Opening Address by Minister Chan Chun Sing at Pre-University Seminar 2022 Opening Ceremony on 31 May 2022 at National Junior College

Published Date: 31 May 2022 07:03 PM

News Speeches

I. Introduction

1. Good morning.

  1. Last year, the Seminar took on a fully virtual mode because we were still under tight COVID-19 restrictions.
  2. This year, we have resumed some normalcy with a face-to-face Seminar.
  3. Next year, we look forward to a residential element, as has been the tradition of the Pre-U Seminar.
  4. But we are not going back to where we were before.
  5. We must learn to combine the best of our traditions with also what we have learned through COVID-19.
  6. So how about this for next year's Pre-U seminar -- that we have face to face interactions with the added advantage of scaling up participation numbers through virtual means?
  7. How about a Pre-U Seminar where 500 of you can be here in person, reaching out to 10,000 more virtually? These are the new possibilities for events like the Pre-U Seminar and beyond.

II. the Complexities of the Changing World

2. As we overcome COVID-19 challenges, we must not lose sight of the larger forces shaping the world, even prior to the pandemic.

  1. Let me highlight a few of these forces that will have a great impact on us in the next few decades as we strive towards SG100.

3. Let me start with geopolitics.

  1. The big-power rivalry will determine if we can still have a rules-based international security, economic and trading order for countries to thrive, especially for smaller states like us.
  2. Russia's attack on Ukraine and the reasons it has used to justify the use of force has raised existential questions for smaller states – will there still be an international rule of law to allow smaller states to exist?
  3. On the other hand, the paralysis of the World Trade Organisation Dispute Settlement Mechanism has also raised the question of whether states can again rely on international rules for a fair trading order.
  4. And most importantly, we should not assume that the next 50 years will be the same as the last 50, where we had a secure and stable economic order underpinning our peace and prosperity, which allowed us to progress together through interdependence.

4. Geopolitical tensions have also impacted economic cooperation and growth.

  1. To secure national interests, some countries have turned to protectionist actions, inward-looking behaviour, and beggar-thy-neighbour policies.
  2. When countries are not invested in and dependent on one another's growth and well-being, it deepens divisions and can even lead to conflict.

5. Ironically, economic resilience will come from greater connectivity and diversity rather than isolation and exclusivity. With the rapid advancement of technology, we are no longer limited and defined by our physical geography in the way we live and work together.

  1. As we enter the next lap of digital transformation and advances in artificial intelligence, we have been presented with significant opportunities that we can swiftly seize.
  2. If Singapore does this well, it will unshackle Singapore from the tyranny of geography, allow us to transcend our limitations of size, to connect with the world as our hinterland and markets in new ways; and allow us to compete on the basis of our speed of evolution, rather than our relative resource endowment.

6. Adding to the complexities is the issue of climate change which is a real and existential threat to many small city states like us.

  1. Countries will need to navigate through constraints to find sound and innovative solutions for sustainable development.

7. We also cannot ignore the changing face of societies around the world.

  1. Threatened with rising inequality and the ugliness of xenophobia, more polarising voices are amplified.
  2. We must therefore strengthen our social fabric to safeguard against such divisive forces.

III. Every Generation a Pioneering Generation

8. With this as the backdrop, you and your generation may wonder if you will still be called Singaporeans by 2065.

9. But I am optimistic, and I think you and your generation have reasons to be similarly optimistic too.

10. Every generation will have its fair share of challenges. Every generation will have crises to overcome, and this will be the same for your generation.

11. But remember -- every generation can, will and must be a pioneering generation.

12. It is through the crucible of crisis and challenges that the fortitude of Singaporeans is birthed. Our previous generations have weathered trials and tribulations to build our current foundations.

13. Every generation of Singaporeans has not merely hoped to weather challenges but rather confronted the challenges head on and aimed to leave behind a stronger Singapore for the future.

14. And that is how we define success. Not just by how well we do for ourselves in this generation, but how well we enable the next generation to do even better than us.

15. This is our Singapore Compact. To enable everyone to surpass themselves. To enable every generation to surpass the previous generation.

16. We just need to look back on our 57-year history to draw inspiration from what we have overcome and achieved.

  1. In our early nation-building years in the 1960s to the 1970s, the founding generations went through Konfrontasi, the British Withdrawal East of Suez, two global oil crises and the Vietnam War to name a few.
  2. From the 1980s to the 2000s, we underwent our most serious economic recession post-independence, the 1991 hijack of SQ117, the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 amongst others.
  3. And of course, in the last 20 years, we had to overcome SARS, the Global Financial Crisis and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

17. Each generation had their fair share of challenges, each generation innovated and emerged stronger. And indeed, "Emerging Stronger" was our rallying call through the pandemic.

