What do we do with our “Churchills”?

(Good Hari Raya read and food for thought)

Was I really inferior to straight-A students?
The Electric Paper
September 27, 2008

By Ng Tze Yong

HE has walked the same cobblestones as JRR Tolkien, Margaret Thatcher, Steve Forbes and Bill Clinton.

Mr Lim Wah Guan, 28, belongs to a rare breed of Singaporeans to have studied at two of the world’s most prestigious universities – Oxford and Princeton.

Last year, Mr Lim, a happy-go-lucky chap with a hoot of a laugh, completed his master’s degree at Oxford in the UK. He is now a PhD student at Princeton in the US.

However, he did not take the usual Singaporean route to the hallowed hallways of these premier institutions.

He does not hold a prestigious scholarship. He is not a ‘GEPer’ (someone from the Gifted Education Programme). He does not even, well, come from a top junior college.

Mr Lim is, in his own words, an ‘NUS reject’.

He had to retake his A-level examination, after getting C, E and O grades for Mathematics C, Higher Chinese and History respectively. The second time round, he got B, D and D.

Four times, he applied for a spot at the arts faculty at the National University of Singapore (NUS) – and failed

Somewhere inside him was a hidden talent, one that was enough for the pinnacle of academia. But for a long while, that talent was undiscovered, not nurtured, and in danger of being lost forever.

Recently, Education Minister Ng Eng Hen said that it was time for Singapore’s education system to evolve, to recognise students who learn in different ways.

Shortly afterwards, The New Paper columnist Reggie J raised the question of identifying the ‘Churchills’ in our midst – students who do not do well at their O and A levels, but who excel subsequently.

Mr Lim seems to be a ‘Churchill’.

Initially, he did well in school, scoring 252 for his Primary School Leaving Examination, and 12 points for his O-level exam. But those were mostly for maths and science subjects.

It was in junior college, when Mr Lim pursued his interest in the humanities, specifically theatre, history and Chinese literature, that his grades started to slide.

At National Junior College, he was the only one in his cohort with a combination of Mathematics C, Higher Chinese and History, and spent his years there like a nomad, moving from class to class for the lessons.

His Chinese teacher, Mr Ng Thian Lye, said: ‘He knew what his interests were at a young age. Not many students can say the same. Most students just followed the science stream without much thinking.’

Somehow, Mr Lim’s passion did not translate into aces. After his first attempt at the A-level exam, his relatives encouraged him to switch to the science stream because they thought ‘it was easier to score well in it’.

Mr Lim struggled with this dilemma but deep down, he believed his goal – a spot at the arts faculty at NUS – was attainable.

‘The arts faculty was a place people criticised as a ‘dumping ground’. It didn’t matter to me, but I thought I would at least be able to make it to such a place,’ he said.

Harsh reality

His idealism met with harsh reality when, a year later, Mr Lim’s improved grades still proved insufficient.

He said: ‘Looking back, it was ironic that I got the best grade both times for mathematics, the subject I had the least interest in. But I think it was because it was the subject which lent itself best to exams.’

Mr Lim applied to NUS four times, the final time with an appeal letter from his Member of Parliament.

‘I was still trying to find my way back into the system,’ he said. ‘In Singapore, if you’re not in the system, you aren’t anything at all.’

He could not help but look at his peers.

One of them, he remembered, was a straight-A student who had never heard of the Quran.

‘I could not understand why this was happening to me,’ he said. ‘I asked myself, was I really inferior to them?’

Mr Lim’s mother, Madam Lily Soon, 57, said: ‘He doesn’t learn well in a classroom and we were beginning to think that the Singapore system isn’t best suited for him.’

Still, when Mr Lim eventually decided to apply for the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia, his decision broke his mother’s heart. It was a tough decision then but today, Mr Lim jokingly describes his time at UNSW as when ‘I turned into Cinderella’.

Four years after his rejection from NUS, Mr Lim graduated from UNSW near the top of his cohort with a first class honours in Chinese and Theatre Studies.

In a referral letter, his supervisor, Dr Jon Kowallis, wrote that Mr Lim ‘is truly a unique student of the calibre that one comes across once every 10 or 15 years’.

Another, written by his Dean of Residents, Dr James Pietsch, said: ‘…it is not on the basis of his grades that I wish to recommend him for a postgraduate program – there are many residents here who can boast high grades.

‘However, Wah Guan stands apart in terms of his attitude to his study. Wah Guan has an intellectual inquisitiveness… (he is) not driven by grades or competition, but by a genuine desire to learn.’

