Aug 20, 2008

School, Memory and Real Life

My memory is tremendous. For example, suppose I go to a party, where I know no one except the host, and the host then spends a few minutes quickly introducing the other 20 guests to me. Immediately after that, I can remember every name mentioned, and link it to the right face.

Next example. Suppose you recite to me a list of 20 completely random words - "love, Toyota, radio, blog, snake, Mexico, hurricane, hairstylist ..." and so on. Immediately after that, I can recite back to you all those words, without missing a single one. Furthermore I can recite them back to you ... in the exact order that you had told them to me.

In my previous post, I had said that rote learning plays an inordinately large role in our education system. You might be thinking now that since my memory is so good, I must have found school very easy. Unfortunately, my memory wasn't so good when I was a student.

My memory became so good only much later, when I had already finished school. It all started when I chanced upon a few books on memory techniques, the back cover of which typically made rather outrageous-sounding claims.

For example, the book might claim that you would be able to remember up to 100 items in perfect order, and it will take you no more than 20 minutes to do this. And the items could be names; addresses; telephone numbers; important historical dates; key points from your science textbook etc.

In fact the claims are not outrageous. They are genuine. You don't have to be a genius either. You just have to put in the effort to understand a few key principles and practise the special memory techniques - one famous one is the Roman Room method.

And hey presto, with a bit of practice, indeed you will have a memory that's simply phenomenal, compared to the average person.

You can see these memory techniques taken to their extreme, at events like the World Memory Championships (the mind equivalent of the Olympics). Here's one of their events - Random Words. Each contestant has to memorise 400 random words, organised in 20 columns of 20 words each. And how much time do they have to memorise? Just 15 minutes.

One might believe that a highly powerful memory is extremely useful in life. I don't really agree. It's good not to be absent-minded, but it's very easy to over-estimate the practical value of a highly powerful memory. I would say that a powerful memory is extremely useful, if you are a Singapore student. However, today I honestly have very little use for my memory techniques, powerful though they may be. Let me explain.

If I want to go shopping for groceries, I still make a written shopping list. Why? Well, the very process of writing out the list helps me to work out what I need to buy. And once I've written out the list, why should I bother to memorise it? I can just put the list in my pocket and take it with me to the supermarket. That takes no effort at all.

Suppose someone gives me his handphone number. I could memorise the number, or I could just store it in my own handphone. I choose the latter approach. Why? Because both approaches take the same amount of time - a few seconds - and if I store the number in my handphone, later I can speed-dial the number straightaway (no need to manually key in all 8 numbers).

At work, there is a set of standard legal documents which I constantly need to refer to. They relate to standard terms used by the international financial markets for trading in foreign exchange, commodities, credit risk etc. And each document consists of many pages of technical definitions and legal jargon, basically a lot of small print.

If I really wanted to, I could use my memory techniques to memorise the clauses. But why even bother? I can just put the documents at the side of my desk, within easy reach (and in fact, that's where they are). Whenever I need to, I can just reach out, take the right document, flip to the relevant page and check whatever I want to check.

I mean, I'm working. This is real life, not an exam. I don't score any extra marks for memorising documents that are already sitting on my table.

By now, you will see that in real life, a highly powerful memory is not that important. It's very valuable only in school, and that's because many things in school (especially Singapore schools) are accomplished by rote learning.

In real life though, rote learning is largely irrelevant. Because in real life, you don't waste time memorising information that's easily retrievable from your handphone, hard disk, emails or hard-copy files. You could also just open a textbook - and read it. Photocopy a page, if you need to. No need to memorise at all.


Anonymous said...

In real life and work, memory (or ability to recall) can still be important. For instance as an investigator, as a boss to evaluate people (past incidents may be important) or even to avoid scams (eg a previous report of it) eg the phrase "have short memories" which can be no good.
For politicians memory may be critical for off the cuff speeches, in interviews to emphasise, to rebut or score points. Maybe even as a lawyer during court proceedings to argue a case.
So it is not correct to say memory is not important after finishing school exams. It is even more critical because it concern more than just exam grades.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Policemen are required to carry a little black notebook with them, at all times when they are on duty. They are to keep brief notes of where they go, at what time, and so on. This is quite critical, amongst other reasons because much later on, they may be required to testify in court, and if they are asked a question like, "Where were you at 2:30 pm on the 17th September 2006?", they are actually able to tell you.

