SINGAPORE - In his speech focusing on youth issues in Parliament, he said that as Singapore continues to evolve, its youth must be equipped with the knowledge and the attributes they will need to grow into active and discerning citizens.
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Here is the transcript of the speech delivered today by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth:
Increasing efforts to engage and empower our youths and building a better Singapore for the next generation Speech by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, at debate on President's address 30 May 2014
Mdm Speaker, I support the motion of thanks to the President.
As the Minister for Youth, I fully agree with what the President said - that it is our young people in particular who must carry the torch, faster and further, for a brighter Singapore.
Over the last few days of debate, several members touched on youth issues, and some expressed concerns about the future that young people will have in Singapore.
I have met and engaged with many young Singaporeans in the course of my work at MCCY and NYC. Some of them are indeed anxious about the future.
Nowadays, before you even reach mid-life crisis at 50, there is "quarter-life crisis" at 25. So I meet young working adults agonising over whether they have made the right life choices.
Perhaps some angst is not uncommon at this stage of life, more so when there are so many choices available.
In a way, it's also an opportunity for reflection and self-discovery, leading to stronger resilience and life-skills.
But what inspires me more is that I see a strong sense of idealism and enthusiasm amongst our youths - to imagine the kind of Singapore they want for the future, and to go about making things better for themselves and their fellow citizens.
Members need not take my word for it alone. Let me share a story.
We are starting the pilot run of the Youth Corps in June this year. We spoke to one of the applicants, Nur Huzaima Binte Mahrom. She is 28 this year, and works at a copywriting firm. I quote what she told us: "Are young people happy? Well, they are happier than the older generation of today. But they are at a stage when they are still figuring out what they want to do in life, and feel the pressure to do so early. They are confused, but they hope for a brighter future. So I would say it is happiness, mixed up with anxiety. When I was young, I wanted to be many things - a flight stewardess, a doctor, a teacher and a cook. My family wanted me to do engineering. But I wanted to do what I loved best - which is to write. Today, my work gives me joy. But beyond my job, I want to contribute to social causes. I am lucky, by some accident of fate, to be born in Singapore: healthy, young and strong. But there are many who are struggling. I feel it is my duty to do something in the world."
Huzaima has tutored less privileged children in Singapore, helped build a community centre in Nicaragua, and worked with locals to run a social enterprise on the developing outskirts of Manila.
She is just one of more than 250 applicants we've received for the Youth Corps. They come from a diverse range of backgrounds - from ITE, Polytechnic, and University students to young working adults.
This is just the first intake for the Youth Corps and we are continuing to recruit. So to all the youths out there who want to make a difference; who want to make Singapore and the world a better place - please sign up!
Beyond the Youth Corps, I believe there are many young people who feel the same way as Huzaima - still deciding what they want out of life, yet hopeful of a brighter future ahead of them.
Compared to previous generations, today's youths have more options before them.
Rather than moving straight to the best-paying or most stable jobs, a good number are taking some time to figure out their way in life, and to discover what gives them meaning and joy.
They do feel some pressure and anxiety, but given the opportunity, they are able to channel this energy into purposeful and impactful causes. Engaging and empowering our youths 18. My Ministry will redouble our efforts to engage our youths at this important stage of their lives.
We will do more to support the aspirations of all youths. We will equip them with vital life-skills and help them discover their calling and passion. We will enable them to create their own ground-up initiatives, go for their dreams in diverse areas, and lead fulfilling lives.
To realise these goals, we will increase our investments in our youths.
One specific area we're looking at is to enhance and widen the spaces for youth participation and involvement.
Today, we have *SCAPE in Orchard Road. It was an idea from our youths 10 years ago. Since the space became operational in 2010, *SCAPE has established itself as a popular youth hangout.
But the youth landscape has evolved over the years and we need to keep up with the changes.
So we will be embarking on a review of *SCAPE - to look at the use of space, the tenant mix, and to see how we can have new programmes that would be more appealing and relevant to youths, for example, in areas like music and media. This is our plan for *SCAPE version 2.0.
Beyond having *SCAPE in the city centre, we are also planning more youth spaces and programmes in other parts of the island, so that we can reach out to more youths nation-wide.
Not all of these need to be run centrally by NYC or *SCAPE. In fact, many will have to be done through partnerships. This will require us to forge closer ties with key youth stakeholders, including MOE and its schools, as well as the many voluntary groups in the community.
