Friedman in Singapore

From the Jan. 29 NYT: Serious in Singapore. Includes observations on economics, public policy, education, and more:


I am in the Gan Eng Seng Primary School in a middle-class neighborhood of Singapore, and the principal, A. W. Ai Ling, has me visiting a fifth-grade science class. All the 11-year-old boys and girls are wearing junior white lab coats with their names on them. Outside in the hall, yellow police tape has blocked off a “crime scene” and lying on a floor, bloodied, is a fake body that has been murdered. The class is learning about DNA through the use of fingerprints, and their science teacher has turned the students into little C.S.I. detectives. They have to collect fingerprints from the scene and then break them down.

I missed that DNA lesson when I was in fifth grade. When I asked the principal whether this was part of the national curriculum, she said no. She just had a great science teacher, she said, and was aware that Singapore was making a big push to expand its biotech industries and thought it would be good to push her students in the same direction early. A couple of them checked my fingerprints. I was innocent — but impressed.

This was just an average public school, but the principal had made her own connections between “what world am I living in,” “where is my country trying to go in that world” and, therefore, “what should I teach in fifth-grade science.”

I was struck because that kind of linkage is so often missing in U.S. politics today. Republicans favor deep cuts in government spending, while so far exempting Medicare, Social Security and the defense budget. Not only is that not realistic, but it basically says that our nation’s priorities should be to fund retirement homes for older people rather than better schools for younger people and that we should build new schools in Afghanistan before Alabama.

(Image: New York Times.)

New Chronicle story on fund raising in Singapore

I’ve got a new story in the global edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s called “Starting From Scratch: Fund-Raising Lessons Learned in Singapore.”

The first few graphs:

Mention fund raising in Singapore, and one person’s name inevitably comes up: Kheng Chuan Chew. He has become practically synonymous with big donations to the country’s finest universities and is widely considered to have pioneered a practice that was virtually nonexistent a decade ago in much of Southeast Asia.

In 2003 Mr. Chew, known as K.C., opened the first fund-raising office for the National University of Singapore. In just five years, the university raked in more than $1-billion from philanthropists and a government program that matched donations to universities. This was four times the amount raised in the 12 previous years.

Mr. Chew joined Nanyang Technological University in 2009 to bolster its efforts to raise private funds. The institution this month received roughly $117-million from the Lee Foundation, which was established by a Singaporean businessman. The private donation is reportedly the largest ever to a Singapore university.

Compared with university fund raising in the West, “we’re relative novices,” says the soft-spoken Mr. Chew. “But 10 years ago, and especially in the last five years, we have suddenly made remarkable advances in programs from a very low base.”

Historically, Singapore’s alumni and wealthy donors have tended not to support higher education because it was largely viewed as the responsibility of the government. But thanks to Mr. Chew and others, that attitude is changing.