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The BGST Difference

Reflections by Dr Quek Swee Hwa on  

“Is the SMU difference for real?" by Alvin Pang, 
in the Straits Times, Thursday, July 15, 2004.

This week's "Good Books" is not a book, but just some reflections on a Straits Times article to prod all  burdened for BGST to engage in prayerful reflection concerning the raison d' être of BGST. My hope and prayer is that we can all work strenuously and strategically toward the attainment of the 'product' we are trying to achieve at BGST. I would love to hear your comments (Dr Quek,  

I need to enter a caveat at the outset, lest it be misunderstood that I am trying to be arrogant or to run down our sister Bible schools in Singapore with whom we wish to maintain a cordial and complementary relationship. Our sister institutions have beautiful campuses, libraries, and a dedicated and competent faculty and staff. We wish them well and hope that we can all together be committed to the faithful teaching of God’s Word and the truths contained in it. Please remember, “different” does not necessarily mean “better”. Each school is different. What is distinctive about BGST? Do regard this week’s sharing as the musings of a Dean who knows all too well the imperfections of BGST but who also believes firmly that so long as we get our bearings right from God, and stick closely to our Mission, we cannot and shall not go wrong.

What’s the reason then for having BGST? Is there a surfeit of Bible schools in Singapore? What makes us different from other schools? Like the Singapore Management University (see below), we strive as the “new kid in the block” to match the training given in the more established schools, both locally and abroad. But first, our “education delivery” will differ somewhat in certain courses where we will constantly employ new ways of teaching, revamping courses to bring them in line with the needs of the laity – without losing the quality. Our lecturers are fellow learners with our students, who are allowed, within reason and within the terms of our accreditation with the Asia Theological Association, to have a say in what kind of assignments they can submit, etc. Our course scheduling allows students the flexibility of choosing to follow traditional ‘live’ classes. Where desired, students may pursue their studies largely (though not entirely) through private study, with a strong tutorial component. That enables those who need to hold on to a salaried position to combine work with studies. It is by no means easy, but many of our graduates have shown that this is possible. You will have to “taste and see” this for yourself to understand and believe that our courses are really different and distinctive. Second, our curriculum. Sometimes we will craft and customize courses to fit special needs of our students. Within the limits of a tight curriculum, our students can choose from a wide selection of elective subjects. The majority of our students exemplify the spirit that we wish to inculcate, namely, lifelong learning. For these we have about 80 courses that are available! We endeavour to uphold the best standard of scholarship and our students know that we go extra miles to help them reach the requisite standard. We see the study of biblical languages as a sine qua non to biblical studies and we continue to buck the trend of either removing or diluting the study of Biblical Greek and Hebrew. Third, we want our students to ‘think outside the box’.  That means that when they are dealing with the meaning of a biblical text, they should always keep in mind the context and background of the Bible. When studying an event in biblical or church history, they should set it against its religious, intellectual, social, economic, and political milieu. When trying to understand a theological or philosophical point they will ask not only “first-order questions” (what?) but also “second-order questions” (Why?). That often entails clarifying and re-clarifying a question before attempting to give an answer. We are not afraid to question our faith because we are certain about what must not be altered and which matters can be regarded as theologically indifferent (e.g., adiaphora issues like the Millennium). We adopt a healthy skepticism, shy away from easy-believism, and are uncomfortable and dissatisfied with conventional answers that do not explore an issue sufficiently. We encourage our students to open up their minds, explore uncharted territory and think within the bounds of our biblical moorings. 

It is our prayer and fervent hope that our students will sit lightly on their learning as they humble themselves before our loving, wise and righteous God who expects from some of us academic excellence and from all of us nothing less than our very best efforts, even though we may not all attain the best results. May  all at BGST, lecturers and students alike, honour God in their life and acknowledge that all knowledge gained is never personal, as “feathers in our caps”, but is to be shared freely with the rest of Body of Christ because in a very real sense all knowledge is communal. Soli deo gloria!


Is the SMU difference for real? (by Alvin Pang)


THE pioneering cohort of Singapore Management University (SMU) graduates will face their real test as they enter the job market in the coming months.

 Can they convince potential employers that their hard-earned qualifications – a much vaunted American-style liberal education from a university still in its infancy – can match those from more established institutions, both locally and abroad?

 By every indication, the odds are on their side. The batch of students who accelerated their course and graduated earlier secured employment within a month of graduating. The economic recovery is no doubt a factor. But SMU students have also earned their reputation for being articulate, confident, out-of-the-box thinkers – and it’s not just marketing hype about being “different”.

 As an occasional guest at classes over the years, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the attentiveness and open-mindedness of the average SMU student. They demonstrated a refreshing knack of engaging with the topic at hand, even when the material ventured into the esoteric, be it Greek tragedy, Filipino erotic literature or blues music. And yes, they were outspoken, probing, earnestly interested in the unfamiliar and its possibilities.

