So we’ve recently been discussing Globalization and its effects in class and its got me thinking, can what Singaporeans are infamously known for, being ‘Kiasu’, be attributed to Globalization?
A ‘Kiasu’ person is basically a person who is afraid to lose and hence, constantly wants to remain ahead of the game - knowing more than others or doing better than others. In Singapore, the word ‘Kiasu’ has become so common it is practically part of our vocabulary, or ‘Singlish’ as we know it. Singaporeans just simply have to be the first no matter what they do, whether its beating others getting onto an MRT to get a seat or using packets of tissue to ‘chope’ seats at a food court.
Students especially, are the epitome of kiasu. Its just so amusing to watch everyone frantically comparing marks after getting their results or staying up till the wee hours of morning studying just to keep up. I myself am guilty of doing such things. We all want to be the best, it’s been our mentality since we were born. Starting with parents wanting their kids to be the first to walk to having to win a game of hide and seek to having the top score in school or even nation-wide. It’s been ingrained into us, after all, we were born into a meritocratic society. Only the best will succeed.
How is this related to globalization?
After Singapore became independent in 1965, globalization became a necessity. Not that we hadn’t been undergoing globalization before, just that we needed it at a much faster rate then. We had no raw materials and a lack of land. Majority of the Singaporeans were uneducated and unemployed too. Becoming interconnected with other countries became necessary to the survival of Singapore and hence, the government focused on doing so in order to survive as a nation. This demanded a skilled labour force and thus, the government encouraged the thought that if a person wanted to succeed, it was up to their hard work. It was this drive that led to Singapore becoming the global city it is today. But this ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality lasted through the tough times and now it has become part of our culture to be competitive.
This competitiveness is especially evident in students because in an increasingly competitive job market, Singaporean students understand that in order to get an edge over their competitors, they need to stand out, the best way to do so is to get outstanding grades that set them apart from the average students. As Wee Shu-Min once said in her controversial blog post, ‘we are a tyranny of the capable and the clever, the only other class is the complement.’ While that was an extremely crude way of putting it, there is an element of truth to it. (Mention something about the skilled workers have a higher chance of getting a job but the average students/graduates will lack certainty in being employed) Facing competition from fellow graduates, students will need more than just average pass grades, they will need specific skills that will appeal to employers in the different industries.
And so, this leads to students becoming very grade-worshiping. I remember when I was in Primary School and all I wanted was to get into Raffles. Why? Simply because it was a renowned school. We students just want the best for ourselves, to stand out from the crowd, to somehow prove ourselves more worthy than everyone else just to secure a stable future for ourselves in this competitive job market. We assume that graduating from those ‘big-name’ schools will give us an edge over the others and so we aim to get into good schools and to do so, we put all our focus and time into getting outstanding grades.
But our ‘kiasuness’ isn’t the real issue here. The real issue is that this inherent competitiveness within us is making us an ungracious society. We only seem to think about ourselves and not so much about others anymore. Especially for the ‘Linkster’ generation where we were raised in a global city, we are probably the most ungracious of the lot. We are driven by material success and the need to be the best. There is now greater emphasis on academic-based education and too little on character skills. What schools now don’t understand is that learning about respect and graciousness is just as important as math and science. These are skills that we can carry with us throughout our lives and apply on a daily basis, which I do find far more important than perfect grades. People skills are what will make us a gracious society rather than the self-centered one we are now.