Speeches/Interviews

January 28, 2016

Speech by Mr Ng Chee Meng, Acting Minister for Education (Schools), at Debate of President’s Address, 28 Jan 2016, Parliament

Madam Speaker, I support the motion.

1. As we enter SG51, the President, in his address has called for Singaporeans * to renew our commitment to a better Singapore * and write the next chapter together.

Twin Imperatives of Security and Economy

2. Many Members have spoken at length about * how Singapore remains very vulnerable to our external circumstances, * and also our inherent limitations, such as land and population size.

3. We are reminded, even as we stand from a position of strength today, that our survival depends on us continuing to be exceptional, in both our security and economy.

4. In my view, the need for a strong security umbrella is never in doubt. I know the threats and dangers to our country quite well.

  • We all must be clear-minded that our basic vulnerability of being small has not changed, and will not change.
  • A strong SAF is needed to deter potential adversaries and, together with our Home Team, safeguard Singapore.
  • This is needed to enhance the peace so that our vital interests can be taken care of.
  • A secure environment is critical not just for our safety but for our economy, our businesses, our rice-bowls.

5. Our economy is vital to our survival. In this next chapter of our Singapore story, we are faced with a strategic challenge of an aging population and a declining workforce.

  • We need to recognise this impending change that is already at our doorstep;
  • and restructure our economy to adapt and sustain growth.
  • The work of The Committee on the Future Economy will be critical to ensure that our economy can remain competitive and Singaporeans can continue to aspire to good jobs and opportunities.

6. Madam Speaker, these are the hard realities that Singapore faces. We have faced them in our past 50 years, and we will continue to face them in the next 50.

  • We will have to continue to take a pragmatic approach, adapt, and evolve our policies so that we can continue to succeed economically and protect ourselves.

Singapore Heartbeat: Source of Inner Strength

7. But in a fast changing world with growing diversities and forces that could pull our society apart, Singapore will need a source of Inner Strength to keep us united - I call this the Singapore Heartbeat.

8. Singapore is commonly known for our “Head” because of our pragmatism. We are admired as * an economic miracle, * an efficient, well-organised and well-run city.

9. Unfortunately, this may be a double-edged sword because on the downside, many question if we have traded off some of our soul and heart in the pursuit of efficiencies. Those of us who are honest about it will probably admit to having asked ourselves if we are too cold, or whether there is a Singapore “Heart”.

10. Yet, last year when our founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed on,

  • we proved the world wrong when Singaporeans came together in solidarity.
  • I think we surprised even ourselves at how much heart and spirit we have in all of us.
  • we all remember our own experiences, and countless stories of how ordinary Singaporeans came forward with their elderly parents and young children to queue patiently for hours.

11. Many were touched by the accounts of businesses and volunteers giving out food, drinks, and umbrellas so that they could offer some comfort to fellow Singaporeans queuing in the blazing sun.

12. I was personally moved. I was moved to see the hundreds of thousands lined up on that Sunday morning in the pouring rain, standing shoulder to shoulder to send Mr Lee off on a final journey across Singapore to the State Funeral Service .

13. The Economist described this phenomenon as “an improbable patriotism”.

  • For once, others, looking in from the outside, saw what it meant to be Singaporean.
  • They witnessed the pride of our people, who are usually not expressive with our emotions.
  • It was truly uplifting for me personally to witness a reenergised Singapore Heartbeat. This continued beyond the week of March, and into the SG50 celebrations throughout the year, especially on the 9th of August.

14. Madam Speaker, the President’s address spoke about * the people uniting and resolving to move ahead together * and the bonds of kinship that make us a caring society * To me, these are two dimensions of the Singapore Heartbeat.

15. The heart is the central powerhouse that pumps life-giving oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body.

  • While others consider us exceptional because of our Head,
  • we must never forget that the Heart is our source of inner strength, our inner core.

16. So today, I would like to talk about how we can keep the Singapore Heartbeat

  • strong and steady beyond SG50
  • and into the next phase of nation building.

One Heart: Ensuring Unity within Society

17. First, we must keep united in vision and purpose, with one Heart. The idea of the Singapore Heartbeat is that all of us are

  •  indispensable and
  • complementary parts of a living system, our Singapore.

18. Just as the different organs in the body have to work together for the body to be healthy, we too, must find a place for every Singaporean to be part of the nation’s progress.

  • We must provide the opportunity for everyone to

    1. discover their strengths,
    2. to develop them
    3. and then contribute to society in meaningful ways.
  • This is the direction in which we must continue to evolve our approach of meritocracy,

  • so that our system encompasses broader definitions of success and fulfilment.

19. We must also ensure that every Singaporean has the opportunity to

  • succeed and share in the nation’s prosperity and progress,
  • regardless of their starting point and background.

20. Education, has an important role to play.

  • While we cannot ensure equal outcomes, we should provide children equal access to opportunities in our schools.
  • We will create multiple pathways to success, and do our very best to nurture each child
  • so they can reach the fullest of their potential, grounded on sound values and character.

21. Many members in this House have spoken up on education. I thank all of you for their ideas and appreciate the high interest you have given to education. This is a good indication that all of us place significant emphasis on education in our country, and on our children.

