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人人都是“才”
Everyone Counts
Poon Sing Wah
photo credit_(Jordan Tan: Shutterstock.com)
Published: EduNation, Issue 6, November-December 2013
In a matter of a single generation, Singapore has developed rapidly from a third-world to a first-world country. This development has come at a heavy price, however.

Even though it is always said that human capital is Singapore’s most valuable resource, many talented individuals have been overlooked in the past 50 years and a large number of them have been rendered worthless by Singapore’s examination system. These are people who have failed in the one-solution-fits-all streaming system that gave rise to the monolingual curriculum, EM3 stream, and the Normal (Technical) course.

However, with the advent of the information age, real-life examples of successful university dropouts like Microsoft’s founder, Mr Bill Gates and Apple’s founder, Mr Steve Jobs, have given good reasons to doubt such a rigid method of sifting out talent. One cannot help but wonder just how many such individuals have been lost in the past.

EduNation takes a look at two examples of Singaporeans who found success despite being marginalised by the education system, and reaffirms the need to re-evaluate the standards Singapore employs to measure its talent.

E-commerce Expert — Ms Christine Ng

For 30-year-old Ms Christine Ng, success is not defined by Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results; the once mediocre student who had no place in Singapore returned as a successful expatriate eight months ago.

Today, she is the Chief Marketing Officer for beauty online retailer Luxola, spearheading its marketing and business development in Singapore and the Southeast Asian region. The company is funded by the Singapore-based Wavemaker laboratory and the Singapore National Research Fund.

Luxola’s Founder Ms Alexis Horowitz-Burdick described Ms Ng’s appointment as a coup. “The sort of experience she has doesn’t exist in Southeast Asia yet,” she told TechCrunch, a web publication offering technology news and profiles of start-ups.

However, Ms Ng’s success is no thanks to her difficult past in Singapore.

She told Mr Wong Kim Hoh from The Straits Times that she immediately hightailed it to Malaysia after the release of her PSLE results. The trip was not a holiday to reward her for doing well — she managed an aggregate score of only 222, but top PSLE pupils typically get well over 280. Her mother, a successful lawyer with her own firm, decided to hideout in Malaysia to evade being asked why her daughter only managed such a mediocre result.

Ms Ng was always “good in English Literature” — the precocious reader was devouring full versions of literary classics at 12 when her peers were only starting on the abridged ones. However, her weakness in Science and Mathematics was her downfall.

The PSLE was not her only academic disaster. Her O level results four years later were even less impressive, qualifying her only for a secretarial course at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). Because she failed Maths, she could not go to a polytechnic. But just when Ms Ng seemed destined for a life of mediocrity, her parents decided to send her to the United States on the advice of her maternal uncle who had settled there.

There, she was enrolled at Evergreen Community College in St Jose. Community colleges, which are public institutions of higher learning, do not always enjoy a good reputation in the United States and are sometimes seen as a last resort for those who cannot get into other colleges. Ms Ng had mediocre results, but was relatively well-off compared to most of her peers. Refugees, new immigrants, and even recently released ex-convicts made up a good majority of Evergreen’s student population. She felt a lot of sympathy for her fellow students, and realised how lucky she was to have a respectable family. So she decided to give back a little, and began giving classes to immigrant students who wanted to learn English as a second language. Free to choose courses she was interested in, such as philosophy, sociology and psychology, she thrived. She did so well that she was accepted into the third year at the University of California, Berkeley, to do English Literature.

Her parents had hoped she would return after graduating in 2004, but she felt she was not yet successful enough to come back. She wanted to try forging a path in America. However, in a market where most companies valued business and engineering degrees, finding a job was not easy for the Asian English Literature graduate. She engaged in technical writing stints for almost a year before joining eBay. There, she became a product specialist leading a team of ten to develop products on a multi-million dollar budget. Unfortunately, she also had a taste of the cut and thrust of Silicon Valley when she was laid off after three years.

