Monday 22 October 2012

Singaporeans care about values, dialogues show: Lawrence Wong

They are keen to create a kinder, more gracious society, says Lawrence Wong
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2012

When Singaporeans sit down to talk about their vision of the country's future, many focus on values such as kindness, graciousness and compassion.

This theme has emerged in dialogues since the national conversation kicked off officially a week ago, observed Senior Minister of State for Education Lawrence Wong, a member of the panel overseeing the consultative process.

"There is something that people do feel in wanting a kinder society, a more gracious society. That is one emerging thread that I've seen in the conversations that I've attended so far," he told reporters after a session with 60 young people yesterday.

Organised by the National Youth Council, it saw youth aged 16 to 25 suggesting offbeat ideas to make Singapore a happier home, many of which centred on values.

Junior college student Ang Jie, 17, suggested having dedicated days to recognise the contributions of blue-collar workers such as cleaners and construction workers, to make Singaporeans more compassionate. "This will help us better understand and appreciate what they do," she said.

Secondary 4 student Bryan Chua, 16, proposed a "spontaneity fund" to support activities that make people smile.

Others raised concerns over education issues, such as the subjects in school, exams and stress.

Concerns over values in society have featured prominently at recent dialogues where participants focused on issues like meritocracy and equality.

Yesterday, Mr Wong also attended the National Kindness Conference, where the big question was whether Singapore is a kind or unkind place.

Keynote speaker Professor Tommy Koh highlighted pluses and minuses in the way Singaporeans treat foreign workers, maids, the disabled, the elderly and pets, and participants suggested ways to make this a more gracious society.

Mr Wong noted that values had come up at both events.

While the youth session was not one of the 30 dialogues being held by the Our Singapore Conversation organisers, it was part of a series by the youth council as a ground-up initiative for the national conversation.

Some of the participants said they liked the informal setting which allowed them to fire questions freely at Mr Wong.

Sitting cross-legged on a thick futon, the incoming Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth gamely took all queries, including one from full-time national serviceman Tan Yi Hao, 19, who said what students study in school is often not useful in life.

The young man asked: "When have you used (the mathematical formulae) integration and differentiation in your work?"

Mr Wong replied right away: "Never." He added later that he had to work with economic models in the earlier part of his career, but not now.

The NSF told The Sunday Times that the question had just popped into his mind. "I would not have asked such a spontaneous question if it were a formal dialogue," he said.

Student calls for study-life balance at forum
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2012

While many adults are grappling with how to achieve work-life balance, one student has come up with a new challenge for Singapore: study-life balance.

The focus on exams and grades, polytechnic student Micah Lee, 18, said at a youth dialogue organised by the National Youth Council yesterday, puts an enormous stress on students.

"This takes the joy out of schooling," he said, and suggested that students be given more choice between studying and spending time on other things they considered important.

"And spending time with family and friends is important to me, which is why I brought my sister along for this dialogue," he said, drawing laughter from other participants.

While he did not elaborate on his idea and others did not comment on it, nods and knowing smiles round the room showed that his words had found agreement.

And while the three-hour dialogue at *Scape was meant to focus on the theme A Happier Home, many of the 60 or so participants were more interested in talking about education issues.

In their group discussions and question-and-answer session with Senior Minister of State for Education Lawrence Wong, they raised concerns such as school subjects limiting their choice of careers, with some calling for schools to provide more flexible modules, including technical and vocational skills courses.

At one point, an argument nearly erupted when two university students who had graduated from polytechnics asked for more university places for polytechnic students.

Another undergraduate who had come from a junior college disagreed.

"You have to be fair to JC students as well," she said.

"With a diploma, you can still go somewhere. But there is no place else for us to go if we can't get into university."

Mr Wong swiftly stepped in to mediate, saying: "Let's not make this into a JC versus poly debate."

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