[The audience strained to hear every word from this legendary figure. ]

Source: Dr Michio Kaku
in his book “Physics of the Future: How Science will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100”
(pg 324-325)

“I once spoke at a conference in Saudi Arabia, where another featured speaker was Lee Kuan Yew, prime minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990. He is something of a rock star among the developing nations, since 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.

The audience strained to hear every word from this legendary figure.

He reminisced about the early days after the war, when Singapore was viewed as a backwater port known primarily for piracy, smuggling, drunken sailors, and other unsavory activities. A group of his associates, however, dreamed of the day when this tiny seaport could rival the West. Although 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. In 2006, it produced 10 percent of the world’s foundry wafer output for computers.

There have been a number of problems, he confessed, 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). But he also noticed one important thing.

Top scientists, he found, were eager to visit Singapore, yet only a handful stayed.

Later, he found out one reason why: there were no cultural amenities and attractions to keep them in Singapore. This gave him his next idea: deliberately fostering all the cultural fringe benefits of a modern nation (ballet companies, symphony orchestras, etc) so that top scientists would sink their roots in Singapore.

Almost overnight, cultural organizations and events were springing up all over the country as a lure to keep the scientific elite anchored there.

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 student would be singled out and allowed to pursue their dreams at their own pace.

Realizing that someone like a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs would be crushed by Singapore’s suffocating educational system, 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 leapt to the front of the information revolution.” – Michio Kaku