Building a confident and cohesive Singapore in a post COVID-19 world

Building a confident and cohesive Singapore in a post COVID-19 world

We come alive, survive and thrive on connectivity, without which we become pedestrian and unexceptional, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said in a speech made at the Civil Service College’s Social-Economic Nexus Speaking Engagement Series.

This is why Singapore has spent decades building our trade networks through our FTA strategy, as well as air and sea hubs, to connect to the world in lieu of a hinterland for resources and market.

Post COVID-19, Singapore cannot be just a convenient place for people to meet and do business. The acceleration of digital connectivity has shrunk physical distances. Our economic strategies will have to change.

In an integrated and globalised economy, companies have options to invest in many more places. Countries are also competing aggressively for these investments. Singapore must double-down on strategic growth opportunities that would make us harder to displace from the global supply chain, said Mr Chan.

“At the same time, we have finite resources and cannot chase every investment. We therefore need to target the areas that would serve to entrench us at strategic points in the global supply and value chains. We will target areas where we can develop deep niche expertise, and where our skills would not be easily displaced.

We cannot anchor the full production or supply chain here. The key then is to identify the linchpin, where the greatest economic value is created, or which is essential to the production or supply processes,” Mr Chan said.

“It is therefore critical that we continue to invest in R&D to stay ahead and develop new economic opportunities,” he added.

Build a global talent network

“Businesses always gravitate to where the talent network is most dense and connected. Any country or city aspiring to be a global hub will have to move past the debate on foreign-local worker balance. It will instead have to focus on the critical task of building a global innovation and knowledge network. Singapore is no different. We need the best ideas and talent to compete on our side. We also need to pay close attention to the composition of our society. This will take careful calibration, but it can be done,” said Mr Chan.

Sustain and create a wide range of jobs to take care of every Singaporean

Mr Chan said the government will sustain and create a wide range of jobs so that there are many pathways for Singaporeans with different aspirations and skills. They will also help affected or displaced Singaporeans move to other jobs and sectors. They will make sure that growth is inclusive, and that workers earn not just a dignified wage but also continued wage growth so that they do not feel they are unable to keep pace with the rest of society, and the income gap does not widen with time.

“Concurrently, we must be prepared to provide more and targeted assistance for vulnerable workers, help them stay relevant and not lose hope for themselves or their children. Mitigating this gap between different segments of our population will be a major focus of the Government in the years ahead. Every generation must feel that they have good opportunities regardless of their starting points. This is what makes Singapore distinctive,” said Mr Chan.

Courage in Education Strategy

To achieve all that he has said, our education policies and structures will need to be refreshed, Mr Chan said. Education must remain a key enabler to counter the social and economic stratification that happens if forces of inequality are left unfettered. We must build diversity in our schools.

“In an uncertain world, diversity is key to our resilience as a country. In a hyper-competitive world, diversity is also key to alleviating the unhealthy stress of pursuing the same definition of success.”

“We must strengthen the continuum of lifelong learning post-graduation, so that Singaporeans will ‘never leave school’, or more precisely, ‘never stop learning’,” Mr Chan said.

The second area of focus is to continue to extend education efforts upstream because early childhood education has long-lasting impact on educational, and even life outcomes.

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