25 April 2006

How To Read A Politician's Words

Mr Wang is somewhat busy today, so he has to content himself with a short little post. Take a look at this Straits Times article today:

April 25, 2006
Youth here better educated than those abroad
By Tracy Quek

YOUNG Singaporeans are the best educated when compared to their peers elsewhere in the world and this is one reason Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is optimistic about Singapore's future.

But they lack an 'exposure to life' and a certain resilience that can come only from experiencing hard knocks.

It is no one's fault that they have turned out this way, said PM Lee yesterday, attributing it to the peaceful environment in which they have grown up.

'We, the older generation, worked very hard to make sure there was a peaceful environment in which we can bring up children. But as a result, we tend to forget how unique and how precious this is. It's normal.'

In his wide-ranging interview with The Straits Times, PM Lee also stressed the importance for Singapore's top schools to produce students with a heart and 'be more than a machine for Oxbridge and Ivy League'.

He noted in Singapore, more than 80 per cent of the population can receive a post-secondary education in institutions such as first-class universities.

Nowhere else in the world is this possible, he said ...

If you had only quickly perused the above article, then the following sentence may have given you a very erroneous impression:
He noted in Singapore, more than 80 per cent of the population can receive a post-secondary education in institutions such as first-class universities.

This sentence seems to suggest that many young Singaporeans get to go to university. If you are careless, you may even believe that many young Singaporeans get to go to first-class universities.

However, if you take a second look, you will realise that this statement merely tells you that more than 80 per cent of the population get to receive a post-secondary education. Period. We cannot actually tell what percentage of those blessed, lucky, "more-than-80%" Singaporeans will receive their post-secondary education at:

(1) a "first-class" university
(2) a non-"first class" university
(3) a polytechnic
(4) an Institute of Technical Education (ITE)
(5) some other kind of institution, eg Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

To get a rough idea of how many Singaporeans actually get to go to university (never mind whether the university is "first class" or not), I googled around a little and found this press release by the Ministry of Education in May 2003.

According to this press release, in 2003 the percentage of Singaporeans who get to study in one of Singapore's universities (that is, NUS, NTU or SMU) was about 21%. The government planned to raise this percentage to around 25% by the year 2010.

21 - 25% is an extremely looooong way off from the figure that PM Lee mentioned - "more than 80%". Which is why one must be careful when considering a politician's words. Technically speaking, he might not be lying. You might be deceived nonetheless.

"I did NOT smoke marijuana.
I only sucked the smoke into my mouth, held it there
& blew out again." - Bill Clinton


Anonymous said...

In his reply, Mr Lee [Kuan Yew] also noted that, unlike the forum participants, more than 70 per cent of Singaporeans aged under 30 are non-graduates. This majority group, he says, will be more concerned about their job prospects, training, and ability to buy their first home than about the issues raised during the forum.

darrnot said...

In the spirit of reading (too much?) into a politician's words, check out this line:

"they lack an 'exposure to life' and a certain resilience that can come only from experiencing hard knocks."

Could this be a hint of how the government is going to knock some sense into the young Singaporeans who perceive an unfair political process? By exposing them to more of the unfairness inherent in 'life'?

Afterall, this system is already 'as fair as any other'. Sure beats Africa!

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Haha! The irony.

And LKY's statement is also deceptive. More than 70% of Singaporeans under 30 may be non-graduates, but this should not surprise us.

After all, NSFs, JC students, primary & secondary kids, preschoolers, toddlers, babies etc are all under 30, and non-graduates.

darrnot said...

Politicians should be more careful with their choice of words to avoid misleading....

wait a min..ohHHhhhh!!

Anonymous said...

Politicians summarize, generalize, simplify, in order to make complicated information more appetizing to their audience.

singaporean said...

I wonder what hard knocks the PM experienced. Did he get beaten up by school bullies while his security stood by and watch? Did he starve because his father was unemployed? Did his father fail to provide him with a peaceful environment to grow up? Did his children starve because he was unemployed?

So how is the PM any less lucky than our lucky generation? Most Singaporeans dont find themselves in Oxbridge or Ivy League, but he did. I hope he has a heart, but I am not totally convinced that he is in any position to talk about young Singaporeans lacking an "exposure to life".

