The Straits Times
Published on Nov 10, 2012

It's time to craft a fresh Singapore story


SOUTH Korea's treatment of examinations as if they were a matter of national security went overboard ("South Korea falls silent as students sit entrance exam"; yesterday).

But what surprised me was the reaction to the article by awestruck netizens: that Singapore should adopt similar measures.

Not only were there no alternative voices, there were multiple "likes" on comments calling for Singapore to be as "caring" as the South Korean government.

What narrative have we planted in our children's minds that they should find such measures desirable?

What message are we sending them if we deploy police cars to deliver students running late for their papers, or halt economic activities to ensure a smooth running of exams?

By indulging in these extremes, we reinforce the notion that examinations define our lives and that grades measure our self-worth.

We legitimise the stress that students, parents and teachers have subjected themselves to.

We approve of the self-pity our children and young adults permit themselves to wallow in.

It is no wonder that we live in fear and are lacking in enterprising initiative from the ground up.

It is time to stop feeding the national narrative that Singapore is vulnerable. That because we have no resources and are surrounded by countries of different ideologies, we have to win at all costs. That because we went from Third World to First in 40 years when we were never meant to, we could lose it all just as easily.

We must stop diminishing ourselves and living in a state of psychological siege.

Instead, we must give due recognition to the fact that Singapore has exceeded beyond expectations because there was visionary leadership and a people willing to contribute and sacrifice for their country.

We need to take pride in our achievements, acknowledge our strengths as a nation, and project confidence in what we dare to dream for the future.

Most of all, we need to live in a context of abundance, not scarcity.

The netizens' comments demonstrated how gripping our national narrative is.

I had assumed students would grow out of it as they mature and gain a broader perspective, but those comments are worrying.

Let us craft a new and fresh Singapore story in education, of a life beyond exams: refreshing, inspiring and enlivening.

I urge Singaporeans to choose a different narrative, one that helps this nation, and students, grow.

Low Minmin (Ms)