Still, his glowing report card was muted by personal pain. In 2003, his parents’ business was hard-hit by the economic recession and a guilt-ridden Mr Lim forced himself to accelerate his study course to save money.

During his time abroad, he also missed the funerals of his grandmother and primary school teacher to whom he was very close.

There continued to be times when he saw himself as an ‘NUS reject’. ‘It was a huge mental block I needed to overcome,’ he said.

At Oxford, Mr Lim completed a master’s in Chinese Studies, focusing on the work of Gao Xingjian, the first Chinese recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, and made it into the East Asian Studies PhD programme at Princeton University a year later.

His academic adviser, Professor Perry Link, praised Mr Lim as ‘better than the average among graduate students at Princeton – which is an extremely elite group.’

Usually eloquent, Mr Lim was stumped when asked just how exactly he made good.

‘I just don’t think a three-hour exam is the best way to test any student’s ability’ was what he finally said.

Does he plan to return to Singapore? Will he turn his back on a system that rejected him?

It is another question that vexes him. He misses home terribly, but it is evident he has not gotten over the disappointment. He will only say for now – maybe.

  1. #1 by Lee Wang Yen on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 6:55 am

    I think the Singaporean and Malaysian education systems (or the Asian systems in general) are indeed flawed in the respect referred to by Mr. Lim – they assume that everyone learns in the same way or at least can be moulded to learn in the same way. They treat humans like a production line in a factory.

    I agree with him that 3-hour unseen examination is not the best way to test a student’s ability.

    Some students have difficulties operating under stressful exam circumstances. Some students have difficulties with handwriting and thus could not write as quickly as they could think. Those who believe that unseen examination is a reliable way of testing somone’s ability in a particular subject make a simplistic assumption
    that if he has ability in subject x his performance in a test in x will reveal that. However, one must take into consideration the fact that there are mediating factors between someone’s ability and his performance on a test, viz. his physical condition on the day of the test, his ability to function under stress, his handwriting skills and speed etc. This assumption is problematic because whether one’s performance reveals one true ability partially depends on whether these mediating factors obstruct his performance.

  2. #2 by Lee Wang Yen on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 6:57 am

    oops…one’s true ability

  3. #3 by Jimm on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 7:18 am

    We are talking about our education system again ….gosh!!
    Here , government job is to provide what could be our basic and affordable only…. the rest are entirely up to us …
    To me, we are draining away talents just like government drawing away rakyat monies like their own ….
    tkae that for a good course …

  4. #4 by wtf2 on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 8:11 am

    Does it matter if one is a Einstein or Churchill in Malaysia if you are not a BUMI? Let’s just say in Malaysia the talents are ebbing – that’s why you have the leftovers in the BN – the real rejects who really are not fighting for one’s principles nor sharing any talents which they are obviously lacking.

  5. #5 by biggun on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 8:30 am

    Malaysia do not need a Ph holder to run the country, if u know how to twist and turn, flip & flop, then you will be flying high on the Political Arena, nothing wrong with the education system, u can study whatever thing on earth, the only thing is recognition by the others, no one is born as genius in ASIAN country, all is through HARD WORK, U don’t ask for MORE in MALAYSIA, U only works for MORE.

  6. #6 by Saint on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 8:32 am

    Liberal, scientific and creative education are all different and different people approach them differently. It is the hearts that should choose and the mind to follow.

    The mind does wonders if the heart is set.

  7. #7 by melurian on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 8:41 am

    correct, correct, absolute agree with them. the univ rejected some spm/stpm (some with 5A) top scorer coz they understood they were just hollow and rather have the seat allocated to students truly talented and will contribute to the country. that’s what an officer long long time ago said, examination is nothing, some ppl with excellent grades but they are ppl without good grades but talented and genius (like his son, or something). if not only some mca and public outcry, i think better talented students who only score B and C will get seat for law and medicine.

    the lesson is ppl with top scores in spm/stpm, so complaining and get a live…..

  8. #8 by biggun on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 8:41 am

    During my schooling day, my mother send me to school to study, and my father just keep quite, very difficult at that time, only chinese school, I am a small time ‘Char Kuey Tiew’ hawker, I study until standard six in the year 1964, and now at my age, without any secondary education, I know how to use computer, and write English that others understand, I do not need high education to be in present situation, I still follow the young generation to upgrade myself, I know LAW better then others, even better than some Solicitors, I am just a common Citizen until today.

