Not enough to just say 'nay'

I am heartened that academics and former senior civil servants have expressed the need for more Singaporeans to step forward to provide contrarian views (Why Singapore needs more naysayers; Feb 25).

However, the term "naysayer" is a highly reductive characterisation of what Singapore needs, because a naysayer may not necessarily be able to think deeply about issues nor provide constructive feedback.

More precisely, what we need is a culture of informed scepticism.

Singaporeans have to be nurtured to become critical thinkers who are able to put aside personal beliefs when looking at an issue, and be bold enough to challenge unsubstantiated claims.

Such a culture cannot be developed overnight because an aversion to risk is well-entrenched within our society.

The only way to change is through education.

What we need is a culture of informed scepticism. Singaporeans have to be nurtured to become critical thinkers who are able to put aside personal beliefs when looking at an issue, and be bold enough to challenge unsubstantiated claims.

Greater emphasis should be placed on subjects such as social studies or history, because these subjects train students to critically evaluate issues from multiple perspectives and recognise bias in different sources.

Co-curricular activities such as debating also develop the skills of an informed sceptic, because students are trained to identify underlying assumptions in an argument, evaluate the feasibility of various policies regardless of their personal stance on the matter, and have the confidence to voice these opinions.

Instead of naysayers, what Singapore really needs is a culture of informed scepticism, which cannot be developed unless we start from a young age.

Raphael Niu Zi Yuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2017, with the headline 'Not enough to just say 'nay''. Print Edition | Subscribe