The setback did little to diminish her spirits, however, and she soon found employment with several media and commerce giants. After spending years gaining visibility in the e-commerce industry, she now boasts a much sought after resume — one that is definitely successful enough to warrant her return.

Ms Ng described her road to professional success and respectability as unconventional — in recounting this journey, she reaffirmed the importance of doing everything her way. She was always a free spirit who felt out of place in Singapore’s competitive academic environment. “I was good in English Literature, I liked drama and the arts stuff,” said Ms Ng. “But that has never been a priority in Singapore where you should be doing triple science. I had a lot of tuition and my mum also spent a lot of time with me on my homework. I probably gave her a really hard time; I was a difficult kid.”

Once a child labelled decidedly mediocre by the Singapore education system, Ms Ng now finds sweet validation in her homecoming. Her former classmate, polytechnic lecturer Ms Sarah Soh, described Ms Ng as the prodigal daughter coming home. But perhaps we are the ones who misjudged her, and who need to re-evaluate a system that determines an individual’s destiny on the basis of a single examination.

University President — Professor Shih Choon Fong

67-year-old Professor Shih Choon Fong recently stepped down from his position as the Founding President of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). He is also the former president of the National University of Singapore (NUS), and a Foreign Honorary Member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

This prominent educator who obtained his doctorate at Harvard University, and taught at the prestigious Brown University, was also once judged “mediocre” by the Singaporean education system.

Professor Shih was born to a normal family, and his parents were not highly educated. After graduating from Monk’s Hill Primary School, he studied in Beatty Secondary School — both were neighbourhood schools that were not particularly distinguished. Because Professor Shih did not perform to his expectations in the O level examination, he could not apply to a junior college, and ended up continuing his studies at Singapore Polytechnic.

In his interview with me, Professor Shih professed that he was never a good student in the eyes of the local system.

“I always felt closed in by the rigid walls of the Singaporean education system. I was never at the top of my class — even within Beatty Secondary School, I was at best an average student and not in the top 30 per cent of the cohort.”

Being an average student, however, did not make Professor Shih feel inferior. Even as a child, he was independently-minded, and didn’t measure his own worth by others’ standards. Despite having no interest in studying and memorising texts, he was fascinated by tinkering about with machinery.

“I remember that I would always take apart the toys my father bought me,” said Professor Shih. “I was always delving deeper into their mechanics. Why does a toy move the way it does? Can I make it move faster? I was always more interested in ‘why’ than ‘how’.”

However, such a decidedly different student had no place in Singapore’s rigid education system. An impatient hush was the only response the teachers gave to his incessant querying.

“I understand that there must be efficiency in the education system in order for Singapore to make the step up from Third World to First. But those who do not fit the mould naturally become casualties to the system.”

Professor Shih’s fate was turned around by a Canadian professor from McGill University while he was at Singapore Polytechnic. The professor saw latent potential in the young Professor Shih, and advised him to go for a Master’s degree in McGill University under his tutelage.

“This is an advantage of the North American education system. They will not immediately exclude you from obtaining a Master’s degree because you do not have a Bachelor’s degree. Because I had financial difficulties, I qualified not only for a university scholarship, but also for the Lee Foundation grant to cover my travelling and living expenses,” Professor Shih said.

He later went on to obtain a PhD in the Division of Applied Science at Harvard University, taught at Brown University, and become known as the Founding President of KAUST and the former President of NUS.

Professor Shih was never one to conform to society’s measure of worth.

“I never once got depressed over mediocre grades. I knew I had a different answer — I didn’t think it was inherently a wrong one. My way of thinking was actually highly favoured by the Harvard professors. It was not just the answer they were concerned with, but the fact that I derived it with my own logic,” he said.