 This willingness to tease out value from the seemingly tangential is a recurrent trait at SMU. Apart from the core business curriculum, students must take elective courses in both the arts and sciences – which may include such diverse fields as creative thinking, art, politics and biology.

 Two weeks ago, I was invited to an accountancy conference organised by the SMU. It featured activities least likely to be associated with double-entry bookkeeping – cultural performances, poetry readings, even a creative writing workshop.

 Of course the fashionable business rationale for these “soft” events was to provide “insights into the workplace and the processes of social organisation”. Yet these were by all accounts well-attended and well-received sessions, not token “feel good” efforts.



SMU takes in candidates from relatively diverse educational backgrounds, applying admissions criteria that leans famously towards the unconventional (one interview question goes: “If Singapore goes totally ‘dry’, how will you find laughter in what you do?”).

 Some might expect more gravitas in a university – as would likely be the case in traditional faculties such as law and medicine. Yet such risk-taking, breadth and even playfulness is entire appropriate for a private institution geared towards developing a new generation of managers and entrepreneurs – equipped to translate today’s niche ideas into tomorrow’s business opportunity. It’s a design feature, not a bug, as some IT pros might put it.

 Being able to move easily from one domain to another, says Associate Professor Kirpal Singh from SMU’s humanities faculty and author of creativity guide Thinking Hats And Colored Turbans, is an asset in dealing with the “larger sensibilities” of society and the new global environment.

 It’s a view long shared by experts around the world. Economists Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane even suggest in their recent book, The New Division Of Labour, that job skills involving complex communication and adaptive, multi-disciplinary thinking are going to be the most valuable and least likely to be outsourced to lower-cost centres.

 Students I spoke to had the same eye to the big picture, and were nonchalantly confident about their own prospects. “I didn’t come to SMU only to get a job,” declares Mr Taresh Dhawan, a third-year business student from India. Instead, he’s acquired, at a fraction of the cost, a “comparable quality of education” to that in the United States, with plenty of face-time with professors and opportunities for development.

 Mr Dhawan, who is vice-president of SMU’s Student Association, is dismissive of the notion that SMU graduates are necessarily a class apart – they too have their share of quiet ones. Still, he thinks there’s a higher percentage of those with “special qualities” in SMU than other institutions and believes the SMU environment “makes it easier for students to develop in such a manner”.

 What does he think about Singapore in general? The sore lack of “outliers”, or individuals who buck behavioural trends to do their own thing. There’s “too much pressure to conform”, he feels.



IT’S less of a problem among SMU graduates, it seems. Like many of them, finance and marketing graduate Amelia Quek waited for the right job fit instead of jumping at the first offer – and they apparently get to cherry pick from the best firms. Ms Quek now works for financial giant JP Morgan.

 Several others, like Chinese national Zhou Bing, are proudly self-employed.

 “We have to look beyond boundaries,” asserts marketing major Elfarina Mohammed Zaid, who wants to apply business management skills to the fashion industry.

 Sure, there’s no silver bullet to nurturing the outliers, trendsetters and entrepreneurs we will need to get ahead in the next wave of growth, whatever our business. But, speaking as a prospective employer, I’d be inclined to look at an SMU graduate first. Assuming they aren’t all already snapped up. Enterprising candidates know how to get in touch.

[The writer works in the IT sector and has no affiliation whatsoever with SMU].


Last Wednesday (7 July) during Chapel, Dr John Lim spoke from Jn. 2:1-11 on the topic, “The Transforming Business.” Using the miracle of our Lord’s turning of the water into wine, Dr Lim shared that our Lord Jesus is in the transforming business; the transforming of the lives of men and women into God’s image. This “business” has been passed on to us, His disciples. We are to share the Gospel, the greatest miracle of all!

Chapel speaker on 21 July will be Mr Kua Wee Seng.


Tea with Tze: “How I wrote my Thesis”
Come & listen to Mr Quek Tze-Ming on  July 28,
3-5pm , Rm 302. Please call Admin Office at Tel: 63538071 if you are coming.


Budget for the month of Jul 2004 = $  36,926

Funds received to-date                = $  37,516

Surplus for Jul 2004                    = $       590 

Budget for Jul - Dec 2004            = $ 308,661

Building Fund update on 16 July 2004

A Blessed Birthday to ...


Dr Toh See Kiat  20/7

Mr Collin See  21/7

Mr Pierre Fong  22/7

Mdm Dawn Yap  23/7

Rev Dr Yap Kim Sin  24/7

Rev Philip Soh  24/7

Ms Eunice Tham  25/7


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This page is updated on 21 July 2004. 
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