Bosses remembering whether an employee has done good work or not is hardly the same kind of thing as a student studiously memorising a few thousand words worth of verse, on a word-by-word basis, for the sake of an exam.

"Off the cuff" speeches are, as you say, off the cuff - no preparation, and therefore no memory work is involved. Also, in case you do not know, good public speakers do not memorise their speeches. And this is standard advice on public speaking. You should speak according to a prepared outline, but the actual speech should not be memorised, because in the course of the speech, you want the flexibility to deviate, cut short, inject a new point, respond to the audience, depending on their reactions.

DEFINITELY in court, a litigation lawyer does not memorise! This is hazardous. You need to pay attention to what the witnesses, the other lawyer, the judge etc etc are saying. You do not know what they will say, until you've heard them say it. And then you respond accordingly. To memorise a speech for court is like playing soccer without paying attention to where the other players are running to, and what they're doing.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...
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Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...
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Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

More importantly, all the thousands of hours of your life that you spent memorising substantive content in school is not terribly important to you now.

Suppose 10 years ago you memorised something about the Periodic Table in school, and for some reason you need to know it today but you've forgotten.

Well, just go to, type in the words "Periodic Table" and you will find what you need.

As you can see, you might have forgotten what you had memorised in school 10 years ago, but this is no disadvantage to you today.

To put it another way, most of the things you'd memorised in school 10 years ago ...

.... are useless. They give you no advantage to you today.

Anonymous said...

Can you please list any other books that you found helpful on this subject? My wife and I realised that since our kid arrived our memories have both failed quite badly - we forget quite a fair bit of things!

For one, I personally find it difficult to remember names of people, like immediately after that person introduce himself/herself! This is regardless of whether the name of the stranger is an English name (hence easier to remember) or a Chinese name (hence more difficult to remember).

Thanks in advance! :)

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Any of Tony Buzan's books on this topic will do fine.

For instant memory of faces & names, what you need is to create a vivid mental image that hooks the name to the face.

For example, suppose the person's name is Harry. A possible hook is to look at the person and imagine him to be very hairy (Harry). In your mind, exaggerate the image wildly, for example, such that thick hair is sprouting out of his face and chest as if he was a gorilla.

Or suppose the woman's name is Lily. You could imagine white lilies growing out of her head.

Or the person's name is Gopal. You could break it down into "Go, pal!" and imagine him loudly cheering on his friends, "Go, Pal!" at a sports stadium.

Or the person's name is Philip, and his distinctive facial feature is a flattish nose. You can imagine a Philips TV set slamming into his face, squashing the nose.

Or the person's name is Johnson. You could visualise him crawling on the floor crying like a baby. Your mental hook will then be "Johnson Baby", after the famous brand of baby products.

All of the above sound silly, but they are effective. In fact, the more absurd and ridiculous the mental imagery you create, the more easily you'll remember. It takes maybe two seconds to come up with a vivid image, but the memory will last for a long time.

Anonymous said...

(Same person) Thanks! Sounds like a page out from Ally Mcbeal :)

Anonymous said...

I now wonder why is there a need to take an exam in the first place. After all, you refer to your notes constantly. Why bother to study at all, if you can get your answers from flipping to the book or computer everytime you need info?

Is there something about memory that you have taken for granted?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...
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Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

"I now wonder why is there a need to take an exam in the first place. After all, you refer to your notes constantly. Why bother to study at all, if you can get your answers from flipping to the book or computer everytime you need info?"

In fact during my first 2 years in NUS law school, there was no such thing as open-book exams.

By my 3rd year, however, they had just begun to introduce open-book exams for some subjects.

"Open-book" literally meant that for the exam, you could bring in ANY textbooks or notes you pleased. Therefore there was really no need to memorise anything.

IMO, this format enabled students to explore the subject much more deeply and gain a deeper understanding of the subject.

A syllabus which does not require students to spend time and effort memorising the "what's" of the law will be able to require them to explore much more deeply the "why", and the "how" of the law.

For example, in the traditional format, you'd need to spend time memorising the facts of an important case; and the reasoning of the judge leading to the decision. These are the kinds of things that you'd regurgitate and get marks for.

In an open-book format, you would have read the facts and the reasoning, so you do know it. But you do not need to waste any time and energy MEMORISING the facts and the reasoning.

With the time saved, you can explore deeper questions like -

"Would there have been a different, better way to decide this case? Are there any other possible arguments which the lawyers might have raised, but did not? What really is the implication of this case, for society? How have other judges, in other countries with different laws, tackled cases with this kind of facts?"

