SINGAPORE- The youth of today want to push for a more caring and inclusive society by reducing social inequality and improving civic discourse and participation, government engagement efforts under the SG Youth Action Plan last year have found.
This, in turn, brings up the more fundamental questions of what kind of social compact and politics Singaporeans want for the country in the long run, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong on Thursday (Sept 3).
The key then is to harness the energy of youth to bring about positive change, instead of allowing uncertainty and discontent about their future and aspirations to fester and result in negative confrontation, Mr Tong said on the fourth day of the debate on the President's Address.
He outlined two key thrusts in his ministry's plans in realising this vision in his speech.
First, his ministry will work with the young to give voice to their dreams and aspirations, and space and the avenues to engage with the rest of society. Secondly, Singapore needs to give its youth hope of a brighter future, including having good jobs and good lives.
SUPPORTING THE CHANGING ASPIRATIONS OF YOUTH
On the aspirations of youth, Mr Tong said the Government recognises their changing values and ideals when it comes to longer-term social and political issues, and will work with them to better support vulnerable communities, embrace diverse viewpoints, and on other causes, such as the environment.
"While previous generations might have chased the traditional 5Cs, this generation is concerned with some other Cs - climate change, constant competition, and caring communities."
His ministry will also expand its partnerships with youths on topics such as the stigma associated with mental health issues and environmentally sustainability, said Mr Tong, who said he agrees with Ms Raeesah Khan's (Sengkang GRC) view that youths need to have a seat at the table to look at such issues.
"We will continue to create more opportunities and avenues for youths to partner the Government and society on issues that matter to them, and we will do so on a regular and sustained basis."
They can also be given more platforms to have conversations with older generations to implement change, whilst understanding the constraints and trade-offs that age and experience can sometimes give a better insight to, said Mr Tong.
"The older generations in turn need to be a little more patient, accepting and appreciative of...differing views (across generations as)...these shared ideas help take us forward."
Mr Tong also acknowledged that young people had asked "hard questions" about the fairness and tone of political campaigns at the recent general election.
"They asked to see more diverse views in Parliament, more checks and balances, and more open debates on constructive policy alternatives.
These concerns and questions are entirely valid, and reflect the rapid changes in our economic, political and social environment, amplified and catalysed by the current Covid-19 situation," he added.
The Government does not have all the answers in the best of times, and in an uncertain environment with complex challenges, it is all the more important that it charts a path together with the community to forge a way forward, said the minister.
In the same way, Singapore's diversity means there will always be perennial questions that revolve around race and religion, but also newer, divisive and contentious issues, including questions concerning LGBTQ+, equality and personal freedoms.
While it is a paradox to keep enough space between different parts of the whole while building a tightly-knit society, this is a paradox Singapore "must, can, and will overcome" through respect and expanding the common space, said Mr Tong.
GIVING YOUTH HOPE OF A BRIGHTER FUTURE
The youths of today face intense competition once they start formal schooling, the minister noted. While globalisation presents new opportunities, it also opens up academic competition beyond national boundaries.
Amid the pandemic, when global economies are in recession, competition for jobs and opportunities have also become exacerbated, added Mr Tong.
While Singapore has taken steps to better protect Singaporeans, the "hard truth" is that competition is a fact of life, and Singapore cannot influence the trajectory of other countries, he said.
"I want to encourage our youths to realise that competition drives us to excel. Competition pushes us out of our comfort zone to be more than what we thought we could be, and realise a better version of ourselves," said Mr Tong, who pledged to support young people in getting work experience, facilitating job and training opportunities, as well as skills development.
Singapore also needs to remain meritocratic, but not ossified. "The forces that enabled the Boomers and Gen X to progress ought not be allowed to stratify society," said Mr Tong, who added that Singapore must work hard to ensure that meritocracy does not develop into structural inequality.
"Many of the young in other developed countries see the dreams of their parents slipping beyond their grasp and are reacting against a system which they might feel is no longer capable of giving them hope. We cannot let this happen to us."
The minister urged Singapore's youth not to lose their sense of optimism.
"This is not a 'lost generation', despite what some have said. This, in fact, is a generation of opportunity," he said, assuring them that the Government will work alongside them to realise their dreams.
"One day, you can tell your own kids of how mom and dad overcame the crisis of a generation."