  9. #9 by Swordsman on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 8:58 am

    I spent part of my working career in Johor Bahru. I noticed a strong preference, especially among Chinese parents, to send their children to Singapore for education. There is no doubt that they have far better teachers, and that their syllabus are more “education” focussed aimed at separating the “scholastic cream” from the averge students. Thereafter the “cream” would be streamed into preferred courses in top universities in USA and UK.
    The system adopted by the Singapore would no doubt produce high calibre technocrats and adminstrators. But the system stifles the development of the “entreprenuerial” spirit and drive, and the “mental agility” to operate in a non-Singapore environment.
    I had a discussion with a SGIC executive (Singapore Govt Investment Corporation) who is a son of a personal friend. At that time, the mid 80s, SGIC embarked on an expansion programme to China and other Asean countries.
    I challenged him with this remark and hoped he could prove me wrong: that SGIC investments in third world countries, especially those who had newly emerged from decades of communism like China and Vietnam, would fail miserably.
    The business environment in Vietnam at that time is well known to be extremely bureaucratic and corrupt. You need to pay a bribe to get approval just to put up a sign board bearing your company name infront of your office. To get things “done” you need to patronise nightclubs, massage parlours and other unsavoury joints with the local warlords. You need to shower them with XOs and expensive cigarettes. How could any manager who has been groomed under the Singapore environment, which is very strict on matters like law abiding, moral bahaviour etc, be bold enough to break out of his “mould” and do such things which most Malaysian managers would not hesitate to do as these activities would come under “occupational pleasures” of their job responsibilities?
    The Singapore educational system trains people to be more efficient in existing jobs, but stifles “creativity” which is the necessary ingredient in this “new” global economy.
    One other short shortcoming of the system is that it deprives children of having a fond, happy and memorable childhood. What is life if a 11 year old school kid has to struggle with homework day-in day-out and be deprived of the “wonder” of living through a normal childhood?
    I remember an incident when my fellow Director, who is an accountant, requested me to tutor his Primary 5 daughter on simultaneous equations. I must say this is my first exposure to the Singapore educational system. If my memory serves me right, I learned simultaneous equations in Form 1.
    Pushing this to a Primary 5 student does not make him/her more intelligent nor sholastically higher achieving. He merely learn it earlier in his age but have to forgo the “wonder” of childhood.
    The Singapore is not “wrong”, but they need to incorporate the “human and other soft elements” to discover and nurture those Churchills who somehow do not appear of their “educational radar”.

  10. #10 by Swordsman on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 9:05 am

    Last word of second last line: “on” and not “of”.

  11. #11 by Fair Play on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 9:06 am

    I see no wrong in NUS rejecting Ng Tze Tong as he probably did not have the grades required for U entrance which is based on the merit system . No one would say that he is inferior to straight -A students . But in a competitive system isn’t it right that the top students should be selected ? Ng has every reason to be proud of himself but I would expect him to speak with more humility and more gratitude for the many chances he was fortunate enough to have secured . Not many would be that fortunate.People like him should aim to provide inspiration and encouragement to those who fail to keep trying to find their niche in live rather than deride any system that does not suit them . Perhaps the East cannot afford yet to provide equal opportunities to all categories of talent and aptitude .

  12. #12 by vchi on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 9:09 am

    My personal experiences in a Chinese school is that it is not conducive to learning. It encourages memorising over thinking. It is no wonder that many of the Chinese school scholars come out with a concrete, one way thinking mind set.

    How are you going to compete with the Australians and the Americans that critically think, access and evaluate something while Malaysians just know how to do things one way, and that is the teacher’s way?

  13. #13 by taiking1 on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 9:13 am

    Is it the system or people’s mentality?
    Chinese are driven by education and have been so for ages.
    Even way back in china.
    And everywhere they go they set up schools.
    It is a good attitude – the crave for education.
    The question is how did that crave for learning turn into a crave for grades?
    One could say the latter is an expected extension and progression of the former.
    But what triggered that progression?
    Like adults, children too would compete amongst themselves over all sorts of things.
    Yes, all sorts of things like sports, drawing, helping teachers, cleaning up classrooms and plenty others. Exam grades in only one of them, actually.
    But how did they gravitate towards exam grades only?
    Adults’ inteference.
    In other words, parents’ expectation and hope.
    Parents imposed grown-ups’ mentality and attitude towards competition on children.
    So even if one were to change the system that attitude will remain.
    If as a result of the change there are less exams and more say mini projects, parents would be channelling their energy and attention to the projects.
    The problem got itself compounded when the system responded to parents’ attitude towards education.
    Special classes.
    Controlled schools.
    Gifted programmes.
    These are the official response.
    Tuition centres & Kummon learning etc etc are the response of the unofficial sort.
    Employers entered the fray when they start picking job seekers with better grades.
    How do we break the cycle?
    Employers are driven by practical considerations like attitude towards work, ability to perform, willingness to contribute to the company and the capacity to produce results etc.
    By now most employers can tell us that good grades do not always equate to all that.
    So now the issue is between the system and parents.
    Changing the system alone will not be enough.
    Parents too must be educated.
    Their mentality must change.
    The emphasis must be on cultivating minds with an interest to learn and not on mere knowledge accumulation.

