Youths want more trust, inclusivity in policymaking

The Government needs to find ways to involve apolitical youths too, says participants in a dialogue on Youth Panels.

Fitri Mahad

Probably the only person that likes to hear the koels go ‘uwu’.

Published: 11 May 2023, 2:50 PM

With youths set to play a more active role in policymaking in the near future, efforts are underway to identify what issues youths should discuss, as well as flesh out its more intricate processes.

During a youth panel dialogue held last Thursday (May 4), some 50 youth participants expressed their sentiments for the Government to have more trust in their abilities, and discussed issues such as inclusivity and the cost of living.

The participants hailed from the Nanyang Technological University Students’ Union (NTUSU), Young NTUC and National Youth Council’s (NYC) youth networks.

The dialogue was led by Ms Rahayu Mahzam, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Law. She was joined by two other panellists, NYC Council Member and Director of Youth Development at National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Wendy Tan, as well as Assistant Professor of Sociology at NTU Shannon Ang.

Both panellists and participants also exchanged candid views on finding ways to involve youths who may be too busy or apolitical, into the policymaking process.


Participants could also express their concerns through a word cloud projected on the slides. PHOTO CREDITS: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL


Feedbacks garnered from these dialogues will culminate in the National Youth Dialogue on May 24, where the details of youth panels will be announced in full.

Here are some concerns youths want to see addressed through a youth panel:

1. Inclusivity for youths with mental illness

One Nanyang Technological University undergraduate who also volunteers in the Youth Corps Singapore raised the topic of employing persons with Physical Employment Standard (PES) “F” National Service (NS) status into “public institutions or public service careers”. 

He asked panellists if employing persons with said PES status would be a “cause of concern”, whether such persons would be “deprived of opportunities to be involved with such initiatives (referring to youth panels)” and how their situation can be improved.

A look at the Central Manpower Base (CMPB)’s website will show that those with PES F status are deemed to be medically unfit for any form of service, regardless of one’s posting.

In response, Mdm Rahayu shared that she thought inclusivity to be “quite amorphous and subjective”, adding that each generation had different worldviews about it.

She added that while the Government won’t leave anyone behind, there needs to be a sensible and realistic approach towards policymaking and the “situation around us”. 

“Because you want the best people for the job. You want people who can do the work who are suited for it. It’s going to be very tough if you push some things into a space that it’s not so straightforward,” she said.

Mdm Rahayu likened this to an example of entrusting someone with “serious mental health issues” to a vocation that requires handling a gun or flying a plane.

She stressed that definitions cannot be forced on people, lest it causes reactions and polarisations as there is no room for societies to “mature” in their “appreciation and understanding”.

“And so if youths are to be involved in youth panels and in policymaking, this is where you need to sharpen that skill of being able to appreciate the sensitivity, the sensibilities of decision making,” she explained.

Not all issues – like drugs and racism – are “clear cut”, and balance is needed for grayer areas.

“And at the end of this all the most important thing is that we cannot break, we cannot drop this ball. Singapore has a very small margin to make mistakes,” Mdm Rahayu said.

On tackling polarisation, Asst Prof Shannon called for a more imaginative approach when tackling such problems and ensuring balance between both sides.

“Someone wise once told me that balance is not about you’re on this seesaw.

“Think of balance as a bird, right, having a long wingspan, you do as hard as you can in one direction. You do the other direction as well,” Asst Prof Shannon explained.

Those who are afraid of polarisation should build relationships (with the other side), Asst Prof Shannon said.

While youths can “push as hard” or advocate for whatever cause they want, it is important that they “build those relationships”.

He added that youths cannot advocate (for a cause) while still demonising (the other party).

“For instance, you say that all these older people and we talk about words like, ‘Okay, boomer’.

“You don’t demonise older people and say, ‘Look, you have to take my stance’. You build relationships with them, then you can go forward and try to advocate,” Asst Prof Shannon explained.

Pivoting to Mdm Rahayu’s earlier statement on Singapore’s “small margin of error”, Asst Prof Shannon called for youths to think on how they can embiggen said margin.

“What makes our society stronger? In a way that helps us to be more nimble, and yet, still be as stable?” he concluded.


Asst Prof Shannon has studied the social support and social participation of older adults, and their implications for mental and physical health outcomes. PHOTO CREDITS: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL

2. Change in youth attitudes, perceptions about cost of living

Another participant asked how youths can shift their perspectives to not “just think about the monetary gains” when it comes to cost of living.

Mdm Rahayu explained it was a matter of “mindset changes”. She added how prospects previously perceived as desires have become needs, using tuition and handphones as an example.

