TEN years ago, a Registry of Companies and Businesses officer stopped Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin from registering a tuition centre under the name School of Thought. He said: “If you’re a School of English or School of Maths, I can understand. But School of Thought?”
She explained that they would teach subjects in a new way, so as to spark empathy and social responsibility, but he still couldn’t understand. Finally, they compromised with the name “School of Thought Learning Centre”.
But Ms Kuik says since then, “Singapore has shifted on all levels”.“We’re very optimistic about where Singapore can be. We see so much potential, strength and beauty here.”
What disturbs her though is the “groundswell of hate and deliberate blindness” online from those who show no interest in rational debate. “It’s an emotional thing now which comes down to I don’t care what you say, I don’t feel like I trust you.”
She believes the unhappiness stems from a national narrative that has for too long been about practical, “head-driven” concerns and not “heart to heart”. The Thought Collective hopes to shift people towards a more affirming way of looking at the country.
Its enterprises include a tuition centre, two restaurants and Thinkscape, which organises learning journeys to introduce different narratives about Singapore, “to get people to question old narratives”.
One journey focuses on the divide between old and new Singaporeans. Students visit foreign worker dormitories, and engage migrant workers in conversation.
“The students actually experience how people live. Usually by the end of it, there is some shift in narrative,” says Ms Kuik.
Singapore is in a “major season of testing”, she says, and the onus is on her generation – the 30- to 40-somethings – to “walk and talk” and help bring about the Singapore they want to see. “I see enough Singaporeans who are stepping up, caring and doing stuff that I think this nation won’t fall to the haters.”
For this year’s National Day Rally, Ms Kuik is interested in seeing the Prime Minister speak “authentically and vulnerably” about where he sees Singapore going, what he is encouraged or discouraged by and what he sees in the people he interacts with.
“There’s a battle for the spirit of Singapore. It’s not about which political party wins or loses in the next election. It’s about what spirit we are going to allow to move Singapore forward over the next few years.”