Hri Kumar (Hri Kumar)
Here’s a summary of the Youth Dialogue session held on 25th May 2013:
The youth dialogue session was centered on the following theme:
Do we have a future in Singapore?
Three topics were raised for discussion and are summarized below:
1. Inequalities in Education – how do we distribute educational opportunities?
– Fears were raised that inequality permeates all levels of education, starting from the pre-school a child is enrolled in.
– The tuition system further accentuates this inequality: students from more well-off backgrounds have better access to tuition.
– The participants also pointed out that the current education system may favour a certain type of student over others. For example, academically-inclined students identified at an early age in the Gifted Education Programme are allocated greater resources and funds, and have smaller classes than mainstream students. Are these discrepancies justified?
o Others rebutted that the country has limited resources and in a meritocratic system, some should be allocated these resources to ensure that returns are reaped from the resources used.
– Participants indicated that it is necessary for students to be classified and educated in ways that best suit their needs, abilities and potential.
o However, no system of classification is perfect. In deciding on one system over another, the government must make certain trade-offs.
– Some participants felt that there was a low correlation between performance in school and performance at work. Grades, while important at the entry-level, do not dictate one’s success in life. They shared empirical evidence for this in their workplaces. Balance must also be achieved between the pursuit of academic excellence and non-academic interests.
2. Cost of living – will you get married and have children in Singapore?
– The participants pointed out that a distinction had to be drawn between needs and wants. While a car is not a necessity in Singapore today, owning a car is an aspiration shared by many youth.
– The consensus reached was that the cost of housing, education and healthcare in Singapore is high, but that these costs are still somewhat manageable for the majority.
– The participants acknowledged that the government does subsidise the cost of living to cope with inflation.
o University fees, for example, are partially borne by the government.
o Similarly, healthcare subsidies are available to those who visit government hospitals.
o While these measures may be sufficient for the average Singaporean, more can and should be done to help the elderly, the disabled and the lower income group.
– With regard to marriage, some participants expressed concern about their ability raise a family and manage a career at the same time. Given the emphasis put on one’s career, it is likely that getting married and having children will take a lower priority.
– The topic of single parenthood was raised during the discussion and the following opinions were raised:
o Participants acknowledged that single parents face numerous challenges and were further disadvantaged by the lack of subsidies allocated to them.
o Some felt that their predicament was due to circumstances, and not choice. They should thus not be implicated in this way.
o However, it was acknowledged that policies need to reflect the values of the society. Participants were equally divided in their vote on extension of subsidies to single parents.
3. Immigration of foreign students & workers– to freeze or not to freeze?
– Most participants acknowledged the need for immigrants to sustain our population. In particular, foreign students do contribute certain skill sets and diversity to campuses.
– Participants raised concerns about the number of university places allocated to Singaporeans. It was opined that the large number of places allocated for foreign students has forced many Singaporean youth to seek university education at private tertiary institutions, both local and overseas.
– Some felt that priority should be accorded to Singaporeans over foreigners in terms of placement in local universities. Others were worried that universities placed undue emphasis on academic excellence in granting applicants entry.
o On the other hand, some participants raised a point that Singaporeans should not feel entitled to a spot in the local universities or be complacent– foreign students should not be viewed as a threat but seen as contributing to the competitiveness of the local universities.
o Furthermore, in order to maintain the high standards of our universities, it is necessary for the admissions criteria to be stringent.
– Some participants raised a question on the significant number of scholarships that have been awarded to foreigners and felt that these scholarships should be reduced and handed to Singaporeans
– The discussion concluded with the acknowledgement that with a limited number of university places, one needs to face the realities of the selection process