When she was growing up, tuition was seen as a luxury. Mdm Rahayu explained that in today’s context, telling someone tuition is not needed would garner the opposite reaction. As such, Singaporeans need to have a “deeper conversation” about their definitions of success.

In the same vein, Mdm Rahayu pointed out that those who aspire for more should not be penalised for doing so. Singaporeans should still be encouraged to “work hard and motivate themselves to do well”.

Asst Prof Shannon, in turn, encouraged participants to think about how they could instead help one another.

“What are you willing to give to one another, to help each other reach that standard, so that we can move together?” he asked.

Asst Prof Shannon also stressed the need to “learn the language”, and that the onus is on youths to educate themselves on empathising (with the other party) dealing with polarisation. Youths should also know which “levers” to use, such as data or stories, should they want to convince the other party.

Participants also asked how the Government can involve youths, especially those bogged down by responsibilities – with children or work – and are too busy to volunteer or attend such dialogues.

Ms Tan suggested that there be more opportunities and platforms to be given as early as when youths are still in school, given that there are “relatively fewer commitments” compared to their working counterparts.

Mdm Rahayu acknowledged that while not all youths can be present, it risks a “skewed view of policy” should the dialogues be dependent only on the same people who attend and share their views.

Those who are unable to attend the dialogues does not indicate that they are apolitical or ignorant, she adds.

“They may have different views and whatever policies we make will impact them.”

Mdm Rahayu suggested that youths can also have different types of involvement. Those who are “move involved” can opt to be panel experts, partaking in the research and recommendations.

Some youths can think of ways to get feedback and survey to reach out to other stakeholders, such as creatively using technology. Others can continue to give their own inputs and feedback on issues, she added.


Other concerns expressed on the word cloud include mental health, housing and buying a car. PHOTO CREDITS: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL

3. Youths need to be entrusted, leveraged on their abilities and strengths

A participant from NTUC’s junior membership arm, nEBO, feels that youths should be given more trust in their abilities. She listed out several strengths, such as youths knowing which topics and platforms are trending, and using that to maximise youth outreach.

On top of entrusting youths, she also suggested that youths be partnered and guided by adult mentors who only step in when they make mistakes.

Ms Tan agreed that youths should be “given the space to try and fail”. It helps to have “trusted, wiser people” who can empower youths and step in when needed. However, Ms Tan also warned against sticking within your “own people”.

“Someone wiser told me this before. When we hang out too much with our own people, our own group, sometimes, it’s like the blind leading the blind.” she shared.

Mdm Rahayu highlighted the importance of having mentors, and explained that youths “need to be trained to understand the full breadth of issues and the consequences” of their actions.

She gave the example of Singapore having resisted the idea of being a welfare state, and its observed implications in other countries. She explained that people preferred to be unemployed as they would still be paid.

Policymaking is a little bit more than event organising and advocacy, added Mdm Rahayu.

“Because it is about lives, livelihoods, people, other people who have views contrary to yours, their lives are going to be affected by decisions made.”


nEBO stands for “nobody Enjoys being Ordinary”. It is a lifestyle club that reaches out to youths aged between 12 and 25 and guides them to be Work-Ready, World-Ready and Life-Ready. PHOTO CREDITS: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL

4. Policymaking is ‘pointless’, some lack trust in Government

Towards the end of the dialogue, youths gathered into groups to further exchange and share their views on the matters discussed.

One group recognised that not all youths take the initiative to be involved in a political process, and feel it is important to bridge the gap and be able to engage all types of youths.

Participants pointed out that while there are a “large number of youth” interested in politics and political issues, they are not politically involved.

Another group also felt that the Government does not reciprocate their efforts, attributing it to a lack of self confidence among the youth and a fear to “innovate among like the ruling party”.

They related it to a “deference to authority”, with youths having been taught to “obey the Government” from a young age. The fear of reprisals, such as getting sued, also “breeds a climate of fear” amongst youths.

Youths also wish to see a “more responsive Government” that conducts post-action reviews and analyses what worked and what did not.

Others called for a “more direct conversation without the trappings of bureaucracy”, and preventing a message from “getting convoluted the higher up it goes”. They felt door-to-door meetings were ineffective and that concerns were not directed through proper channels.

Participants also suggested youth participation into policymaking through academic incentives, where those who participate receive extra credit.

There were also suggestions on strengthening the consultative process, modifying it such that it allows people to feel comfortable when sharing their thoughts, and feel like those thoughts were considered in the political decision making processes.

Potential ideas to reach out to other youths through a mix of small and large scale event were also explored.

The former can consist of focus groups, while the latter can consist of dialogues much like the one they were in. They also shared the need to reach out to youths who do not frequent these events, so their opinions may be considered.

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