President Halimah Yacob: Rethink education and work to not let privileges be entrenched

Opening the 2nd session of Parliament, she said Singapore must do utmost to combat social stratification that will weaken the nation

President Halimah Yacob gives her speech to open the second session of the 14th Singapore Parliament. (PHOTO: Screenshot/MCI YouTube channel)
President Halimah Yacob gives her speech to open the second session of the 14th Singapore Parliament. (PHOTO: Screenshot/MCI YouTube channel)

SINGAPORE — President Halimah Yacob has called for a rethinking of Singapore's approach to education and work, so as to not allow advantages and privileges to become entrenched and persist over generations.

In her speech to open the second session of Parliament on Monday (10 April), Halimah outlined four key priorities for the remainder of the current term of government.

First on her list of priorities is the need to expand opportunities throughout life for all Singaporeans, regardless of individual backgrounds and circumstances.

She said that while meritocracy has long been the organising principle of Singapore's society, all societies tend to become more stratified and less socially-mobile over time. She said Singapore must do its utmost to combat this tendency, otherwise it would weaken and fracture the society.

"We will provide everyone with access to a good education, and many chances in life to learn and improve. But let us not be unwittingly drawn into an educational arms race, and end up worse off as a society," Halimah said in her speech.

"We must also re-examine how society rewards different skills and talents, and recognises the full range of pathways to success. We should accord greater value to those who are skilled with their hands and contribute through their technical and practical abilities, as well as those with the social and empathetic traits to excel in jobs such as caregiving or community service.

"At the same time, we will step up support for the disadvantaged and vulnerable segments in our society."

Final President's Address for Halimah

Monday's speech will be Halimah's final President's Address for her current term of presidency, with the next presidential election due by September this year.

Over the next two weeks, the various ministries are expected to release their addenda, and Parliament will debate the President's Address.

Halimah also listed improving social safety nets as a key priority of the government, to help Singaporeans better cope with disruptions and setbacks.

She said the government will look into expanding support initiatives such as the COVID-19 Recovery Grant and SGUnited Jobs and Skills programme beyond the COVID pandemic. Meanwhile, the SkillsFuture ecosystem will be strengthened to bring all Singaporeans along on the city-state's digitalisation and industry transformation journey.

"We will enable every citizen to do a significant skills reboot in the course of their working lives. This will help to keep them employable, whether they progress further in their respective fields, or transit across to jobs in new areas of growth," Halimah said.

Building a 'people-friendly' city

Singapore will also press on with longer-term efforts to build a city that is green, connected and highly liveable.

Halimah said that the city should become more "people-friendly", with better-connected streets and green spaces that are conducive for walking and cycling, where people can meet, interact and connect with one another.

The fourth priority for the government is to strengthen the society's collective responsibility to shape the nation's future.

Halimah said that more government action should not result in a greater sense of dependency and entitlement. Instead, the government will try and bring forth more contributions from other stakeholders.

"To tackle the complex challenges ahead, Singapore will need a stronger network of stakeholders to participate in nation building," she said.

"Committed businesses that champion socially responsible and sustainable practices; a passionate civil society that advocates for their visions of a better society; an active citizenry that takes ownership of issues; the government will do more to mobilise and involve all stakeholders."

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