And THESE are the kind of explorations which truly give you a deeper understanding of the law.

To give you a more concrete example, suppose you had to study the law of defamation in the "memory required" format.

Considerable time and effort would be spent memorising the detailed facts of the LKY vs FEER; LKY versus JBJ; LKY vs Tang Liang Hong cases; and the detailed legal reasoning in each case. So much time and effort is required to do this, that there's little space for anything else.

But if you didn't have to spend time MEMORISING all those things, you would be able to explore the law of defamation much more deeply. Ultimately your understanding of the law would be much more profound. For example, with the time saved (by not having to memorise), you could explore questions like:

"Would there have been a different, better way to decide this case? .... What really is the implication of this case, for free speech & politics in Singapore? How have other judges, in other countries with different laws, tackled cases with this kind of facts? How might the law of defamation be improved in Singapore? How might it develop in the future?"

But if the syllabus requires you to spend a lot of time just MEMORISING lots of facts and judges' reasoning, then you will have no (or very little) time to explore the kind of deeper questions I have listed above.

Anonymous said...

Agreed,Law is flexible one. Programming is an art too.
let say I don't memorized PHP4 (for a web developer) or the Assembly code (Instruction set for say 80x86 Chipset) because Technology evolve just like the current laws and fashion.The difference in in the speed and the acceptance level.
The trend now in IT is more leaning toward the mastery of Scripting language and VM (ie cloud computing need to know basis like say some company like Yahoo/Google lah).
The Thing is We must know What is needed to get the job done.:)
PS sadly Our imports (not all) can only wayang and curry the boss favour so too bad lor.
In the end if People Who know What they are doing Got Fed, Up with progress (for you know who) And Decided that the country that export our import have better salary(Tar man and say cannot raise one), job satisfaction and lower cost of living guess where they will go lah.

Arkaine said...


I've recently stumbled upon your blog (and I wish I had found it much earlier), and I have to say you're a great writer!

Memory-work in school is definite over-valued. Personally the subjects which I managed to understand I fared so much better in simply because it became second nature, as compared to grinding memory work.

Like how they taught Chinese. I'm quite dismayed now because a large majority of people my age who scored As back in school...don't actually know how to speak Chinese. Actual speakers like me were greatly penalized because I just couldn't remember which word to plug into what sentence. I'm not even going to get started on memorizing compositions.

Anonymous said...

I took chinese at Alevels (not the AO level, the one you have to take if you didnt score well enough for chinese at O level), meaning that i had to memorise poems after poems, texts after texts, and like you mentioned in the previous post about having to remember word for word in MacBeth, i had to remember my chinese texts *ideally* wrod for word as well.

often, i was penalised for not being able to quote accurately *or regurtitate in ur terms* the whole sentence in the text when needed. IMO, when you are handling disciplines that involve inference like literature, law, psychology, sociology, it is more effective to have an open book exam, because instead of spending time trying to recall something you can get by just looking at the text, you give better quality answers that include your opinions etc.

when dealing with "scientific" disciplines, eg math, in some exams you're given a formula booklet. which IMO, is more effective in the exam because the exam tests you on ur ability to apply the correct formula to the correct problem. but unfortunately... most exams test your ability to memorise rather than your ability to apply. even up to university. i'm doing a degree in economics and management, while the exams do test your ability to apply, you will first have to memorise theories after theories and quotes after quotes of management theories in order to even pass the exam.

Anonymous said...

There is a very interesting article in "TODAY" - In Australia, high school students will be able "telephone a friend, surf the internet and listen to podcast during exam"


“In their working lives they will never need to carry enormous amounts of information around in their heads. What they’ll need to do is access information form all their sources quickly and to check the reliability of their information.” (Ms Coleman, teacher)

Let’s continue teaching the future leaders of Singapore that memorizing their periodic table will get them somewhere in life…

Anonymous said...

I think what you say about the stuff you memorized in school being useless today, is true only because you seem to have studied some math and science, and yet you are in the legal profession today. I had this choice in life (with an A1 in GP, most likely from memorizing essays? :p), but chose to be an engineer instead for more flexibility. And thus I found much of what I've learned in school very relevant even today.

There's nothing wrong with the education system in Singapore. The problem with too much memorization is because students can't be bothered to really understand the stuff they're taught. Surface and rote learning works for them, because this is how they're tested.

