Photo of Ng Chee Meng from straitstimes

In a media interview with state media Straits Times, Education Minister Ng Chee Meng spoke in Singlish and called for Singaporeans to learn how to “chiong” (hokkien term for “charge” used in the army) and not be kiasi (hokkien term for “fear of death”) and kiasu (hokkien term for “fear to lose”).

“There is a need to break away from the shackles of some parts of local culture – the kiasuism and kiasism. Especially when the world is changing so rapidly and disruption is happening all around. It’s a mindset. An attitude of wanting to do better, find break- throughs, of wanting to innovate. If I were to use a Hokkien word, it would be chiong, not a reckless chiong, but taking into account the risks involved and doing it anyway.”

The former general who is given half the portfolio of the Education Ministry, claimed credits for Singapore’s best ranking in PISA test score and attributed the government for having “forward-looking policies and good systems in place”.

“Education ministers from other countries often ask me what are the key ingredients. I tell them that we have forward-looking policies and good systems in place. But really the key thing is our teachers and the first-rate work they do.”

When questioned about the lack of entrepreneurship among Singaporeans despite acing in examinations, Minister Ng Chee Meng boasted that the Singapore government has already in place activities to “nurture” entrepreneurship among the young:

“Another example is the 9m climbing wall in Hougang Primary. Pupils from Primary 3 onwards get to try climbing during PE. It’s just a wall, but it presents so many opportunities to learn things like grit and resilience, cooperation, because you depend on your schoolmates, the belayers who secure climbers at the end of the rope. In the process, they learn how to work as a team, cooperate, communicate and rely on each other. These are the qualities caught through sports like this. It’s difficult to do this in the classroom.”

The Minister who has never been in an education position then wax lyrical about producing Steve Jobs in Singapore and “Joseph Schooling equivalent of scientist” from government research institute A*Star:

“why is it that Singapore, despite doing so well in these global tests, does not go on to produce prize-winning scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs? Yet, the US, which is placed much lower than Singapore in such tests, produces world leaders in many fields. Notable Singaporeans, including Ms Olivia Lum who founded the water treatment firm Hyflux, Mr Sim Wong Hoo who invented the Sound Blaster sound card and founded Creative Technology, and Raffles Institution student Deanna See who last month won a US$250,000 (S$360,000) prize funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for her homemade video explaining antibiotic resistance. Never say never. I am optimistic. In another 10, 20 years we may have a Joseph Schooling equivalent of a scientist from A*Star. The thing is, how do we increase the probability of this happening? The way to do it is to keep the academic rigour but build in our students the X-factor – that entrepreneurial dare.”