Students quiz Minister on race-related issues at Pre-U seminar

Senior Minister of State for Education, and Communication and Information Janil Puthucheary responding during the question and answer session of the Pre-University Seminar 2017 at National University of Singapore on May 29.
Senior Minister of State for Education, and Communication and Information Janil Puthucheary responding during the question and answer session of the Pre-University Seminar 2017 at National University of Singapore on May 29.ST PHOTO: DAVE LIM

SINGAPORE - This year's Pre-University Seminar kicked off on Monday (May 29) with 550 students representing 34 institutions.

The students peppered Senior Minister of State for Education, and Communication and Information Janil Puthucheary with questions ranging from cyber security to racial issues and the elected presidency.

Co-organised by the Ministry of Education and Catholic Junior College, the theme for the seminar, which ends on June 1, is Renewing our Singapore Dream.

In his address, Dr Janil spoke about the diversity of Singapore's racial and religious identities.

Temasek Polytechnic student Ashley Liao, 19, asked whether it was problematic that changes to the elected presidency were required.

Dr Janil responded by asking if society is race blind.

"If we are not race blind, why do you believe we will be race blind when it comes to presidency?" he said.

Another student asked if the racial categorisation system - CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others) - needs to be updated given the racial diversity in Singapore today.

"It was never a perfect marker," he said. "But it is there to support our other policies like ethnic integration."

He pointed to the success of such policies as reasons for the need for such a marker.

Dr Janil also reminded students to keep an open mind to an "entire world of ideas" out there, as Singapore has chosen from the start to be open to trade and integration with the world.

Instead of holding on to the past, be open as the future comes towards us, he said.

Recognise that you are not the only ones with dreams, he added.

"That person whose dreams are the exact opposite of yours, maybe they have a valid point. And at the very least you need to understand the root and basis for their dreams and try to develop a shared, collective way forward," he said.