Professor Shih is a prime example of the misunderstood figure — a talented and passionate individual marginalised by a conventional education system. To the similarly misunderstood youths in Singapore today, who are walking the same path he trod a few decades ago, he offered some sympathetic words. “Do not ever lose confidence in yourself. Conventional examinations can only test how much you have absorbed and memorised. But they are no adequate measure for your creativity, resourcefulness, perseverance, and strength of will. What is important is that you are passionate about the knowledge you seek, and ready to invest yourself fully in it. Passion is key to discovering your own talent. Only passion will drive one to take risks. Only then can one find the path to success,” Professor Shih urged.

The Need to Widen Our Definition of Talent

Ms Ng and Professor Shih are examples of success obtained in the face of great difficulty. However, many like them, who cannot fit the standard mould set by the education system, end up leaving Singapore permanently. Mr Robert Chua and Mr Chua Lam, both prominent figures in the Hong Kong entertainment industry, are two such treasures that Singapore has lost because of its own system of judging talent. Perhaps Singapore did not feel the sting of losing them in a previous economic era, but in the age of the knowledge-based economy, every single person is indispensable to the country’s success, and it is therefore imperative that Singapore reviews its definition of talent.

In an interview with The Straits Times a few months ago, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam expressed his views on Singapore’s system of meritocracy. He pointed out that Singapore has always operated on the basis of merit, and has always offered equal opportunities to everyone regardless of family background and social status. However, he also noted that Singapore’s current definition of talent is too narrow, and overly-focused on academic performance. This is something that needs to be changed.

“The United States and Europe are very respecting of people in different vocations,” said Mr Tharman. “They treat each other a little more as equals and I think that’s a very important culture to have and they rarely look at what happened to you 20 years ago. It’s always about continual improvement or what I call a continuous meritocracy.

“So we’ve got to be a broader meritocracy recognising different strengths in different individuals, but also a continuous meritocracy where it doesn’t matter so much what happened when you were in Secondary 4 or JC 2 or when you finished poly or ITE, but what happens after that. Are you continually improving, are you developing mastery? Regardless of where you start we have to recognise what you have achieved to develop mastery in what you are doing.”

Mr Tharman’s words made me recall an interview in the third issue of EduNation with the Principal of the Singapore American School, Dr Tim Stuart.

“The American schools work towards reflecting the educational ideal of ‘every child having his or her own talents’. This is the origin of the ‘American Dream’,” he said.

The American Dream inherently believes that each and every individual has an equal opportunity to succeed. No matter how poor you are, or how bad an education you receive, you are not deprived of the chance to succeed later in life. President Barack Obama himself epitomises this belief.

“The situation in Singapore is entirely different. Children in Singapore are subjected to the streaming system when they are still very young. They are filtered based on proficiency in Mathematics and Science. After that, the path they are allowed to take will only get narrower. In Singapore, a polytechnic student 19 years of age, still wet behind the ears, will already have the government dictating to him what his future will be. On average, boys take longer to mature, and some only determine what they want out of life when they reach 22, 25 or even 30 years of age. I guess this is the biggest difference between what the Singapore and the American education system offer,” said Dr Stuart.

Ms Ng’s childhood educational experience in Singapore is testament to Dr Stuart’s words. It is fortunate that she was allowed a new lease of life in the United States, and could succeed in the American educational system.

The CEO of the Alibaba Group, Mr Jack Ma, nicknamed the Steve Jobs of China, and a two-time cover story figure, was also a difficult student. He loved fighting, hated learning, and particularly loathed Mathematics. He took the university entrance examination three times, and failed his Mathematics in all three attempts. Yet this hopeless student went on to validate himself, and eventually became an entrepreneur with an annual income of US$4.9 billion (S$ 6.2 billion).

China has offered the platform for a student like Mr Jack Ma to shine. Singapore, too, should start working towards recognising and retaining such talents, lest it gets left behind in the new information age.

In Pursuit of Being “Good Enough”

A 63-year-old Indian national who lived and worked in Singapore for 17 years (1980–1997), Mr Susrut Ray, wrote an article that was published in The Straits Times in May this year. In a short piece entitled “In Pursuit of Being Good Enough”, he reflected on the origins of Singapore’s ideology of excellence, and pointed out the need and importance to temper our fervent pursuit of distinction.

