Jai Hind India!!

It’s a great day today! Or not, for some. Today is India’s Independence Day. I feel really restless today and I don’t know why. I wish I had some Indian friends to celebrate with. I really want to have some Indian friends from India.

Oh, did I tell I prefer Indians from India to those in local? I don’t know why, but I feel that those from India seem to be friendlier than those in local. But so far I made three friends from India. That’s a good start for now. But we can’t really hang out with each other. Two of them are my seniors.

Can a person be capable of feeling loyalty for two countries? According to me, I have two mother countries. One is India, where I was born and brought up or the first ten years of my life. The other one is Singapore, where I was educated for the next ten years of my life. It’s not the question of towards which country I feel more loyalty. But if it is possible to feel loyalty towards more than one mother country.

I feel more at home in India. Because that is where all Indians reside, obviously. But there are reasons above that. I have felt the total experience of falling in love all over again each time I fly to India. Because it is not always what you had seen last time you went to India. It is completely different each and everytime you step your foot into India. India is emerging quickly. Poverty has not fully vanished. But I hope the people and the government will do something about it.

I feel loyalty to Singapore too because I feel living here to be more easy than living anywhere else around the world. I have been and am being educated here. I am receiving tution grant from the education ministry just like all other students. I don’t think I would get such education elsewhere. I am really glad we came here. I would have been a completely different Priya if I had stayed in India.

So I love both places. But I hope to settle down in India one day! Maybe when I have grown old, I may go back to my mother land. Let’s say I have only a few months to live because I have a disease or some condition. I would spend three quarters of my time here, because most of the important people in my life are here. I would then spend the rest of my life in India, with my relatives and friends there. There is certainly a lot more things I would want to do. But this is a general idea.

I might seem sentimental. But hey, this is me. The truth…

Thaipusam

The hindus in Singapore celebrate Thaipusam very elaborately. Check this link. It’s a news item from the local news channel. It’s really amazing how multicultural Singapore is. Traffic has been diverted and roads blocked to facilatate the crowds in the roads during the procession of the devotees.

True Education Is Lost

For the past few days, i’ve been thinking about the education provided in Singapore to kids nowadays. Especially with regards to my sister. It deeply worries me that we all study for the sake of getting good grades in our exams, and not because we want to study for the fun of it. We also constantly worry about what’s in the syllabus and what’s not. Not to mention, we are only willing to study what’s in the syllabus.

At least, i can agree with the rationale for having a syllabus at different levels of education. We need boundaries and rubrics to guide us in what to study from a broad subject content. But in the actual learning process, i believe that we should study as much as we can, if that subject matter interests us. We shouldn’t put a full stop in the process of acquiring knowledge and say “that’s not in the syllabus, so i don’t need to learn it.”

In A Devil’s Chaplain, Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science and Love, Richard Dawkins expresses my worries articulately with reference to a book that he constantly quotes from, The Story of a Great Schoolmaster: being a plain account of the life and ideas of Sanderson of Oundle. His essay is titled “The Joy of Living Dangerously: Sanderson of oundle”:

“It is not just the joy of childhood that is threatened. It is the joy of true education: of reading for the sake of a wonderful book rather than for an exam; of following up a subject because it is fascinating rather than because it is on a syllabus; of watching a great teacher’s eyes light up for sheer love of the subject.”


How true this is in Singapore. But it’s not only in Singapore. I can say that this is true in many of the countries like India, China, Korea and Japan. Western countries also foster the same education values. True education is lost. The joys of childhood is also lost. Richard Dawkins says here:

“I hear horror stories almost daily of ambitious parents or ambitious schools ruining the joy of childhood. And it starts wretchedly early. A six-year-old boy receives ‘counselling’ because he is ‘worried’ that his performance in mathematics is falling behind. A headmistress summons the parents of a little girl to suggest that she should be sent for external tuition. The parents expostulate that it is the school’s job to teach the child. Why is she falling behind? She is falling behind, explains the headmistress patiently, because the parents of all the other children in the
class are paying for them to go to external tutors.”


The same is happening to my sister. She has to go to tuitions for math and english separately, so that she could ‘keep up’ with her classmates. I sometimes wonder whether all this training and tutoring really reflects my sister’s true hardwork and knowledge in her progress in education. I sometimes wonder for myself too. Because i went to tuition too, until the age of 14, after which i stopped and started studying for myself. My classmates in JC also had private tutors who would help them in their tutorials. So they got their 4 distinctions because they had private tutoring. I am more satisfied with my performance than them, because i got 3 distinctions without having any private tutors.

All the schools here ever care about is ranking. How well is the school ranked depends on the academic performance of the students. Principals fightwith each other if one school loses it’s best student to the other school, like divorced parents fighting for the custody of their child. Parents here are also a step more competitive than their children. They set the expectations for their children. They tell the children that they should get such-and-such grades and that they should enter such-and-such school.

