S'pore must ensure diversity at top govt level: Ong Ye Kung

NEED FOR NATIONAL CONVERSATION: We've got to think of ways (to help the lower income). These are the kind of things where a national conversation would be very useful - companies, schools, institutions may have some ideas on how to do it. - EDUCATION
NEED FOR NATIONAL CONVERSATION: We've got to think of ways (to help the lower income). These are the kind of things where a national conversation would be very useful - companies, schools, institutions may have some ideas on how to do it. - EDUCATION MINISTER (HIGHER EDUCATION AND SKILLS) ONG YE KUNG

Having leaders from wide range of sectors will help nation in long term, he says

Singapore has to ensure its top government leaders - whether political leaders, civil servants or Members of Parliament - come from a wide range of sectors, with different expertise, outlooks on life and views about Singapore's future.

"And I think if we have not done well enough, then we need to try harder," said Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung yesterday, adding that this has to be the direction going forward, as diversity will help Singapore in the long term.

Mr Ong was responding to a question posed by a participant during a youth forum dialogue with the theme of thriving in a disruptive world. She noted Singapore's top graduates tend to come from similar backgrounds - which she said can lead to them having the same views - and asked what could be done.

Mr Ong suggested that she may have been referring to the very top level of government, and was asking whether they are all from the same mould. "We do our best," he said, in reference to the Government's efforts to ensure diversity.

Over 300 youth attended the World Jin Jiang Youth Raffles Forum, organised by the Singapore Chin Kang Huay Kuan Youth Group, Business China and other partners. The hour-long dialogue at the forum touched on topics such as the rise of China, how Singapore can stay competitive in the international market and social inequality.

On what can be done to ensure a fairer playing ground for those from families that are not as well-to-do, Mr Ong said the Ministry of Education has stepped into the pre-school sector and is now reserving one-third of places in its kindergartens for lower-income pupils.

Overall, there are now fewer Singaporeans from the lower socio-economic status compared with the past, he said. But many find themselves "without opportunities, unable to pull themselves up".

"We've got to think of ways (to help them). These are the kind of things where a national conversation would be very useful - companies, schools, institutions may have some ideas on how to do it," said Mr Ong.

He called on Singaporeans to "try our best" in these efforts.

"I think we owe it to the whole of Singapore to do this well. But be careful - don't have a solution that is worse than the problem, and remember what helped us uplift everybody."

He noted that today, "the irony is that whether it is the Primary School Leaving Examination, scholarship system or school system, people say those are the reasons why certain groups are stuck at the bottom". But these are the systems that have been the greatest levellers in Singapore, said the minister, adding: "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater."

Mr Ong also fielded questions about the rise of China. He said that Singapore can continue to act as a bridge between the East and the West in the years ahead, and that many Chinese officials still hold Singapore in high regard. He disagreed with a participant's suggestion that Singapore will be bypassed by bigger powers as the pace of globalisation quickens.

Citing his work in co-chairing the Singapore-Guangdong Collaboration Council, Mr Ong said: "If you put aside many fake news (stories), it's actually a deep relationship that we have with China, and we should continue to build on that."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2018, with the headline 'S'pore must ensure diversity at top govt level: Ong Ye Kung'. Print Edition | Subscribe