Why PAP is superior

For the past few days, two articles and their related discussions have occupied some brain space. One is the now infamous excerpt from Amy Chua’s latest book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” on the Wall Street Journal, and the other – a critical look at the welfare state in Singapore – was published by The Economist a year ago titled “The Stingy Nanny”.

As I sat back pondering both articles, it struck me how similar the subject matter was – they both portray successful ‘products’ as a result of stringent and harsh practices that are counter to the west. In fact, it became very clear that the PAP is a Chinese parent and Singapore its child. It explains perfectly their ruling of Singapore, and therefore Singaporeans.

According to Chua, there are mainly three reasons why and how Chinese parents are able to control, demand and push their children beyond what is considered acceptable and why this breeds success.

1. Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. A child with poor grades is simply a lazy child and fixing that is only a matter of punishment, shaming and disapproval.

All Singaporeans can identify with this. The early streaming in school to separate the weak from the strong, hence also ensuring competition, the labelling – ‘heartlanders’, ‘quitters’, ‘normal stream’, ‘express stream’, the sparse support to those who have fallen on hard times.

It’s little wonder that Singaporeans are constantly upgrading and the national psyche is one of kiasu-ism and kiasi-ism.

2. Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences

The Singapore government have always strongly impressed upon Singaporeans what they can or should do, what they can or can’t have access to. From the late 1960s to 1970s, they drove home the family planning message “Stop at two”; subsequently changing tact to “Three or more if you can afford it”. The sale and import of chewing gum was banned in 1992* as Singaporeans couldn’t be trusted to bin their used gums. Every decade they champion a different industry, thereby affecting the economic growth of Singapore and subtly steering the course of choice of young Singaporeans.

And because they have put all the right things in place, because they have set the path to glory and success:

3. Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything…Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.

Let’s not forget who works for whom. Without the PAP, Singapore wouldn’t be where it is. They dictated the rules and regulations that catapulted Singapore to first world status. For that, Singaporeans have constantly paid and will continue to pay.

PAP’s approach has softened over the years. Not greatly so, but slightly; just as Chua has relaxed some rules due to her daughter’s rebellion. However, a major change in style isn’t going to happen any time soon. Not when there are always potential adoptive children nipping at the heels of Singaporeans, willing to take their place in the arms of a wealthy and stable parent.

* The ban on chewing gum has since been revised. Those with therapeutic value can now be purchased at pharmacies and clinics on condition of registration by the purchaser.


What do endless tuition classes prepare a child for?

Last Sunday, gathered at IL, the conversation got around to the ever popular topic about the kiasu Singaporean parent. SIL mentioned that her friend, an educator, is sending his 8 year-old for two different music classes, tuition for two subjects at one of the most expensive tuition centres, swimming lessons with one of the best swimming coaches and one other sporting curriculum.

I offered that maybe it’s inevitable because everyone else is doing it. Kiasu – yes. But perhaps with good reason. My cousin resigned himself to the fact that he would have to send his kid for enrichment classes even before Primary 1 because he didn’t want his kid to be the only one in class who did not know what everyone else did. He didn’t want his kid to be the class clown. SIL then shared similar feelings especially as her son starts formal schooling next year. The conversation stopped there but it got me thinking.

Singaporean parents send their kids to all these different structured learning activities because they believe that all these classes would give their child better grades and perfect school records, which ultimately gets the kid into the best schools. They would be armed with the best knowledge. And then what – the kid is set for life?

The endless tuition, music and sports classes with little or no emphasis on other aspects of life merely gives the child one adequate skill. It makes them very good at sitting at a desk and working, then perhaps with some spare time, playing tennis or golf.

But life is not one long structured activity. It is a multifaceted ride full of twists and turns; it gets messy. Once a person leaves school and enters the real world, it’s not going to be just a 10-hour work day. It’s going to be a 10-hour work day plus family, household, friends and self to juggle within that 10-hour period and the rest of the 14 hours left in a day.

I’ve too often heard of adults who under work stress, neglect all else. While the stress may be tremendous, the underlying reason is not knowing how to cope. All they’ve ever known is to manage workload (ie, study) stress. Yet life goes on. There are other responsibilities and other hats to wear.

How about those complaints that youngsters these days take everything for granted and all they do is want stuff or that they complain easily and expect things to come easily? It’s probably ‘cos they have maids or parents or grandparents who do everything for them. They didn’t learn that it takes more than one skill (role) to get more out of life. They were exempted from acquiring these with the belief that all they had to do was get good grades, and things will fall into place. But that’s not how it works.

The most productive and remarkable people I know grew up being active in the community, helping to manage the household, finding ways to make extra pocket money at the age of 10. Today, they are high achievers at work and hands-on parents, they are also heavily committed to their extended family and social work. The least remarkable people I know grew up studying and not being given or taught other responsibilities. Today, they have great jobs but not much else. Yes, they have families but there is no further stride. There’s nothing wrong with that. But why raise professional achievers when you can raise life achievers?

Learning how to live a full life starts from young. Rather than spending all their time at classes, Singaporean kids should be engaged in free play, baby sitting, doing household chores, learning to cook, volunteering, working (start with small stuff around the home maybe). This promotes creativity, instills discipline, responsibility and teaches a child how to be self sufficient, truly independent and most importantly, the skill of multi-tasking. Not multi-tasking at work, but multi-tasking at life.