A letter to Barack Obama on Singapore’s education system

February 15, 2008
Singapore Democrats

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Senator Barack Obama
Presidential Candidate
Democratic Party
United States of America
Dear Senator Obama,
I read in one of your campaign speeches that you wanted American students to match up academically to those in Taiwan and Singapore. While I cannot speak for Taiwan, allow me to relate to you a few brief facts about the reality of the schooling system in my country Singapore:
A survey showed that one in three children between the the ages of 9 to 12 say that life is not worth living because of the fear of academic failure.
Nearly 20,000 students consult psychiatrists because of their fear of classroom examinations. Two-thirds of them are in primary (elementary) and pre-school grades.
Another survey asked American, Japanese and Singaporean students what their greatest fear was. While a majority of the American and Japanese children said that losing a friend or the death of their parents was their number one fear, Singaporean students said that not achieving good grades was what they were most afraid of.
Is it any wonder then that 50 percent of young Singaporeans indicate that they want to emigrate and live somewhere else. More than a third say they are not patriotic to their country.
Of course there are the few that excel in test-taking and school competitions. These are the ones that make the headlines so that the country’s rulers can claim the credit. If you squeeze an apple hard enough, you will extract some juice. Its the crushed pulp that we mourn over.
Many Singaporean parents have left the country because they refuse to subject their children to the torment that passes for education here. The precious joy of learning is utterly killed by the time one finishes school here.
In fact, the Singapore government recently bemoaned that more than 1,000 of the country’s best and brightest were leaving the country every year. For a country with a population of only 3 million citizens, you can see how alarming the situation is.
So why can’t the people of Singapore change the education policies, or the government for that matter? Because, unlike what you have been blessed with – the ability to campaign and speak freely, the opposition in Singapore is crushed by detention without trial, criminal prosecution, and crippling defamation lawsuits. Our media is completely in the hands of the ruling party, and public speaking and assemblies are banned.
While there maybe significant problems with schools in the US, the educational system in Singapore, as you can see, is no model. As for our political system, there is a dire need for democratic reform.
I take this opportunity to wish you all the very best in your bid for the presidency of the United States of America.
Sincerely,
Chee Soon Juan
Secretary-General
Singapore Democratic Party