  1. Despite the challenges of our founding generations, they innovated with the EDB to bring in investments, GIC to grow our reserves, the SAF to protect us, the HDB to provide a roof over our heads, and the CPF to take care of our retirement.
  2. By the 1980s, we had to reinvent our economic strategy away from a low-cost production place. We boldly invested in the new Changi Airport to better connect with the world. We started the MRT system. We re-imagined the earlier PSA strategy of depending on the competitiveness of the Singapore port, and re-worked it for PSA to become a global logistics network player where people do not just trade with Singapore, or trade through Singapore, but rather trade on the Singapore platform regardless of where their logistic flows are around the globe.
  3. In the 2000s, we had NEWater as another tap for our national water strategy. Today, we have 17 reservoirs; I remember when I was in school, we only had three. And today, every drop of rainwater that falls on Singapore is reused twice before it is discharged into the sea or evaporated. Two-thirds of our entire island is a water catchment area. Today, we have Jurong Island and the new Downtown at Marina Bay. All these were investments by our previous generations to give this generation an entire new canvas for us to paint our dreams on.

18. Beyond the 2020s, your generation will take on the mantle to lead us to SG100. You will be the leadership of SG100. You too will have your challenges cut out for you.

  1. How to navigate a more contested geopolitical environment?
  2. How to once again transform our economy to create more opportunities for the next generation – an economy that is not based on the input of physical resources, but on our creativity and connectivity with the world?
  3. How to entrench Singapore as a global digital node to transform our connections with the world, and with that transform our lifelines and livelihoods?
  4. How do we transcend our energy and carbon challenges? If we have sufficient and sustainable energy, we fear not of being short of water, food, or even job opportunities.
  5. How do we develop new and innovative solutions to improve our land use, from underground to undersea and above sea?
  6. These are all challenges for our generation, but these are also the opportunities for us to build an even better Singapore for the future.

19. To realise our vision for SG100, we will do our best to equip your generation with the necessary foundations. And I will now speak on the 3 attributes which I think will be critical for you as you lead us to SG100 and beyond.

  1. Be Curious
  2. Be Connected
  3. Be Confident

IV. Be Curious

20. Let me start off with being curious.

Cultivate curiosity for lifelong learning

21. Curiosity is the seed for creativity. Only when one is eternally curious will one be disciplined to constantly look for tomorrow's solutions for tomorrow's challenges. Mastery of the past is but a foundation. Mastery of the past alone will not give us the edge for the future. Instead, being curious and bold to create, will give us that edge.

22. Given Singapore's role as an important node for different industries and services, the stronger our knowledge, skills and capabilities, the more opportunities we will be able to leverage.

  1. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced, but even more jobs – 97 million – could emerge to reflect a new division of labour between humans, machines, and algorithms1.
  2. Skills and competencies like creation, problem-solving, collaboration, cross-cultural confidence, communication, self-management and the adept use of technology are essential for the jobs of tomorrow.
  3. Superior access to information alone will lose its premium. The focus is now on what you can create with the knowledge and insights that you have been able to glean from the information that is widely available to everyone. Everyone has access to the same information base. Whoever can see new perspectives, create new products and services from that same base, will be the ones who will lead and win.

23. Given the rapidly evolving new economy, it is untenable to depend on new cohorts of graduates to meet our needs for emerging skill sets for our country. We will all need to embrace and actively learn new things throughout our lives; learning, unlearning and re-learning. This is the spirit of lifelong learning, founded on lifelong curiosity.

24. Curiosity should not, however, just be considered in isolation. We must concurrently develop our instinct for and muscle of discernment, alongside fair-mindedness and ethical behaviour. This will become even more important in a world increasingly inundated by information, misinformation and disinformation.

V. Be Connected

25. Second, being connected, and there are several dimensions to this.

Connected to the world

26. First, Singapore needs to be connected to the world. It is important for Singapore, as a small nation, to remain attuned to regional developments and connected to the world as one of the leading global cities, and part of the global value chain.

27. As our new pioneering generation, you must be courageous to step out of your comfort zones and learn about the world first-hand.

  1. That is why we encourage our students to have global exposure and participate in internationalisation experiences. COVID-19 might have disrupted some of these plans, but we will want to resume and continue to develop these plans as soon as we can, for your generation to similarly be able to see the world, experience the world, and know the world.
  2. Learn about their histories, their cultures, languages, and most importantly, their perspectives. Learn how people from different parts of the world see things differently, so that we can grow up with a deeper sense of appreciation for the diversity of perspectives and our challenges of bringing them together to forge a new consensus.

28. Being connected to the world also means being willing to embrace global talents to join us to continue to build a Singapore that can stand the test of time. Whether it is in our schools or in the workplace, we can learn from one another, explore new ideas and bring out the best in one another.

Connected to Singapore and our community

29. Beyond being connected to the world, we need to be connected to Singapore and our community.

30. One of our founding leaders, Mr S Rajaratnam, once said that being "Singaporean" is not a matter of ancestry but of "conviction and choice"2. This remains a timeless reminder to us all.

  1. We must never take this challenge and privilege of "conviction and choice" lightly.
  2. If we aspire to truly defy history and transcend geography, it will be wise for us to first understand our historical and geographical realities.
  3. Some of these fundamental, existential realities will not change with time.

