Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong’s speech in Parliament on Monday (17 Apr) outlined five key shifts in Singapore’s new social compact.
One of the main points he addressed was the need for a refresh of Singapore’s concept of meritocracy, which he believes is too narrow and requires a shift in mindset about schools and grades.
“Many feel caught in a rat race from a young age – under pressure to get the best grades, get into what they perceive to be the best schools, so they can get the best university places,” said Mr Wong in his speech during the parliamentary debate over President Halimah Yacob’s address at the opening of the second session of parliament last week.
He added that Singapore’s refreshed meritocracy must also be a continuous one, with learning opportunities, milestones and ladders at multiple junctures.
Mr Wong also called for a new definition of success, stating that the current definition tends to “converge around a few material definitions”.
He urged for a shift in mindset from material definitions of success, such as the size of one’s paycheck or property, to wider definitions of success that include personal fulfilment and meaningful contributions to society.
“We should strive to be a meritocracy where everyone can be the best possible version of themselves,” Mr Wong said. “We want to give Singaporeans who graduate from ITE and polytechnics stronger assurance: That their wages and career prospects will not be too far below their university-going peers, and will not be permanently conscribed to be below.”
He acknowledges the palpable sense of danger felt by everyone, not just to the economy, but also to the open and stable global order. However, he promised that the government is committed to addressing the stresses and strains that people feel on the ground.
“We will build on our strong foundations. But we must also have the courage to change where change is needed. This is what my colleagues and I set out to do with Forward Singapore.”
Mr Wong shared that he and his colleagues are reviewing national policies across all areas with Forward Singapore exercise, which has engaged more than 14,000 Singaporeans to share their views.
The conversations have provided fresh insight on what Singapore can do in its next stage of nation building. Mr Wong pledged to ensure that the broad middle of society and their children will continue to see improvements in their lives, and that the more disadvantaged groups will have their gaps closed.
To achieve this, Mr Wong said that Singapore’s economic structures, remuneration and career prospects in various professions must change, so that the wage gap across professions can be narrowed.
He added that the government will consider doing more to support displaced workers, through a targeted re-employment scheme that will reduce the strain on them to make ends meet, while still encouraging them to continue with training and job search.
Mr Wong also spoke about the need to relook at social support so that both the broad middle and the vulnerable can meet their needs in life and will not be left behind.
He noted that there has been a shift from social assistance to social empowerment, and gave the example of the Fresh Start Housing Scheme, which helps lower-income families buy a home of their own.
“We want not only to help people to tide through difficulty, but also to boost their sense of drive and purpose, and strengthen their sense of agency and ownership over their own circumstances,” said Mr Wong.
In addition, Mr Wong outlined plans to care for the growing number of seniors in a sustainable way. He said Singapore will invest in its infrastructure to build more community care apartments, expand the network of active ageing centres, improve access to home-based care services and work with community partners to prevent loneliness and social isolation.
“Our refreshed social compact is not just about the government doing more and Singaporeans depending more on the government … It is about all of us coming together, to forge a society of opportunities and assurance for everyone,” said Mr Wong.
He called for a broader culture of philanthropy and volunteerism and more opportunities for Singaporeans to partner with the government and one another in policymaking and co-creation.
“Our refreshed social compact will be our compass for the road ahead. Forward Singapore is a bold agenda, and it depends on all of us to realise. Though we will not see change overnight, we can each start to embrace the new social compact today,” he concluded.