The new pioneering generation


THE phenomenon of a growing number of undergraduates who take leave from school to do an extra internship, volunteer overseas or start a business is a positive one.

These activities can provide valuable opportunities for students to learn at the university of life before they return to complete their academic courses. This is one way in which all-rounders are made.

Singapore will need precisely these kinds of young people as its economy matures and it has to strive harder to climb the crowded ladder of globalisation.

Indeed, Singapore awaits a new pioneering generation to strike out in new fields. Unlike the first generation of pioneers, who turned the ideals of independence into reality through hard work and sacrifice, the new pioneers enjoy the luxury of building on the achievements of the past half century.

This is so obvious that it is easy to miss its import. Around the world, to be young today is often to stare at unemployment, irregular employment or falling living standards. In poor countries, insufficient investment in education and dysfunctional politics betray the chances of the young.

In developed countries, economically unsustainable yet politically unditchable social spending does the same. For all the rhetoric that the future belongs to the young, many live in fear of not making it into the middle class or falling out of it.

By contrast, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said to university students recently, the next 50 years are promising for Singapore.

A strong educational foundation, a technologically savvy population able to plug into a world of good jobs, a habit of fiscal conservatism, and the presence of substantial reserves provide a framework for viable expectations amid the vagaries of change.

Armed with these resources and provided Singapore continues to enjoy good governance, the young should be emboldened to strike out in fresh directions that take Singapore forward.

Older Singaporeans, particularly parents, can help by encouraging measured risk-taking and giving the young a chance to make mistakes in order to learn from them.

This is so especially because the state will be less able to predict outcomes and pick winners, and thus be less intrusive than it was in the past. Today's young would not want it any other way. But more freedom means more responsibility for consequences.

It is here that some characteristics of the past will remain essential.

A penchant for thrift allowed the pioneer generation to accumulate the resources that are being spent on the young today. Prudence and resourcefulness will permit more such intergenerational transfers in the future.

Along with integrity and diligence, these are time-tested values that should never go out of style.

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