Even if it’s Singapore, where the government runs a tight ship, it can be a hard sell to ask people to abandon a cherished value. Such as their attachment to education. And the status it offers.
Consider the careful language used by Singapore’s Cambridge-educated Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong when he broached the touchy subject. He indicated the need to get one’s hands dirty in his May Day message but used language that spelt out broad themes, not specifics.
“As a society, we must be supportive and open-minded,” he exhorted. “We should not measure people by their paper qualifications, but by their skills and contributions”.
This was not the blunt approach adopted by then South Korean President Lee Myung-bak a few years ago when he warned of the dangers of “reckless university enrollment”.
Instead, Mr Lee delicately called for “a fresh approach” to boost Singaporean productivity and help keep wages rising. Perhaps the hard sell needs soft language.
As has been reported, Mr Lee’s government wants to promote vocational programmes and apprenticeships to help funnel Singaporeans into the workforce. Thereby, keeping them away from full-time university study.
But what’s wrong with going to college?
Isn’t this exactly what so many developed countries want? The US and UK, for example.
Aren’t China and India lauded for having large numbers of their young people in college?
Yes. But Singapore, which has one of the world’s highest proportions of college-educated citizens, doesn’t want this.
Mr Lee says the world economy today is “unsettled”. His country recently imposed restrictions on immigration, which means that more Singaporeans should take up the grunt jobs – in factories, shipyards and service industries.
Mr Lee’s delicate prod may move it further than a shove.