Monday 24 September 2012

Post-Rally forum focuses on values of the young

Participants also worry about declining use of Mandarin among younger Singaporeans
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 23 Sep 2012

Concerns about civic and moral values and fluency in the Chinese language dominated a Mandarin dialogue on the National Day Rally yesterday.

But the two ministers chairing the session gently reminded the audience that the Government cannot tackle such issues alone.

In his Rally speech last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hoped that Singapore could have a "bigger heart". In his Mandarin speech, he also emphasised the need to preserve traditions, including Chinese culture.

These themes resurfaced during yesterday's 90-minute dialogue, organised by government feedback unit Reach and Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao. The 200 participants included Lianhe Zaobao readers and Reach contributors.

Of the 23 speakers, four asked if the right values were being taught to the young, with one Mandarin teacher lamenting that "many parents themselves don't seem to know what moral values are".

Others worried that younger Singaporeans no longer spoke Mandarin and were at risk of becoming monolingual.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing acknowledged the concerns, but noted that they are not the sole responsibilities of either the Government or schools.

Elders should set good examples for the young, said Mr Gan. "Our values, for most of us, came from our parents."

Similarly, the Government cannot mandate the use of Mandarin at home, for instance. What it can do is create more opportunities for speaking the language. In this, the community and the media can help by organising Mandarin activities, he added.

Other participants spoke about their worries over health-care costs and their desire to help immigrants integrate. One participant suggested a tribunal to resolve disputes between locals and foreigners.

In his closing remarks, Mr Chan said he was heartened that many participants were concerned with questions of values and identity - issues that will still be important in the decades ahead.

In the face of globalisation and the lure of economic opportunities elsewhere, Singapore's largest challenge is in strengthening its sense of national identity, he said.

"We can't just rely on economic success to keep people. More importantly, we need a consensus, so their hearts will remain," he said.

"If most people say 'No matter whether Singapore's economy is doing well or doing badly, I'll stay here'... then we have succeeded."

Both ministers described yesterday's dialogue as just the first step.

Said Mr Gan: "It's a long journey. It's not as if, at a single dialogue, we'll suddenly reach a consensus and know how our future Singapore will be."

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