Singapore must take a long-term perspective to survive in a changing world: Ong Ye Kung

At the Singapore Summit, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung outlined the Government's long-term strategies in four areas: Infrastructure, the economy, an ageing population and education. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - A small state like Singapore has to take the long-term view when it comes to crafting its policies, in order to survive, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on Friday evening (Sept 14).

This is despite a worldwide trend of politics and governance becoming more short-term and populist.

Speaking at the opening of the Singapore Summit which is organised by non-profit organisation Temasek Foundation Connects, he outlined the Government's long-term strategies in four areas: Infrastructure, the economy, an ageing population and education.

Mr Ong noted that the two-day forum attended by over 400 global business and thought leaders is taking place in "tumultuous times". "The tone is quite clear: The world is going to be fundamentally different - we need to understand, and more importantly, need to be able to respond to these trends," he said.

In the coming decades, competition is less likely to be between countries, but more likely between cities, and Singapore has to step up to remain at the forefront, he said.

For example, the Republic is doubling its airport and seaport capacities, and developing three business districts outside the central business district to better spread activities across the island - the Woodlands Regional Centre, the Punggol Digital District, and the Jurong Lake District.

The Government has committed to upgrading homes every 30 years at highly subsidised rates, he said. When flats are around 70 years old, the Government will offer residents an option to buy back their units and redevelop the entire estate as well.

"Housing is a core compact between the people and the Government," he said. "We will not allow an entire residential town to become old and run-down."

When it comes to growing the economy, Singapore needs to go beyond Foreign Direct Investment, which has been a major part of its growth model.

"For our next phase of economic development, we must embrace innovation, develop new products and services and nurture Singapore-based companies to venture out to the region, bring those products and services to the world and the region," said Mr Ong.

"So from making things to creating things... this is a major shift in economy strategy," he said. Mr Ong added that Singapore - which has a network of free trade agreements ensuring access to key markets - is investing in research and development as a priority. Other aspects of its value proposition include offering a conducive living environment as well as a well-regulated yet enterprise-friendly environment.

To tackle the challenge of an ageing population, the Government is introducing policies such as raising the retirement age and new legislation on re-employment, to help people work for a longer time if they wish.

Still, Singapore needs to ensure fiscal sustainability. Mr Ong said that to fund the expected rise in healthcare costs, the goods and services tax will be hiked from 7 per cent to 9 per cent after 2020.

Finally, Singapore is making changes to its education system.

With technological advancements and industry disruptions, learning is now a lifelong process, said Mr Ong. Increasingly, it is "human skills", including soft skills, that carry a premium, he added.

Educators will have to change the way they teach the young, moving further away from rigorous academic teaching and assessments, towards applied learning and cultivating creativity.

"Whatever changes we make in schools today, we do not see the effects, until maybe 20 years later," he said. "The effects can be profound, influencing an entire generation."

He said: "As a small state with no natural resources, no hinterland, we must always take a long-term perspective. In fact, it is just about the only way a small state can have a long term."

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