Spotlight on White Paper

ANTI-FOREIGNER sentiment was disabused and national identity discussed at a Straits Times current events talk.

The May 8 session, third in a series of four leading to the National Current Affairs Quiz, was held in the performance theatre of Victoria Junior College. During a two-hour session, students engaged journalists on the day’s topic: the Population White Paper.

The 900-strong crowd - about 800 VJC students and another 100 from other institutions - shot about 20 questions to the broadsheet’s deputy editor Zuraidah Ibrahim and political correspondent Jessica Cheam.

Ms Zuraidah gave an overview the Population White Paper delivered in January this year, while Ms Cheam’s discussed infrastructure planning to prepare for population growth.

Among the questions was this, asked by Malvern Tan, 17, JC2, from Victoria Junior College: “What can be done to preserve our national identity?”

In response, Ms Zuraidah asked students to say, in a word, what it meant to them to be Singaporean, receiving quips such as “rojak”, “kiasu”, and a wisecrack, “China”.

“All of you have answers that are similar but different,” she pointed out, adding that although identity is fluid and can change over time, some fundamentals like multiracialism and mutual tolerance and respect must be among the core values.

Students were also keen to discuss new media and mainstream media. Wu Yuhang, 18, a JC2 student from VJC, asked if the media should make any attempt to swing public opinion over divisive issues, to which Ms Cheam said that the media’s role was to facilitate dialogue and to present the different responses and stances.

The student from China said afterwards: “It’s a very rewarding experience. I’ve heard the saying that Singaporeans are not concerned about politics but here today, it has changed my view. They are concerned about national issues and government policies.”

Dunman High School Year 5 student Crystal Zhuang, 17, who attended the talk, said she had learnt more about what a White Paper meant and about the use of party whip in parliament. She added: “It’s good to see that people are concerned about the future...We are all going to live that period (2030).”

The talks, along with an ongoing series of 12 primers on current affairs issues and a Shell-sponsored Thought Leadership Question published on Mondays weekly, will culminate in the National Current Affairs Quiz, when teams will compete for the championship and $5,000. The last talk will be held on July 17 at The Big Quiz preliminary round.

The Big Quiz is co-organised by The Straits Times and the Ministry of Education for the second year, with the Singapore Press Holdings Foundation as the presenting sponsor. For more information, visit