    Selamat Hari Raya to all muslims.
    Have a safe and happy holiday to all.
    May we all see a better country after the holiday.
    Free RPK.

  14. #14 by melurian on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 9:18 am

    “The business environment in Vietnam at that time is well known to be extremely bureaucratic and corrupt. You need to pay a bribe to get approval just to put up a sign board bearing your company name infront of your office.”

    just bcoz sgpura forego doing business with corrupted countries, doesn’t mean they are not foresighted and stupid. they rather put their wise money in better investment with guaranteed returning. just like vietnam and thailand and china today where condition has improved. based your analogy, you implying malaysia should put their money with great risk in burma and somalia! if these countries are so corrupted and don’t want to reform themselves, why want to waste money in those country! sgpura just want to position itself as first world country, and look at how siemens kena condemn indulging corruption in 3rd world country….

    “Pushing this to a Primary 5 student does not make him/her more intelligent nor sholastically higher achieving. He merely learn it earlier in his age but have to forgo the “wonder” of childhood.”

    ppl is getting smarter, even 4-5 yr boy today knows how to use google comparing 70 yr old uncle! do you believe uncle aab knows how to use windows (and internet explorer!)? do you know our public univ kena condemned teaching html, 8086 comparing private college teaching php, arm7 which are more practical!

  15. #15 by cemerlang on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 10:13 am

    This makes one wonders the true meaning of “normal” and “abnormal”.

  16. #16 by HJ Angus on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 10:18 am

    As a Malaysian who sent his 4 children to study in the Singapore system, I would say it is what suits their national requirements – remember Singapore has no natural resources and therefore can only mould their human talents to the highest possible levels.
    So send your kids to Singapore but don’t press them too hard that life becomes a misery.
    The education system there is flexible and everyone can achieve a good level of education to prepare you for the working environment – not everyone can make it into the Us in Singapore but their target now is about 30%.
    The rest can study at diploma level and technical trades.
    As for entrepreneurs, there is really no such training anywhere – you kind of develop that even if you have little education.
    Some Malaysians have done remarkably well in Singapore – a recent example is the founder of Hyflux.

  17. #17 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 10:19 am

    One of Ng Tze Yong’s points is Singapore’s “meritocracy” system, measured by excellent academic results, is not quite full proof to develop and harness innate potential of people because the system does not look or provide opportunities for their particular interest and passion by which excellence could flower! Lim Wah Guan “flowered” because University of New South Wales (UNSW) gave him an opportunity to flower with Higher Chinese and History, where top universiuty like National University of Singapore did not admit him (but might well have done so had he applied for mathematics which he scored good grades but had no real passion!)

    Yet Lim Wah Guan is a late developer in academic achievement in the sense of having a chance to pursue his interest/passion later in UNSW, he could then do well (academically) subsequently at prestigious Ivy Leaque universities of Oxford and Princeton.

    Using ‘Churchill’s name and how to find a Churchill is if course misplaced because Churchil was no Lim Wah Guan finding his place in the world via academic achievements in Oxford and Princeton.

    In earlier years Churchill was by self desciptions (in biographies that I have read) a dud student with suspected learning disability/stutter/dyslexia/attention deficit disorder etc – certainly not Oxford material.

    Especially those suffering from attention deficit disorder (whether congenital or just bored with what you have to learn) go out to take care of your own education and don’t leave it to universities alone!

    Churchill liked history esp military history, probably read much of it on his own that formal education did not provide him the oppotunity. (You might want to compare with Mao Zedong who droped out of school to join as a librarian in Hunan University so that he could gorge on all the boks on subjects that he liked there). And what about British Philosopher John Stuart Mill’s education? His father Jeremy Bentham took care of that and cultivated his 20+ IQ by introducing mathematics, logic, politics, literature at tender age of 3 or 4!

    The point here, they have a “curious” education, they have to pursue their passion on their own where the system then gave no opportunity but it underscores the truth that unless you have pasion and interest in something, you won’t be excellent in it, and to flower and develop your full potential, you must not only be excellent in the field but be placed in right place and right time where greatness can bloom!

  18. #18 by sama on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 10:22 am

    I am sure there are many others who are as good as Lim Wah Guan out there in Malaysia or Singapore . Yet not many may be as lucky as him to be given the chance to end up being called a rare breed. As someone said education in Singapore and Malaysia is akin to battery farming. If you don’t make the grade, culling is the way to go.

