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Singapore youth well equipped to face future challenges: PM

SINGAPORE — Young Singaporeans today are much better placed than the previous generations — and their counterparts in many other countries — to overcome worries about job security and cost of living.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong address university students at a dialogue session at the Nanyang Technological University on Jan 28, 2014. Photo: Ernest Chua

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong address university students at a dialogue session at the Nanyang Technological University on Jan 28, 2014. Photo: Ernest Chua

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SINGAPORE — Young Singaporeans today are much better placed than the previous generations — and their counterparts in many other countries — to overcome worries about job security and cost of living.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made this point yesterday as he acknowledged concerns among Singapore’s youth that they might have a tougher time than their parents.

Speaking at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) ministerial forum, he pointed out that young Singaporeans are growing up with higher aspirations and becoming better educated, and urged them to see their concerns in context.

He said he would disagree with youth who felt that they might not do better than their parents in life. “I wish I were born 50 years later,” quipped Mr Lee, who turns 62 next month.

Among other things, Singapore has educated its people well, Mr Lee said. The country has a high international standing and its system works, even though once in a while things go wrong, he added.

The Republic has also built up its resources and reserves to weather storms. “There is no reason to think we cannot overcome our challenges and create a bright future for all,” he said.

During the question-and-answer session, Mr Lee also noted that, unlike their predecessors, who might have experienced war and hardship, the current generation grew up at a time when conditions were stable and there were plenty of opportunities.

He was responding to a question from NTU first-year public policy and global affairs student Sacha Ong Li Wen, who asked whether Singaporeans have become more individualistic and are not working together for the country.

Addressing the youth among the 1,200-strong audience consisting of undergraduates and academics, Mr Lee reiterated that they are the ones who will take the country forward. “What you know, what you have seen and what you are familiar with, in some ways is more relevant to the future than what the older generation know, have seen and are familiar with,” he said.

In his speech, Mr Lee noted that the older generations have already laid the foundations for the country. “It will be a crime not to make it work.”

Mr Lee said in order for the Republic — which is celebrating its 50th birthday next year — to prosper for the next five decades, it has to educate its students better and create more opportunities in a rapidly changing society.

Most importantly, the country needs to be united and cohesive, he said. “Our society must work, our politics must work, we must stay one people feeling like one people, not divided, not fighting with ourselves.”

On the global front, he noted that the social impact of technology and globalisation will grow. For instance, jobs will be replaced by new ones that were previously unheard of and income gaps are likely to widen.

While people will find it easier to organise themselves on social media, the structure of societies and organisations will be disrupted, he said.

And as China and India grow, Asia will play a larger role in world affairs. Nevertheless, he cited the territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas as examples of potential problems. The next five decades will be uncertain, but exciting, he said.

As Singapore approaches its Golden Jubilee, Mr Lee urged young Singaporeans to consider what the next 50 years will bring and how the country can maximise its opportunities.

“It is an exciting time to be young … all the opportunities are ahead of you,” he said. “You have the benefit of all the work and commitment and success which the last generation, your parents, have done and now, not given to you, but entrusted to you to take ... the next step forward”.

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