31. While we should never be insular or parochial, we must also understand our unique context as a country, and remain prepared to work out what is best, even if it sets us apart.

  1. We must be careful not to be swept up by popular theories, polemics and movements which could divide us, but provide no real solutions to our challenges.
  2. Neither are we superior to others, or know better than others on how to solve their problems.
  3. As you prepare to take on the mantle as new pioneers of Singapore, it is important to crystallise our "Singapore DNA" which makes us valued by others so we can find our own place and chart our own way in this world.
  4. Trustworthiness, multiculturalism, unity, will of action – these are just some of these Singaporean DNA that will set us apart from the rest.

32. Being connected to Singapore also means strengthening our communal and civic spirit.

  1. Let us continue to take care of one another.
    1. We often use the phrase "gotong royong spirit" in the days of simpler kampung life. How we looked out for one another, knowing that this will be reciprocated. How we focused on what we had in order to best take care of one another, instead of focussing on what we did not have.
  2. Let us continue to safeguard our culture of harmony and respect.
    1. With the proliferation of spaces where anyone and everyone can speak up, we must, as a community, also develop our own norms of engagement and discourse, both online and offline.
    2. We can disagree. We can hold on to our own beliefs. But there is value in honing our capacity to listen, empathise and respect one another's perspectives.
    3. Imagine - How would things be if we were slower to take offense, misunderstand and tear people down? How would things be if we were quicker to listen, seek to clarify and build bridges?

VI. Be Confident.

33. Third, be confident.

Confident in ourselves

34. In an intensely competitive global environment, having a healthy sense of self is essential.

  1. Confidence in ourselves as individuals starts from understanding our own strengths, limitations, and interests.
  2. We do not need to constantly compare ourselves with others.
  3. Seeking to surpass ourselves to grow as a person throughout life, is more important than just trying to surpass others in any particular exam.

35. Each of us is gifted in our own different ways.

  1. There will be multiple pathways and different opportunities for us all in Singapore. Sometimes in life, we can be disappointed with outcomes when things do not turn out the way that we expect them to be. We can try again, explore other options, and we might even find new ways to get things done.
  2. Success in life is not defined by how well we do in a narrow single measure.
  3. As a society, we must learn to define success beyond ourselves. Success must be seen in a broader context of how we can contribute to a larger cause, a higher calling, and how we can contribute to others and our society beyond us.
  4. The greater our diversity of individual strengths, the greater our resilience as a society.

Confident in our ways and contributions

36. Just as every individual is unique, every society is also unique in its own challenges. We must have the courage to seek our own solutions in context, rather than just copying others out of context. We should learn from others, but we must also apply the lessons to our own context.

  1. This was how we developed our own EDB, GIC, SAF, HDB, CPF and many more.

37. Many of the complex issues we face today will require the collective wisdom and the collective will to act.

  1. There can be no "one-size-fits-all" solution, or a silver bullet to resolve all challenges.
  2. There is also no one person or one single organisation that has a monopoly of ideas over all the solutions.
  3. Instead, we will need different ideas and different groups to take the initiative so that we can broaden our network of support to serve different needs.

38. However, do not think that we only need "big systemic solutions" to tackle issues.

  1. Never underestimate how simple, daily acts of responsibility, kindness and thoughtfulness can go a long way in shaping who we are as a society in the long run.
  2. You can contribute in your own ways, every day, and anywhere.

Conclusion

39. To conclude, I would like to thank National Junior College for co-organising this year's Pre-U Seminar with the Ministry of Education.

40. The theme of this year's Pre-U Seminar, 'Service: Forging the Singapore Story', resonates deeply with me.

  1. The word "Service" reminds us how Singapore has come through all the trials and tribulations through the service and contributions of generations of everyday Singaporeans.
  2. "Forging" reminds us that we cannot rest on our laurels and must continually overcome to create new opportunities for us to chart a new path together, and to create more and better opportunities for the next generation.

41. Over the past 52 years, Pre-U Seminar has been an important common ground to bring generations of young people together to better understand our local and global developments, discuss issues, imagine possibilities, and envision a shared future for Singapore. This is necessary more than ever before; you will have a safe platform for all of you to engage on issues together, and to build bonds of friendships.

42. All of you will be the leaders of SG100 when we get there, and the journey starts now. For you to understand the challenges that we face, and to appreciate the space for solutions that we can have. But most importantly, for you to forge the bonds and commitment to say that you will overcome challenges and take us to SG100 and beyond. I look forward to the discussion with you, and I look forward to your contributions and leadership to chart our way forward.

Thank you very much.

Footnotes
  1. World Economic Forum. (2020). The Future of Jobs Report 2020. https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2020.pdf
  2. Ng, J. (2016, July 29). CO16196: A Singapore Founding Father: An Appreciation of S Rajaratnam. RSIS Publications. Retrieved May 28, 2022, from https://www.rsis.edu.sg/rsis-publication/nssp/co16196-a-singapore-founding-father-an-appreciation-of-s-rajaratnam/#.YpIoQygRVEa
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