So I suggest tweaking the exam system, and put in more emphasis on application of concepts and knowledge. This will test for true understanding and intelligence. But of course, the "casualty rate" is going to be high!!! Can the economy accept this (knowing how many graduates we need to churn out per year), can MOE accept this, and more importantly, can parents accept this??

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

"I think what you say about the stuff you memorized in school being useless today, is true only because you seem to have studied some math and science, and yet you are in the legal profession today. I had this choice in life (with an A1 in GP, most likely from memorizing essays? :p), but chose to be an engineer instead for more flexibility. And thus I found much of what I've learned in school very relevant even today."

Then all the things you memorised for your GP essays are useless to you today. Thus all that time has been wasted.

If instead all that time spent memorising GP facts had instead been spent on generally improving your writing skills or speaking skills, then it's likelier that you'd derive some useful benefit today, from all that past effort.

As for your maths and science, while some of it may be directly relevant to you today, your time spent MEMORISING the formulae etc is also mostly wasted.

You really need only have known that such formulae existed; and why they exist; and how they can be applied.

Then in real life, if you needed to use such formulae, and if you had forgotten, you'd just look it up, get it, and apply it. No need for memorisation.

Mr Wang

Anonymous said...

Again, I see this "memory" thing being brought up. Why do people automatically assume that academically-related matters need to be "memorized"? BTW, I enjoy reading newspapers from young, and follow through the current affairs, read historical non-fiction stuff, etc. even until today though my job hardly requires it.

As for memorizing formulas, there's no need because with real understanding, you can derive most of them from basic principles. And in fact, some times you have to, in order to fit the unique problem that you're facing. This is what we don't test for in our exams.

Of course, derivation takes time, and depending on situation or convenience, it may be faster to just refer to electronic sources. But over-reliance on these sources is dumbing down our younger generation.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

"BTW, I enjoy reading newspapers from young, and follow through the current affairs, read historical non-fiction stuff, etc. even until today though my job hardly requires it."

Exactly. You may read historical non-fiction stuff etc, and you feel that you gain some value, even if you don't memorise it.

However if you were reading the same historical non-fiction stuff in school (ie a history textbook) you would be expected to put considerable time, effort and energy into memorising that stuff, for the sake of passing your exams.

I am saying that a lot of that time, effort and energy is in fact wasted, in that it gives you no benefit other than passing an exam.

Anonymous said...

For more detailed discussions on this important topic, see:

Singapore Kopitiam:

Vincent said...

saw this in The New Paper today. the australian school also agree that carrying lots in the students heads is irrelevant in this modern society. our education ministry is not sharp enough to recognise this fact.,23599,24211100-1242,00.html

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, would you like to comment on RBT(Right Brain Training) which is gaining popularity among parents now.

Anonymous said...

it's the ability to think, innovate, take risks, make and learn from mistakes etc that count. tat's the quality, not the quantity.

actually they all know, we all know.

I am only afraid that we CMI (cannot make it) ourselves. It will take a major major crisis for us to put away our non-clothes n step down.

We hv got to be humble abt evil ... we hv create so much evil in the system. there r just too many holes in the boat.

Some holes r called complacency, some called pride, some called denial. Look at e.g. the ERP gantry at Chinatown that is killing businesses, or look at probably the passport id system at the airport - people at the frontline probably could not take 'false positives' anymore, I mean, no system is completely reliable or is it a solution. We make rules to kill ourselves. No one wants to see all the different costs of ownership of implementing new things. It's just being so human.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Wang,

Thank you for your insightful posts, and also the recommendation of that book.

In short, this is how I see it. 1. Read the book 2, Improve memory or turn oneself into a 'genius' (or at least in the Singaporean context) 3. Halve the time required to study for GCE subjects.

And most importantly 4. Get my kids to use the surplus time to pursue other interests like playing the violin or becoming a Taekwondo champion or something.

Instead of reflecting or attacking the absurdity of route learning, I prefer to see it as something to be surmounted. In Singapore, this kind of education is a means to an end. But if one is an effective learner, he will then prevent the system from undermining the quality of his life by pursuing other interests at the same time.

I have to defend the system not because I have benefited from it as a degree holder, but because of the way in which it has benefited the country. In an industrializing nation, training or education has to be ‘deadly’ efficient, much like how competency is institutionalized in the military. You basically train the person for the job, and the means justify the ends, mission first.

