LETTER:Price of Far East's success too high for West

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The Independent Online
From Mr Bob Robinson

Sir: We used to get them pretty regularly coming around the sixth form college in Singapore, where I taught for six years until the end of their last school year - the David Howells, who were thrilled to find such order and discipline and astounding A-level results out East ("Europe must prepare for Easternisation", 21 August). Invariably, the cleanliness of the streets and the wonders of the transport system would be remarked on, not withstanding the fact that, at six o'clock in the morning, the surrounds of the towering Housing Development Board flats were filthily awaiting the arrival of low-paid women workers to sweep up the droppings and litter of a lifestyle that is every bit as untidy as the West's.

Politicians tend not to look closely, however, and if they do, it is at that to which their hosts direct their attention. May I direct Mr Howell toward the reality of family values regarding education in the East? For example, high-achieving students being caned mercilessly by their parents to achieve higher grades; students who failed, or did averagely, forced to kneel on trays of upturned crown bottle tops; students with four As at A-level who can play the examination system brilliantly, but who have not got a single idea in their head of creative or cultural note. Parents go without food and other necessities to send their primary school children to after-school, often late-night, "crammer" schools in order to give them a head start in the examination race. And there is a high rate of student/adolescent suicide.

Apart from the facilities in a few privileged schools in big capital cities for a rich and increasingly corrupt and exploitative elite, there are few schools that can yet match those to which children in this country go. The educational story of the Far East is that the masses will be educated to the level at which their particular government needs them to provide the wealth for that elite, and this will involve wastage and heartache and uncountable failed dreams and broken promises.

Mr Howell has seen the whole thing through white, middle-class eyes and taken little heed of a political ruthlessness and authoritarianism that cannot be comprehended unless lived through. The result of following the Singaporean-Korean-Japanese model cannot be predicted exactly, but I suspect that it will benefit those people Mr Howell clearly represents - the people who pay most tax, and those who will gain from a culture in which work is not limited to office hours but expands to fill available time - and not those who will be cleaning the streets or soldering printed circuit boards for an electronics giant.

Yours faithfully,

R. Robinson



21 August