Spread young talent among schools

Source: Todayonline  30 Aug 2012

Concentrating the best students in top schools is not ideal, says Ngiam Tong Dow

SINGAPORE- The Republic’s young talent should be spread out across the island’s schools, instead of being concentrated in a few elite schools, said retired top civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow yesterday.

Speaking at the National University of Singapore’s U@Live Forum – which was attended by 200 people, including undergraduates and alumni – Mr Ngiam, 75, noted how the country’s top students went to either “Raffles Institution (RI) or Raffles Girls’ Secondary School”.

“I’m not saying that they don’t deserve to go (to these schools); they do.  But they will be taught by just two sets of teachers, and they can only deal with the regular problems of the world, they cannot deal with (problems that are out of the box),” he said.

Mr Ngiam was responding to a comment by former Nominated Member of Parliament Viswa Sadasivan, who moderated a dialogue session.

Mr Viswa, who is an RI alumnus, noted that the school’s students were made aware that they were the cream of the crop. “It’s not a good thing because it leads to elitism and complacency,” he said.

Mr Ngiam also reiterated that Government scholars should not all be joining the Civil Service after completing their studies. Instead, half of them should “go into business”, he said.

“The whole point is to spread our brains throughout society and not just in the administration,” said the former Ministry of Finance Permanent Secretary, who is now Pro-Chancellor at NUS and Adjunct Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

During the dialogue, Mr Ngiam was also asked about his thoughts on a one-party system versus a multi-party system.

In response, Mr Ngiam cited the ancient cities of Sparta and Athens. “Sparta was efficient and disciplined, but in the end, it failed, because such a state is very brutal, whereas Athens was very chaotic, argumentative, messy, but they survived,” he said.

In his speech before the dialogue session, Mr Ngiam proposed that the Finance Ministry extend a S$100 million grant to the Economic Development Board to invest in 100 start-up companies that germinated in Singapore’s universities and polytechnics.

“Singapore has to tap into its universities and polytechnics to initiate the spirit of wealth creation in young minds,” he said.

He also suggested that students be encouraged to form project teams of two to three from various faculties to propose business ideas.

Speaking to reporters after the dialogue, Mr Ngiam said that under his proposal, the money given to undergraduates would come in the form of risk capital – and not grants – that would be administered by EDB.

“Grants are a great wastage, if I may say so … When I was chairman of EDB, I never gave out grants, because if you ask me for a grant, it means your company is not commercially viable. I think the present tendency to give grants is a wrong system,” he said.

Mr Ngiam reiterated that Singapore “cannot depend on (multi-national corporations) forever”.

He said: “I’m trying to suggest that universities should be mobilised as our strategic assets for economic growth. (We have to) spark entrepreneurship. If they fail, then so be it. Unless we try, we will never be able to start up our own companies.”