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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

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A conversation headed somewhere…

OKAY, how many of you are old enough to remember the Shared Values era? That was in 1991 when a White Paper on Shared Values was presented. The man who headed the parliamentary committee which put it together was PM Lee.

Now values is all the rage again, except that the reasons for the renewed interest are different. Then, it was very G-driven. It saw the need for Singapore to have an identity, to keep it rooted in Southeast Asia and put up a dam against that terrible Western wave sweeping over the globe. Communitarianism versus individualism. There was a whiff of Confucian values. Some people thought it was an attempt by the G to keep paternalism and authoritarianism as acceptable values, by different names of course.

For the record, here are the five Shared Values
Nation before community and society above self: Putting the interests of society ahead of the individual.
Family as the basic unit of society: The family is identified as the most stable fundamental building block of the nation.
Community support and respect for the individual: Recognises that the individual has rights, which should be respected and not lightly encroached upon. Encourages the community to support and have compassion for the disadvantaged individual who may have been left behind by the free market system.
Consensus, not conflict: Resolving issues through consensus and not conflict; stresses the importance of compromise and national unity.
Racial and religious harmony: Recognises the need for different communities to live harmoniously with one another in order for all to prosper.

These values were supposed to be imparted through the school system and community groups. I don’t remember if they were. But I bet very few people can name the five values today. Or what the five stars in our flag stand for…

Different kinds of values have been thrown up in the current Singapore Conversation. As Lawrence Wong said, we’re looking harder at the intangible aspects of what we think should be “Singaporean’’. The values espoused so far are pretty universal: we want a kinder, more gracious society. It sounds very much like what the ex-PM said he would like Singapore to be when he took hold of the reins of the G. Seems it didn’t quite happen…given that we’re still talking about it.

The values conversation today looks like more bottom-up. Excellent. Not good to have the visible hand of G in something as fundamental as values. Let’s not politicise this, the way it sorta became in the 1990s.

The conversation seems to be headed this way:

We want to be competitive, but just enough so that we can still smell the roses at the Gardens by the Bay which we must be able to afford to enter.

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We believe in meritocracy, but not if those with merit think they did it all on their own and thumb their noses at the less meritorious.

We want to be a more equal society, but wonder if this conflicts with our pursuit of excellence which now seems to be measured by how big a car and house we have.

We want to be kind and compassionate, really, but we’re so caught up with looking at our cellphones that we really didn’t see that old lady who needed the MRT seat.

We want to be No. 1 in the happiness index, but we’re not sure if we can be happy if we are also No. 110 in cost of living and No. 111 in economic growth.

We want to be nice to our neighbours regardless of race, religion, language or place of origin but we can’t help being irritated by some of their practices.

Tough huh? The five shared values look easier to uphold.

Anyway, I’m glad that the Singapore Conversation is getting down to a more “focused’’ approach. I hope one of the themes would be to craft some sort of vision/mission values statement for us. Good luck!
What we now know is that one of the themes will be education. I can see where this is headed from what the G has let fall:
We want a less stressful education system. Parents will know what is the basic level of accomplishment needed when their tots enter primary school. Kindergartens will be “sparked’’ and accredited. Primary school teachers will be told that the word “private tuition’’ is banned. Parts of the curriculum will be replaced so that there will be greater emphasis on character development, in other words, values. Students in elite and neighbourhood schools will mix more. Oops! There is no such thing as a neighbourhood school. (Media, please note) Every school is a good school. We are not going to split hairs over who has 1 mark more than the other in the PSLE – which will be kept because we still need some kind of measurement of achievement. Secondary school ranking has been done away with already, you know. Never mind if your kid is in poly or JC, he/she has a better chance of getting a university education because we are going to have more uni places. The undergrads won’t be learning abstract or esoteric stuff. Subjects will be integrated, multi-disciplinary and practical. This is so we won’t have unemployed grads protesting on the streets, demanding that Workfare be extended to them.

Okay, I am meandering. But I do think the Singapore Conversation is getting somewhere. Where, though, I don’t know.

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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