Closing Remarks by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Pre-University Seminar 2021 Virtual Closing Ceremony

Published Date: 04 June 2021 05:00 PM

News Speeches

Good afternoon

1. Thank you for inviting me to join you today. Pre-U Seminar this year is an extraordinary event much unlike any other in its 51-year history. This is the first time we are fully virtual. I am sure you miss the opportunities for face-to-face interaction and learning, and the residential experience. But I am heartened to know that this has not dampened your enthusiasm and spirit of collaboration.

2. I enjoyed the creative presentations of your works earlier. It is uplifting to see the fruits of the conversations you have had over the past four days. I see your determination and desire to co-create a vision for the future of our country.

3. In history, we learn about the rise and fall of great civilisations. We learn the lessons on what keeps a civilisation thriving: resilience, discipline and ingenuity borne out of the crucible of hardships; confidence and rootedness in a collective identity; and the ownership and unity of the people. What then about Singapore? With these in mind, I would like to take this opportunity to share some personal words of encouragement with you.

4. First, every generation has its fair share of challenges, but every generation can arise and come out stronger for the next. We are now in a pandemic, which has been deemed "the crisis of a generation".

5. But this is not the first crisis we have weathered as a people and as a nation. Every generation – the Pioneer generation, the Merdeka generation, your parents' generation – has risen up to hardships and challenges, to bring Singapore to where we are.

6. Even before we were conceived as an independent nation, our forefathers have suffered untold hardship during the Japanese Occupation. We faced challenges when we gained independence in 1965, as an improbable nation with limited resources. Two years later in 1967, the British unexpectedly announced that they were withdrawing their bases east of Suez –they accounted for about 20% of our Gross National Product, and was our defence cover.

7. In 1985, we had our first major recession. And in 1997, there was the Asian Financial Crisis which saw Singapore's growth rate falling from 8% to 1.5% between 1997 and 1998. Retrenchments in 1998 were the highest ever recorded since Singapore's last economic recession in 1985.

8. In 2003, we had SARS, which was another defining moment in our country's history. All of these happened before most of our students here, were born.

9. What about our younger generations? Sometimes, we worry about our youth – the millennials, Gen Z. We bemoan that their mettle as a generation has not been tested. But we should not underestimate the challenges the younger generations are facing and will continue to face.

10. The world is more complex. There is growing geopolitical uncertainty which is reshaping how countries work together. A rules-based, multilateral world order is necessary especially for small countries like Singapore, but that is under threat.

11. The stress faced by our young is real. The competition is now not just local and regional, but global. Social media has made us more connected but also heightened a pervading, judgmental sense of inadequacy, and a culture of hollow aspiration. Our youths face more pressure to pursue a mirage of perfectionism, from OOTD (outfit-of-the-day) to idealised relationships. And now with the pandemic thrown in, the challenges are exacerbated.

12. But these challenges are not insurmountable. As a generation, you are better equipped to deal with them. You are endowed with a plethora of gifts and resources – better educated with knowledge and skills and competencies to be amongst the world's best; more opportunities to pursue different pathways and aspirations; tech-savviness which allows you to consume and create information. You can teach yourself almost anything online.

13. When wisely wielded, these are just some tools which will enable you to chart untrodden paths and establish new ground.

14. Just like the generations before, your generation can be a new pioneering and conquering generation, who will continue to help Singapore shine even brighter in the world. But the measure of every generation's success is not just how well they have done. It is how well they have stewarded the strong foundations they have inherited, and how they enable the next generation to do even better than them. Just like those before you, I hope your generation will do justice to your blessings, and pay it forward by leaving a lasting legacy to those who will come after you.

15. Second, embrace a global mindset, yet treasure your local identity.

16. The world is truly our oyster. Singapore must remain connected to the world as one of the leading global cities, and a critical part of the global value chain. Our people must be equipped with the mindset and skillsets to operate and compete globally.

17. We want to give our students global exposure, and continue to strengthen your ability to understand and work across cultures and nationalities. I hope our young will have the gumption to venture out and make your mark in the world. Beyond that, we must also be able to work with talented people from elsewhere and locally – a diversity of international talent working alongside skilled Singaporean talent, exchanging ideas and bringing out the best in each other. Such vibrancy is what keeps Singapore a liveable and lovable city, and this is the vital ingredient for our future.

18. However, even as we spread our wings and venture far, our Singaporean identity and culture provide us with strong roots. We cannot just settle for "diffuse and rootless cosmopolitanism".

19. Even as we learn from and compete with others, we must have the confidence that we have the ability, talent and aptitude to thrive globally in a uniquely Singaporean way. Our country is a unique one. Our context is also unique.

20. As we keep abreast of what is going on in other countries, study their best practices and adapt them where suitable, we must not copy blindly, or become "intellectually subjugated". We must be careful not to get swept up in popular theories, rhetoric and movements which could divide us, but provide no real solutions to our challenges.

21. We must understand what works best for us, and remain prepared to do what works best for our unique context as a country, even if it sets us apart from the crowd. But being set apart is the essence of our uniqueness. For example: what we have done for our multicultural, multiracial, multilingual society; our model of governance; even how our public housing flats are designed – they are modern, but reflect Singapore's tropical locality and use of space for common interaction amongst different races.

22. Nonetheless, we must always remain agile and humble, and be willing to do better. We are not bound by our plans, or do not just mindlessly follow set moves in a playbook. Plans and ways of doing things should change as circumstances evolve. Our work towards progress, is always work-in-progress. But our principles, values and instincts which define us as a nation – integrity, trustworthiness, multiculturalism, transparency, meritocracy, unity, will of action – must remain our bedrock.

23. Thus, we should be culturally secure, without being culturally superior. We should have the intellectual humility to learn and improve, but not feel intellectually inferior. If not, we are no better than a broken reed blown in every direction of the wind; or a rudderless, anchorless vessel tossed about by the vagaries of the waves generated by megaships.

24. Finally, there must be collective will and action to keep Singapore thriving.

25. Increasingly, many of the complex issues in society, ranging from social mobility to innovation to climate change, cannot be owned and resolved by one group alone. No one has a monopoly over good solutions. No one solution is good enough to meet all needs. Different groups can play different roles to meet the different aspirations and needs in society. Together, they make a collective difference in society.

26. It's not just the issues or outcomes that matter, but how we come together and get different groups with different backgrounds and interests to unite. There could be differences in views; there could be friction. But there must be respect even in differences, and trust in one another. We must always understand and value our unique context, circumstances and culture. And ultimately, we must be determined to be united by our commonalities and common vision and purpose, always for a better Singapore and the well-being of our people.

27. I am confident that your generation, just like the generations before you, will continue to defy the odds of history, and bring Singapore to greater heights.

28. To end, I would like to thank Eunoia Junior College and MOE's Curriculum Planning and Development Division for organising this year's Seminar. They had to pivot very quickly with their plans, but rose to the occasion.

29. And as part of passing the baton, I would to take this opportunity to wish National Junior College all the best as they prepare to host Pre-University Seminar 2022.

30. And now, I look forward to hearing from our students. Thank you.

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