22. On the social front, we have made significant efforts, and must continue to ensure social mobility and strengthen social safety nets.

  • After all, the well-being of our society, like the body
  • is measured by the health of all our parts.
  • Similarly, the strength of our social fabric lies in the spirit of mutual support within our society.

23. I recently saw a video of “Forget Us Not”, which is an independent initiative organised by Lien Foundation and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

  • This initiative was kick-started in Yishun Chong Pang area to raise awareness of the growing number of persons with dementia (PWD).
  • It involves the Neighbourhood Police Centre and 80 Citizens-on-Patrol residents trained to detect, respond and assist PWDs who they meet during patrols.
  • The initiative also organised education talks on dementia and conducted training sessions to over six thousand people and businesses.

24. This is a wonderful example of a ground-up initiative that embodies the Singapore Heartbeat. It brings together expertise and energy of different segments of the society for a common good.

25. As our society matures, we should do more to encourage individuals and organisations to come forward and take collective ownership of the community they live in, for the Singapore that we all love.

A Steady Rhythm: Deep Bonds of Kinship

26. Second, for a steady Singapore Heartbeat, we must also nurture deep bonds of kinship.

27. A heart is much more than just a muscle.

  • The heart is also where we hold the things we cherish the most,
  • and where our passions spring forth.

28. Therefore, a strong Singapore Heartbeat is formed by

  • deep bonds of kinship amongst our people
  • and the pride of simply being Singaporean.
  • These come from shared experiences of

    1. studying in the same school, playing together
    2. living in the same community
    3. and for our men, having served in national service together.
    4. We are connected by everyday things that make us uniquely Singaporean, including our Singlish, perhaps our favourite chicken rice and even “choping” our seat in the crowded hawker centres with our tissue papers.

29. The irony is, sometimes, it is only when we are away from home that we feel such a surge of pride

  • when we bump into fellow Singaporeans overseas
  • or when our overseas friends ask us about our country and the secrets to our success.

30. But pride and love for our country and fellow Singaporeans should not be just feelings that arise only because of the occasion and atmosphere. That type of sentiment is not bad, but it does not last for the long haul, and does not anchor a nation. 

31. We do not want a racing, erratic heartbeat when we run a long-distance race. What we need is a steady and strong heartbeat that will take us forward in our journey.

32. It involves us demonstrating our love for the country and to care for our fellow countrymen on an ordinary day and in ordinary ways.

33. A middle-aged taxi-driver approached me recently for help to appeal to waive a parking fine. He told me he was driving a wheel-chair bound lady on an early morning shift. When they had arrived at her flat, he left his car by the road so that he can personally wheel her all the way up to her high-rise flat and to her doorstep. I applaud his act of kindness, going out of his way to help, at a certain level of personal inconvenience and sacrifice. Till now, I’m not too sure what has happened to his parking fine, but I hope he got it waived.

34. The point is, I think sometimes, we tend to look out for big gestures and forget that an ordinary act of kindness, like what this taxi driver did, forms the basic rhythm of the Singapore Heartbeat.

35. Indeed, patriotism and love for our country are inseparable from caring and looking out for fellow countrymen. But sometimes such acts can go unnoticed amongst us, and that is why people get cynical about our Singapore Heart.

  • This inspired a movement called The Hidden Good (THG), started by two then-NSFs, Leon and Rovik, back in 2013.
  • In a team of undercover journalists, they would go around the island with a hidden camera to capture everyday kindness and graciousness among Singaporeans.
  • Then, they would share videos or stories online.
  • It could be simple things like

    1. someone giving up a seat in the MRT
    2. or helping someone to reach groceries on the top shelf in the supermarket.
  • This youth movement has gained a lot of traction on social media, bringing to light the “hidden good” of our society, bringing forth our Singapore Heartbeat.

36. Our Singapore Heartbeat is about such altruistic acts, but it is also much more than that. We must build the Singapore Heartbeat to forge our collective core strength, our collective resilience and our social cohesion.

37. Together with our economic strength and a safe and secure environment, the Singapore Heartbeat will propel us forward to the next lap.

Conclusion

38. Madam Speaker, let me conclude by quoting a verse from our National Anthem. Marilah kita bersatu Dengan semangat yang baru Semua kita berseru

39. In English, Come, let us unite in a new spirit Let our voices soar as one

40. In the last five decades, * our founding fathers and the generations before us have risen to this call, * building a strong and free nation, * a robust and prosperous economy, * and a peaceful and progressive society.

41. Now, let us refresh and re-energise ourselves with a new spirit and the Singapore Heartbeat to carry us to SG100 and beyond.

42. While we do face new and complex challenges ahead, * we stand in a position of strength, compared to where we started off fifty years ago in 1965 * We must continue to think wisely with our head to grow our economy * We must build our muscle to defend our country. * At the same time, I call on this House, and fellow Singaporeans to forge a strong Singapore heartbeat.

43. As long as our Singapore Heart beats strong and steady, as long as we remain united as One People, I am optimistic and confident that we will build an exceptional and enduring Singapore for our children, and for our children’s children.

44. With this, Madam Speaker, I support the motion.

45. Thank you.