Joy of Achievement
Today Science & Technology affects every aspect of our life. You can make things happen and your reward is the satisfaction you get. It is difficult to describe these wonderful emotional feelings in words which made people do things that some do not understand.
A few thousand friends and colleagues who have worked with me shared the same experiences. These people are the common people, the businessmen, industrialists, professionals, students, teachers & professors, Government employees, bankers and politicians and people in my community. When we worked together we enjoyed what we had to do. Many of us rose in this environment. We did something noble, something good for our fellow men. We enjoyed ourselves and treasured the experience and friendship with pride and satisfaction.
This gives us emotional satisfaction, something we need in our life and in our work. We believe that if we do good, good will come to us in one form or another. If you want to know how important emotional satisfaction is, try doing without it.
Complex scientific theories can put many people off. A medically qualified doctor is more easily acceptable than a Ph. D. in science. The medical doctor removes pain and the latter inflict pain by removing ignorance. Science has therefore to be carefully but actively promoted. That is part of my life’s mission. The beauty of science is that we can apply it without having to know the complicated theories. Many parties have to be involved. How to produce more scientific, technological and technically trained personnel fast enough was a great challenge to the Singapore Science Council in our early days. We had to attract talents using science and whatever little we could offer. The history of the Singapore Science Council forms an important part of the history of science in the national development of Singapore. Many have asked me to record how some of the events happened for history’s sake.
A. The Promotion of Science.
What is science? What can it do for me? Many do not see why they need science at all. To achieve our mission we had to overcome all these and more. Educating people under these circumstances was not easy and it took time which we did not have much of. Here are some of the actions we took and the projects we did where some lessons can be learned. Many of these were quite unorthodox, incredible and some were considered as impossible tasks when these activities were first initiated. Lots of human effort and financial resources were required which we managed somehow to pull together. We must continue to develop this know how and practice the skill of working together for our own good. We will lose a lot if we loose this capability. Here are some of the untold and little known stories on how some of the projects were initiated. Projects develop through stages which overlap. Some champions for these projects are needed to ensure that the people involved work smoothly together during the transition periods to achieve continuity and purpose of the missions.
Lee Kum Tatt.
8 May 2007
A1. The Popular Singapore Science Centre.
When the Science Council first mooted the idea of building a popular science centre in 1967 it was thought to be the fantasy of a few impractical enthusiasts. We were ridiculed that we could not even get our priorities right.
How are we to get this project approved to get the few precious million dollars required? As Chairman of the Council I had flown the balloon to test the atmosphere. A few council members supported the move. During a side trip I made to London in 1967 I made a special visit to the London Science Museum and met the director of the Museum. We discussed our proposed plan to set up a science centre in Singapore. The director was enthusiastic to our idea. We even identified a lady curator of the Museum who was ready to come to Singapore for a few months to help us make a detailed study of what should be done. We needed funding for this lady to come to Singapore.
As this project has a lot to do with education and manpower development I approached the late Mr. Kwan Sai Keong, Permanent Secretary and Director of Education Services for a UNESCO consultant to help us. Without hesitation he agreed. The ball was now in our court to proceed further. A special committee was formed in late 1968 in the Science Council comprising of :
(i) Chairman , Mr. Ronald Sng, G.M. Singapore Chartered Industries
(ii) Member, Mr. Sng Yew Chong, Director , Technical Education, Min. of Education
(iii) Member, Dr. Bernard Tan , Sr. Lecturer , University of Singapore
(iv) Member. Mr. Rex Shelley, G.M. Hume Industry. (F.E.) Pte Ltd.
The Science Council finalized the appointment of the UNESCO consultant and Miss M.K. Weston of the Science Museum, London was in Singapore from Sept. 27 to Nov. 30, 1969 to help in the drawing up of the proposals after consultation with the important sectors of Singapore’s society. In this report the main benefits Science Centre would contribute to Singapore were summarized as follows:
(a) it would greatly complement the science and technical education programme receiving urgent attention then;
(b) it would provide the adult population with a quicker and greater understanding of technology and its part in Singapore’s industrialization programme;
(c) it would stimulate in the younger generation an interest for a career geared to industry and thus overcome the past preference of parents for white collar jobs over blue collar occupations.
Even at this stage there was still doubt that the Science Centre Report would be accepted by the Government. I had to personally appeal to the Minister himself and others for their support. In August 1970 the Parliament of Singapore approved the Science Centre Bill. The Science Centre would be managed as a statutory body. Mr. Wee Cho Yaw, the President of Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Chairman of UOB (United Overseas Bank) was appointed on November 21st as the founder chairman of the Singapore Science Centre. The purpose of the Science Centre was to establish and maintain the $9.5 million Centre which will exhibit objects illustrative of the physical sciences, applied sciences, technology and life sciences and industry. The Science Centre was also to promote the dissemination of knowledge in science and technology as one of its important functions.
After this there was plenty of work still to be done which could not be left to the Ministry of Science & Technology officials alone. We needed a concept and the type of exhibits the Science Centre should have. We needed to know how to select an architect (foreign or local) who can put the concept together and put up a suitable building. We needed a suitable piece of land with room for future expansion. We got a 16-acre lake side area in the Jurong Town Centre, east of the Jurong Centre. We needed a CEO and other support staff to help build and operate the Centre once it was established. We got Drs. Barthal Singh and Leo Tan from the University to be the first two CEOs. Mr. Wee Cho Yaw, when his term was over, was succeeded by another colleague of his, Mr. K. C. Tan. Mr. Tan was then Chairman of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Tan served the Science Centre as its chairman for 12 years! This was a critical stage and was beyond the facilities and resources the Science Council can handle at that time. Nevertheless everybody chipped in. The Science Council continued to get assistance from Asia Foundation and other bodies to help our committee members and CEO’s gain experience on how Science Centres are run overseas. The views of the Science Council which initiated this multi million project were constantly sought in the implementation stages. Mr. Ronald Sng, representing the Science Council, served as the deputy chairman of the Science Centre Board for many years.
The Singapore Science Centre is one of the best if not the best in the region. It has achieved its original objectives and more. My generation has laid the foundation and it is for the present and future generation to build on them. Congratulations to the present management of the Science Centre for doing a wonderful job.
Many expressed surprise that the Chinese Chamber of Commerce presidents themselves were personally involved in this project and have put in so much effort and given so much and for so long. My answer is why not? As humans we have feelings. We will always do what gives us a good feeling to do so. These two gentlemen have done many other good deeds besides this and they have earned their positions in our society. This represents some of their contributions. I also asked some of my other friends why they did what they did with me. Their common reply was “We are proud of what we did and we enjoyed doing it”.
We salute these people. How we wish there are more of such people.
Lee Kum Tatt
8 May 2007