Youths are holding back Singapore's startup scene. Who knew?
Over the past three months, I have been matching youths to startups as the founder and director of the HUB Internship Program (an initiative under The HUB Singapore). Now that the university summer vacations are ending, I finally have the chance to reflect.
And it hit me: Singaporean youths are not accelerating nor strengthening our startup ecosystem. Instead, they are inhibiting our growth.
Our youths do not have market-relevant skills and experiences to do their job.
Given that it's more or less explicitly stated that the Singaporean education system was designed to provide worker drones for the multinational corporations which were invited to set up shop here, why is that any of a surprise? It's basically a rip-off of the Prussian model, with a few extra kinks thrown in here and there to promote subservience.
Something made to produce cogs is not going to be producing control systems in a big hurry.
The Prussian model of schooling preys upon the mania for learning that's embedded in the North-East Asian psyche, I'd argue. If you look at the culture which surrounded education in Ancient China - masters of thought and learning who had deep, personal relationships with their disciples, stories of lone scholars living on a pittance who later went on to ace the Imperial Examinations and become high officials and marry daughters of the Emperor.
You have an entire sub-culture springing up about the task of education, exclusive to those who are worthy. In that sense, the Chinese culture surrounding education had a spiritual aspect to it. You have social strictures that govern how scholars and seekers of learning are expected to behave, what they're supposed to eschew, and what can be expected of them in exchange for their unique station in society.
This is complete anathema to the Prussian model, for it is not merely dead, but never had a soul to begin with. The problem is not so much rote learning, which is required at the beginning of all sorts of education, but whether the rote learning gives way to something else eventually. Where a teacher is not attached to a student for a lifetime, but merely a year or so, to huge classes that come and go. Where the ultimate goal is not to produce people to think, but to work and be subservient. Where the spirit in a school is divorced from the spirit of a society.
Yet North-East Asians do not see the differences. We see "education", and that triggers the Pavlovian response built from centuries of cultural conditioning without wondering if this "education" is the same as that "education".
The Analects explicitly state that those who are truly devoted to learning would be willing to relinquish material wealth to do so, yet the primary goal of education today is...the acquisition of wealth. Get a good job, earn lots of money to...well, who knows what? Sure it didn't always turn out that way, but the ostensible reason behind rewarding successful scholars with positions and power was so they could use their merits to govern effectively, was it not?
Education with an end, education without an end, or education as an end in itself?
A handful of them even had no idea what business development was, and chose it because it sounded the most lucrative amongst other categories of internships such as design or tech. And these were no average-grade-students. They were top scorers in their JCs or Polytechnics and had GPAs of 4.0+ (on a scale of 5.0).Public schools in both the East and West are failing - for different reasons and to different ends, but the end condition is hardly desirable for anyone but those who find cogs and gears useful for their grand machines.
Arguably, startup internships are accurate litmus tests for youths thinking of stepping out into the working world. Put to the test are skills like the ability to absorb knowledge, think creatively and maturely, and communicate with partners, clients and team members effectively (rather than formatting Powerpoint presentations — the new ‘coffee-making’ in today’s evolved internship scene).
During our interviews, I was taken aback at how youths thought internships were only necessary to fill up space on their CV. They prefer to focus on their academic-related but non-essential activities, and were keen to intern for 1-2 months at best.