If we looked back in time, looking at Singapore in 1965 from a small aircraft we found nothing but a piece of land barely measuring 600 km2 comprising muddy swamps infested with mosquitoes, poor people of different backgrounds, colors and races, from non-religious Chinese to Hindus to Malaysian Muslim living on that land.
After a little more than half a century, we look from the window of another plane to find that the size of the island has increased a little to more than 700 km2, and that the swamps have been transformed into a modern, advanced and very clean state with unmatched health, judiciary and educational system, a solid economy and the income of an individual the highest in the world, thanks to a magic wand used in a unique way called ‘education’ and zero corruption.
Despite the poverty of the small country as it did not possess a single drop of oil, nor a gram of minerals, nor natural resources, nothing at all but a strong will, integrity, and a desire to create a new state from “nowhere” and almost within a few years, according to the trustworthy ‘Davos Index’, Singapore occupied the first rank in the world for many years, followed by developed Western countries and light years away from the levels of education in the Arab world.
The founder of Singapore, the outstanding lawyer Lee Kuan Yew, believed that it was not important for our children to bequeath huge industrial, commercial and investment companies, but rather to arm them with knowledge so that they can run and maintain those companies and factories, and their expansion and progress would continue, and this could not be achieved without bequeathing them a good education.
Many children inherited wealth and companies from their families, but most of them failed, because those who founded them did not give their children a distinguished and serious education, and thus those companies crumbled with time.
The same thing happened with most of the countries in the region, which made huge fortunes from extracting oil, but they did not give education the utmost importance. As soon as oil revenues decreased, everyone discovered the weakness of our human potential, the low level of skills of our children, and our apparent inability to create alternative sources of income.
This is the opposite of what happened with a country like Norway, for example, which became oil producing country after a quarter of a century after Kuwait, and the idea of retaining part of the oil was taken from it. Its oil revenues are in investment funds, and also a quarter of a century after us, and today the difference between us and Norway is clear, and all thanks to the attention it paid to education and integrity, which we did not do.
For example, we spent more than three billion dollars on our citizens for their “treatment abroad” in less than two years. The money was siphoned into the pockets of some and in the form of payment of bills to Western hospitals and nobody was held accountable for what was spent, often to win the loyalty of the deputies.
As soon as the treatment budget dried up, these MPs turned their backs on the government, and voted against it in every decision, suggestion and opinion.
It was not surprising to see the fierce attack that I was subjected to after my last interview with Al-Arabiya channel when I described high school graduates who obtained high rates through the absurd online tests and were sent on this basis to complete their university studies abroad, that some whom are not fit to work even as concierge of a building.
Whoever attacked me knows that neither he nor his son deserve the honor of scholarship, and their anger can be justified by 1%, for the extraordinary corona conditions but these and others have returned again, including the bearded MPs claiming ‘the fear of God’ to demand the government to cancel the paper exams for high school students this year and conduct them online.
We did not fall into the pit of ignorance but we did not get out of it.
By Ahmad alsarraf