Deconstructing the Singapore Dream
Posted by intellisg on August 21, 2007
This essay talks about the Singapore Dream. It will be integrated into Christopher’s current project Sowing the Seeds of Prosperity, a beginner’s guide to personal finance
There is a lot of talk about what the Singapore Dream is. Books have been written about it but there are seldom any specifics on what it really is. Could the Singaporean Dream be one where a person becomes a millionaire? Is it the accumulation of all the 5 Cs? Or is it is a complicated journey involving Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and reaching self-actualization?
“Living the Singapore Dream”, a book written by Tan Yong Soon, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, attempts to highlight the lives of 23 Singaporeans who are living the dream. The stories were originally meant to inspire fellow Singaporeans to stretch themselves to achieve personal success and happiness in their lives.
The original intention of the author was a very good one. His chapter headlines were all universally good advice. We are encouraged to “Triumph over life’s imperfections” and “Pursue your goals with passion and persistence”.
But sadly, this piece of work failed to inspire me. In fact, my personal assessment of this piece of work was that it was very flawed as it showcases only a small number of elite Singaporeans and presenting a very parochial view of what success is like in Singapore.
I took all 23 profiles of so called “successful” Singaporeans listed in this book and analyzed it based on some of the attributes of the people who were mentioned. Instead of focusing on what these people did like the author, I took a snapshot of who they were because this analysis can reveal underlying biases subconsciously introduced when selecting profiles of personal success. Another words, I performed some data mining with a pen and paper.
Here are the results of my findings:
Out of 23 profiles, only 3 were female. 20 profiles were male.
Of the same 23 number of profiles, 13 came from Raffles Institution. More shockingly, only two profiles were not explicitly linked to Raffles Institution or National Junior College. Perhaps there were only two schools of renown in the sixties and seventies.
All the profiles were Chinese with the exception of two, one was Malay and one was Indian.
All 23 profiles showed people with University degrees. There was no mention of anyone with HSC, Polytechnic diploma’s or ITE certificates. It may be possible that there were no polytechnics in those days but the road to success was overwhelmingly confined to graduates. No lip service was even paid to late bloomers in Singapore.
The only heart-warming news is that out of 23 profiles only 10 were scholars and there was an equal distribution of successful people from the public and private sectors.
With these findings, we can conclude very disturbing things about the Singapore Dream if we choose to believe the answers from our senior civil servants.
It looks to me that the Singapore Dream can only be lived by those from elite schools. If you do not invest enough time to your academic studies to get a solid university education, you won’t be significant enough for mention in Singapore. It is also much easier to live the dream if you are a Chinese male.
Now this is fantastic news for the Rafflesian or NJCian Chinese male. My concern is what happens if you are not part of this demographic. Do you give up, emigrate and pack up to go overseas?
Right now all I can say that many changes on the top are trying to convince Singaporeans that Singapore now recognizes people with diverse talents and skills. Education is being reformed to do something about the self-esteem of those who are not necessarily the best at regurgitating information. The prime minister’s latest rally is a testament that our government is committed to change.
But as a concerned citizen, I can’t help but urge readers to be realistic. Change does not happen overnight as our public service organizations are run by many old-school mandarins who came from a different era.
The solution lies with you, my fellow citizens.
Here’s what I think you can adopt towards a better world:
1. Accept the fact that the Singapore Dream is dead. We are much better off that way.
2. Determine what actions and deeds give you a sense of meaning and pleasure and pursue it regardless of what the authorities say.
3. Do not confine yourself to working and living on this little red dot. Your ability to work in other countries and your skills are powerful tools to enforce a democracy in Singapore, policy changes will reflect the need to retain intelligent people in this country.
4. Lastly, like any finance author would recommend all of his readers. Earn money, save money and invest intelligently. Once you gain your financial freedom, no one can tell you what dream you should have.
Disclaimer: The author is a NJCian Chinese male but he’s still insecure.
Christopher Ng Wai Chung, 32, is an IT Project manager who dabbles in personal finance and wealth management. His books, Growing your tree of Prosperity and Harvesting the Fruits of Prosperity meld his philosophical ideas with the realities of seeking financial independence in Singapore. His books can now be found in all major bookstores in Singapore.
His own blog can be found in treeofprosperity.blogspot.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Chris Ng and his Prosperity Series, click here
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