“We need a concerted effort to recognise our founding fathers in a more holistic manner so that we don’t have a collective amnesia about our past. We tend to remember them in generic ways mainly through bricks and mortar, lectureships, scholarships or professorships” (Remembering Our Founding Fathers, Mr. Eugene KB Tan).
Mr. Eugene KB Tan, in his comments “Remembering Our Founding Fathers” (May 22, 2010), makes the excellent point that there is a culture of collective historical amnesia amongst Singaporeans. Beyond the memories of our founding fathers – such as the late Dr. Goh Keng Swee – Singaporeans in general do not seem to have developed significance appreciation towards elements of our history. More pragmatically, many do not see the necessity or impetus to establish comprehension of these aspects instead of exploring more practical endeavours concerning their daily lives.
On the academic front, much has been done to honour the contributions of outstanding individuals and politicians who have made a tremendous impact on Singapore. As highlighted, our founding fathers are often honoured by naming institutions, foundations and lectures; yet there is a considerable dearth in terms of understanding our past. Evidently, the outreach of our supposed “National Education” (NE) has failed to educate generations of students on the aforementioned knowledge, and subsequently nurtured an atmosphere of unfortunate apathy and lethargy.
The current pedagogies adopted under NE are rigid, one-dimensional; and the programme itself is often conveniently dismissed as propaganda efforts. This explains the general disinterest and disdain many students have for NE. Instead of overloading students with mountains of information and commentaries incessantly harping on Singapore’s overwhelming success through the decades, students must be encouraged to explore and evaluate. Dr. Goh was far-sighted in terms of education; but let students discuss and debate whether it was appropriate to introduce a system of streaming in schools. He laid the foundations for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF); however, how has the role of National Service (NS) evolved over the years, and has it been any different from what Dr. Goh had envisioned?
We must challenge our students to think, and not blindly soak up facts; this is the way to get the general populace informed and engaged gradually with our collective history. The NE system is flawed in its plain determination to regularly paint rosy pictures of our history, and selectively prescribe episodes to students. This approach is pedantic, and it is yielding no benefits. Going against convention wisdom, they should be given the freedom to explore failed policies and evaluate possible remedies. For a more active historical-political culture, increase accessibility to the relevant people and events beyond the traditional focus on the People’s Action Party (PAP) per se.
The Western world has its Lincoln, Churchill, de Gaulle; Singapore has its fair share of leaders and visionaries. Not only must be celebrate them; we must do so with a greater openness and appreciation for our country’s illustrious history.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.