One of the lingering questions of Singapore politics over the last couple of decades has been how to measure the effectiveness the National Education program introduced to schools in the second half of the 1990s. The program was designed to instil into the next generation a deep sense of gratitude to founding father Lee Kuan Yew and the People’s Action Party (PAP) government that he led for 30 years.
Talking to the youngish products of this system, it has always seemed that they did not have a good word to say about National Education. They complained about its banality and its heavy handedness. Many seemed to be so cynical about their government that one could be forgiven for wondering if National Education had simply produced a generation ready to rebel against authority.
Certainly the government was seriously concerned about the electoral impact of this generation as they grew to adulthood and became more significant politically. Hence the government’s constant expressions of worry over the last decade or more that the generations that never knew the hard and insecure years of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s did not appreciate what had been done for them and would flirt with alternative pathways. This was why it paid so much attention to finding the right balance in managing the internet in recent years: allowing a relatively free flow of ideas in the normal course of events while crushing any blogger or news source whose content or demeanour seriously challenged the government.
Singapore’s general election on 11 September 2015 settled such matters. The internet generation may not love the PAP like their grandparents do, and may delight in jokes at their expense, but they have swallowed their National Education lessons whole. They cannot countenance Singapore without its traditional ruling class — which is epitomised by the Lee family.
Read more of Professor Michael Barr, Flinders University article published on East Asia Forum