Some thoughts about the letter to 4th prime minister by NUS students

By March 26, 2018Current

TL;DR – It’s going to be one hell of a ride.

A group of students from the National University of Singapore wrote a “letter” to the 4th Prime Minster of Singapore. In it, they wrote what they thought to be some of the challenges that Singapore faced, and asked three questions:

  • How much will the PM trust young people?
  • How will the PM unite people?
  • What is Singapore to the PM?

I’m encouraged that our youths feel enough for Singapore to express their views in a rather creative manner.

However, I don’t agree with everything they wrote. In fact, I found some of the things they wrote puzzling, ironic, and worrying.

The puzzling

The students wrote about the rapid changes that Singapore has gone through. And amidst those changes, they’ve “also been growing up – perhaps too quickly”. That puzzled me greatly. What did the students mean that they are growing up too quickly? The vast majority of Singaporean children don’t really take on adult responsibilities until their 20’s. That’s not really growing up very quickly. My mother, being the eldest daughter, had to take care of 6 other siblings by the time she was 9. That included cooking, cleaning, bathing the siblings, buying groceries, and much more. That was growing up quickly.

His hair turned into icicles after he walked to school on a sub-zero morning (via)

And compared to the kids in some other places, kids in Singapore really take their time to grow up. Like Wang Fuman, China’s ice boy, who have to trek 4.8km in freezing cold just to get to and from school. And then the many other children and teens in other parts of the world who work to provide the needs (not just the wants) of their their family. Those children grow up too quickly.

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Yes, there are some children like that in Singapore. But they are the minority. So we wonder what the students meant when they say that they’ve been growing up “perhaps too quickly”.

The ironic

The students quoted Shakespeare: “What is the city but the people?” and even Marvel: “Asgard is not a place, it’s a people”. They also seem to suggest that they want to be treated more like leaders rather than simply being the governed. Yet, after saying all that, it seems that they place a heavier responsibility upon the PM and the government to unite Singaporeans.

Why should that be?

Yes, Singapore IS about its people. And so it should be the people who work with one another to fill the cracks, blur the lines, and break down the walls that divide us. The PM and his government can facilitate, but ultimately, they should be the reflection of the will of the people.

Which means we, the people, have to take the lead. Reach out and get more Singaporeans to affirm other Singaporeans who currently might be marginalised because of their sexuality, family backgrounds, ethnicity, age, passion, occupation or interest. Why do we need the PM and/or the government to do that? And what exactly do we expect the PM and/or the government to do?

The worrying

The students pointed out that they see some naysayers being treated negatively, and some people who write articles online are reminded to respect existing boundaries. They highlighted that how much freedom they are trusted with “will partly determine how far we will go for Singapore”. That suggests that the youths will only speak up, write articles online, and go all out for Singapore if they are given absolute freedom and don’t have to be concerned with any pushback.

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To me, that is extremely worrying.

The greatest change in history came about because people spoke up because it was right to speak up, even if it meant that they will be treated negatively, even if they would be harmed, even if they might die. Hopefully, our youths and Singaporeans should be like that too. Regardless how much the PM and/or government trusts us, regardless how much fear they try to instill in us, regardless how they threaten us, we should have the courage to speak up if speaking up is the right thing to do.

If our youths don’t understand that, and more importantly, if they don’t have the courage to do that, then I really worry for our future.

But we do agree that more can be done about social inequality

That being said, I do agree with the students that the PM and his government should do more to reduce social inequality and that our government should be bolder in being innovative. Given the disruptions brought about by technological, economic, societal and geopolitical changes, we should question every assumption we have when making policies.

No cows should be too sacred to be slain if slaying those cows is the right thing to do.


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Jake Koh

Author Jake Koh

Recovering sushi addict, I'm a man of mystery and power, whose power is exceeded only by his mystery.

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