Of course, this may sound like a myopic and irresponsible way to defend an argument, but I believe that the fact that we can be here raising questions about our educational system shows that we actually came a long way. To many, there may be many ‘ills’ in this system; but my point is that I would like to urge everyone to see it as that ‘Singapore has become a first world country with first world problems.’ This is a problem for our generation, in a world which the previous generation built for us. Or rather let’s not see it as a problem, but a challenge in which change is the only constant in the world.

Aristotle begins his treatise on metaphysics with the assertion that all human beings have the desire to acquire knowledge. We value knowledge for its own sake apart from utility. But in order to set our minds ablaze with the fires of enlightenment, we first have to carry the dim candle of utility (or functionality) to walk through the forest of knowledge.

So...Good luck to all who bought or borrowed that book to improve your memories.


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Wang

Daniel is obviously educated, non-partisan and a true representation of the Singaporean population (66.6).

Despite the fact that our "deadly" efficiency and "ends justify the means" system have produced nobody of note Outside of the First Family.

Singaporeans obviously prefer that our masters lay out the correct path with cyalume sticks,white tape,OB markers and barbed wires to herd the cattle class along the right path. Thru the forest of *approved* knowledge.

Maybe you can tie up with Popular and start recommending assessment books. bonus joke.


Anonymous said...

hi erm....'no name'

i like your analogy. that is exactly what i did way back as a recce. and thanks for the word 'stick'.

let's picture this: in the previous generation that operates via a carrot or stick convention, the carrot is actually the absence of the stick. whereas in our time where modernity (always an evolving entity) improvises or develop previous methods, the absence of the carrot is itself a stick.


Michael Ng said...

Keeping this discussion to relate back to the OP...

Memory has its uses I feel. I say this coming as a uni undergrad.

I have served internship and have found how important memory retention is. In the workplace, you can't bring your Marketing 101, Business Processes, Advanced Excel with you. I had the information all stored into my head through understanding. You can't say "Wait ah, let me Google on what to do next."

In my university, what I observe is there is two kinds of people:
1) Hard Memory (The typical burn the book and drink the ashes)

2) Real understanding through slow reading, reflections when reading news, and most importantly making sure it all makes sense.

IMO, type 1 knowledge usually does not last long, as the learner does not truly grasp the concepts. Type 2 is where the learner constantly is able to see it happen, be it in the workplace, newspapers, or even in conversations, memory retention tends to be higher but interest in the area is needed.

Sad to say, a HUGE majority takes up in 1). Students are extremely task-orientated, and would rather focus on their grades instead.

I don't blame them either as banks offer as much as $3000 per month for internship. If you are the type that pursues true knowledge, most probably you will be left with those $600 per month ones.

This doesn't apply only to internships but full time jobs as well. I am still confused at this day why large MNC's use the GPA as a filter for management trainees, when the people they are going to get are largely type 1.

As a filter, I just push off these places as companies with POOR HR and have no idea what they are looking for, so they just grab the easiest measure available. After all, I don't want to end up in a working place filled with people who cant even apply anything they learnt. All their money spent in tertiary education was just to get that piece of paper.

I am no psychology professor, but I have tried both methods and these are my observations. I might be myopic, due to my lack of real world experience, but these are my 2 cents about it.

Is this true in the Singaporean workplace? Do people really carry the knowledge and skills their papers claim to be?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

When you start working, you will learn new, valuable things.

When you change jobs, you will learn new, valuable things too.

It's called "job experience".

After a while, what you learned in school becomes much less important than what you learned at work.

.... Then suddenly, one fine day, you will discover that no one ever made you MEMORISE things at work. You learned so many important things, and yet your boss never said, "You must MEMORISE this, I will test you and see if you can RECALL all this material by heart."

By that time, you will understand that real-life learning has nothing to do with rote learning.

And you will understand since school emphasises rote learning so much, then clearly school did little to prepare you for real-life learning.

Anonymous said...

I think criticisms to this system will come from 1. those who did not benefit from it 2. those who did but at great price 3. I have absolutely no idea.

Let's look at it this way. The Singapore education system is like our M16's. Affectionately known as 'wife or girlfriend' to us during our time in NS but one wonders how many of us are actually happy in this forced marriage. I am not saying that people are coerced into National Service, what I meant was everyone gets a 'standard issued' weapon; but it doesn’t really work for everyone, when I say that I meant how one likes or dislikes the weapon. Yet its functionality is undisputed in war, it works (albeit too well if one traces the chronology of the weaponry since its inauguration in the 60’s). And it is the instrument, at least on a personal level, which had defended the country for the past 40 years. Of course newer weapons are introduced, but it is quite hard to phrase out something that is still functional. Slowly, but it has to be steadily, for fear that the dismantling of structures in a wholesale way will cause severe repercussions. Patience my friends….

