Good evening again. I hope you have enjoyed taking a look at the campus and meeting the students here at ITE College Central. I brought the Rally to ITE for a serious purpose - to underscore my longstanding commitment to investing in every person, every Singaporean, to his full potential. And also to signal a change, to emphasise that this is not the usual NDR. Singapore is at a turning point. Tonight, I will talk about the challenges which we face and what we must do to change to respond to these challenges in this new phase of our development and nation-building.
Last year, I spoke about these essential elements of our future, "Hope, Heart and Home". Since then, we have been holding Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) on building a better Singapore. The OSC took a fresh approach to engage Singaporeans. They had no pre-set agenda, it was a fully open discussion and it elicited a very positive response. Nearly 50,000 people participated in diverse groups. We had elderly residents meeting at the Yuhua Hawker Centre. Grace Fu brought them in and they had the discussion in dialects. I think they had the time of their lives and also appreciated being heard. We had the arts and the culture community expressing their point of view. We had schoolchildren drawing pictures of what they aspired to see when they grew up one day. They shared what Heart, Hope and Home meant to them.
They also expressed what they wanted to see in Singapore. First of all, opportunities - opportunities to lead fulfilling lives, to realise one's potential. Secondly, purpose - coming together to build a better Singapore. Thirdly, assurance - assurance that our basic needs can be met, that we do not have to face life's uncertainties alone. Fourth, community spirit - closer community ties, stronger social cohesion, a warmer kampong spirit. And finally and fifthly, trust - trust between the Government and people, trust among Singaporeans. And these themes were summarised in the OSC exhibition which I hope you had a look at outside this auditorium. I had tea recently with the OSC Committee members, the facilitators, the volunteers, to thank them for what they were doing and I asked them what was their biggest takeaway from this exercise. They said, the spirit of openness. Participants realising that others had different, even conflicting views and that these views had to be reconciled, respected and we had to find a way forward, consensus where possible, sometimes agree to disagree. So the OSC has been a very meaningful exercise. We have listened to one another, we have created a firmer, shared basis to discuss and to plan our future and I would like to thank the OSC Committee members, the facilitators, the volunteers and the participants for all the work which they have done. Thank you very much.
To achieve our aspirations, we need to take into account the world around us. This is a time of rapid change and uncertainty. I have discussed these themes before many times, so tonight, I would just like to briefly share with you a few striking facts about technology, about globalisation, about competition and income inequalities. Technology is transforming our lives. Even tonight as I am talking to you, more than a few of you are taking pictures, tweeting, Facebooking and Instagramming in real time. But it is not just social media. We have 3D printing, a machine which can print spare parts, print models, print toys, print pistols, print body parts, organs; print things which can make a difference to our lives. Medical devices - we have been doing this research. A*STAR has a 3D printer which can print Bone Tissue Scaffolds and let me show you this picture. (Pointing to slides) This is a printer behind, this is the monitor and you can see the thing which it is printing. It looks like a little rectangle with two holes in it. Those are the Bone Tissue Scaffolds. What do you use it for? If you have a tooth extraction, after the dentist has taken a tooth out, you have a hole in your gum, you put this in, it helps the bone to grow back. And you can see this one is about to come in and on the left you can see there is one already done. A bionic person is some distance off yet but we are heading in that direction. Less spectacular but equally far-reaching are robots, Artificial Intelligence, programmes which can do smart things which previously only human beings could do. Not just placing chips on the production line but skilled, professional jobs - accounting, legal advice, radiology, reading X-rays. In the old days, each one was a professional job. You needed a lawyer, highly paid, or a doctor or an accountant. Now the basic work can be delegated to a computer programme. Liberating for us, a bit scary if you were doing that job before, but that is competition.
Competition from technology, competition also from new emerging economies - China, India, Vietnam. China and India alone have one billion workers altogether. Every year, millions of new graduates are entering the workforce. Just now in the Mandarin speech, I said seven million (per year) from China. If we add in some more from India, it is ten million a year, all hungry, looking for work. Quite formidable. One of our young professionals who took part in an OSC dialogue in Shanghai said, "I thought I could survive in China quite easily but I was wrong". He had to scramble, but fortunately other OSC participants said that learning Mandarin in Singapore had helped them in China. They may not have enjoyed it in school or PSLE but now that they are working, they appreciated its value and they are grateful we forced them to do it. So we are seeing competition and we are seeing income inequality rising, the top zooming away, middle class stagnating. People with exceptional skills, globally in demand doing very well, not just IT or financial services, but even culture or sports. Take Ronaldo, the footballer. He visited a secondary school last month, Crest Secondary School in Singapore. He got mobbed! He has many fans in Singapore. If you go to his Facebook page, 60 million Facebook fans; 20 million Twitter followers. In Chinese they say da wu jian xiao wu (小巫见大巫), a little kucing kurap looking at this mega star. Therefore, spectacularly successful; but not everybody else can be as talented or as lucky as Ronaldo. So people have to work a lot harder, may not be earning a lot more but enjoying less job security than before.
So Singaporeans are affected by these global trends and feeling uncertain and anxious also because in Singapore too, technology and globalisation are widening our income gaps and in addition to that, we have domestic social stresses building. Our population is ageing, society becoming more stratified, less mobile, children of successful Singaporeans more likely to do well. Children of lower income families, fewer of them rising than in previous generations. It is a reality and we acknowledge it; we have to do our best to do something about it. These trends are compounded by day-to-day problems -cost of living, public transport, you know them as well as I do. So Singaporeans sense correctly that the country is at a turning point. I understand your concerns. I promise you, you will not be facing these challenges alone because we are all in this together. We will find a new way to thrive in this new environment.