Satinder Singh, a surprise British entry in the Forbes Rich List and a dollar billionaire at 34, says he attributes his success to the ‘B’ grade he achieved in his A Level general studies exam at 18.
‘Like many entrepreneurs, I never particularly excelled at school, with its excessive structure and discipline,’ said Mr Singh from his yacht in Puerto Banus, ‘but general studies was different. Teachers and kids alike treated it as a massive skive, and judging by my grade, so did the examiners.’
He said the lack of formality really inspired him, while the discussions and arguments fired his imagination. ‘When I sat the exam I was completely unprepared for the questions, but I just trotted out some arguments for and against and it seemed to go OK. The result impressed someone enough to give me a job where I could develop my ideas and I never looked back.’
In an effort to give something back, Mr Singh is seeking to have general studies made compulsory in schools from the age of five. When asked if that wouldn’t just lead to people lounging around giving unfounded opinions, he said, ‘Yes, and that’s exactly what made Britain such a great centre for innovation.
‘OK, so we led the world in science for a couple of centuries, and this led to increased maritime dominance and the great feats of civil and mechanical engineering that made the industrial revolution possible, but then it was back to the buccaneering “up yours” spirit of earlier times.’
Mr Singh said it was because of the general studies attitude that Britain had given the world all the sports worth playing and a multitude of TV show formats, as well as the bagless vacuum cleaner.
When told that the major political parties had taken his ideas on board and were outlining plans to establish a detailed syllabus and train some of the finest minds to teach the subject, Mr Singh said, ‘They just don’t get it, do they? You timetable it, you get the laziest teachers to run it, and you hope the kids turn up occasionally. Anything more is overkill.’