SINGAPORE - There is a need to practise the principle of charity when there are differing points of view and also maintain a common discussion space for Singaporeans, said Second Minister for Education Maliki Osman.
And there is also a need to work hard to maintain that space for Singaporeans to feel safe to have different views, he added.
Dr Maliki, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, said: "We mustn't come to a point where we take offence over everything, without showing grace to others. We need to constantly work hard to maintain a common space for Singaporeans to feel safe to have different views, without being trolled or cancelled."
Any contestation of ideas, he added, should strengthen Singapore, not weaken it. "More importantly, that common space reminds us that we are one Singapore - with our unique history, context and culture - and the things that unite us must be more than those that divide us," he said.
Dr Maliki was speaking at the opening of the annual Pre-University Seminar, which was held virtually for the first time on Tuesday (June 1).
In his speech, Dr Maliki also urged students not to lose their spirit of adventure and hope, and to boldly step out of their comfort zones to explore new ground.
More than 500 participants from 30 institutions are taking part in the four-day seminar, which will end on Friday.
The seminar, which engages students on national issues, will this year focus on challenges and opportunities Singapore needs to explore amid the Covid-19 pandemic, among other things.
In that vein, Dr Maliki touched on how Singapore needs to push ahead with innovation in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said: "The sudden switch to a 'new normal' has seen many of us coping with disruption by adapting to new ways of living, working and learning.
"We also need some time to pick up new skills. But if we embrace innovation, keep agile, and build up capabilities, we break out of our own comfort zones."
Dr Maliki said environmental sustainability is an area of innovation that has taken on more importance in a post-pandemic world. He cited Singapore's efforts under the Singapore Green Plan 2030, where businesses are encouraged to implement sustainable practices and offer sustainable products and services.
"As the world kicks up economic activity again, this is the opportunity for us to do things differently. We must build a greener economy and a society that is more environmentally sustainable," he said.
In a wide-ranging speech, Dr Maliki said Covid-19 has aggravated geopolitical tensions, growing nationalism and protectionist behaviour among countries. These trends, he added, have had a deep impact on Singapore - a hub heavily reliant on trade.
Touching on the seminar's significance since its inception in 1970, Dr Maliki said the event brings together young people to discuss issues, and said he, too, had taken part when he was a student in 1982.
He said: "You don't have to start calculating my age. I fondly remember the theme of the seminar then was 'Voluntary Social Services in Singapore'.
"We explored the social services sector and how society addresses the plight of the less fortunate and disenfranchised."
The seminar, Dr Maliki said, left such a deep impact on him and played a role in his being attracted to the social work course when he began his university studies at the National University of Singapore.
"Social work has been in my blood since then," he added.
Rounding off, Dr Maliki called on the students to think about how they can play a role in strengthening Singapore and navigating its future.
One participant, Nanyang Polytechnic nursing student Luqman Nulhakim Toslimin, 18, said he was nervous when the poly first nominated him for the seminar. One worry, he said, was whether being more familiar with nursing-related matters would make it harder to find common ground with team members from junior colleges.
"I soon realised that we have much in common and there is a spirit of cooperation and learning where we exchange ideas and share resources," he said.
Alyssa Pok, 16, a student from the Singapore Sports School, said the seminar project helped her understand the impact of Covid-19 on the ground.
Alyssa - who is a short-track speed skating athlete who hopes to represent Singapore at the Olympic Games one day - said the seminar allowed her to explore the theme of vitality and how vulnerable groups such as hawkers in Singapore have continued to stay resilient during the pandemic.
She said: "Working on this project opened my eyes and helped me see the role that we play as youth in the country. As a student leader, it also helped me to listen, accept different opinions and work with my team."