In his article, Mr Susrut Ray said he understood Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s position as to why excellence was an “existential necessity” for Singapore, and went on to describe the unique circumstances behind the formation of the country’s decidedly unique ideology. Singapore’s geopolitical vulnerability demanded excellence in governance and defence. For that, a robust financial situation was a prerequisite. Only a society that was well-educated and cohesive could achieve what was required. Excellence in the educational system — one that can spot and nurture talent — therefore became a necessity. The infrastructure too needed to excel to support the entire system and make it productive.

In his opinion, these circumstances cultivated the ideology of excellence, which he described as unique and indigenous to Singapore.

However, he also pointed out that the first casualty of an environment that constantly exhorts a person to excel is happiness. This is most pronounced in those incapable of achieving the demanded standards. Schools in Singapore have institutionalised a way of branding people early in life as “normal”, “express”, “gifted” and so forth. The branding stays for life.

Additionally, he said that this branding is not always open — covert and subtle branding is a way of life here. It affects not only the underachievers. Even individuals who have been favourably graded live in constant fear of not being able to maintain the level they have already attained and/or of failing to climb the next rung of the ladder.

Mr Susrut Ray pointed out how the continuous peroration about striving to be the best and the hype about succeeding has led to an unhealthy obsession. The ubiquitous, self-congratulatory chatter about being the best in this field or that — be it in gross domestic product per capita, ease of doing business, reputation of universities, even the height of hotels or Ferris wheel — is not only annoying to outsiders but causes unhappiness for Singaporeans as well.

He urged Singaporeans to modify their mindsets and start to entertain the idea of imperfection, and the pursuit of “being good enough”. Their problem lies not so much in the search for excellence, but in going overboard and talking about success ad nauseum.

This erudite Indian national friend even invoked the wisdom of Lao Zi’s Tao Te Ching to warn against the dangers of obsession

They (sages) succeed but do not dwell on success

It is because they do not dwell on success

That it never goes away

Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill

Keep sharpening your knife and it will be blunt.

Mr Susrut Ray concluded that a thorough study of the Tao Te Ching might give Singaporeans much needed pointers about how to move from an ideology of excellence to one of being good enough.

Nothing In Singapore is Immutable

Mr Thomas Plate, veteran American journalist and internationally syndicated columnist, noted in the Epilogue of a recently reprinted edition of Conversations With Lee Kuan Yew that, “So what he (Mr Lee) could not tolerate was ineffectiveness, especially cloaked in ideological purity. Ideological arguments were for professors of the academic and arcane.”

In an interview with Mr Plate in 2007, Mr Lee said that, “Singapore is not a 4,000-year culture; this is an immigrant community that started in 1819. It’s an immigrant community that left its moorings and therefore, knowing it’s sailing to uncharted seas, is guided by the stars. I said let’s follow the stars and they said okay, let’s try. And we’ve succeeded and here we are, but has it really taken root? No. It’s just worked for the time being. If it doesn’t (continue to) work, again, we say let’s try something else. This (Singapore’s current way) is not entrenched. This is not a 4,000-year society.”

Indeed, nothing in Singapore is immutable and permanent. Since its founding years, Singapore has perhaps been narrow in its selection of talent. But in a country that does not hold fast to any particular ideology, methods and systems are always malleable to change.

We Can Always Do Better

Despite talks of tempering the obsession for excellence, it is hard to imagine that the pursuit of being good enough will be good enough for a small country like Singapore. The globalised, 21st century environment can be both harsh and cruel. A small lapse in vigilance can easily lead to one’s downfall. Examples of complacency have started to surface in recent years — the Mass Rapid Transport breakdowns have left many Singaporeans — strong advocates of efficiency, vigilance and enforcement — severely perturbed.