  19. #19 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 10:23 am

    The real churchills in Malaysia, if you really want to compare are not people like Lim Wah Guan but people like Raja Petra Kamarudin – he was never an outstanding student (even in then premier school Victoria Institution), he got whacked incessantly by the then first Asian HM in VI for rebelliousness long hair etc and was more interested in biking and courting Marina Lee in Brick fields…..Or even YB Lim Kit Siang! :)

  20. #20 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 10:26 am

    200+ IQ – John Stuart Mill

  21. #21 by daryl on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 10:37 am

    I am happy for Mr. Lim and hope that education system in Singapore or any where else doesn’t miss talent like him. Singapore’s system is trying to recover every single talent that they miss while Malaysia is only interested in talent from one race and more often than not choose skin color over higher talent. Yet we think we will be one of the top in Asia when compare to Japan, China, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, India, and other countries in Asia.

  22. #22 by Tulip Crescent on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 10:40 am

    Jeffrey Says:

    Today at 10: 19.46 (3 minutes ago)

    “… And what about British Philosopher John Stuart Mill’s education? His father Jeremy Bentham took care of that and cultivated his 20+ IQ by introducing mathematics, logic, politics, literature at tender age of 3 or 4! …”



    You might want to know that J.S. Mill had nervous breakdown probably because of his father breathing down his neck. He recovered later, of course.

    The entire exercise is whether the Malaysian/Singapore “elitist” educational system is losing the bright ones who later turn out to be Churchills.

    I have read that in one instance at least, Sir Winston Churchill decided the course of World War II by asking his Admiral to list out the global disposition of the Royal British Navy on one page of fullscap paper.

    Now that takes some beating, doesn’t it?

    What do we have today? In a simple exercise, we pore over Executive Summaries, then the actual reports with their addendums and their notes and what have you, and finally make no decision!

    Had Churchill done that, I would be writing either Japanese or German to you in this reply.

  23. #23 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 10:41 am

    It is not just ability/excellence : you must have that oppotunity ; the stars in constellation must move in your direction and you be at the right place & right time. When Hitler started the war, and he was asked to form and lead the national coalition govt/war cabinet to fight & defend motherland, Churchill said, “At last I have the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for it”.

    It was a trial that proved the finest hour of his life.

    Robert Pilpel, the author of Churchill in America, has written an article for The Churchill Centre’s Finest Hour that expresses this point eloquently:

    “We can never know for certain how a person would have developed if one or another aspect of his life had been different. But what is clear with regard to Churchill—as his letters at the time and his writings in later years attest—is that a life which before 1895 seemed destined to yield a narrow range of skimpy achievements became from 1895 onwards a life of glorious epitomes and stunning vindications.”

  24. #24 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 10:57 am

    ‘The entire exercise is whether the Malaysian/Singapore “elitist” educational system is losing the bright ones who later turn out to be Churchills’ – Tulip Crescent.

    I have no flattering things about the system based on 3 hour written examination, my remarks won’t improve even if in addition to that 3 hour exam, you throw in a spread of marks from course papers, performance throughout the year in tutorials or asignments or mini thesis that you research on.

    They have to teach students how to think and express themselves without fear or favour, give them opportunity to pursue areas and fields of their interest and passion and inculcate the values of excellence as well as objectivity and intellectual honesty.

    However its hard to find a perfect system anywhere.

    If you ask me, yes, the system does catch many bright and talented one whilst also losing many others bright and talented.

    The other point – whether after catching some of thse bright and talented the system could further develop their potential to hilt – ah that another matter for discussion anoither day.

    Generally I don’t like elitism, I hope we develop a system to ferret out the talent in every one. I believe everyone could be brilliant in something if only given opportunity to find out what it is, and as far as possible everyone be accorded equal opportunity to lok for that which makes him spark and shine.

    Of course that does not happen in a real world.

  25. #25 by HJ Angus on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 11:01 am

    I think there is some truth about being in the right place and time.
    Churchill for all his great victory in World War 2 was rejected by the voters in the elections after the war.

    During the war years, his tenacity and never give up attitude was needed by a Britain that was under tremendous pressure from Germany.
    Those interested in Churchill should watch Astro Channel 555 – there is a program on WW2 – Mulberry Project.

  26. #26 by boh-liao on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 12:14 pm

    In this world, there is no perfect education system that caters to different kinds of individuals (early developers, late developers, normal individuals, dyslexic individuals some of whom have high IQ, etc). There will always be some rare gifted or bright individuals missed by a particular education system.

