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English Language Supplementary Reading

Date : _____________

For the majority of people, the Arts are irrelevant to their daily lives. How true
is this of your society? (A-level GP exam, 2014)

Being a small state with no natural resources or strategic hinterland to fall back
upon, my country Singapore has always had to be unwaveringly pragmatic in order
to survive, let alone prosper, in this harsh and unforgiving world. In the early days of
our independence and industrialisation, our government and schools focused heavily
on STEM science, technology, engineering and mathematics to boost the value
added per worker so that we could compensate for our geographical disadvantages.
Between the 1960s and the 1990s, there was a strong perception that Science was
the ticket to a good life, and the Arts were an abstract waste of time. Even now, that
mentality has not totally disappeared. This emphasis on the sciences at the expense
of the Arts led to Singapore being a cultural desert in the early decades, though the
nation is now far more culturally vibrant. For the purposes of this essay, I shall define
irrelevant to their daily lives as being not important, useful or connected to the
ordinary everyday activities and concerns of Singaporeans. As the Arts are critical to
Singapores economic development and vital to the alleviation of stress and
unhappiness in our everyday lives, I believe it is largely untrue that for most
Singaporeans, the Arts are irrelevant to their daily existence.

Detractors of the Arts might put forth the contention that for a small, natural resource-
poor country like Singapore, the people need to devote themselves to fields that
yield more assured tangible economic returns, such as science, engineering,
economics, law and so forth. The Arts, they assert, are merely an interesting and
meaningful pastime at best, a frivolous distraction from practical concerns at worst.
How would watching the angst and pathos of Shakespeares King Lear, for instance,
put food on the table for the family? How would revelling in the splendour of the
Singapore Chinese Orchestra help an accountant clinch a promotion, or keep a
banker from getting laid off? On a national level, how would the multimillion-dollar
investment in the resplendent Esplanade theatre enable the country to fend off fierce
economic competition from larger economies such as China and the United States?
Therefore, they claim, the Arts are of no concern to the everyday realities of a

This argument, unfortunately, fails to depict the world in holistic terms. The Arts, The
Sciences, politics, economics, architecture these, and more, are intricately
connected to one another. In truth, the Arts are now critical to Singapores economic
development. I say now because when we were a low-cost manufacturing nation at
the start of our history as an independent nation in the 1960s, the Arts were of little, if
any, importance to us economically we needed only technical skills to carry out the
instructions of foreign multinationals to manufacture slippers and transistor radios.
Even into the 1990s, when we became a high-cost First World nation, the Arts were
still of limited economic value to us as we were still mainly carrying out the
instructions of foreign investors, just that we had moved up the value chain into
manufacturing pharmaceutical and electronic products, and diversified into services
such as banking. In the 21st century, however, countries with a lower cost base have
closed, and are continuing to close, the skills and capabilities gap between
themselves and Singapore. China and India each produce tens of millions of
university graduates every year, and each year such emerging economies move
higher and higher up the value chain while their workers demand a mere fraction of
English Language Supplementary Reading
Date : _____________

what Singaporean workers are paid. The Singapore government is concerned about
a growing number of professionals, managers and executives being made redundant
by companies that have moved their operations out of Singapore. We now cannot
merely rely on our ability to carry out instructions and work according to received
knowledge we need to re-imagine, innovate, create if we are to stay competitive.
For that, we need the Arts, which teach us to always look at things in new and
interesting ways. This can enable us to make the quantum leaps in value needed to
survive in a world of cut-throat competition. For instance, the home-grown food and
beverage company The BreadTalk Group has opened over 800 bakery outlets
across Asia with its artistic recipes, while health and wellness firm Osim sells
hundreds of millions of dollars worth of imaginative health products such as
massage chairs and fun workout machines throughout the world each year. The
imaginative recipes and designs sold by these companies are forms of art too, and
without them, we would not be able to achieve such leaps in economic value. If we
did not have this artistic flair, more and more Singaporeans would lose their jobs to
cheaper competitiors overseas.

Our relentless and frenetic efforts to stay ahead of the economic curve, however,
take a considerable toll on us mentally. Hence, Singaporeans are under immense
mental stress, which the Arts play a vital role in alleviating. Singaporeans working
hours are among the longest in the developed world 2,287 hours a year, according
to the Federal Reserve Economic Data website. Many feel overwhelmed by work or
studies and neglect their families. The Arts can relax the mind and help protect
Singaporeans mental health. For instance, thousands of Singaporeans head to the
beautifully designed Gardens by the Bay every month to free their minds from the
shackles of work and lose themselves in the creative landscaping in the sprawling
gardens which feature everything from Chinese to Indian gardens with statues of
various sizes

The intense rat race not only makes us stressed it also deprives Singaporeans of
arguably the most precious goal in human life: happiness. Singaporeans were
ranked the least positive and most emotionless people in the world in a Gallup poll in
2012. However vehemently Singaporeans may deny the truth of these polls, a close
observation of its people in day-to-day life here would suggest there is more than a
grain of truth. Cynicism and negativity abound, manifesting themselves in a never-
ending stream of complaints about all kinds of petty imperfections such as a brief
delay in train service. Emotionless faces fill the streets, and when a supermarket
cashier says, Thank you to a customer, very few thank her in return. We need the
Arts to bring us positive emotion and help us find beauty in our everyday lives.

In sum, the Arts are filled with tangible and intangible value, and therefore full of
relevance to the everyday lives of Singaporeans. Without the Arts, not only would
Singaporeans find it extremely difficult to cope with stress and find the deepest
fulfilment and greatest joy they might even find themselves reduced to economic
irrelevance, unable to meet even their most basic daily needs. After all, we should
not forget that making a small country succeed takes ingenuity and inventiveness
which are the very essence of Art.

Adapted from Steven Ooi