In light of this, the pursuit of excellence is not wrong, but perhaps we need to redefine the boundaries of what constitutes excellence. Should academic proficiency automatically translate to excellence? And is there really a need for constant comparison with one’s neighbour or colleague or fellow schoolmate? Perhaps Mr Tharman is right in saying that Singapore needs to be “a broader meritocracy recognising different strengths in different individuals”, and to promote a “continuous meritocracy where it doesn’t matter so much what happened when you were in Secondary 4 or JC 2 or when you finished your poly or ITE, but what happens after”.

Indeed, it is time to redefine and broaden our definition of talent, stop the itemisation of our people, and respect each and every individual and profession. Singaporeans, keep in mind that the only competition is ourselves — let us seek to be better, and live fuller lives each and every day.
 


精选文章 > 人人都是“才”
人人都是“才”
潘星华
刊载:《新学》, 第6期,2013年11月-12月
新加坡以短短一代人的时间,飞速地从第三世界跳进第一世界,是付上了很大的代价换回来的。

如果说人力资源是新加坡的惟一资源,过去50年,新加坡却有很多人才并没有得到珍惜。在工业化时代,通过考试发挥淘汰“废品”的作用,不少年轻人是被单语课程、EM3、普通(工艺)课程,分流制度的“一刀切”丢弃的。

我们从两个“出走”后“衣锦还乡”的人上人,确定我们今天重新评估“人才”的标准,是太有必要了。

电子商业专家黄熙明

今年30岁的黄熙明,年初刚以精于“电子商业”的外国专家身份,被甘词厚币从美国请回国。她现在是电子美容产品Luxola的市场营销总监,负责该公司在新加坡及东南亚的业务发展。这家公司的经费由以新加坡为基地的Wavemaker实验室和新加坡国家研究基金资助。

Luxola创办人Alexis Horowitz-Burdick把公司能请到黄熙明视作一项莫大的成就,她说:“在东南亚,到现在还没有人能具备黄熙明这方面的经验。”

然而,回顾黄熙明的学习生涯却是令人慨叹的。

黄熙明对《海峡时报》记者黄锦豪说,小六会考成绩放榜后,律师妈妈带她去马来西亚几天,不是去为考得222分“庆功”,而是为考得不够好(状元分是280分以上)去“避难”。事业成功的妈妈,害怕朋友们来电“关心”女儿的成绩,出国去躲起来。

黄熙明英文能力很强,从小熟读英文名著。当同学开始看名著的节略本,她已经全神贯注阅读整本原著。可是她的成绩却栽在数理科里。

如果说小六成绩不够好的话,她中四会考成绩更惨。数理科满江红,不只不能进高中,连理工学院也不行,只能到层次最低的工艺教育学院读秘书课程。就在会考成绩几乎决定了她“未来只能当一名小书记,过平庸日子。”的重要时刻,在美国的舅舅要她到美国读书去。

她住在美国西部加州的“硅谷首都”圣何塞市。因为成绩不好,只敢选进在那里的社区学院。那里的同学,不少是贫困的难民、新移民,或甚至是刚出狱的囚犯,这让出身富裕家庭的黄熙明感受良深。她为自己的家境感到庆幸之余,开始积极为同学补习英文。读书方面,因为能自由选科,她如鱼得水,选自己喜欢的哲学、社会学、心理学,成绩好得让她两年后直升名校——加州大学伯克莱分校英国文学系三年级。

2004年黄熙明大学毕业,并没有听爸妈的话“衣锦荣归”,她决意在美国闯一闯。然而一名来自亚洲的英国文学系毕业生,要在美国谋生并不容易。在误打误撞下,她开始了在网上撰写产品营销文字的生涯。她曾经是知名的e-Bay公司,带领一个10人团队,有着数百万元经费来发展新产品的主管。电子行业兴衰起伏,也让她在三年间,因为经济不景,遭公司裁退。

