The focus this year: CPF and job skills for the young

After last year's National Day Rally in which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mapped out plans for a new way forward for the country, he is expected tomorrow to continue with these social shifts.

The rally will be held for the second straight year at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College Central campus, instead of the National University of Singapore, which was the venue in the past - a symbol of Mr Lee's commitment to creating more pathways for all students.

The Prime Minister is expected to share more details on what the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (Aspire) committee - headed by Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah - has in mind for ITE and polytechnic students. The committee's report is due this year.

In his National Day message last week, Mr Lee said that for these students, even after they graduate, the Government wants to help them learn new skills and gain higher qualifications while they work "as the academic route is not the only way up".

The pursuit of academic degrees is a concern for the Government. In Parliament in May, Ms Indranee shared survey findings of the Aspire committee which found that almost six in 10 ITE students and four in 10 polytechnic students want to get their next qualification right after graduating. They fear that if they do not do so straight away, they will lose their chance.

The Aspire committee is also looking at planning work study programmes and internships, so that what is taught in the classrooms matches what is required at the workplace.

This may be similar to the German model of apprenticeships for students to develop deep technical skills rather than just academic ability.

Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng, who is a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, says Aspire aims "to change the landscape for ITE and poly graduates, and to make their skills a source of pride".

"It is part of (PM Lee's) vision for Singapore to create a more equal society with opportunities for all," she adds.

"In such a society, a university degree is not a must-have to advance in life and do well. This will require quite a cultural shift in a society which has traditionally placed top emphasis on academic qualifications."

Another key theme is likely to be providing assurance to older folk, centred on the Central Provident Fund scheme.

The forced savings scheme has come under scrutiny, with some experts questioning its ability to provide enough funds for retirement, as well as calling for greater flexibility in how these funds can be used.

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Inderjit Singh says that the scheme has evolved too much from a simple retirement scheme to one "loaded with medical, housing, investment and education", which has resulted in a lack of savings for some groups.

"CPF needs a thorough review and this is also a good time to reassure Singaporeans of the strength of the CPF, since the debate in the last few weeks has led to some confusion among a group of Singaporeans," he says.

And as Singapore looks forward to its 50th year of independence, Mr Lee is likely to continue to honour the pioneers who helped to build modern Singapore, as well as to unveil new urban developments, to show that Singapore will not remain static and that there will be more to look forward to for the young.