Over 200 people attended the forum “What Youth Want” at Orchard Hotel on the 7th of June, organized by the Institute of Policy Studies and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
The panel speakers were representatives from six parties who contested in the recent general elections held in May 2011. The SDP was represented by Ms Michelle Lee, a candidate for the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.
The forum was moderated by Dr Gillian Koh, Senior Research Fellow from IPS. The forum’s focus was on the political significance of the youth demographic, and how their aspirations, level of political awareness and preferred forms of political engagement will impact the political developments of Singapore.
In her presentation, Ms Lee drew the distinction between GenX and GenY youths, saying: “Understanding these distinctions is the key to effective engagement with them.”
She contrasted how GenY grew up with 9/11, wars, numerous natural disasters and financial bear markets as the backdrop and how GenX came of age through a period of relative prosperity, stability, bullish market conditions as well as strong institutions.
“These differences are the reason why these two distinct cohorts of youths have their world views shaped differently,” Ms Lee added.
At the Q&A session, the panelists fielded questions mainly along the lines of what can be done to effectively engage the youths. Most of the panelists felt that education, as a public institution, is one of the most important aspects. An education system where politics is not cast aside and engages youths on current affairs is needed.
The panelists also agreed that the youths of today no longer give their automatic deference and respect to the authorities by virtue of their higher level of education.
Exposure to alternative sources of information and ideas through globalization and the Internet make them view authorities more critically and with an open mind.
The forum concluded on the understanding that the political climate in Singapore has seen unprecedented change in relation to the past few decades, and will continue to do so with youths having an increasingly larger part in driving this evolution.
In light of this, policymakers as well as political players would do well to recognize and tap on the youth demographic in order to elevate Singaporeans onto its next phase of political development, or risk becoming sidelined.
The Singapore Democrats have seen a healthy uptick in the number of youths joining the party since the last general elections. Our youth wing, the Young Democrats, continue to engage youths in Singapore on the political front.