这个挫败只让她生命力更顽强,很快她就不断受聘,在美国的电子商业领域闯出名堂,并终于“衣锦还乡”。

事业的成就让黄熙明感觉自己走着一条非传统的路。她对黄锦豪说:“我后来做什么事都照着自己的意向去做。就是这种天马行空、不受束缚的精神,带我走到今天。从小,我一直和教育制度格格不入。我喜欢英国文学、戏剧、艺术,可是却和学校重视数理,最好考三科理科的要求逆反,我成了一个毫无作为的人,让父母失望。”

黄熙明原本已被制度扫进“平庸圈”。这次回国,还被旧日同窗视作“浪子回头”的个案,让人对新加坡“一考”(小六会考、中学O水准会考、高中A水准会考)“定终身”的“选才”标准,感到惊心动魄。

大学校长施春风

今年67岁的施春风教授刚卸下沙特阿拉伯阿卜杜拉国王科技大学校长职务,他是新加坡国立大学前任校长,也是美国国家工程学院和美国文理科学院的海外荣誉院士。

这位美国哈佛大学博士、美国布朗大学教授的杰出教育家,是另外一个和新加坡教育制度格格不入的“平庸差生”。

施春风生长在一个父母教育程度不高的普通家庭。在蒙克山小学毕业后进培德中学,两校都是新加坡录取能力一般学生的邻里学校。中四会考成绩极差,使他进不了高中,只能去当时的新加坡工艺学院(后称理工学院)读书。

施春风曾在接受我的访问时候说:“我不是传统教育体系里的好学生。新加坡这套非常有规划的教育制度,让我读得磕磕碰碰,我从来不曾名列前茅,就算在培德中学,我最多也仅是前面30%的普通学生。”

作为教师眼中的一名普通学生,并没有让施春风感到自卑,看轻自己。从小,他对什么都有自己的想法。他只对学校死记硬背的学习不感兴趣,平日对机械、对组装的东西,充满好奇。“小时候,爸爸买回来的玩具,我玩厌后,一定拆开来,查看它为什么能动?怎样动?并且想办法能不能让它动得更快。我对事情的‘为什么’,比对事情的‘怎么样’一向更有兴趣。”但像他这样的学生在新加坡规规矩矩的教育制度里,一直没有受到应有的重视。老师对他的提问,经常厌烦地说:“闭嘴。”

他说:“新加坡要从第三世界走向第一世界,教育制度要有效率,这我能理解。有效率的教育制度是规划好的,我们这种融不进去的学生,便被当作一般学生处理。”

施春风的命运是在新加坡工艺学院,被一位来自加拿大麦基尔大学的教授扭转的。这位教授一眼看穿施春风是个可造之才,他邀请施春风到麦基尔大学去读硕士,跟他学习。

施春风说:“北美的制度就有这个好,他们不会因为我没有学士学位而不考虑让我入读硕士。当时我除了申请大学的奖学金,还因为家庭经济拮据,申请到李氏基金的旅费和购买寒衣津贴。”

这之后,他再到哈佛大学读博士,成为布朗大学教授、再当新加坡和沙特阿拉伯大学的校长已是后话。

施春风从小到大,从不让旁人来评断自己的价值。他说:“我成绩虽然不好,却从没有因为分数而感到沮丧。我知道自己的答案虽然跟人家的不同,但不一定错。我这个‘款’,进了哈佛大学,很受教授欢迎。他们认为我的答案怎样,并不要紧,最重要是靠自己思考想出来的。”

对于有潜能、有才华、有热情,却未能被传统教育系统重视的学生,身为国大校长的施春风经常以自己鲜明的个案,同情的语气,对他们说:“不要被考试成绩影响了你对自己的信心。传统考试只能考你学会了多少已知的知识,考你储存了多少知识,却不能用来衡量你的创意、机敏、热情、坚毅和持恒。今天,重要的是你所追求的学问,是不是自己的心中最爱,有没有舍命追求它的激情,全情投入的心志,从而觉察到自己的才华,并且找机会去好好学习。追求学问的热情,至关重要。正因为是自己的心中最爱,才愿意为它冒风险,全力以赴。只有这样,才能走上成功的路。”

