By Michio Kaku, in a book “Physics of the Future.”
At a conference in Saudi Arabia another speaker was Lee Kuan Yew, prime minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990. He helped to forge the modern nation of Singapore, which ranks among the top nations in science. Singapore, in fact, is the fifth-richest nation in the world, if you calculate the per capita gross domestic product.
Also Singapore had no significant natural resources, its greatest resource was its own people, who were hardworking and semiskilled. His group embarked on a remarkable journey, taking this sleepy backwater nation and transforming it into a scientific powerhouse within one generation. It was perhaps one of the most interesting cases of social engineering in history.
He and his party began a systematic process of revolutionizing the entire nation, stressing science and education and concentrating on the high-tech industries. Within just a few decades, Singapore created a large pool of highly educated technicians, which made it possible for the country to become one of the leading exporters of electronics, chemicals, and biomedical equipment.
There have been a number of problems along the course of modernizing his nation. To enforce social order, they imposed draconian laws, outlawing everything from spitting on the street (punishable by whipping) to drug dealing (punishable by death).
Next, he also realized that the children of Singapore were blindly repeating the words of their teachers, not challenging the conventional wisdom and creating new ideas. He realized that the East would forever be trailing the West as long as it produced scientists who could only copy others. So he set into motion a revolution in education: creative students would be singled out and allowed to pursue their dreams at their own pace. He asked schoolteachers to systematically identify the future geniuses who could revitalize the economy with their scientific imagination.
The lesson of Singapore is not for everyone. It is a small city-state, where a handful of visionaries could practice controlled nation building. And not everyone wants to be whipped for spitting on the street. However, it shows you what you can do if you systematically want to leap to the front of the information revolution.