Thursday, January 26, 2006

Rise and fall of empires

I grew up in colonial Singapore in the 1960s and 70s. One of the things the British left behind in Singapore was a system of administration and civil works that exist to this day, albeit modified to suit the people and the times. They were the acknowledged masters and it is the pride of any family to have been able to send a child (or more) to Britain to obtain an education, particularly at its Universities. In fact, the nation's yardstick for academic achievement at the Secondary level, after 10 years of schooling, is the General Certificate in Education (GCE), which is a legacy of the British education system. To this day, we have retained this standard setting benchmark to measure the degree of literacy and academic achievements of our sons and daughters.

Alas, there are reports now that claims that half of all British workers can barely read and write, and that their skills are no better than a 11-year-old's (TODAY - Wed 25 Jan 06 page 17). What has happened to a country that successfully exported its education system but finds half its working adults untouched by that system? If they are working adults, then they cannot be too much younger than I am. Yet I remember the rigours of my own British-inspired education in Singapore. Clearly, the rote set in 15 to 25 years ago, all while Singapore was vigourously modelling itself on the British.

It is shocking and disappointing. Therein lies a warning - that when one has 'made it', the danger is to slacken and live on the legacy and hard work of others. Each generation must work hard, but they can only secure their own survival and success. Our sons and daughters may taste the fruits of the previous generation's toil, but they in turn must secure their and the generation after. So it must be, otherwise, like Rome and Greece, once the rote sets in, the empire will fall away and disappear, literally, into the sands of time.