有必要扩大人才的定义

黄熙明和施春风的例子只是不适应新加坡教育制度而能成功的少数例子,许多才华横溢的英才因为不能适应新加坡不够灵活的选才标准,只能出走他乡。就如已在香港演艺界闯出天地的蔡和平和蔡澜,就让新加坡文化界大叹“走宝”。“走宝”在工业化时代,也许影响还不太严峻,来到知识型经济时代,人才“一个都不能少”,调整“人才”的定义,已经刻不容缓。

新加坡副总理兼财政部长尚达曼数月前在《海峡时报》的访谈,针对新加坡建国以来,引以为豪,无论教育和任聘制度,不受家庭背景、社会地位影响的“惟才是用”制度说: “我们是一个实践‘惟才是用’制度的国家,一直以来,都推行得很好。虽然我们对‘人才’的定义,还是太偏重于在学校的表现和在大专院校时候的表现。这是有待改善的。

“美国和欧洲国家对各行业的人一视同仁,不计较学历、只看当下表现的职场文化,是值得我们效法的。他们很少检查职员20年前的状况,只要求职员不断进修、不断上进,工作表现要跟上时代要求。我称之为‘惟──不被时代淘汰之才’制度。

“我因此认为我们有必要扩大一直以来对‘惟才是用’里的“才”的定义——认同不同的人有不同的长处,重视终生学习,成为不被淘汰的人才。同时,不必太在意在中四或高中的成绩,或在理工学院或工艺教育学院毕业时候的表现,重点看他们后来怎么样?是不是有持续的进步?他们怎样开始并不重要,关键是后来怎样。”

尚达曼的话使我不禁想起本刊第三期访问新加坡美国学校高中部校长斯图亚特博士说的一番话。他说:“美国学校实践美国人‘每个孩子都有其天赋’的教育信念,这是‘美国梦’的由来。美国梦相信每个人都能成功。任何人无论多穷,受多差的教育,都能成功。就像奥巴马总统那样。

“新加坡的情况显然有所不同。新加坡的孩子很小被分流的机制,挑选出数学科学成绩优异的学生,之后,能走的路越来越窄,即便能进理工学院,在年仅19岁的岁月,还不曾当兵,还搞不清楚左脚和右脚的时候,孩子的前程已经被决定了。男孩一般成熟得比较晚,有到22岁、25岁或甚至30岁才能把事情搞清楚。我想这是美国式教育和新加坡式教育最大的不同处。”

黄熙明从小在新加坡的求学经过,几乎完全印证了斯图亚特的“新加坡教育论”。幸好她后来到美国去,在美国人“每个孩子都有其天赋”的信念下接受教育,终于闯出一番天地。

有中国“乔布斯”之称的阿里巴巴集团总裁马云,两度登上美国《福布斯》杂志的封面。他从小就是个让老师头痛的学生,不爱学习,爱打架,数学成绩特差,升大学的高考连考了三次,每回都败在数学上。然而这个数学成绩特差的学生,后来却成了年收入49亿美元(新币62亿元)的阿里巴巴王国的掌门人。

中国为马云这样的学生保留了让他天马行空发展的巨大空间,新加坡也不应落在后头。

追求“还可以”就好

一名曾在新加坡居住17年的印度朋友Susrut Ray,今年5月在《海峡时报》发表他建议新加坡人追求“还可以就好”的理论。他认为新加坡万事追求卓越的理念,有必要重新调整它值得赞赏却太狭隘的目标。

他充分体会新加坡建国总理李光耀指出“卓越”是新加坡生存的必备物。新加坡是“非一般国家”,地理政治的脆弱性,使它必须有清明的政府、强大的军力和丰裕的财力。只有一个受过良好教育和凝固力强的社会才能达到这个目标,而具备能培育人才的卓越教育系统就成了必要条件。支撑这一切的基础设施也必须是卓越的,才有生产力。