    BTW, SGIC (Singapore Govt Investment Corporation) should be just GIC = Government of Singapore Investment Corporation.

  27. #27 by Kingkong on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 12:43 pm

    I agree that there won’t be a perfect system. However, the purpose of a system is to get an ideal percentage of success in a population where equal opportunity is ensured. When one fails to squeeze into the system, it does not mean that the system is at fault. It just means one is not merit enough to be in according to the meritocracy system. But that is not the end of the world and Wah Guan managed to find a different pathway to pursue the studies which he wanted. A person with initiatives always can find an alternative way and that is the reward of being persistence in pursuing something you believe you can do and never say die. There are many success stories in our encounters in our daily lives be it in a small or big way depending on one’s target or perception.

    For Wah Guan, it is just a beginning and is far away from Churchill. How much he could contribute to the society and mankind is yet to be seen. We all got excited because of the prestigious names like Oxford and Priceton. The infamous SIL is also from Oxford.

  28. #28 by Tulip Crescent on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 1:45 pm


    Thanks for taking the time to type out the quotations from the book on Churchill. I appreciate that sharing attitude that you reflect.

    HJ Angus

    Why did Churchill lose the government after winning World War II? My friends tell me that Churchill being Churchill, he was great when seeing the big picture. One severe blind spot: He has no eye for details. So he always needed good lieutenants. So even Churchill needs good lieutenants.

    Alexander the Great would not have made the conquests he did had it not been for his great penchant to identify good generals, surround himself with with and making use of their talents.

    The same goes for Lee Kuan Yew. Ditto all the great emperors of China.

  29. #29 by Rose Fashion on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 4:19 pm

    Meritocracy system is not perfect but at least it provides a basis for university admission. The concept is correct and what can be improved or adjusted is the education system itself. Mr Lim was rejected because his results were no good and at least there is a basis for such rejection. Even Singapore can have talent slip under such a seamless meritocracy system but what about Malaysia? Have the Ministry of Education studied how many talents had been lost under the current quota system, if they care?

  30. #30 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 5:26 pm

    Why did Churchill lose the government after winning World War II?

    Because the average British voter/public is smart to treat their leaders as servants and not masters unlike here!

    Yes after the War Churchill had gained all the experience and knowledge in guiding Britain through her darkest hour of Hilterian threat. He also had goodwill and contacts throughhout the world.

    However Hitler was no more and the British public decided that they did not wish Churchill to remain in Churchill words “one more hour respoinsinble for their oeace time affairs!” He had done what he was best at to protect British freedoim and heritage in those perilous times – and that it, period.

  31. #31 by lopez on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 6:19 pm

    it is hunting season again….bang bang bang the hunters shoots and the birds flurted and dive for their dafety.
    yep dafty the ducj also rush for cover

    after the season, the mother birds went around chirpy chirpy fo theri lost offsprings.

    some how some never got to return to their flock, the weather has change the migrations has started, Trapped were some of these ducklings and survive their instints pervail them.
    many of These young birds fresh into the world some how joined into the crowd only to know they are different when they grew up, you are a flamingo not a common daffy duck.

    go find your own ways , your roots, even babas know this.

    are you still lost?

  32. #32 by LBJ on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 8:10 pm

    What do we do with our Churchills? My answer – nothing.
    Neither Singapore nor Malaysia deserved the Churchills in our midst.
    The education systems in both countries will supress these people.

    Other countries will adopt them. Another reason for the brain drain.

  33. #33 by One4All4One on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 8:16 pm

    Let’s not kid ourselves.

    Mr Lim and the likes of him are only exceptions in the world of education. Mr Lim may have earned and won accolades from his professors, and rightly so, but such occurrence is not the norm. He is truly brilliant in his own ways.

    In an education system how do you go about identifying the so -called “Churchills” or “Einsteins”, and give them the room to develop and progress in their own chosen field of interests?

    There is no sin in getting a string of A’s in an examination, neither is it everything. It is to be viewed in an objective manner the values of the grades and the situation they were obtained. Definitely the grades do reflect the ability and potential of a student.

    For the purpose of recruiting a student for a particular course/vocation, he/she should be assessed by other more relevant and objective and specific methods, if such and assessment is indeed necessary and required.

    Mr Lim is fortunate and his eventual achievement in accordance to his interest and calling is fortuitous. The fact that “Mr Lim Wah Guan, 28, belongs to a rare breed of Singaporeans to have studied at two of the world’s most prestigious universities – Oxford and Princeton”, bears witness to that. It was rare and fortuitous.

