Students at Pre-U seminar ask questions ranging from role of the Net to falling fertility rates
By Leow Si Wan
WHAT happens when change is met by resistance from the people?
This question from a student impressed Mr S. Iswaran, Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry.
It was asked yesterday by Joanna Lee, 17, at the annual Pre-University Seminar. The Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student raised the example of how plans to build the integrated resorts went ahead despite objections from the community. Mr Iswaran said that change was not an option, but that the key was in deciding 'our response to it'. As for the integrated resorts, he explained the decision was taken after a very deliberate process.
'The debate, even within the Government, was a very extensive, quite a soul-searching one,' he said.
He added that the Government had made 'extraordinary efforts' to address social concerns by imposing a $100 levy to deter impulse gambling, as well as exclusion policies.
The Pre-University Seminar is an event designed to bring together students from pre-university institutions to debate issues of national importance.
This year's seminar, held at the National University of Singapore, started on Monday and will end on Friday. It involves more than 500 students from junior colleges, integrated programme schools, polytechnics and the Millennia Institute.
Its theme, Reimagining Singapore, challenges participants to consider how the country can generate new possibilities and opportunities for its people and its future.
Students asked questions touching on a wide range of topics - from the role of the Internet and falling fertility rates, to policies for encouraging student entrepreneurship.
A student from St Andrew's Junior College asked about the impact of the recently concluded general election on the People's Action Party (PAP).
Said Mr Iswaran: 'Is it good or bad for the PAP? Well, really, this is a question to be answered in five years' time.
'But it is good to have a contest of ideas, it is good to be able to see different approaches.'
He also noted that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had earlier said that the PAP will take a good look at the way it does things and see where and how it needs to change.
Another student asked about the characteristics of a First World government.
Mr Iswaran said that a First World government must be able to respond to changes from various perspectives - those of a traditionalist, an entrepreneur and a visionary.
This year's seminar also featured a more interactive platform. Each student was equipped with a clicker handset, which allowed him to respond directly to questions posed by Mr Iswaran.
Speaking to reporters after the event, he said he had initiated the idea to help students become more engaged in the seminar.
He added that he was very impressed with the questions they asked, which showed that they had thought deeply about issues.
Raffles Institution student Adithya Raghunathan, 18, said: 'I enjoyed the seminar, and this is the first time I have seen the clicker being used in such an event... It is interaction on a whole new level. When the minister asked questions, I could respond directly and my answer affects what appears on the screen. I could also see what my peers thought.'