Sunday, June 15, 2008

City State Ponders Its Future

Last Saturday (14 June 2008), I came across an article written by columnist, Seah Chiang Nee, on his weekly ‘Insight Down South’, on The Star. The writer sighted waning interest among many in Singapore in areas that were the cornerstone of Singapore’s development, i.e., engineering and even legal profession which experiences shrinking supply amid rising demand for lawyers.

Retired civil servant, Ngiam Tong Dow was quoted to express concern with the present development. According to him, “Britain’s economic decline set in because the best and brightest from Oxbridge, instead of going into engineering and running factories, went into the (financial) City of London... they are not creators of wealth, they just shuffling asserts around the place. In US, the best went to Wall St, their best still go into engineering.

This trend is not unique to Singapore. Many countries, in pursuit of greater socio-economic growth, are facing such reality. But this is never an easy issue to tackle and any policy puts in place will take more than a decade to prove its effectiveness. And in the globalised economy we are in, 3 more issues further add to complexity to this problem:

1) Among those who are trained in so called ‘wealth creation’ skills like engineering, computer science, pure sciences, medical research, so forth, are finding its ways to alternative industries that promise quick returns like financial while some abandon their training for different experience in NGO or others.

2) Emigration is another big headache. The brightest are the most sought after and those who are mobile will quickly find their ways into international labour markets, which often pays these workers higher premium than local market could, besides enhanced lifestyle. For City State like Singapore with solid ability to pay international wages, attracting foreign talents could be a viable option but no one could guarantee these talents will settle in for a long haul.

3) The fast changing nature of these so called ‘wealth creation’ skills often poses challenges to academicians and policy makers on the right dosage comprises the pursuit of pure academic and commercial, and how to incorporate the latest in the curriculum and instil the highly priced creative and innovative thinking. In his major speech, the new Education Minister Ng Eng Hen said: “More education does not necessarily mean more growth, as most politicians and economists unthinkingly suppose”. Tertiary education, he said, should maintain a “focus on quality”, rather than “expanding education thoughtlessly”.

I have a 5-month old daughter. Just like all fathers, i am determined to provide her with the best skills and the article has provided me with a good mental exercise on how i shall be mentoring my little one without compromising her freedom to choose, when the time is right.

Click on URL below to view the above-said article:

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