    Even so, it is unfortunate that many of us go through schools and colleges without knowing our real interest. Many, whether straight A’s or otherwise, just do what other fellow students do, that’s why they are all just the “norm” and not the “rare” one like Mr Lim.

    In this world, only the rare breed stands out. It is the will of a hidden force that they be the chosen ones. And Mr Lim is taking his rightful place and calling.

    Just pray hope that your kids will be one too. God willing.

  34. #34 by One4All4One on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 8:18 pm

    oops..should be

    Just pray and hope that your kids will be one too. God willing.

  35. #35 by chin on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 - 11:39 pm

    There are no perfect education system in the world. Its just a matter of how a person blend in to the society. Education is just a foundation for someone who can understand the basis of general society. How you blend in & do you make a success is base on your background, talent, observant, exposure & the most important element, “How you turn opportunity for yourself”. No Princeton,Oxford or UM will able to teach you.
    There are dozens of talented people in the world waiting to explode your mind but they don’t know how to turn it to opportunity. For example, Bill Gates. You think this fellow who develop Microsoft invented most of the programs ? My ass ! He is bloody damn smart to hire expertise to develop programs for him, he knows how to manipulate & take opportunities for himself. As a software engineer, he is no better than an average MIT student, but as a business man, he is damn good. Get that !
    Next, there are no specific way to measure success, but most will take financial wealth as the scale. Thats wrong infact, most of the billionaire are either college dropouts or infact no better than an uncle cooking “Cha Kuey Teow” in the stalls. Except he or she knows how to get the opportunity flowing to themselves.
    Asians, no matter you are Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans, Murut & others. We fall in to the same perception, & that is who got the highest education will certainly make it to the richest. Again, WRONG ! Most of those who got the highest education usually end up worrying their bank account’s balance in the end of the month, where as their boss who usually a college dropouts or even non-educated enjoying life & paying these bunch of so called “High educated personnel” monthly salary.
    Therefore, our children make it or not is not what education can provide. Its what they can make use of it. There is a Phrase that mention “It is better to provide a fishing rod to a child rather than to provide the fish”. Yes ! Thats right, but some smart ass will knows how to get some fellows to fish by paying a small premium & starts selling fish at a higher rate & that smart ass may not know how to fish at all. So ! which type are your children will be ?

  36. #36 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 2:09 am

    There are a lot of practical truths in what Chin just posted – especially “How you turn opportunity for yourself” or its corollary how to create conditions to be receptive of opportunity, when or if it so visits. However I must add this : whether you have this ability is something not the sole preserve of an highly educated person (academic-wise) but neither does being so educated neccesarily precludes or undermines such ability.

    Something else must be underlined here – that today our children ought not to define the goal of education as being directed to attain success in exclusively financial terms.

    What good is a financially well off man who in thoughts and character is comparatively poor due to lack of proper education?????

    Proper education is in this 21st Century not just having 1st class bachelor,masters or PhD in renowned universities.

    It is a temper of mind and an attitude. I won’t try to define it but (without exhausting the list) it would include some of these distingusihing marks that sometimes over lap:

    · an ability to think logically, analyse, synthesize, well that’s certainly a part of it that a rigorous academic training could help instil discipline but more than that –

    · an ability to identify issues and knowledge of where to look for facts and infiormation and sift them as to relevance, aplication and truth

    · a high ability of abstraction with swiftness and acuracy in quickly discovering principles which underlie patterns and limits found in any complicated data, situation and problem;

    · a questioning mind that could question even cherished asumptions and at the same time an ability tending to contrary to have that flexibility of mind to entertain a thought evaluating all angles about but without just accepting it, and in other circumstances, to accept ideas or thoughts that challenge one’s beliefs;

    · an ability to separate emotions from the necessary objectivity of one’s conclusions, no matter how emotionally unpleasant;

    · an all roundedness with large swaths of basic understanding in many areas and disciplines and how they are inter-connected in integral way or separated otherwise;

    · an ability to separate and weigh all parts of an equation seeing all minutae and the larger picture at the same time, in both depth and breath, and to find a practical way to solve a problem;

    an ability to temper a mind which otherwise could work efficiently as a cold and efficient machine with emotions of courage as well as human compassion and kindness ……

  37. #37 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 2:16 am

    You can’t get such an education just from Princeton, Cambridge, NUS or Harvard universities : it is from the university of life whose professors are anyone and everyone whether intelligent, knowledgeable or just the opposite – and from which such university you would graduate only when you expire, and that education is in your hands, that you must work strenously for, by constant effort and application. :)

  38. #38 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 2:27 am

    To be rich financially, one helpful trait is to bodek the right people! No need to be very educated to horne this skill.

