It was a quiet evening on campus, during the University vacation when the NUS Student’s political association’s held their annual “Young Guns Forum 2018”.
A select group of about 40 students and staff who managed to get clearance to attend the event, gathered at University town to hear our very own CEC Member, Mr Damanhuri Abas, Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister of State for Education from the PAP, and Mr Gerald Giam, WP Youth Wing chair.
Dr Gillian Koh from the Institute of Policy Studies gamely attempted to moderate the discussion although it was hard for her given the tendency of one of the panelists to dominate the discussion (no prizes for guessing who!).
After a somewhat lengthy preamble in which each panelist spoke about their respective visions for Singapore’s young people staying “rooted and relevant”, questions were raised by the students and one staff. Mr Daman issued a clarion call for students to get involved in politics to ensure that we have the space to bring our country forward by demanding transparency and accountability from our leaders.
A spirited discussion on education then ensued. In response to a student’s question about the extensive streaming that takes place in Singapore schools, Mr Gerald Giam reiterated NCMP Leon Perera’s call in parliament for smaller class sizes. The SDP had made the proposal back in 2010.
Mr Daman related his personal experience in his research on education in Finland which manages to take a more comprehensive approach to education without overly focusing on high stakes standardized testing.
Mr Giam also highlighted the fact that the purpose of streaming in Singapore was sorting students into those of different abilities which could have significant adverse consequences to us as a society. As expected, Mr Puthucheary came out relentlessly defending the current system.
Other questions then flew fast and furious covering various topics including freedom of speech (where the event organizer actually argued that free speech in Korea led to K-dramas and in Japan to J-pop which he viewed as somewhat objectionable!).
Social issues such as discrimination against different kinds of families, whether there were alternatives to raising the GST to fund government programs (a student suggested cutting some high profile government expenditure instead), the elected presidency and the hot topic of corruption in Keppel Corp also came up.
Mr Daman made clear the SDP’s stand against the reserved presidency and expressed the importance of expanding the political space especially for students and youth.
Although the crowd was small and some of the responses predictable (and occasionally frustrating from the establishment!), it was encouraging to know that young Singaporeans are starting to question the elitist mindset of the ruling party.
Hopefully there can be more such fora, not just at NUS but also at schools, polytechnics and ITEs all across the country.
The SDP would be happy to participate in more of such events and welcomes the opportunity to debate matters that are important to Singaporeans with politicians of all stripes for the good of Singapore.