Debate on President’s Address – Png Eng Huat


Madam Speaker, the President ended his address 2 Fridays ago with a call for Singaporeans to write the next chapter of our future together. The next chapter, in the words of President Tony Tan, will see Singapore “progress as an exceptional nation with a thriving economy, and a caring and inclusive society.”


It is apt that the President has called on Singaporeans to renew our pledge, at the half century mark of our nationhood, to build a better Singapore as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion.

But our Pledge goes beyond calling on Singaporeans to merely unite as one people to build a better Singapore. The framers of our Pledge understood good politics and espoused the values of justice and equality to be the foundation of our democracy so that our people, as a nation, can achieve happiness, prosperity and progress.

Although the President did not talk about justice and equality when he spoke on good politics, these values are non-negotiable if we want to get our politics right in the next chapter.

The President has reminded us that as Members of Parliament, we all have a responsibility to do our best for our people, regardless of our party affiliation.

About 18 months into my first term as MP for Hougang, a resident asked me if his child were to be given the Edusave bursary, will the child receive the award from me. I believe all of you know the answer so I will dispense with that.

Nevertheless, I thank the President for the reminder and I can assure the President that The Workers’ Party will do its best for the people while we wait with bated breath the impending improvements to our political system as mentioned in his address.


Madam Speaker, the President talked about the need to keep our nation safe and secure right at the beginning of his speech for good reason. The ASEAN region has taken a dangerous turn with the terrorist attacks in Bangkok in 2015 and Jakarta a fortnight ago.

ISIS has successfully taken its terror and fight right onto our doorsteps. Our way of life as we know and enjoy is now under threat. These are indeed dangerous and uncertain times we are living in. A terrorist attack in Singapore is no longer a remote possibility.

Thus, I fully support the President’s call for Singaporeans to remain steadfast and united under these trying times when misguided extremists are trying to tear this world apart through violence and fear.

While it is reassuring that the Ministry of Home Affairs will strength our border security and tap into technology to help fight criminal and terrorist threats, it is my hope that this government will also put effort into countering the spread of radical ideologies online. The war on terrorism at our home front is psychological as well.

We cannot influence the people beyond our shore but we can surely remind our own to value and preserve the peace and harmony we have here.

The road to terrorism probably begins with some form of self-radicalization and such activities are impossible to prevent and they usually go under the radar. Self-radicalized individuals will probably pose one of the biggest threats to our security and the preservation of our social fabric.

Madam, Singapore has a lot to show the world what it means to live in racial and religious harmony. Our cultural and religious diversity is a testament to that. Our road to achieving our unique inter-faith, inter-racial, and inter-sectorial harmony should be told to each successive generation to counter those dangerous and destructive ideologies propagated by radicals with misguided and violent intent.

I share Minister Ong Ye Kung’s observation that it is a sight to behold to see religious symbols of different faith, side by side or opposite each other, in our HDB estates. But behind the co-existence of those religious artefacts lies a whole lot of effort in exercising tolerance, consideration, and good neighbourliness. These stories must be passed down from generation to generation and in all forms and means.

And we have to start young and sow the seeds of religious and racial tolerance in our classroom, and hope for the best that our children will be able to discern dangerous ideologies online and reject them outright.

We all have a part to play in this, the Ministries, the schools, and most important of all, the parents at home, to make Singapore safe and secure.


Finally, the next chapter in Education is critical because it is going to churn out the talents and workforce that will take Singapore to SG100 and beyond.

Madam, education is one of the key building blocks of Singapore. The government has made many changes to our education system over the years in search of a balanced approach to prep our young for a world that is constantly evolving.

The change the educators intend to make in the next chapter must stand the test of time because lives are at stake. It must result in fostering a generation of thinking, self-motivated, confident, and innovative students. We have to invest heavily in our human capital because it is our only hope to becoming an exceptional nation.

The Prime Minister had shared that his biggest achievement as head of government was the emphasis he had placed on education when he first assumed office. In his first National Day Rally, the Prime Minister talked briefly about the ‘Teach Less, Learn More’ concept of getting the maximum benefits out of educating our students through quality teaching.

The “Teach Less, Learn More” model has found its way into the schools the past decade. Can our educators say for certain that this model really works because our students continue to do well in high-stake examinations despite being taught less in school?

Has the shift to focus on quality teaching instead of quantity teaching resulted in better desired outcomes of education, or has it merely shifted more of the learning from the classroom to the private tutors? I am sure MOE would like to know the effectiveness of the “Teach Less, Learn More” model but without a corresponding study into the tuition culture here, nothing can be conclusive.

I do urge MOE to commission a study into the tuition culture because it will help our educators to formulate better policy decisions in the next chapter.

Moving away from basic education, how far are we prepared to inspire our young to shoot for the stars in the pursuit of their interests at the tertiary level? Is the Government willing to pull out all the stops to attract a Nobel Laureate to take up a research or teaching chair at one of our local universities so that the Laureate can inspire our students to dream big?

We need role models in life to inspire ourselves to greater heights. This Government had gone to great lengths to pursue an Olympic medal using foreign talents in the hope that the move would bring glory to the nation and the imported Olympians could be role models for our young athletes.

In the next chapter, it is my hope that Singapore will produce a Nobel Laureate of our own. Almost 900 Nobel Laureates have been recognized since 1901. Countries like Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Algeria, Guadeloupe, Saint Lucia, and Madagascar, to name a few, have all produced a Laureate or two each.

Is the government prepared to likewise, to invest with the same vigor, in our human capital outside of sports? A Nobel Laureate is recognized by his or her country of birth so we can’t engineer that by import.

Madam Speaker, in the next chapter in Education, I do hope to see a deeper engagement between our institutes of higher learning and local SMEs and GLCs in the area of research and development.

Many American universities were intricately involved in the US space programs from Project Mercury, to Project Apollo, and to the Space Shuttle program. The benefits that such deep collaborations bring to the schools, the students, and the communities at large are immeasurable.

I am heartened to read in the papers that 6 students from Singapore Polytechnics have had their invention patented by Boeing and their names listed as co-inventors of the patents recently. Such news is inspiring. I wish our young inventors well and hope their invention will go into commercial production someday.

The R&D framework under the National Research Foundation (NRF) cuts across many ministries. I am unable to determine who gets the lion share of the R&D budget but I do hope that our institutes of higher learning will be given ample opportunities to nurture our young Singaporeans into exceptional scientists and inventors of the future.


In conclusion, I agree with the President that the political system here needs to be refreshed. We all want a clean, effective, and accountable government but not at the expense of less democracy, justice, and equality.

I am also quietly confident that Singaporeans of all faith will stand united to reject terrorism and attempts by misguided extremists to sow seeds of discord amongst the diverse and peace-loving people of Singapore.

And finally Madam, we all know education is not all about classrooms and examinations. It is a never ending journey. The Chinese has a saying, “活到老, 學到老”.  The Skillsfuture initiative announced last year is certainly a step in the right direction.

However, the values we impart to our young must stand the test of time. Each successive cohort that leaves our classrooms must be resilient and most important of all, must have a sense of belonging, without which, we can never have an exceptional nation.

I certainly believe that when we get our education right, we will get our security right. We will get our economy right. We will get our society right. We will get also our living environment right. And most important of all, we will get our nation building right. We will be an exceptional nation.