他认为这就是新加坡建立了“卓越”意识形态,而非其它意识形态的由来。它非常独特,是切合新加坡国情,土生土长的。

然而,他指出万事追求卓越,最大的损失,就是没有了快乐。尤其是无法达到高要求的一般学生,非常不快乐。新加坡学校贴在孩子身上如“高才生”、“特别班学生”、“快捷班学生”、“普通班学生”的标签,永世也脱不了。一名“普通班”学生,一直背者自己是“蠢才”的包袱,直到长大成人,毫无自信、自尊。而且这个标签不只缠着资差的学生,对资优学生也不放过。优秀生也长期笼罩在不能退步的恐惧中,要不断更上层楼,精益求精。

其次,因为对成功的不断宣扬,使新加坡人变了样:沾沾自喜、喋喋不休地数说丰厚的人均收入、大学的名列前茅,就连酒店和摩天观景轮的高度,也要样样争第一。这不仅使外国人讨厌,就连新加坡人也厌倦。

他建议新加坡人调整心态,追求“还可以就好”。他认为新加坡的问题不在于追求卓越,而在于絮絮不休、热衷谈成功那种狂热,让人厌烦。

这位博学的印度朋友,还引《道德经》老子的话说,不论做什么事都不可过度,而应该适可而止。锋芒毕露、富贵而骄、居功贪位,都是过度的表现,难免招致灾祸。一个人在功成名就后,就应当身退不盈,才是长保之道。

他说彻底研究《道德经》也许能让新加坡人明白如何从追求“卓越”的心态,过渡到追求“还可以就好”的心态。

新加坡没有不可以改的东西

美国资深记者汤姆·普雷特在他近日出版的《李光耀对话录》第二版的《后记》说:“李光耀不能容忍一事无成,尤其是在意识形态掩护下的无所作为。他认为意识形态的争执是属于教授学者的,是深奥难懂的。”

2007年李光耀曾对普雷特说:“新加坡是个从1819年开始,由移民组成的社群。这些人离乡背井,靠着星星的指引,在前路茫茫的大海航行。我告诉他们,让我们跟着星星指引的路走,他们说好,试试看。来到今天,我们成功了。但这一切是否已经生根?不是,只是暂时可行。如果过一段日子,不再灵光,我们会说,试试别的办法吧。我们不是一个有4000年文化的国家,没有什么东西是根深蒂固的。”

是的,在新加坡没有什么东西是根深蒂固的,一路以来选“才”的定义如果太狭窄的话,在这个不崇尚意识形态的国度,没有什么东西是不可以改的。

还能更精彩

话虽这么说,毫无天然资源的小国要求存,而且还要能活得好,追求“还可以就好”是不够的。21世纪,全球化的竞争是惨烈的,是无情的,新加坡人只要稍存自满之心,就会栽了筋斗。这样的事例,已经逐渐浮出台面,从地铁频频出现事故,就让人对事事讲求效率,执法严厉,样样认真的新加坡感到不可思议。

因此,追求卓越是没有错的,只在于对卓越的界定。什么是卓越?只看考试成绩吗?必须比较吗?是否就应该如尚达曼所说:“有必要扩大一直以来对‘惟才是用’里的“才”的定义——认同不同的人有不同的长处,重视终生学习,成为不被淘汰的人才。同时,不必太在意在中四或高中的成绩,或在理工学院或工艺教育学院毕业时候的表现,重点看他们后来怎么样?是不是有持续的进步?他们怎样开始并不重要,关键是后来怎样。”

是的,重新定义“人才”,尊重每个人,不再把人分等,尊重每个行业,认定“行行出状元”,不再把行业分等。无论是个人、行业或机构,自己和自己比,今天比昨天活得有生气,明天活得比今天长进就好。

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