IN 1947, a postwar Singapore which had yet to become independent faced the pressing challenges of overcrowding and low rates of literacy.
Since then, the country has undergone a sea change and it is now shaped by three major shifts in the areas of demography, technology and social expectations, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday.
He called the long-term transformation "social climate change" which, like its environmental cousin, "takes place imperceptibly and you see the effects only long after it has become irreversible".
Research can help Singapore anticipate and meet these challenges, Mr Goh said at the launch of a centre that specialises in social services research.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) Social Service Research Centre will work with policymakers and social service agencies to pilot social programmes.
These should produce more effective services and social innovations in the community, he added.
Mr Goh identified three key drivers of social climate change.
First, Singapore has an ageing and declining population, and a big jump in cross-border marriages across cultures and socio-economic groups.
He said more older men are at his Meet-the-People sessions to ask for a long-term visit pass or permanent residency for their younger, foreign wife.
The stability of these marriages and their offspring's welfare should be tracked, he added, since anecdotal evidence shows problems loom ahead for them, their children and society.
The second is the use of mobile smart devices and social media, which will influence how people interact with each other.
Third, many more Singaporeans count themselves as middle class.
But with this comes mid-life insecurities and fears about their economic future and their children's, said Mr Goh.
The new research centre will be led by Professor Paul Cheung and Associate Professor Irene Ng, both from the NUS department of social work.
NUS provost Tan Eng Chye said the centre was timely as it comes amid growing public scrutiny of social issues here.
It will focus for now on low- wage workers, children, youth and seniors from low-income families.
This article was first published on April 25, 2015.
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