NATIONAL DAY RALLY 2017

National Day Rally 2017: Each generation builds for the next – the Singapore story

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with (from left) nine-year-old Adam Zafran Aziz, Mr Ahmad Azali, 79, and Mr Aziz Ahmad, 42. Mr Lee said: "This is the Singapore of the last half century: Ahmad, a gardener; Aziz, a pharmaceu- tical engineer; and Adam, (
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with (from left) nine-year-old Adam Zafran Aziz, Mr Ahmad Azali, 79, and Mr Aziz Ahmad, 42. Mr Lee said: "This is the Singapore of the last half century: Ahmad, a gardener; Aziz, a pharmaceutical engineer; and Adam, (with) a bright future ahead of him."PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

PM Lee cites a family that has moved up the social ladder, adding every family can do so

In January this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong presented an Edusave Merit Bursary to nine-year-old Adam Zafran Aziz.

When he met the Teck Ghee Primary School pupil's family after the ceremony, he was, to his surprise, shown a small framed photo of a similar award ceremony in 1986. The photo showed Adam's father Aziz Ahmad, then a schoolboy, receiving a Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) House Union Bursary from Mr Lee.

"So, I have presented awards to father and son, 31 years apart," he recounted to applause last night, as he wrapped up his National Day Rally.

When Mr Lee met Adam's 79-year-old grandfather recently, he discovered that Mr Ahmad Azali used to be a gardener with the now-defunct SBC - the reason his son Aziz qualified for the bursary all those years ago.

Mr Lee highlighted young Adam's family to drive home the importance of each generation in Singapore building for the next.

He noted that Mr Aziz, now 42, received his bursary at a challenging time for Singapore, which was coming out of a severe recession.

But even as the nation dealt with the crisis, it never stopped building for the future, and continued to improve its schools, he said.

This allowed Mr Aziz to work hard and do well. He graduated with a diploma in mechanical engineering from Singapore Polytechnic, worked in the semiconductor industry for over a decade, and earned a master's degree.

Two years ago, he was headhunted by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, where he now works as a senior maintenance engineer.

Now, Mr Aziz's son is growing up in a completely different world, where he will need different skills to compete in the future economy.

"It is my Government's duty to build for our future, so that every family can be like Ahmad, Aziz and Adam. It has ever been so, and it must always be so," Mr Lee said.

"In the beginning, when we had little else, we had faith in our future. We believed every family should have the chance to work hard and do well, and improve their lives. We wanted every generation to outdo their parents. We strove mightily to make this happen."

Like his father, Adam will have the opportunity to thrive, Mr Lee said. He and his schoolmates will, for instance, learn how to code.

This will give them a strong foundation to take up good jobs and seize opportunities in the future, Mr Lee added.

"This is the Singapore of the last half century: Ahmad, a gardener; Aziz, a pharmaceutical engineer; and Adam, (with) a bright future ahead of him," he said. "Each generation striving and building for the next."

Mr Aziz's path to success was a tale of grit. His father's highest salary was $700, and he entered the polytechnic with the help of tuition fee subsidies from self-help group Mendaki. There, he opted to study engineering in the hopes of improving his chances at employment.

Now, his son's career dreams run the gamut, from being a palaeontologist to a scientific researcher, a chef and a YouTuber.

Said Mr Aziz, who also has a seven-year-old daughter: "I feel honoured to be mentioned by PM Lee, but I know there are many others just like me, who started at the bottom and worked hard to get to where they are now.

"This comes from a combination of the Singapore education system and good governance, plus our own hard work."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2017, with the headline 'Each generation builds for the next - the S'pore story'. Print Edition | Subscribe