ITE students share their hopes on making Singapore an inclusive place for all
Issues raised during the session included the stigma that ITE students face and which traits will help Singapore progress.
With all the racist incidents happening in the last few months, I’ve been worried that Singapore might be headed down the wrong path.
So when I was given the opportunity to attend a youth conference with about 80 students from various Institutes of Technical Education (ITE) on the Singapore Spirit, I was excited to hear what kind of conversations there would be.
In particular, I wanted to know what our local youths’ thoughts on the issue of inclusivity, and how we can move past this as a country.
The online conference on Jun 16 was the third in a series of four sessions organised by the National Youth Council, and it did not disappoint. It was heart-warming to see that youths are committed to making Singapore an inclusive society, and how we could work on being more accepting of people from different backgrounds.
The Zoom session had speakers such as Parliamentary Secretary of Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and Ministry of Social and Family Development Mr Eric Chua, Night Owl Cinematics CEO and co-founder Ms Sylvia Chan, Singapore 100m Record Holder Mr U.K. Shyam, NYC Council Member and Director of I am Talented, Mr David Hoe, and was hosted by comedian Rishi Budhrani.
Inclusivity in Singapore
Speaking with ITE students, the panellists and host discussed how the local educational system has helped them each forge their career path, and how they deal with stigmas.
Mr U.K. Shyam felt proud that the educational system helped him establish a good career. As he came from humble beginnings, he thought it would be hard for him to rise through the social ranks.
Through good education and hard work, he now is an educator and lives comfortably.
As a Chinese female who grew up in Malaysia, NOC’s Sylvia didn’t think she could have achieved her levels of success in her own country.
She attributes a lot of her success today to how the education system in Singapore gave her a chance to succeed, the same chance that every local student gets.
Another topic that came up during the session was improving the morale of ITE students amid the heavy stigma that surrounds them.
Sylvia related being stigmatised to her being recently divorced. As a public figure, her divorce was always the elephant in the room for her when she meets new people.
Speaking with the ITE students, she said, “We have our own stories. This is your story. Own it. If you don’t own it, who’s going to stand up for you?”
She encouraged them to be proud of being an ITE student and ”question people if they start saying rude things about (them).”
What does it mean to be a Singaporean?
During the conference, student participants were also invited to share their candid thoughts about what the Singapore Spirit means to them.
The majority of the students shared my personal sentiment that multiculturalism is a key trait of the Singapore Spirit. Just like our national pledge of “regardless of race, language and religion”, the students believe that no one gets left out in this country of many cultures.
Mr Chua touched briefly on the topic of racism during the conference, saying “most Singaporeans at our core have a sense of what’s right, what’s wrong and the boundaries (we should have)”.
He further said that the recent racial events serve as “a reminder for us all to understand that (racism) happens” and that the way we “react collectively as a society” is important.
Another trait that students think makes up the Singapore Spirit is our kiasu-ness. A Hokkien term that means “afraid of losing out”; we Singaporeans are competitive and always staying ahead of others.
One participant brought up how kiasu-ness may have been the downfall of Singaporeans at the start of the pandemic. Many were panic-buying and hoarding groceries because they saw how drastic situations were in other countries, instead of trusting the local authorities.
Comparing this behaviour to the recent behaviour of locals during the Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) where more people stayed home and abided by safe management measures, our society has changed to be more resilient and empathetic, especially for our front liners.
Traits that could help Singapore move forward together
Being resilient, future-ready, inclusive, caring and competitive were some of the qualities that the students said will help to keep Singapore progressing as a society amidst the pandemic.
An example that was raised was the Singapore Green Plan, which charts ambitious and concrete targets over the next decade to achieve our long-term goal of zero emissions.
Being inclusive would help us stand together as a nation to progress forward, as our main source of capital is human resources.
Known globally for setting standards, this feat could only be achieved through our collective hard work. Not allowing racial judgements get in our way of becoming inclusive, and instead embracing our differences has helped us in globalisation and can help us gain so much more.
Advice for youth chasing their dreams
Mr Hoe advised the students to always keep discovering what they’re interested in, and that being thick-skinned is a must when looking for support.
“If you must knock on doors, knock on their doors. The worst outcome is to receive a rejection. (You) must know your why. If you know your why you can stick through it.”
As society is evolving to recognise that other forms of talent such as sports, arts and music are just as important and respectable as achieving good academic grades, it presents greater opportunities for all to pursue their dreams.
Mr Hoe said: “We have to broaden our definition of success. All of you have talents in you. Keep exploring, discover your talents and grow them. Don’t let the ITE label get into your head and disrupt your desired narrative.”
Mr Shyam said: “This ITE label is essentially meaningless. Your self-worth is what you derive from yourself. To dream is not a privilege. Everyone has the right to dream.”
Find out more about the other sessions in the Conversations on Singapore Spirit here.