Population, economy set students talking

At ST talk, they also show concern for low-wage earners

ST 20130504 QUIZ1

AT LEAST one student said she was willing to pay more for fast food so service staff could have higher wages.

Goh See Ying, 17, was among 750 Meridian Junior College (MJC) students at the second in a series of four Straits Times talk leading up to The Big Quiz.

Yesterday's session on jobs and the economy, helmed by Straits Times news editor Ignatius Low and assistant money editor Aaron Low, offered students an overview of Singapore's position within the global context and discussed issues such as productivity, rising costs and a reliance on foreign workers.

In the two-hour dialogue that followed, about 20 students shot the panel questions about managing an ageing population, whether having more new citizens was the only way to address an ageing population and what employment prospects there were for those with special needs.

See Ying's query - how to raise salaries of low-wage workers - prompted Money section's Mr Low to respond with his own: 'Would you be willing to pay $10 for the same meal so aunty can earn $7.50 or $8 an hour (instead of $5.50)?'

When she said yes, he replied: 'Then, that's your answer.'

Consumers' willingness to pay more could go a long way towards raising wages, he explained.

See Ying later told The Straits Times she had learnt a lot. 'By helping the lower-wage workers, we can help the whole economy.'

Mr Aaron Low himself remarked: 'I thought they were motivated and asked intelligent questions...

They were interested in politics and current affairs. They showed that youth are a lot more engaged than people think.'

In the face of foreigner-centric queries, Chinese national Zheng Zehan, 17, was unruffled. He asked if foreigners sending money to their home countries might be a national concern as that would leak wealth from the Singapore economy.

Mr Ignatius Low pointed out, however, that Singaporean investors and enterprises were also doing the same and sending their wages back.

Zehan said afterwards that he felt that anti-foreigner sentiment was just a 'trend of society', adding: 'We will be integrated into Singaporean society.

It's just a matter of being friendly.' The talks, along with a series of 12 primers on current affairs issues and a Shell-sponsored Thought Leadership Question published on Mondays, will culminate in the National Current Affairs Quiz, or The Big Quiz.

The other two talks will be held on Wednesday at Victoria Junior College and July 17 at The Big Quiz preliminary round, when school teams will compete for the championship trophy and $5,000.

The Big Quiz, co-organised by The Straits Times and the Ministry of Education, is into its second year, with the Singapore Press Holdings Foundation as the presenting sponsor.

For more information, visit www.straitstimes. com/thebigquiz.

ayiying@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Sheryl Quek and Bryant Chan