By Ng Sook Zhen

If Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong were right, even if we change Singapore twice over, there still will be many improvements to be made. KT

Speaking at the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum organized by the National University of Singapore Students’ Political Association yesterday at Hon Sui Sen Terrace, PM Lee stressed the need for continual change, plotting a three-stage time-frame to remake Singapore.

“Our future is in our own hands, and it depends on what we do in Singapore – moving forward, seizing opportunities and avoiding problems,” he said in his speech to the largely-student audience.

And the underlying current of the forum seemed to be the need for enough, talented individuals.

“For the next generation, education is a major priority. We have to find a way to equip our young to thrive in a changing world and to take care of themselves,” he said.

In the immediate stage, the government seeks to improve the education system by setting up the fourth public university, upgrading the existing ones and bring in other new institutions.

“We are investing in you, so that you can cope with changes when you grow up, not to give you knowledge from books that you can carry around from the rest of your life, but know how and the ability to think for yourself, PM Lee said.

“So that as the world changes and Singapore changes you can change with it – and in fact you can make Singapore change one step ahead of the competition.”

The medium term concerns are centred upon increasing birth rates and attracting talent.

“We need babies, we need to grow our own talent, and the education system will develop our own talent,” said PM Lee.

“But we must also attract talent from all over the world to add the sparkle to our diamond.”

PM Lee holds NUS as a model of cosmopolitan Singapore.

The university has more than 1,300 lecturers and professors from 57 countries and nearly 10,000 students from 97 different countries.

“We want to integrate immigrants into society, maybe wear slippers and drink bak kut teh. But at the same time, they must bring something different to the blend.”

“If they were exactly the same as us, they wouldn’t be bringing any value,” he said, in response to a query during the question and answer section of the forum.

PM Lee cited strong leadership and imbuing a sense of nationhood as long-term issues which have to be addressed immediately.

“The two go together. It’s not just a matter of finding a job here, but having all your reference points associated with Singapore,” PM Lee said.

It’s not going to be easy to do this, because with globalization, we would be completely exposed to external influences,” he added.

Finding a good leaders in such circumstances, says the Prime Minister, makes him “worry obsessively.”

“In 20 to 30 years time, it would be a completely different Singapore,” he said.

“Will we drift away in the sea of globalization, falling behind, decaying, and losing our soul?”

About the author: Sook Zhen is a new reporter for TOC. She previously worked for SPH. She is currently a law undergrad at the National University of Singapore.

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