Wall St Journal
March 28, 2015
BY Shibani Mahtani
THIS week, schools across Singapore were instructed to hold special lessons dedicated to the country’s late founder, Lee Kuan Yew, tasked specifically to highlight his positive contributions.
These compulsory lessons, where teachers were mandated to stress Mr Lee’s achievements and values using materials prepared by Singapore’s ministry of education, are part of the state’s efforts to crystallize the former prime minister’s legacy among the young.
As the political expectations of Singapore’s youth morph, analysts say that the state is anxious to keep the ideology of Mr Lee and his People’s Action Party (PAP) relevant.
Mr Lee’s passing is “unsettling for so much of the Singapore establishment, given that already there has been a substantial increase in recent years of open criticism of the ruling party and some of its core ideologies,” said Garry Rodan, a professor of politics and international studies at Australia’s Murdoch University.
“There has been a decline in reverence for, and fear of, Singapore’s leaders that was unthinkable when Lee was at the height of his powers. Those who have relied heavily on the imprimatur of Lee Kuan Yew may be feeling more insecure now,” he added.
In these special tribute lessons, two sessions of which were held this week on Wednesday and Friday, students were presented with slideshows on Mr Lee’s life, his rise to prominence, and the shaping of modern Singapore. Younger ones were encouraged to draw a picture or write a note on a provided card, thanking Mr Lee, and older ones filled out a tribute sheet, penning their appreciation for the country and its first prime minister.
These exercises were mandatory for students across the country between the ages of 6 and 18, as all schools — except international schools — fall under the purview of the state.
In one such tribute lesson held at Raffles Institution (Junior College), Mr Lee’s former alma mater, students took turns sharing their personal thoughts—all acknowledging that their own achievements wouldn't have been possible without his steering of the country.
Pointing to the outpouring of emotion among Singaporeans this week, more than 300,000 of whom have visited Mr Lee’s lying in-state, one student said that “it isn’t propaganda that told us to cry or weep for him.” Another shared their family’s experience of moving from a village to a modern flat, an accomplishment they ascribed to Mr Lee’s policy on housing for all in the early days of Singapore’s