The Prime Minister gave an exceptional speech. I think and feel that it was one that spoke sincerely to heart. If you think otherwise, don’t bother reading this to the end – find something else to read.
Sure, some issues were not discussed, such as the Population White Paper, the cost of living and the state of transport. But those are stories for another day and post.
I want to talk about social mobility, as the PM spent great length on the issue by talking about improving the education system to give young Singaporeans the chance to succeed in life.
It has been nine years since Mr. Lee took over as Prime Minister. Observing his speeches through the years, one thing is clear: the PM is determinedly optimistic. This year’s speech showed that he cannot, in all good conscience, be faulted for trying. There is no doubt about his intentions at all.
Indeed, Mr. Lee’s desire to improving social mobility in Singapore can be seen symbolically and tangibly. For the first part, he held this year’s National Day Rally at the ITE College Central and HQ, a move that he said reaffirms his commitment to education. For the latter, he gave several “tweaks” to the education system, fine-tuning it.
What is social mobility? To me, it is a function of three components in the following order: opportunities, attitude, and hard work.
You need to have opportunities to channel that hard work and attitude, otherwise you won’t be able to shine. It thus falls to the Government to provide these opportunities in our education system.
But opportunities alone do not suffice. You need to seize those opportunities. Thus, you need the right attitude, and that begins with the right habits of mind.
Yet, having the right attitude and opportunities will mean nothing if you don’t translate that attitude into actions.
Three outstanding youth were mentioned by the PM in his speech – each of them embodying social mobility. The education system, though imperfect, gave them the opportunity they needed in life. They had the right attitudes and they slogged hard. On a more emotional level, these youths represented the indomitable fighting spirit that we all yearn to have – to not give up in the face of great adversity.
I cite one example. Dr. Yeo Sze Ling became blind when she was four years old. But she has gone on to NUS, topped the Faculty of Science, pursued her PhD in Mathematics and is now a researcher at A*STAR. Holding back tears and emotion, PM said “Sze Ling proves that you can do well if you work hard, it doesn’t matter what your circumstances are. And that’s what we have to try to do, to contribute back to society and keep the system fair for all.”
Dr. Yeo embodies the social mobility and the ideal fighting spirit that have been and will continue to be the key ingredients of Singapore’s success.
It is social mobility that has given generations of Singaporeans the chance to do better than their parents have. We saw drastic changes within generations of Singaporeans. But at the same time, globalisation has made our society less mobile and stratums have begun to calcify at the extremes.
Singaporeans voiced these concerns regarding social mobility during the Our Singapore Conversation sessions. The Government has heard them and the PM talked about keeping social mobility alive in Singapore. Indeed, Mr. Lee’s legacy as Prime Minister may be defined by his dedication to preserving social mobility for all of us.
To do that, we need the fighting spirit that Dr. Yeo and the two young gentlemen exuded. It is that fighting spirit that says that we will live to fight another day and we will do better than before. It is that same fighting spirit that says that there are no challenges that we cannot overcome.
And truly, what challenges are there that we cannot overcome? Looking at our history, the odds were stacked against us in 48 years ago. But because generations before us bore that flame of desire to do better for themselves and their families, Singapore has survived and prospered.
Today, our challenges are different. Our external environment has become more complex and our problems are much harder to solve. But it is not impossible. I am confident that with sheer grit and determination, we will overcome them together.
Referring to the vision he charted for Singapore, the PM said “(t)hese are not just plans, but an act of faith in Singapore and in ourselves…We will dream big, and achieve what we set out to do. Together, we can create a brighter future for all Singaporeans.”
We will dream big because the sky’s the limit. I am hopeful that our best days are ahead of us. Majulah Singapura!