One important partner is Outward Bound Singapore (OBS). Currently, OBS provides customised outdoor experiential learning programmes for many school students.
I've received consistently good feedback about the OBS trainers and their programmes. Many young people who have gone through OBS share that it is a transformational, life-changing experience. So we plan to scale up the OBS programmes, and enable more young people to benefit from them.
To do all this, we need to restructure and strengthen the National Youth Council as a national body overseeing youth affairs.
NYC already has an active presence on the ground - for example, its Youth Expedition Projects have enabled more than 4,000 youths annually to embark on community service projects overseas. There is scope to do even more and to raise awareness of what NYC has to offer for youths.
As a national youth body, NYC has to reach out to all youths and youth organisations. It must champion youth engagement and coordinate youth programmes nation-wide with stakeholders. It must gather feedback from the ground, and undertake research to better understand the needs of our youths. It must provide a voice for youths to influence and shape national policies.
These are capabilities which we will build up as part of a restructured NYC. I will share more details on this in the coming weeks.
In all that we do, we will continue to provide fair access to opportunities for all youths, regardless of their backgrounds. This is something many members have emphasised in the points they've raised about social mobility. I understand the concerns. It's something that weighs heavily on our minds too.
In Singapore, no one should be deprived of the chance to broaden his horizon or develop a talent because of his family circumstances or social background.
So MCCY and MOE have been working together to offer more youth programmes, be it in arts, sports or other areas, both within and outside our schools.
In sports, for example, we have put in place programmes to reach out to youths from lower-income or disadvantaged homes. Some of them have not had much exposure in sports, but they show tremendous promise. Importantly, there will be pathways for them to develop further, for example, through the Singapore Sports School.
Likewise in arts and culture, we've made museum entry free for Singaporeans, and we are continuing to bring arts programmes closer to the community, especially to our youths. We want them to experience the arts at an early age, enrich their lives, and also have access to multiple pathways to develop their talents further.
So let me assure all members that our offerings will continue to be inclusive and accessible, so that all Singaporeans can participate and benefit. A Democracy of Deeds
As Singapore continues to evolve, we must equip our youths with the knowledge and the attributes they will need to grow into active and discerning citizens. As the saying goes, we can't always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.
Some have mentioned the need for political education. No doubt, it is important to be informed about the political system and the principles of governance in Singapore.
But our priority in education must be on character development, as several members have emphasised including Mr Lim Biow Chuan just now. Good character is about staying true to the values that we hold dear. Good character means honesty and integrity in our words and actions. Good character means that while we may disagree on certain issues, we can still come together and hash things out. More importantly, good character gives rise to good deeds.
One of our founding fathers, the late Mr Rajaratnam, put this very well when he spoke of Singapore becoming a "democracy of deeds, and not words". He called for citizenship participation at all levels, so that we can rise above adversarial politics and "solve practical problems in a practical way".
Mr Rajaratnam said this in the early 70s, and in many ways he was prescient in highlighting the problems we see today in mature democracies around the world.
In countries previously upheld in some quarters as the bastions and role models of democracy, we see citizens becoming increasingly cynical and disenfranchised, as described by Mr Hri Kumar eloquently in this House earlier.
It is especially worrying that many young people in such countries have succumbed to disillusionment, and have grown more disengaged from public life and their communities.
We must never allow this to happen in Singapore. So in engaging our young people, we must get to the heart of what makes for a healthy democracy - the collective engagement of an active citizenry for the public good.
We must encourage our youths to get involved in causes and projects that build a better society. We must aspire for Singapore to be a problem-solving democracy, a democracy of deeds.
That is why we are focusing on "Values in Action" in schools, and we are focusing on community leadership and community involvement in the Youth Corps.
We are seeing many active young Singaporeans who inspire all of us to do better and do more. Take David Hoe and his team from NUS, for example. They took part in the Gobi March last year to raise $100,000 in funds for the Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund.
There are also youth-led social enterprises like Conjunct Consulting, a group that offers pro-bono consulting services for organisations in the social sector.
These are just some examples of young people who are making a difference early in their lives, and there are many more out there. So overall, I would say that we are not doing badly on this front. But we can and will continue to do better. Singapore's 50th anniversary of independence (SG50)
Mdm Speaker, our challenges ahead may be new. But the values upon which our success depends - honesty and hard work, resilience and responsibility, the determination to strive and act for the common good - these things are not new.
