The final chapters touched on Singapore’s “theft” of talent from JB. The authors observed that from 1998, first NUS, then NTU and SMU had been enrolling top graduates from JB’s renown Foon Yew High School. According to the authors, Singapore’s MOE recognised Foon Yew’s certificate and did not require graduates from the school to take an entrance exam in Singapore.
An elite education centre, Foon Yew High School is the largest independent Chinese school in Malaysia. There is a main campus in Stulang Laut and a branch office at Kulai. As the book was written for Malaysians, the authors did not bother to explain university quotas for minorities.
For parents of students from lower income families, the opportunity for further studies in Singapore was too good to be missed. They could also send their children to Taiwan or India (US, UK, Australia not within their budget), but Singapore was an unbeatable choice for many obvious reasons.
After graduation, the sponsored students would have to serve in Singapore for at least 3 years. Despite the fact that home was only across the Straits, there was no temptation to skip bond because to many JBians, Singapore was not even a foreign country.
An engineer the authors interviewed graduated from NTU and had settled in quite nicely with his girlfriend from China. After getting his PR, he planned to buy a 4-room flat but decided to keep his Malaysian citizenship, forgoing the $30,000 government grant if he took up Singapore citizenship. The authors had interviewed a number of graduates from JB working in Singapore and they all had similar plans.
While many in JB saw this as a win-win situation, one Malaysian academic pointed out that while individuals may benefit for such schemes, it’s the country that was getting the shorter end of the deal. Foon Yew High School is sponsored by Malaysian citizens. After spending time and money nurturing these students for more than a decade, they ended up working for Singapore at the peak of their careers. Again it boils down to national identity. Many JBians didn’t see Singapore as a foreign country.
In fact, the book quoted a survey done on JBians which showed that they knew more Singaporean celebrities and ministers than Malaysian celebrities and ministers. This agrees with my own observations. Even other Malaysians living in Singapore almost never tuned in to Malaysian channels.
The authors were young Malaysians working as journalists in Singapore (I’ve seen two of them reading the news on Channel 8), but they obviously loved their motherland.
They gave the felicitous example of the best seafood in Johor always sold to Singapore because they fetch a better price (for the individual merchant). It’s the same with JB’s top talent. The best ended up in Singapore, again benefiting the individual but not the motherland.
The book shows that the young authors have been looking beyond the apparent benefits that JBian businesses and intellectuals have been getting from Singapore. While individuals in JB obviously benefited from such transactions, it’s undeniable that the “Singapore factor” had over the years, inadvertently turned Johor into something resembling Singapore’s hinterland, providing the best for Singapore while accepting its role as a colonised people would.
I don’t think the authors deserved to be scolded at all. They were a rare breed of idealistic professionals who cared for their country. And it’s probably going to take people like them to change JB for the better, giving it greater pride to grow along with Singapore instead of being constantly exploited for “cheapness”. This is a very significant, even admirable piece of work from courageous individuals who dared to question and probe beyond the obvious. An updated edition is in order!