My philosophy of teaching or learning is in the empowerment of the individual. In the sense that student needs to be encouraged to muster fortitude and confidence. It is only when that is achieved that brilliance can be nurtured. Because in the face of seemingly abstract and confounding syllabuses, the mind can only defeat what it perceives surmountable. Also a teacher’s role is to guide his students through a whole forest of ignorance and that is not an easy feat, it is about guiding the student from perceiving what is apparently foreign in a seemly alien world, into things they can conceptualize and come to terms with. In this way, the acquiring of knowledge of the mechanism or philosophy of the world will not confound the student, but instead, becomes apparatus for them to achieve excellence.

This debate will not end so long as there are people who are not beneficiaries of it. I think I wouldn’t want to go into the discussion of the presence of structural inequalities in all societies; that would be a discussion beyond this thread. In fact if one can answer that he or she would’ve been in the UN.

But good luck to students who are sitting for the exams. Sometimes, the doctrine of luck and hope can do wonders. While all these confusing debates carry on, it is best to leave our children to focus on their learning, and leave them out of the perplexities of adulthood – one of which is to define their childhood.


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Actually I think that the most cogent criticisms to the system will come from those rare individuals who went through it and yet retained an ability to think critically.

It is often said that the failings of the system is that it produces too many Singaporeans who cannot think critically; do not know how to speak up; and only blindly follow the rules book.

Ironically, it's because the system produces so many such Singaporeans that the system is able to survive.

Michael Ng said...

Indeed, I do agree to Mr Wang to a certain extent that Singaporeans seem to lack either analytical skills, or the effort to think twice.

I do not however think it is due to the education system. Hong Kong's education system is as rote -based as ever, even more than Singapore. A quick example would be the humongous amounts of tuition centers, aimed at "acing" exams, and not actual learning. Yet, Hong Kong (university) students have proven to me that they are socially aware of politics and events, even beyond their country, and are able to exhibit clear lines of thought, although their English language is not as strong.

Despite Singaporeans complain about the government and many facets of life, I, as a migrant from Hong Kong, feel that Singapore is a great place to live. Too great, in a way. The government starts off with clear lines of effort and reward.

You mug, you get results, you get into a good school. You play more cca, get cca points, you get into a good school. You go into bioscience, you will have a great future (provided you make it into Astar). You invest into X, this is will grow well. The government policies shows very clear lines of initiatives of what to do, and what you can get from them. You pay X amount, you get a "floor to floor" lift upgrade.

I find that generally Singaporeans seem to be less involved in things that do not matter to them, or at least have no apparent value. "Sports Fiesta? Does it increase my GPA? Does it network me with high management in banks? No? No thanks."

I would say it is because Singaporeans have been living a very good life(at least the new generation). People seemed to be toned to extrinsic rewards and always overlook the intrinsic value. "Yes, joining the ABC club would network you with mangament of XYZ, but do you actually have interest in its causes?"

Singaporeans' apparent lack of analytical thinking might be due to that they have been tuned to taking things on the surface that they do not bother to ask again.

In Hong Kong, it is pretty bad as a business owner, or to be working there. The level of competition is pretty high, and you have to be really thinking on your feet to surive. Kids have been brought up to be wary of tricks, cons, gangs, or even "wives" from mainland who came to trick their HK husbands' money. Not to forget all the "fake foods" from China. The government had been wrong at times(especially during Tung's era), and since then people always think twice because they don't have a single shred of faith in people running the show. Suddenly your school's main language of teaching will change to English, then Mandrin, then mixed, then back to English. Everything from markets to politics is volatile, and no one takes it for granted. This makes everyone stand on their toes, and if they miss the metaphorical train, they miss the train. You simply can't complain and cry foul. Lobbying still happens, but people have started to learn to move on and stop crying, or that they are just in it for the money.

I hope Singaporean schools should start teaching Analytical skills (A=B, B=C, A=C?) earlier on in the education, and to read more papers from abroad. I have suffered pretty much 12 years here only to see what i have missed after entering uni, which I am glad that they have the course.