Many young people want to understand how the "kampung spirit" of old relates to modern Singapore, going by the number of questions they asked Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong at the annual Polytechnic Forum.
People coming together and working together to build a better future for themselves and their children is what the kampung spirit is about, he told the 300 students who had gathered at Singapore Polytechnic on Tuesday.
During the hour-long dialogue, students had a go at defining the concept in their own terms, throwing up phrases like "volunteerism" and "a collective mindset" - the willingness to work together for a common cause.
Mr Wong agreed that volunteerism was important as well.
"Many things can help promote the kampung spirit but ultimately you need people to take ownership, and that requires people to volunteer their time, volunteer their energies," he said.
Mr Wong was part of a panel that included Mr Tong Yee, co-founder of social enterprise The Thought Collective, and Straits Times senior correspondent Radha Basu, who covers social issues.
The students raised many more issues, such as caring for the elderly and elitism. A common concern they voiced was the nation's reliance on foreign talent in local businesses and sports.
"Some of you spoke quite emotionally about this," said Mr Wong, who urged students to consider the many foreign nurses who care for the elderly, and foreign professionals who have contributed their expertise to build up industries that employ Singaporeans.
"How we feel, how we behave, reflects ultimately on who we are and our own insecurities, or our own confidence as Singaporeans," he added.
Nanyang Polytechnic arts student Heather Abeyasekera, 17, said the local arts community was "very underground", and not talked about much.
Mr Wong said the local arts scene was "still not quite there yet".
Urging the students to be more supportive of the local music and arts scene, he said to laughter from the students: "I can't fill the (Esplanade theatre) if it's a local musician but if I bring a K-pop group, I can charge $100 and the place will be full."
This article was first published on Sep 18, 2014.
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