I would very much like to imagine a world where there are no examinations and no syllabuses. In a world, where students are given the freedom to choose what subject interests them and excel in it. But such an utopian world will never come about in existence. All we can do is some changes in the education policies here and there and just hope that students are doing what they really want to do, and not what they are told to do.

Low Fertility Rate in Singapore 2

To me, the conundrum of the declining fertility rate in Singapore has largely attracted my attention. It is a very common phenomenon in countries that have attained a high level of development and standard of living.

Alas, there is nothing new in this issue. The causes and consequences of low fertility rate are quite well known that I don’t have to waste time discussing about them. But I read something interesting in this blog on the low-fertility trap. Just like the poverty trap, countries cannot come out of this low-fertility trap once their fertility rates plummet below 1.5.

The fertility rate in Singapore is 1.24 for now. It might change whenever. Another thing that I’ve learned after reading through the blog is that when the fertility rates have gone so low in some European countries in the 1980s, they have gone up again in the late 1980s. This is due to the decision of women to delay childbearing and then later deciding to have more than one child.

But whatever the Singapore government does, concerning the post-natal policies, it will not work effectively. I’m referring to policies such as more maternity leave, flexibility in working times and so on. While such policies are important, they are simply not enough to convince a typical couple to consider having more than one child.

The government, in my opinion, should focus also on pre-natal policies. The following excerpt from the blog that I’ve read will explain clearly what I want to say:

“Policy could make an impact. Wolfgang Lutz has suggested that we try informing women of the risks involved in postponement(of childbearing), and also make changes in our education system to enable flexibility between being a mom, and say, postgraduate study, or other kinds of career enhancing activities which could be easily combined with the early months and years of parenthood. Housing policy would be another area which could be scrutinised. The interesting thing is that these are pro-natal measures(or pre-natal measures as I say here) which may be effective, but which are not intrusive, since they help people do something they want to do, and don’t try to push them into doing something they otherwise wouldn’t do.”

It all boils down to mindset and individual-choice. The government can change the social and economic policies. But it cannot change people’s mindset, at least in an issue like this. But the government can do something to solve some of the problems and dilemmas that young women, mothers-to-be and mothers face.

Wolfgang Lutz is an Austrian demographer. His hypothesis is that those countries which sustain total fertility rates below 1.5 for any length of time may have fallen into a self-reinforcing low-fertility trap.

Low Fertility Rate in Singapore 1

The issues of low fertility rate and widening income gap have been fervently discussed in the local newspapers. These issues have really drawn me to the papers and to keep in touch with the updated information, despite the exams taking up most of my time. Finally, I now have the time to discuss and post on issues that I interest me.

This blog was first started with a purpose. Or shall I say, a number of purposes. (1) To discuss some scientific research that has interested me, (2) To talk about things and happenings in my life and (3) To discuss social issues so as to keep in touch with my English.

But as the blog continued to grow in length, width and depth, it has at some times deviated from the above-stated purposes. But it’s alright. This is just a blog, not a news website or something that needs to follow a set of guidelines and purpose.

So coming back to the issue that I wish to write about, after a month-long hiatus. First, there was the issue on the widening of the income gap in Singapore. Because of this and as a solution to this, the government has come up with the rise in the GST from 5% to 7%. GST is short for Goods and Services Tax.

Though it has some economic benefits in general, how will the low-income people cope with such a high tax? I don’t want to discuss about whether the policy implemented by the government is right or wrong here. I don’t have enough knowledge of the economics and hence, if I say something, it would have no basis.

But I was thinking. Is there a connection between this widening of income gap and the low fertility rate in Singapore?

Singaporeans are economically hard-driven and do not even know the true meaning of fun and relaxation. Perhaps, I’m generalizing here. But it’s partially true. Almost everyone here wants to earn a lot of money, buy a condo and own a car. It has become something like a culture.

Then it is not surprising to know that home-ownership in Singapore is 91.7% among the resident owners. The education system in Singapore is also fairly competitive and what every student ever thinks about is results. Amongst all these, there is no wonder why marriage is postponed, in the case of the singles; there is no wonder why childbearing is postponed, in the case of the married couples.

The widening of income gap in Singapore alone is not that significant compared to that in the international level. But still, there is this group of people in Singapore striving to earn a lot of money and upgrade themselves from a 5-room flat to a condominium. Then there is another group of entrepreneurs, constantly accumulating a lot of wealth. The number of millionaires in Singapore is on the rise(1). There is also this group of people struggling to earn enough money to meet the increasing cost of living in Singapore.

The constant drive to accumulate material wealth has caused both the widening income gap and the low fertility rate. I’m not saying that it is the sole cause or whatever. But it has directly or indirectly caused these two conundrums that Singapore is now facing. Of course, I’m not neglecting the other causes.

(1) There are 48,500 millionaires in Singapore. The number of millionaires in Singapore rose at the fastest pace in the world in 2004, according to a report by Cap Gemini & Merrill Lynch & Co. Singapore millionaires rose 22.4 percent to 48,500, the report said.