  39. #39 by hiro on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 2:54 am

    Good education system leads to great economy. People complain about how tough Spore system is. But look where that has gotten their economy. And now they’re thinking even further. Compared with them, Malaysian education system truly belong to the third world (even that may be somewhat of an insult to various third world countries).

  40. #40 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 3:49 am

    The question is whether the good education in Singapore produces good technocrats or really ‘educated’ people in way I described in earlier posting.

  41. #41 by madmix on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 10:05 am

    No system is 100% perfect. The existing system do filter in a large percentage of the most brilliant people, but they like all systems do miss out others: late bloomers, brilliant rebels, non conformists etc.

  42. #42 by limkamput on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 10:09 am

    You are talking about exception not the general rule. Please don’t confuse the two, smart a**.

  43. #43 by Kingkong on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 10:18 am

    Realistically, in this commercialized society education is a means to improve one’s value and hence financial well being, not necessarily filthy rich. Meritocracy system exists so that irrespective rich or poor, one has an equal opportunity to enter the highest educational institution so that one has a better position in the society, hence financial well being. More often than not it is also a tool for a poor family to get out of poverty through education. In any country, it is always the best students are admitted into local universities, and citizens usually are very proud that their children could be admitted to their national university, NUS is one of the examples. Competition is always very keen. Because of racial discrimination, only Malaysia is exceptional though once upon a time University of Malaya also enjoyed that kind of prestige.

    However, when a rich kid fails to get into the competitive system, the paper chase game plan continues. By- pass the system, and overseas education is one of the solutions. After all, most of the overseas higher educational institutions are commercialized too, fund is always wanted everywhere. If for the purpose of doing Chinese Studies, one would think of Beijing University or Taiwan National University, why study Chinese in Australia? It is like if you want to learn Chinese cooking the best place perhaps is Guangzhou, Guangdong, China. Learning Chinese cooking in Australia perhaps results in getting the cooking methodology but never the taste. Even the financial guru, Jim Rodger migrated to Singapore so that his kids could learn better Chinese as he perceives Chinese is going to be an important language. The answer is that the paper from the West is always more valuable, especially names like Oxford and Princeton sound very impressive. We Asians are still under the domination of the system of the West. As far as Chinese study is concerned, the best could still lie in the East unfortunately our Eastern professors are not so prestigious and hence less financial value.

    Unless a country is rich enough where bread and butter is no longer a major issue for a majority of population, education is still a tool for earning a better living, be it technocrat, production people, wealth creator, manager or medical personnel.

  44. #44 by megaman on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 10:24 am

    No education system is perfect and therefore, there will always be ppl like Lim Wah Guan that falls thru the sieve.

    In this case, the press picked up the story and sensationalized but it has always been happening all the time and will continue to occur.

    Citing Lee Kuan Yew when he was asked about the flaws of Singapore education system, his answer was simple: “Efficiency and Effectiveness. The resources available were limited, the number of schools were limited, the number of teachers were limited etc. Therefore, the need to stream and maximize the resources in used.”

    It is unavoidable, but I do agree that due to the competition and partly due to the merit-based system which rewards good academic achievements, parents in Singapore do get overboard and extreme in pushing their children.

    I personally feel Singapore’s education provides good value for the time, effort and money invested but whether our child gets a well-balanced childhood development, that depends on the PARENTS !!!

  45. #45 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Friday, 3 October 2008 - 5:13 pm

    /// Jeffrey Says:
    Yesterday at 02: 27.37
    To be rich financially, one helpful trait is to bodek the right people! No need to be very educated to horne this skill. ///

    In other words – know who instead of know-how. You need to hone your skill… and not be so horny…


  46. #46 by justice4allraces on Sunday, 5 October 2008 - 12:04 pm

    This article given hope to other “Churchills” in Malaysia and Singapore out there to know that they are not alone just like Lim Wah Guan who has lived to tell the tale and prove how flawed the education system in Malaysia and Singapore. This is a call for us to revamp the education system where we should replace the streaming system with a flexible broad-based one. How many other “Churchills” out there are forgotten and falling through the cracks? It is time we need to make the education system more flexible to recognise our “Churchills” and understand that not everyone can always excel and score with flying colours through the same system which cannot cater to those who do not fit the rote-learning method. We need more people who have the genuine desire to learn and the ability to think outside the box like Lim Wah Guan. Eventhough Lim Wah Guan is considered as an NUS reject from time to time, personally, I believe he is a success and he has done so much for himself to prove that just because he’s a reject does not stop him for acheiving in life. Lim Wah Guan is an inspiration for all “Churchills” in Malaysia and Singapore

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