These are qualities that will stand not just our youths, but all Singaporeans in good stead as we prepare to celebrate our nation's 50th anniversary of independence next year.
The first thing we did as part of our SG50 celebration was to honour our Pioneers. We had a tribute event at the Istana in February, and we will continue to have many different activities and events throughout the year to honour our Pioneers in the different segments of society.
Earlier this year, we also asked Singaporeans how they would like to celebrate this important milestone. Within two months, we had received more than 11,000 suggestions - they come from Singaporeans of all ages, and of all walks of life.
I met Dr Jia Jia who wanted to give a hug to 50 persons, and have each of them multiply that with another 50 more. So if that project works, I think all of us would have had a hug with one another in Singapore. One working adult suggested having a giant potluck with her neighbours for the nation's 50th birthday. Another said he would like to "walk through places and hear the stories of the past with different generations of people". Many others would like local bands and drama groups to stage performances.
We have gone through each and every suggestion, and we will try our best to build them into our events and programmes in the coming year. Minister Heng Swee Keat and I will share more details on the SG50 calendar next week.
What we have in the calendar will include many ground-up initiatives. Because we want Singaporeans to take ownership of the celebration and to play an active role in the celebration. This is why we set up the SG50 Celebration Fund, which will provide each project that is put up for approval, up to $50,000 in funding.
To date, we've received over 100 proposals ranging from performances, to publications, to charity projects and volunteering projects. For example, Samuel He wants to work on a Community Quilts project by stitching together photographs of families taken at iconic locations. Joachim Sim and Lim Mui Chen want to publish success stories of how social enterprises in Singapore are helping the underprivileged.
The ideas that have been coming in for SG50 suggest that Singaporeans are looking beyond celebratory events. They are hoping to see a re-affirmation of deeper values and beliefs that bind us as a nation.
Singaporeans want to celebrate our culture and heritage, to honour our pioneer generation and do something meaningful for the disadvantaged. A good number of them, young and old alike, are willing to invest their own time and energy into this.
I am very heartened to see this active and lively response from Singaporeans. And we've just started, so I'm sure there will be many more to come.
I'm particularly encouraged because we live in a time where politics in many countries has become increasingly acrimonious and divisive; where negative and inflammatory soundbites are being amplified louder and faster than before.
In such an environment, it's very easy to tune out, to become cynical, to focus only on the bad and dismiss all the good that is happening around us.
But the active participation of the many Singaporeans (including young Singaporeans) in the OSC and now the SG50 celebration gives me hope. It should give all of us hope.
It shows that Singaporeans care deeply about one another and about our nation. It shows that we are making progress towards becoming a democracy of deeds. Pledging ourselves to a better Singapore
I earlier quoted Huzaima on her personal aspirations. Let me close by sharing what she said when we asked her what she hopes to see in Singapore, 50 years from now. I quote:
"I hope to see a smaller income gap between the rich and the poor. I hope everyone is happier, healthier and has enough for their retirement. And I hope our people are kinder to one another, even without direct benefit to themselves. Everyone has a part to play. We may not have all the answers, but in terms of shaping this country, everyone must contribute. I would say to my peers: 'What do you hope for Singapore 50 years down the road? And what will you do about it? You have the energy to make things happen. You should get out there and be pro-active. The future belongs to you'."
I think Huzaima said it very well. There are many challenges ahead for Singapore: the fault-lines of inequality and the stresses of globalisation.
These are challenges faced not just by Singapore, but across the globe. They are the most important questions of this generation the world over.
But Singapore has always been, and I believe will continue to be an exceptional nation, with exceptional people. We will rise and adapt to meet the challenges of our day.
And we can only do so in an environment where all Singaporeans work together, build on one another's good ideas, give generously of ourselves, and remain united in purpose and conviction.
So I encourage our youths, I encourage all Singaporeans to step forward. Leave your comfort zone. Engage with others from different walks of life in service, leadership and empathy. Act on your ideas and your ideals.
As we approach the end of this debate on the President's address, let us remind ourselves of what is at stake. We've had many specific suggestions and ideas, but we should also take a step back and look at the bigger picture, which is about our future, the future of Singapore, the future for our children and our youths. So let us renew our pledge - to build a better and brighter Singapore together. Thank you.