The views came thick and fast and they covered a host of issues close to the hearts of young Singaporeans. Some 60 young Singaporeans aged between 19 and 35 years engaged Mr Lawrence Wong, Senior Minister of State for Education and Information, Communications and the Arts, in a dialogue session on 18 October 2012.

Organised by YSA and the four self-help groups, and supported by the National Youth Council (NYC), the session focussed on issues of meritocracy, role of the government, social welfare and youths as change agents, among others.

The session threw up several interesting and, at times, competing perspectives on the various issues. For example, the participants were divided on whether Singapore’s meritocratic system should concentrate more on providing equal opportunities or ensuring equal outcomes. Some participants labelled it an “essentially heartless” or “utopian” system in which “those who start out behind fall even further behind”. However, there were others who contended that meritocracy has served Singapore well and it is something that Singaporeans should be proud of.

In response, while agreeing with both sets of views, Mr Wong stated that “It is not so much that meritocracy is flawed, but it means having a broader sense of what merit is.” He said that the government would continue to ensure the education system would be a social leveller, including improving the pre-school system. However, mindsets would have to change so that Singaporeans can embrace different forms of success beyond academic excellence and high pay.

Another competing view among the participants was on the role of the government. Mr Faris Abdulkadir Basharahil spoke of the government doing too much. The Chief Executive of an arts company cited the example of the government increasing funding for the arts this year but directing all of it to government agencies, which then, in essence, compete with people on the ground and intermediaries. However, Ms Arvinder Kaur, a civil servant, called for more government intervention in areas such as social welfare.

Though the dialogue was not an official session under the ‘Our Singapore Conversation’ umbrella, the participants saw the discussion as their ground-up contribution to the national conversation.

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