By The Way

Lawrence Wong's choice of secondary school, new Cabinet roles: What politicians are up to this week

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong with news presenter Tung Soo Hua at his alma mater Tanjong Katong Secondary School for the filming of an interview. PHOTO: LAWRENCE WONG/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - The Straits Times looks at what politicians, and the politically related, are up to in this weekly series.

In this edition, newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong has some advice to students on charting their own path, while Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh reflected on a young Singaporean's efforts to help with the Ukraine conflict.

Look out for the latest edition of the series every Friday, and check out past ones here.

Set your own path, dare to dream

For Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, "every school a good school" is not a Ministry of Education slogan, but a lived experience.

In a recent interview in Mandarin with veteran news presenter Tung Soo Hua that was filmed partly in his alma mater Tanjong Katong Secondary School (TKSS), Mr Wong was asked why he had chosen the school, then known as Tanjong Katong Secondary Technical School.

People usually think government scholarship recipients like him would come from top schools, said Ms Tung during the 45-minute episode of interview series Be My Guest that aired last Saturday (June 11). It covered topics such as Mr Wong's hobbies, his choice of secondary school and his career in the public sector.

Mr Wong said he had no other school in mind, as everyone he knew from Haig Boys' School, where he had his primary school education, chose Tanjong Katong. This included his cousin and older brother.

"Most of my friends also made the same choice. So at that time, I didn't even consider any other school - I just made the same choice," said Mr Wong, who was this week officially promoted to Deputy Prime Minister, following changes to the Cabinet announced last week.

While it was a neighbourhood school near his home, Mr Wong said in hindsight that it was a good decision, as there was no doubt he received a great education.

Playing soccer during recess and borrowing books from the school library - his favourite spot in school - were some of his fondest memory of his time at TKSS, Mr Wong said in a Facebook post.

"Nowadays we say that every school is a good school. I guess I already comprehended this in the 1980s," he added.

Perhaps to drive home the point, Mr Wong on Wednesday called on students here to set their own path and to pursue with all their heart whatever they want to achieve.

He gave this advice after a conversation with some 300 Temasek Polytechnic students in a wide-ranging discussion that covered geopolitics, jobs and how everyone can play a part in shaping Singapore's future.

The phrase "every school a good school" was popularised by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat when he was Education Minister from 2011 to 2015. In Budget 2014, Mr Heng explained that it is a pledge to make every school good in its own way, so as to bring out the best in every child.

Mr Heng, who is on a work trip to Britain, Germany and Switzerland, on Monday urged Singaporeans to "dare to dream" after he met with some who had and are now based in London.

"Caught up with a few accomplished Singaporeans who pursued lesser-known pathways, and with interesting stories of how they came to where they are today," he wrote.

"They followed their passions, pursued their dreams and are making a name for themselves, all thanks to the support from their families and the encouragement of their teachers along the way."

New Cabinet appointments

Speaking of promotions, other office-holders also took on new roles this week, and shared their excitement and wistfulness about the changes.

Parliamentary secretaries Eric Chua and Rahayu Mahzam were promoted to senior parliamentary secretaries, as was Minister of State Tan Kiat How to Senior Minister of State.

Of the three, only Ms Rahayu has a new portfolio, taking up an appointment in the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) while she continues in the Ministry of Health. She relinquished her appointment in the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).

Ms Rahayu said on Thursday that she was excited about the work at MinLaw, but was sad to be leaving MCI. At MCI, she had been working on digital empowerment and wellness, and had also looked into issues to do with online harms.

"The teams I worked with are AWESOME (at MCI, Infocomm Media Development Authority, National Library Board) and I will miss working closely with them," she said, while thanking Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo for always looking out for her.

Senior Minister of State Chee Hong Tat took on a new portfolio at the Ministry of Finance. The former National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) deputy secretary-general relinquished his role in the labour movement and returned to the government full time.

"Rest assured that I will continue to champion for our workers and look after their well-being no matter where I go and what role I take on in future," said Mr Chee.

Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Desmond Tan, who took over Mr Chee's place in NTUC, said he was excited to join NTUC and serve the labour movement.

"It has played such a significant role in shaping our economy over the decades, and has looked after our workers through good times and bad," he said.

"I have much to learn from leaders past and present, and will do my very best for every worker."

Mr Tan, who relinquished his appointments in the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE), said he will miss his colleagues and friends.

"Thank you for being a big part of my life over the past two years. Wherever I go, it is always about the people," he added.

Senior Minister of State Koh Poh Koon, who took on a new portfolio in MSE together with Senior Parliamentary Secretary Baey Yam Keng, were welcomed by Minister Grace Fu on Monday.

Mr Baey, who posted a photo of his first day at the ministry, said he looked forward to learning the ropes and getting to know his new colleagues.

Raising funds for Ukraine

On daring to dream, Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh drew lessons from how a 16-year-old local designer was able to reach out to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The leader of the country currently embroiled in a war with Russia wore a T-shirt designed by Singaporean Ava Soh when he gave a virtual address at the Shangri-La Dialogue defence summit held last weekend.

"She wrote me a letter asking to support her initiative called Spray Paint Ukraine - an initiative aiming to help Ukraine," said Mr Zelensky in his speech.

The Spray Paint Ukraine T-shirt is being sold online to raise funds for the country. Sales proceeds will be donated to the Ukrainian Embassy in Singapore.

Mr Singh, who had met Ava and her family previously, said Singapore needs its ideas to reach well beyond its shores for the country to continue to be special in the 21st century.

"Innovative thinking and an entrepreneurial mindset will be crucial to this. And parents are an important part of this effort," he wrote.

"We need to encourage the Avas, children and young adults around us - be they in sports, business or any other field.

"Because making a difference is a tough and hard (and often, lonely) journey."

In a comment on the post, Facebook user Andrew Chan wished that Singapore "had bright kids discerning enough and as passionate about helping Singaporeans in real need. Charity begins at home".

Mr Singh said he would not necessarily pigeonhole charity that way.

"A culture of charity is to be celebrated and promoted, be it locally or beyond our shores," he said.

"In the final reckoning, we will see and appreciate its positive effects in some way, shape or form for sure. These things have a karma-tic way about them."

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