Education Minister Ong Ye Kung's remarks last Friday when opening the Singapore Summit, on how Singapore prepares for the future, recalled the determination with which leaders managed to create a long term for the country in the first place. It is not an exaggeration to say that Singapore survived the early phases of its independence years by making hard decisions so that it would not have to take harsh decisions later. Tough insistence on fiscal probity ensured that Singapore would not end up a Third World basket case lying at the mercy of international lenders.
The frenetic construction of public housing spared Singaporeans from the problems of homelessness and slums that emerged in many countries elsewhere. Public housing also helped achieve much broader social goals, including ethnic mixing, which prevented the emergence of racial enclaves that would need to be tamed or dispersed one day. Education policies were designed to produce a confident class of young people proficient in both English and their mother tongue, and to ensure that access to education did not become identified with social status or a particular ethnic or language group. Such a nexus would have subverted Singapore's attempt to become a globalised nation, a fact of international life that is taken for granted today.