyperactivity’.
4. Expertise in early identification, assessment and clinical treatment must be incorporated into existing intervention programmes.
5. Suspected abuse or neglect must be investigated.
In today’s world, knowledge and technology are advancing so rapidly that if any individual is unable to keep abreast, he/she will be left far behind. The change is especially rapid in education.
The children of today must be taught to live in tomorrow’s world. Otherwise, society will not only have to shoulder the burden of the ageing population but also a huge percentage of an inadequately educated population.
The more fundamental solutions would be to reduce income inequality, give the poor a decent income, make healthcare affordable.
Can a person in misery be made to forget his suffering with some hope? Will this exercise work again? It is hard to say. However, it has worked many centuries ago.
During the period of the Three Kingdoms, Cao Cao led his troop on an expedition and had to march through a wilderness of barren rocks. It was summer and the weather was extremely hot. After a while, with the scorching sun burning down on them, the soldiers became very drained and thirsty. They were almost on the verge of mutiny.
Cao Cao knew that if he did not solve this problem, he would have a rebellion on his hands. Suddenly he had a brain wave. Urging his men, he called out, “There is a big forest of plums ahead. The plums there are juicy and very sour. We can have a feast of sweet and sour plums to quench out thirst once we go over this hill.”
On hearing this, the soldiers started to salivate profusely. The very thought of sour plums made they mouth water. Their thirsts were temporarily quenched and with the morale greatly raised, they managed to continue to march forward.
From this story, people have derived the phrase “quenching thirst by watching plums” (望梅止渴) to refer to consoling oneself with hopes.
Given the enormous scope of the pre-school problem, raising the issue really makes the people think less of the present and more of the future. They will quench their thirst with imagery of the plums. Can you beat that?