Oh, and good to see Mr Wang posting again. Thought he got dragged away to Balestier Hill or something...

moomooman said...

I think "first class" is relative here.

Anything University is "first class" for those who attended it.

The 25percent attended the local universities.

The remaining 55% go and took external degree with Uni. of London...

Uni of London ok... dun pray pray.

I attended Malaya University... I think it's First Class.

Anonymous said...

Not to defend the PM,

But he did win against cancer before. However, I am more sanguine about this election. Less and less people are ignorant about the dangers of one party rule and no check and balances. They also know that Opposition MPs speak up an average of 4 times more than PAP backbenchers.

I think opposition will make a breakthrough this election because Singaporeans eyes are slowly being open and hopefully they will mark the cross for change and accountability.

Anonymous said...

Death is part and parcel of life, who has not went or will not go through the loss of a close kin or spouse in his lifetime? So I wouldn't exactly call that as an hard knock that is unique to the PM. And even though he did went through his battle with cancer, let us not also forget he has access to first class medical treatments and facilities that 99% of the general population will never have access to.

For someone who has been a scholar, a white horse, a general and then later a politician, I would say he is someone who is in no position to talk about hard knocks. Hard knocks is for people who constantly has to battle for survival in our society. Hard knocks is for people who sometimes don't even have a roof over their head. Hard knocks is for families who survive on $1200 a month. Hard knocks is for people who can't afford to retire and still has to clean tables and toilets into their 60s.

Anonymous said...

"Politicians summarize, generalize, simplify, in order to make complicated information more appetizing to their audience."


Funny they don't see things like:

".. more than 80 per cent of the population can receive a post-secondary education in institutions such as ITEs."

Anonymous said...

I meant "say" things.

Anonymous said...

Ahem. If we dont pepper our phrases with praises and positivienss, how to win votes? Anyway, we didnt lie. Just that you didnt read or hear properly. So dont blame me. It's your fault.

Anonymous said...

Urban legend has it that BG Lee's first wife died of heart failure because she was hounded incessantly by his mother for giving birth to an albino. Being a medical professional in her own right, the poor lady knew albino genes are passed down by the male, not the female. Does this qualify as "hard knocks"? If so, for whom?

singaporean said...

Granted the PM may have experienced personal tragedies, but that is not what he was talking about. He was suggesting young Singaporeans grew up in a sheltered environment and may be less wise in voting, compared to his generation. For a Singaporean male of his generation, I wonder who could have grown up more sheltered than he did, except his brother perhaps. Could anybody imagine any of his teacher/BMT mates/BMT instructors/army superiors ever raising their voice at him? Furthermore, he grew up in a double income family, something very atypical of his generation, but very common now. If anything, he is just like the so-called post-independence generation.

If he can be trusted to govern wisely, surely we can be trusted to vote wisely right?

Anyway, I believe the ruling party is trying to scare the older generation by using the "post-indepedence generation" as a bogeyman. In the end, the GE will just be another non-event. I have too little faith in the majority of Singaporeans, young or old, to swallow the bitter pill necessary to nurture a credible opposition for long term political stability of Singapore.

They made my vote a real easy choice though. How dare they replace the most credible opposition in the parliament, Tan Soo Khoon, with a microsoftie? I will never vote for a microsoftie!

Monkey said...

well u know how they like to brag to NUS students about how they're the "creme of the crop" and that they are the top 20%. again just putting their big foot into their mouth

7-8 said...

Incidently, I read an account that Bill Clinton was giving an honest account of his encounter with marijuana. Somebody who went to U with him (I think it was Oxford) related how somebody was once trying to teach him how to smoke pot properly (ie inhale, keep the smoke in the lungs for a few seconds, and then exhale) but he never did get the hang of it. So he was smoking marijuana without inhaling - effectively not smoking it at all.

Guess the fellar is such a damn liar that people suspect him even when he's speaking the truth.

Anonymous said...

as far I'm concerned, education in Singapore is a joke. My enthusiasm for entering the Singapore University was killed when I got rejected.

Well, 'First-class' Melbourne Uni accepted me and am I coming back to Singapore? NO WAY!!

Singapore, go on and continue searching for your 'foreign talents'