The Phasing-Out Of Venice In The Social Studies Curriculum: No More Lessons To Be Learnt?, pp. 6 of 16

Singapore had its fair share of economic crises at the turn of the 20th to 21st centuries (1997, 2001, 2007).[v] An important reason why Singapore was more exposed to the reverberations of the economic cycles was accrued to its relatively small size; making it more susceptible to global forces. Linda Low (2006, pp. 423-432) updates of the various committees to tackle the economic developments and crises of the nation. The Singapore21 Committee (formed in 1998) was supposed to “establish the mechanism for civic participation and nation-building in the new millennium.” The Economic Review Committee (formed 2001) was formed to “tackle the cyclical and structural matters [the economy faced] and turning point in the reinvention of Singapore’s government-made model.” The Remaking Singapore Committee “deliberated on the political and social strategies on a softer ground” to relax some of the regulations legalizing the social arena. As the committees debated and strove to meet the challenges, the dilemmas of the 1990s through the first decade of 2000s persist. These are: 1. how far is it desirable for a corrupt-free but less transparent government to helm the economy?;[vi] 2. to what extent was smaller size and decentralisation strengths in the new economy?; 3. which (new) industries to focus on?’ 4. how far should citizens (young and aged) expect to be employed in the new economy or participate in the consultative process of the country’s development?[vii]

Linking to the issues discussed on Venice, 1) the increasing inter-dependence between global economic forces, state-owned investment institutions and citizenry have in the recent years before the 2015 elections saw increased voices and greater demands for accountability on for instance, investment of the sovereign state funds, of which the Central Provident Fund (CPF) is closely linked. The government will certainly have to find a more diversified and amenable channel to communicate to its populace. Having complete transparency however is an issue that the leadership of Venice would not agree on either. This is taking into account that Venice was not a modern day democracy. The argument rests on the premises that full consultation engenders a certain degree of loss of efficiency and that popular sentiments do not always represent the best path of development for a state or economy because these are necessarily self-gratifying on the contemporary time scale. Elsewhere, R. King, who drew from P. Krugman’s work and citing from tabloids, raises the question whether a corrupt-free government always translated into greater efficiency. At a time when Venice was faced with severe fiscal and debt problems, an experienced senator in the person of Giovanni Francesco de Priuli came forward to propose using part of the reserves the inhabitants of Venice save to pay off some of the debt on a regular basis, this would “free [the city’s] revenues from the [heavy burden] of interest payments.” The reform faced strong oppositions and was not easy to convince because the calculation involving the scheme was not obvious to the layman or even experienced businessman (Documentary History, 1992, p. 162). 2) Given the political instability experienced by Venice from the end of 18th century, the city-state might be able to put up another round of fight if the major area of economic focus had not shifted from the Mediterranean to Northern Europe and the Atlantic. Overall, the outlook for small states did not bode well in the 19th century. While Holland continued to thrive for some time more, many city-states in Central Europe became united under a larger state. If Singapore is not able to continue to carve a niche for itself, King predicts three scenarios for Singapore: a hotel Singapore society, a society of discontent and political change, and a consortium society (King, 2006). One of these outcomes is not too different from what Venice’s contemporary plight is today.

The Venetian government was of the opinion that its people had become ‘soft’ and lost certain skills that made them prosperous (resonating challenges 3. and 4. facing Singapore). “The opinion of many is that [Venice] cannot long continue [their prosperity in trade] because they (the people of Venice) have changed their manners. Their former course of life was merchandising; they [now] look landward buying houses and lands… they won’t send their sons upon galleys into the Levant to accustom them to navigation and trade [but] send them to travaile to learn [to be] more of a gentleman than a merchant” (Documentary History, 1992, pp. 27-29). As a result, some of things banned in the city included banquets as well as trivialities such as the wearing of pearls (Documentary History, 1992, pp. 166-169). In the new economy of the 21st century, the education in Singapore continues to stress on science, business and vocational learning although new courses catering to the production of luxuries are also increasingly seen in course offerings. A more commercialised society inevitably increased the material inequality between different groups of people in the city. A particular apprentice in the printing industry in Venice recounted the place he stayed in the squalid lodgings in the city as “the most wretched room in the whole town, and the worst company, and [he] suffered the worst discomfort in the world.” His hard coarse bed was refuge to “an army of bedbugs and a mob of fleas”, his roommate (separated by a board partition in the room) was sickly and gave off a stench, and the canals below also gave off a stinking smell (Documentary History, 1992, pp. 181-182). Venice increasingly relied on its charity and self-help organisations to ameliorate the problem of inequality in the city (Sim, 2014). For those who have gravitated to the fringes of society or fallen through the cracks in Singapore, the responsibility in taking care of them is shared between the government and the self-help organisations.

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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