(unpublished (and they can fucking publish a letter that expresses delight in the pandas) - Nov 9, 2009)
I read with interest Ms Evelyn Tan’s letter, which addressed university education.
She believes that a university education is not the only way for one to be successful.
While I agree with her, I must point out that we Singaporeans face realities that compel us to pursue a degree.
For instance, the realities of public service employment policies compel us to view a degree as a passport to a favourable pay scheme.
Jobseekers are faced with the reality that having paper qualifications opens more doors. This is probably why a sizable number of Singaporeans are seeking to upgrade themselves.
Like Ms Tan, I feel that success is contingent on how we define it.
However, a quick glance at society today reveals that there are people with daily bread and butter struggles, giving them no luxury of time and resources to pursue their passion.
She mentioned the pursuit of passion and gave an example of successful entrepreneurship.
Governments and the media will always strive to identify non-degree holders who are successful role models, but as inspirational as they seem, these cases are far outnumbered by the struggling average joe, invisible from the public eye.
Not every passion manifests in entrepreneurship, and not every enterprise stays alive.
Some of us may prefer simpler lifestyles. Others may prefer some luxuries. And we often work according to our goals. Despite these differences, we all similarly face bills.
If we no longer need to worry about food, shelter, bills and retirement savings, most of us would definitely pursue our passions and develop our talents.
It does not help that we live in a system and culture of economic pragmatism. Hence, a degree is a rational choice, as it not only provides opportunities but is also the proverbial “safety net” every pragmatic person needs.
Pragmatism is shoved down our throats in every aspect of our lives, for example, how the government treats everyone as financially illiterate and enforces compulsory savings where citizens have limited access to their hard-earned savings. This is frustrating, but pragmatic.
We live in an increasingly competitive environment, which demands not only good grades but other employment-favourable personality traits and achievements.
In fact, most of us are still part of a system that defines our competency according to a grade.
We may speak of the pursuit of non-academic passions, but employers and people with financial difficulties may have a different idea.
Ho Chi Sam