Can Singapore be Seen by The West as Role Model?

Singapore is an economic miracle. Not only that, its amazing achievements in the academics has left the West green in envy. In the recent article by The Economist titled Go East, young bureaucrat, it mentioned that ‘the city-state streams pupils rigorously and is unashamedly elitist; one school claims to send more students to Ivy League universities than any other secondary schools in the world’. Without any doubt, I believe it is Raffles Institution. Elitism aside, we are producing more talents in professions not commonly accepted or preferred in a society which refers to degrees as prized possessions. The Institute of Teachnical Education producing professions such as hairdressers, models, manicurists and cosmetologists are churning out more successful students every year with greater funding from the Ministry of Education. These growing talents can be credited to the Singapore Government which has been for years, trying to improve the education system especially in the vocational training sector. These are just some of the examples that the West can take a leaf out of Singapore’s book. Not just in the economy and education, Singapore boasts one of the safest streets in the world, and has one of the best health care systems around. Our government is good, our secret in success lies in an Asian mixture of Authoritarian values and state-directed capitalism, and China is so impressed with Singapore’s governance that they are trying to follow us.

However, are we that good? Why aren’t most countries, especially the West, following us? Why are we still unable to produce the top thinkers and entrepreneurs in the world? Why our universities are still incomparable with the Ivy League? Its because we are ‘Disneyland with a Death Penalty’. The West just cannot stand our strict laws and lack of freedom in speech and media. Balancing authoritarianism and accountability is not easy even if voters do not mind swapping more efficiency for less freedom. Singapore has a population of 5 million, while most western countries have far larger populations.  Education wise, Singapore’s education is more rigid and the grip on the society itself does not promote creativity and individuality, making it less entrepreneurial than other financial cities.

One cannot deny that Singapore still has a lot for the West to learn from. Only the creme de la creme will do for its civil service, and with a party that has been continuously ruling the country for the past 50 years, its easier for the ministers to think in the long term, compared to western democracy where candidates have to think about campaigns before they start thinking about strategies and ideas to bring change to the country. With top talent in the public and private sector, it is no wonder that we are able to run so smoothly as a nation, with little glitches. Western nations still may not be able to follow Singapore’s model. For example, Tony Blair wanted to implement a Edusave scheme for its citizens, such that the British are able to look after themselves during old age. The plan failed when it was met with huge protests from its citizens. That is one bad point about freedom of speech. It hinders the implementation of policies in the government. In the end, the western model has neglected a main factor of good governance, and that is pragmatism. Deng Xiaoping was fascinated with Singapore because of its good social order. He believed Singapore’s Asian values of Authoritarianism and industrial polices was vital in Singapore’s amazing growth over the past decades from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the most developed nations.

The West can use some of Singapore’s policies to improve. Following the Singapore Model will definitely not work for the West because of the inability to accept the Asian values as well as the huge difference in population. However, to improve efficiency, the West should try to be more stern in implementing policies as pragmatism still comes first in bringing forward an economy. At the same time, the Singapore government can loosen its grip on its people, and bring in more creativity and life that keeps a city or country pumping.

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