Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Learning world history

My wife and I bought a series of sixteen comics for learning world history again. They are mainly published for high school students who are learning world history. My wife didn't like the subject in high school, but now she admits the importance of the subject and wants to study it again, as fun as possible. On the other hand, I liked world history very much and got the No.1 result in my grade a few times, but I have forgotten some parts of the subject and have lost comprehensive understandings. We searched for the comic series on the Internet auction and have now got them.

I can say that the comics are good works - comprehensive, keeping ethnic equality, authentically re-creating pictures, (For instance, in* the chapter of the Middle Ages of Europe, pigs are described like wild boars. It is true that pigs weren't as we know them today.) My wife and I enjoyed them and I recall studying world history in high school.

At that time, Japanese World history curriculum had three characteristics that I don't think they were appropriate. First, it was attached too much importance to Europe and China. Yes, our history and culture are much influenced by these areas, but I feel it was too much emphasis. To my eyes, (not based on statistics) the ratio of study of Europe to China to Middle East to the others is 40 to 40 to 15 to 5.

Second, learning to pass the examinations of both high school's regular tests and universities' entrance examinations was by rote very tedious. (It seems that these conditions still remain.) Questions on these tests were like history-maniac's quiz. For example: "What is the main religion of the country in which Auschwitz Concentration Camp of Nazi?" Answer: Catholic (from a basic level exam - the preliminary standard college entrance exam) "In the beginning of the 20th century, at a concert hall in Paris, a tune was released. Listening to the beginning part of music, the audience laughed it to scorn, got angry, and fought. What is the title of the tune?" Answer: The Rite of Spring (by Stravinsky) (from an entrance exam of a high level) I'm not surprised that many students hate these subjects.

Third, teachers and students tend to omit contemporary or 20th century history. In my opinion, contemporary history is the most important part of world history, because the purpose of learning history is to know the past mistakes and to not relive them. The contemporary history section was the last part of the curriculum and not adequate long. In addition, this period was also the period of the most critical exam, the college entrance exam. For above reasons, teachers find it difficult to teach contemporary history and students accepted that.

As mentioned above, the world history program has some problems. However, I like the subject. The source of my curiosity and indispensable fundament of understanding the contemporary world is that the dynamism of world history - the prosperity and decline of many groups and how it affected. I realize then why I enjoy the world history comic series.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Singapore - their Housing Development policy

A friend of mine wrote an article about Singapore on his blog after traveling there. His stay was short, only 10 hours during transit, but his impression was good. The reasons why he was impressed are as follows: the nation is clean, well-disciplined, good natured people, and coexistence several religions. My impression of this nation is similar to his. I went to Singapore in Oct. 2001. I enjoyed the people's high energy and a feeling of safety but they were not impolite and bold.

As you know, Singapore is very small (632.6 square km: less than half of Greater London, two-thirds of New York City) and is very poor in natural resources - even water is imported. I wonder how such a "weak" country has developed and has surpassed (now almost equal) the GDP per person of the U.K. which is the suzerain of the country. After I read several books and webpages, I began to think the source of Singapore development is based on their excellent policy, in particular, of the first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. He and his partner's political actions are usually praised, but sometimes blamed as "development dictatorship" from limited freedom of press and expression, and so on. However, I am convinced that excellent brains and clear decisions mainly contributed to be survival and development of Singapore. (Now I am reading the autobiography of Lee Kwan Yew "The Singapore Story". It contains about 1,000 pages so I have not been able to finish reading it.)

At the comments and responses on my friend's blog, I am interested in their housing policy. Since achieving autonomy in 1959, the Singapore government held up their housing development as one of the highest priorities because of the low level of its citizen's lives (the jobless rate: 13.5%, living at poverty level: one forth of the population) and the people's ethnic groups, which might be a source of conflicts. HDB, a.k.a. the Housing Development Board was established in 1960 to solve these problems. I take more interest in the latter problem than the former.

HDB has two main programs for the problem of ethnic group concentration. The first, "Ethnic group mix program" is to make the ratio of ethnic residents as many as the ratio of ethnic groups all over Singapore. The tour guide who I traveled Singapore with said that HDB even locates each room of residents mixed in ethnic ratio, for instance, Chinese, Malayan, Indians and others... But I couldn't confirm this topic in any books or on websites I've read.

The second one is "Moving to a new flat" program, in the 1970s, the government was forced to expropriate some ethnic zones by law, with monetary compensation of 10,000 Singapore Dollars) and moved residents to HDB flats. These two programs resolved ethnic groups and reset them up as "Singaporean", the base of a multiracial nation.

HDB flats

HDB flats (Oct. 2001)

Now, most of Singaporean people (87% of all) dwell in the flats, which are provided by HDB. Such a drastic political action is more difficult for Japan which has a population of over 120 million. Singapore only has 3 million. Nevertheless, the policy of Singapore may be good model for Japan, a country whose population is mostly made up of elderly people (about one third of all citizens is people over 65 years old.). Foreign workers are needed to come into the country to help, thus creating a more diverse atmosphere.

(For the continuation of this entry, please access to "The Singapore's way of developing human resources")