Monday 29 October 2012

National dialogue to zoom in on themes

Ideas raised so far will be grouped to give sessions more depth, says Lawrence Wong
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2012

The national conversation on Singapore's future will soon shift gears, with sessions that zoom in on broad themes taking place as early as next month.

The announcement - made yesterday by Senior Minister of State (for Education, and for Information, Communications and the Arts) Lawrence Wong - comes amid concerns that the discussions so far have lacked focus.

Speaking to reporters at a session at the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre yesterday, he said that the ideas raised so far will be grouped into themes for deeper conversations starting next month or in December.

"By organising them in a more thematic fashion, you can have richer and more focused discussions," he said.

He added that citizen dialogues have thus far been deliberately kept open-ended so as to solicit as many views as possible.

He stressed, however, that having themes was not about "filtering out ideas".

"It's really about moving from a very organic, open, sort of unstructured process, starting to cluster the ideas, starting to put them into broad themes and then going a little more in-depth into these themes," he said.

At the end of the session, Mr Wong identified education as one likely theme. The issue had dominated discussions among the 50 participants, who included students, businessmen and professionals.

Some felt the current system was too stressful, and that parents were still overly focused on grades.

One woman spoke about how her nephew, returning home after his mathematics exam, lamented that it was "very easy... very easy to fail". "Do we need to make learning so difficult at such a young age?" she asked.

Others felt that the education system added to the social divide and called for a greater mix of students from different streams.

To show the sort of social pressures children face, one group put up a skit involving two girls from different schools, with one boasting about her iPhone 5 and overseas holidays.

"We think it's worrying that it's starting at a younger age in society," said a group member.

Asked to give a newspaper headline describing the future Singapore, another group wrote: "ITE grad helms Education Ministry." They argued that people should not be boxed into stereotypes based on their educational level.

And just as in the session last week, yesterday's participants spent a lot of time talking about values and the Singapore soul.

Participants also brought up issues such as being an inclusive society and not focusing overly on economic development.

While wrapping up the 31/2-hour session, Mr Wong said he was very excited to see the energy in the group.

He also took the opportunity to address Singapore's focus on economic development in the past, saying that it arose from the circumstances at the time, one in which "our parents and grandparents worked hard together and brought us to where we are today".

Observing that some of the participants had talked about competition and meritocracy in "not so positive terms", he reminded them that these traits were the foundation of Singapore's success.

"Maybe we have gone overboard in some of these areas... So we need to recalibrate. We should certainly think through what are the fundamentals we should preserve."

The session had its lighter moments as well. One group suggested that National Day be replaced by a Singapore Day that celebrates local culture, and Universal Studios opened up to everyone for free, so that people from all levels could mingle with one another.

For Madam Zunaidah Shahul Hamid, 48, who works in a charity, it was the discussion on education that hit home.

Said the mother of two girls, aged eight and 10: "Our group had three mothers. We all spoke about values as a compass in a world that is uncertain."

By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2012

Senior Minister of State Lawrence Wong hopes the Workers' Party (WP) will reconsider its decision to have its leaders sit out the current phase of Our Singapore Conversation.

He said this yesterday when asked about a comment by WP chairman Sylvia Lim.

Ms Lim told The Straits Times on Thursday that the citizen dialogue sessions were "better served without the presence of WP leaders, who would be assumed to represent the party even if invited as individuals".

Said Mr Wong: "She has stated her view, and I would just like to reiterate what I said earlier that what we are doing here is really having a conversation...

"No one has a monopoly of wisdom, everyone comes in as an individual, contributing his view and every view is important because every view matters... I would certainly encourage the Workers' Party to reconsider their position and consider whether they will participate in this process as well."

Ms Lim was one of three opposition politicians who were invited to the first official session last weekend. WP's MP for Hougang Png Eng Huat and National Solidarity Party secretary-general Hazel Poa were invited too. None attended, but Ms Poa intends to go next month.

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