Monday, February 19, 2007

Young Foreign Talent in Singapore

Mr Wang has an interesting post about foreign kids coming to Singapore to enjoy education subsidies, where he laments that these are not the kind of "foreign talent" that Singaporeans want, because the foreign kids pack up and leave after finishing their secondary education, and do not contribute to the country after having received the education subsidies.

Instead, he implies in his argument that the focus on foreign talent should be on bringing in talent and expertise that Singapore lacks, and that Singaporeans themselves are not able to provide, an example being Darrell Metzger.

While these are interesting points made by Mr Wang, I do not think that the main problem lies in the 'importing' of young kids into Singapore. Rather, I think that the real challenge lies in making Singapore a place where people will be happy to settle down and consider home, after having spent their primary and secondary education years here.

Consider, for example, the US, where many foreign students enrol and later on, stay in the country and take up citizenship - the situation is different from Singapore because the US is a much nicer place to stay after you have completed your education because there are bountiful opportunities to pursue your ambitions, and there is an active political culture where citizens have a real say in how their country is run.

Singapore, in contrast, is a country dominated by one political party, where freedom of expression is curtailed, and where a political culture is deemed as a threat to the nation. It is difficult for individuals to be motivated to take up residence here when there is little opportunity to feel like you have played a real part in shaping the nation. Furthermore, for males, there is the question of having to do national service, and then reservist for many years after that. The job opportunities are also restricted, compared to a place like the United States.

As such, while we may never expect to be able to provide the same kind of opportunities that a country like the USA can, we can endeavour to make our country a much more attractive place to live in (than it currently is), and that retains the young talent that we 'import.'

Such measures can include
  1. an opening up of the political culture such that the young are able to feel a sense of ownership in the country - this not only encourages young foreign talent to hang around to shape the nation in which they have spent their childhood, it also encourages Singaporeans to stick around instead of emigrating.
  2. heightened recognition for the sacrifices that Singaporean men make to defend and protect their country - both monetary and non-monetary. Indeed, national service can not only be made less of a chore, it can even be transformed from a liability into an experience that Singaporean male (and foreign immigrant) can be proud of.
  3. a recognition that alternative lifestyles, other than the typical doctor/lawyer/accountant/engineer are not only feasible, but are worthy of respect and dignity. The skewed technocratic mindset of the government has resulted in a rather elitist view of certain professions, to the exclusion of others. Unlike other countries where you can work at McDonalds and still be treated with dignity, Singaporeans seem to treat 'lesser occupations' with less respect. A broadening of mindset to recognise alternative occupations will go a long way in welcoming those who might otherwise be discouraged to hang around.
These measures are not exhaustive, i'm sure they are only the beginning. And while they cannot guarantee that the young foreign talent will definitely stick around, it does greatly increase the chance that they will. And instead of stopping the influx of 'young foreign talent' completely, we can bring them into our society and assimilate them as people who may one day be proud to be called Singaporean.

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