Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A science pioneer and his dilemmas

The NUS Faculty of Science will be celebrating its 80th anniversary next year. Many friends have asked me whether I will say something about the development of Science in Singapore for the benefit of those who aspire to be scientists of the future.

Science affected my entire life and I have a very intimate relationship with it. I hope I have also done something for Science in return especially for Singapore and its people if not for Science itself. My relation with science was not one of “Love at first sight” affair. When I was a boy I was interested in science more out of childish curiosity than personal interest. I studied science on a Raffles scholarship in the University because I needed something to earn a living. A science diploma would enable me to get a good job as a teacher then. During my undergraduate years I developed an interest in research and an urge to get a higher degree. To be addressed a doctor with a Ph. D. was something I found difficult to resist. I could do it, why not? I obtained a Shell Research Fellowship to do my Ph. D.

Although Science affects every aspects of our lives not many of us know :

(i) How Science was introduced and how it helped Singapore to develop.

(ii) What and when were the significant policies introduced?

(iii) How were these ideas and policies implemented; who were the people and sectors involved and who contributed to it?

(iv) What were the impacts these actions had on Singapore?

(iv) What is the present position of science like and what can we expect of the future?

(v) What can others learn from Singapore’s experience?

(vi) What were the risks and difficulties encountered and how were they overcome?

These are questions and information commonly asked for, that many would like to know. No one person can answer all these questions because each would have seen and done things differently depending on their own perspectives, capabilities, responsibilities and the environment at the time.

However most people will agree that Singapore has not done too badly given the environment and the limited resources it has. Indeed others can learn something from our experience. If more of our people can come out and tell their own stories and organize themselves we may have something to show and teach the world on how we industrialized our country in less than half a century something which Europe’s Industrial Revolution, with all its resources and political power, took more than two centuries to achieve.

Technologies and the environment may keep changing but there are some basic values which made us what we are as a people. These include our culture, our ideals, our philosophies, our traditions and the things that make us proud to be what we are. We must never lose or change some of these basic values we possess. We must identify what these are and strengthen ourselves wherever possible. This is what made certain societies strong and great.

Most of these basic factors are abstracts which build our faith, our confidence and our trust in ourselves and in our fellowmen so essential for any society’s stability and strength to grow. On the macro policy level we must avoid brushing aside everything in the name of pragmatism and the need for change. This can be dangerous to our society as a whole in the long run. The micro level like culture and values which affect many on the ground are just as important.

We are occupied with ephemeral interests like promoting science, training the necessary manpower for jobs, building the institutions and making money by helping our industries and our country grow.

Fifty years ago not much of these activities were done. Some people may laugh at the things we did just like some will smile at the attempts of the early alchemists who tried to change everything into gold. People will not smile at our endeavour to build the scientific spirit of enquiry and research because the benefits are lasting. By themselves our efforts may be insignificant because we did not produce a Nobel Prize winner or a famous inventor like Thomas Edison or Alexander Fleming.

However I believe our combined efforts, past, present and future, in this direction should stand out like a lighthouse in the misty and turbulent sea of conflicting interests around us. Our ability to network and work together should form the foundation for our future and should be strengthened. I and my colleagues hope that this spirit of enquiry and cooperation will endure for centuries to come, standing serene and bright and letting its lights shine before all Man. This is my hope and my dream.

These articles are attempts on my part to tell some of the things my colleagues and I did during our time and the philosophy adopted trying to make science help in the development of Singapore. We faced many dilemmas and challenges and we solved them the best we could. It is our hope that some will find our experience interesting and encouraging if not inspiring too.

Lee Kum Tatt

3 comments:

Bakar said...

Thank you so much for sharing your ideas with us. They're very inspiring, especially for people in industrializing societies and those that are yet to become industrialized, like Africa. Lee Kum Tatt has said it all. Keep up the good work.

Bakar Mansaray (Canada)

Anonymous said...

Bakar Mansaray ( Canada)

Thank you for your comments. I am delighted you find some of my views useful.

Lee Kum Tatt

C.L.Goh said...

Goh said,
Thanks for sharing your views with us.I hope these philosphy and stance would be included in the science curriculum as the underlying universal principal of truth and ethincs.

C.L.Goh