Saudis Urged to Reform Mindset
By Raid Qusti, Arab News
Singaporean Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew delivers his keynote speech at the 2nd Global Competitiveness Forum in Riyadh on Tuesday. (AN photo)
Saudis need to change their mindset and gradually change to a knowledge-based society in a way which would not affect the social structure of the country, Singaporean Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said here yesterday.
“You have to move from a Bedouin culture into the modern world…you have to move to a knowledge society,” he said.
Lee said the Kingdom should seize the opportunity by transferring its oil wealth into a knowledge-based society. “You have this opportunity now. How do you transform this wealth into a knowledge-based people that would be able to sustain a very high level of life long after the oil age? That is your challenge.”
A humble leader whose vision helped reshape Singapore into a modern country today inspired crowds of locals and internationals at his keynote speech at the 2nd Global Competitiveness Forum (GCF).
He said the main challenge for his nation in the past was transforming less educated Singaporeans from the Malay origin, who were lesser educated among other ethnic groups, into modern people by intermingling them and also cementing the eagerness to learn and acquire knowledge. “Motivation was deeply engraved in the culture,” he stressed.
Making a comparison between his countrymen in the past and Saudis, he said Saudis living in villages would have to be intermingled with the mainstream to overcome this problem.
Asked by a local businesswoman in the female section how Saudis could learn from the Singaporean education experience, he emphasized the importance of quality education and the importance of thinking. He also said that parents should not suppress their children.
“It all starts through the inquiring mind ‘why?’,” he pointed out. “When your child asks you why, you should not tell him ‘because I said so’. But try to explain to him. And then he’ll ask the next question: ‘Why is that?’ That is human progress,” he said to the applause of the crowd.
The Singaporean education system is focus on the fact that not all people are meant to be Harvard, MIT, or Cambridge graduates, due to the differences in human capabilities and interests. A certain child might not be good in mathematics, but could have a certain talent in playing a musical instrument. The focus should be given on his ability to develop his talents. “The intellectual stimuli must be there… the social stimuli must be there,” he said.
Asked about whether the Kingdom should focus on developing industries that focus on oil and gases, or on other sectors during this stage, the minister said: “If I were born a Saudi. And I was given the question ‘What should I do?’ I would ask myself ‘What makes me relevant to the rest of the world?’ Not my sand. Not my camels. Not my dates. But my oil. And that’s a scarce resource. So let’s not waste it.”
He also stressed the importance of not wasting oil wealth, since scientific research has proven that it is a scarce resource. “There are certain things that you must require for oil: land transportation, air transportation, and new discoveries… I would pull away from industries which extract oil for cheap energy,” he said. “You have large reserves and those reserves can attract business to you. It’s how you manage those reserves. You’re not going to build new cities all the time. You will have to learn to invest them worldwide.”
Saudis, he said, should focus on industries which they would be willing to go into where locals could do things themselves.
He suggested that Saudis be sent abroad to learn and then return to take control of job positions where foreigners would be phased out.
[Any knowledge society would be enhanced if male and female students were given equal opportunities to thrive both educationally and vocationally.]
Arab News, January 23, 2008