This year's sole President's Scholar wants to cut jargon to make public policies easier for people to understand

Ms Alyssa Marie Loo Li Ann is headed to Brown University in the United States. PHOTO: MICHAEL CHOW

SINGAPORE - Building chatbots that can make information more accessible and helping people who may not be familiar with policy wording and jargon to understand policies - these are some ideas President's Scholarship recipient Alyssa Marie Loo Li Ann has for the public service.

Ms Loo, 19, who is the only recipient of the award this year and is headed to Brown University in the United States to read linguistics, said: "Singapore has a very complex linguistic landscape that deserves more attention and research."

She is interested in exploring topics such as having Singlish as a cultural icon, and the effects of a bilingual policy.

Ms Loo, who was a student at Raffles Institution, added: "I hope to pursue (those topics) in Brown... I would want to use this content knowledge to inform my policy research and suggestions."

She is the only President's Scholarship recipient announced this year due to a new practice by the Public Service Commission (PSC), where only scholarship recipients who are pursuing their studies in the current year will be announced.

Those who have decided to proceed with their studies in subsequent years, such as male students doing their national service, will be included in the relevant years' reports.

There was no physical award ceremony due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but Ms Loo met President Halimah Yacob in a virtual dialogue on Thursday (Aug 13).

Also in attendance were Minister for Trade and Industry and Minister-in-charge of the Public Service Chan Chun Sing and PSC chairman Lee Tzu Yang.

Addressing Ms Loo in a speech at the virtual ceremony, President Halimah said: "The start of your journey in public service comes at a critical point in modern history.

"The Covid-19 crisis has disrupted the global economy and every aspect of our lives."

Integrity, service and excellence form the foundation of trust that Singaporeans have in the Government's ability to execute policies, plans and initiatives, she said, and "strengthening this foundation is especially critical as it is no longer business as usual".

She noted: "We have a population that is more discerning, with strong views on what is in their best interests and wants to be more engaged in decisions affecting them."

She added: "They also have a strong sense of fairness and equality and want these values reflected more clearly in whatever we do. In the years to come, there will be new paths to forge and difficult decisions to make.

"This is a challenge for this generation of Singaporeans - a trial of our fortitude and a test of our resilience."

With Covid-19 having changed the economic environment around Singapore, some time-tested ideas and strategies will have to be re-examined, and the country will need "civil servants who can not only think critically but who also have unorthodox ideas or unique solutions in a situation where the path to growth is not so clear", she said.

"We also need agile and bold leaders with both the ability and the heart to unite Singaporeans and see us through these tumultuous times."

Urging Ms Loo to broaden her horizons, expand her networks and develop fresh perspectives, Madam Halimah said: "I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone, open yourself to new experiences and seize every opportunity to develop the skills and expertise Singapore will need for the future."

Ms Loo, who plans to leave for Brown University in Rhode Island in January next year, said she is interested in exploring topics related to philosophy, religion, public policy and environmental policy in her studies.

"These things don't really have anything to do with linguistics but I feel that they are important in rounding up my perspective, so that I can bring different ideas to the table as a public servant."

She attended the virtual ceremony with her mother, Madam Agnes Phuah, who works as an administrative officer. Her father is a human resource director, while her younger sister is in Secondary 3.

Ms Loo said that being the only recipient of the President's Scholarship announced this year is a special privilege. "It's a big honour... I feel very lucky to have the chance to speak to President Halimah personally."

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