Emcee: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. The event should start in about 5 minutes, but don’t count on it since most Guests of Honour are fashionably late. Although this reminder will most likely be an exercise in futility, I’ll say it anyway – please switch your mobile devices to Silent mode. Thank you.
Enter Guest of Honour. Audience sits uneasily, waiting for the emcee to ask them to rise, but Singapore is trying to be more casual and informal now, so an eerie silence hangs over the auditorium.
Emcee: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the 2019 #YouthCanDoIt@SG Leaders Engagement Conversation Ministerial Dialogue Forum Session. (Mobile phone rings, all eyes dart towards the offender). My name is Emma See, and I’ll be your emcee for today.
Today, we have the pleasure of hearing from our distinguished speaker, Minister for Education, Second Minister for Health and Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure Dr Tok Tu Long.
Minister for Education, Second Minister for Health and Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure Dr Tok will be sharing with us about changes in our nation’s education landscape, after which our moderator, Mr Foo Ling Yu, will facilitate the dialogue session.
Please do not record this session or post anything about this online as this is a closed-door session and we want to have an open and frank discussion with the Minister. But we can’t have everything we want, can we?
(Forced laughter from the emcee, which is the cue for the audience to chuckle along. One man guffaws a bit too loudly.)
Emcee: I will now introduce our Guest of Honour, Minister for Education, Second Minister for Transport and Coordinating Minister for National Security Dr Tok Tu Long.
(Dr Tok stands up but returns to his seat upon realising that the emcee has to read out his illustrious resume first.)
Emcee: Without further hairdo, please put your hands together to welcome Dr Tok on stage. Dr Tok, please.
(An usher guides Dr Tok to the stage just in case he doesn’t know where the stairs are.)
Dr Tok: Good afternoon all. It’s good to see so many enthusiastic young faces here, and I look forward to having a robust dialogue with you even though I know I’ll be doing the lion share of the talking.
I’ll say at the outset that I’ll try to keep this short, but I won’t really. Let me begin by repeating the same thing I just said to a Straits Times reporter a few days ago. Also, here are some crucial reminders about Singapore’s small size and complete lack of resources, which means we are sustained only by talented, hardworking people. That’s why we make every school a good school, so that every good graduate can get a good job and make good money to sustain a good life.
We all want our children to chase their dreams and fulfil their potential, especially the potential to become doctors, lawyers and accountants. But we also need to build a robust and resilient workforce that is ready for the 4th Industrial Revolution. In order to future-proof our economy, we must build relevant capabilities in our educational institutions and build synergistic relationships between the academic and corporate spheres. We must also focus on re-skilling and lifelong learning programmes for all workers, which can be developed through public-private partnerships. Digitalisation is the cornerstone of a dynamic and innovative economy, and we need a whole-of-government paradigm shift in order to transform our workforce into a future-ready one.
Thank you, and I look forward to a lively discussion. But we can’t have everything we want, can we?
(Rapturous applause from the audience as Dr Tok walks to one of the sofas on stage, accompanied by an usher just in case he gets lost along the way.)
Emcee: Thank you for your speech, Dr Tok. I’m obliged to say that we all benefited from your erudite comments, no matter how accurate (or otherwise) a statement like that may be. At this juncture, I would like to hand the microphone to our moderator, Mr Foo Ling Yu. Ling Yu, please.
Moderator: Thanks Emma. Well I’m sure we’re all brimming with questions to pose to Dr Tok, many of which will probably have nothing to do with his earlier comments on Singapore’s education system. But I request that each person asks only one question, with no sub-questions, preambles, points of information, follow-up questions or tirades. Please be mindful that others want their time in the spotlight as well. Also, please state your name before asking your question. With that, let us open the floor for questions.
Questioner #1: Thank you Minister Dr Tok for your very enlightening…
Moderator: Sorry sir, could we have your name please?
Ahmad: Very sorry for that, my name is Ahmad. I would like to ask Dr Tok what he believes the government should do for workers who are unable to keep up with the rapid pace of economic change, and are left behind?
Dr Tok: That is an excellent question. In fact, it’s so excellent that I need to buy some time. So let me ask you – what do you think the government can do?
Ahmad: Dr Tok, I really have no idea, that’s why I’m asking you the question.
Dr Tok: We have a slew of policies and programmes in place which I will explain now. (Presents an alphabet soup of acronyms.) Hope this answered your question.
Ahmad: Thank you Dr Tok, it did. But even if it didn’t, I probably wouldn’t say so because others are getting impatient.
Moderator: Next question please.
Questioner #2: My name is Mark. In 2016, the basic tenets and core assumptions of international relations were called into question by the double whammy of President Trump’s election and the British people’s decision to vote in favour of Brexit. These seismic shifts in the Western world have upset global markets and thrown the liberal project of global economic integration and free trade into complete disarray, sending ripples of uncertainty all the way to our neck of the woods and casting doubt on the ability of statisticians to paint an accurate picture of public opinion…
Moderator: Is there a question Mark?
Mark: Yes I was getting there. So my question is this – in light of the unpredictability and volatility of geopolitical trends and economic patterns, what should the government do to help Singaporeans who are unable to keep up with the breakneck speed of global change?
Dr Tok: Essentially, you’re asking the exact same question that was asked earlier, which makes me wonder if you were paying any attention at all. But I’ll provide a different answer so as to not make you feel bad.
Moderator: We have time for one more question.
Questioner #3: I would like to ask the Minister – if you had one wish for Singapore, what would it be?
Dr Tok: Thank you for asking such a grand question. You’ve given me an opportunity to demonstrate my profound optimism and wax eloquent about lofty ideals, which will undoubtedly provide juicy soundbites for the media. My wish is for all Singaporeans to chase their rainbow, and never settle for second-best. As we press on towards a brighter tomorrow, let it not be happiness that we pursue, but happiness that pursues us.
(Stunned silence gives way to enthusiastic applause.)
Emcee: Thank you very much Dr Tok. Another round of applause please for our distinguished speaker and our moderator. (Claps into the microphone to encourage more audience applause.)
We have come to the end of the 2019 #YouthCanDoIt@SG Leaders Engagement Conversation Ministerial Dialogue Forum. Thank you for your attendance here today. Please remain seated as our Guest of Honour heads to the reception first to start eating. I know we all want to eat as soon as possible.
But we can’t have everything we want, can we?