’Our Singapore Conversation’ reaches out to nearly 10,000 S’poreans so far

SINGAPORE: The ’Our Singapore Conversation’ initiative has reached out to nearly 10,000 Singaporeans so far.

Speaking to the media, Chairman of the ’Our Singapore Conversation’ and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said this is quite a significant number over a three—month period and this has been done through multiple platforms.

These include face—to—face interactions, online media and also with Singaporeans in the US, Britain and China.

The new year will see the launch of the Conversation’s next phase of engagement of the citizenry.

Joanna Koh, a homemaker who participated in the Conversation, had taken part in the discussions without having the intention to change policies.

"I was more interested in the process of how citizens are involved and at least there is an attempt to hear the ground," she said.

"If you ask me what policies would be helpful to be changed, I would like to see non—working mothers supported as much as working mothers because they do a different form of work."

Muthukumar Palaniappan, who is serving National Service, said: "There are values that we stand for, like meritocracy and multi—culturalism. But there needs to be a greater effort for our leaders to articulate this vision and I think people also need to feel part of this country; they need to buy into this vision, they need to put into practice as well."

Mr Heng said the team plans to act on some of the ideas that have already emerged, especially those which can be done immediately. One example is the discussion on extending MediShield coverage to include congenital and neonatal conditions.

Mr Heng said this topic has been raised in the ’Our Singapore Conversation’ sessions.

"I think the the Ministry of Health has been studying this for a while and I strongly support including this in the MediShield coverage," he said. "There are measures big and small which we can take even as the Conversation continues and some of these will be addressed in the coming months."

In the meantime, he said that three broad themes have emerged under the categories of hope, heart and home.

In the area of "hope", there has been interest in ways to keep Singapore vibrant, create opportunities for individuals to fulfil their career aspirations and non—career aspirations.

The second area relates to "heart", where discussions have been focused on how Singaporeans can care for each other and those who are vulnerable, those with special needs and the elderly.

There has also been discussions on the need for the right policies and programmes to reach out to this group.

"I think one clear trend which will affect Singapore is this rapidly ageing population," Mr Heng said.

"We need to have clarity on that broader context and we need to look at what other countries are doing and how quickly we are ageing. And then within our context, what we can do (and) what the various options are."

He added: "Is it the option of creating more retirement homes, as some people have suggested, or is it the option of having the elderly in our own neighbourhood where ageing in place and being cared for is important? So those are the specific details... And with that, we can work on it and see which ones are sustainable solutions and even create solutions which addresses this in a very fundamental way and which Singaporeans will support."

Mr Heng said the third area is the topic of Singapore as "Home" where the need to create the sense of community and bonding and the kampong spirit has been discussed by the participants. There has also been a lot of discussion about the Singapore identity, the values and culture. "There is an interesting theme of Singapore as ’Home’ that appeals to us and at the same time maintaining our important social fabric of a multi—racial, multi—cultural and multi—religious society."

For the new year, the ’Our Singapore Conversation’ will continue with discussions in the open—ended format in January with a few more sessions.

The team plans to take a break and resume at the end of February to delve into the specific under the broad themes.

"For example in the area of education, we can talk about not just education specifically but how education provides opportunities, how do we provide hope and opportunities and I think to have a rich conversation about that we need to bring in not just parents and students but also members of the public, employers to see how the entire education system can help us create opportunities and hope," he explained.

Mr Heng added that the ideas coming out from ’Our Singapore Conversation’ initiative provide inputs for the public service to examine some of the existing policies.

Information from the different sessions are collated and sent to the different ministries so that they can look at the ideas, concerns and aspirations.

He is confident that if the ’Our Singapore Conversation’ initiative is done well, the result would be better policies and programmes for Singapore. Mr Heng however added that it was not possible for every idea to be implemented.

— CNA/ck/xq