For a resilient and cohesive Singapore, “character development” is imperative, says PM Lee

“You must know how society works, identify with fellow Singaporeans of all races and religions, and feel a responsibility for your fellow citizens,” said the PM

Photo: You Tube screen grab from the World Economic Forum

Speaking to more than 12,000 people at Hwa Chong Institution during its 100th anniversary, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted the need for “character development, seriousness of purpose, and the spirit of community” to make Singapore a cohesive and resilient society.

PM Lee likewise put emphasis on the need to understand the context of Singapore’s society and Hwa Chong students’ responsibilities within it.

“You must know how society works, identify with fellow Singaporeans of all races and religions, and feel a responsibility for your fellow citizens,” he said.

The chief executive also reiterated that as a Special Assistance Plan (SAP) school, Hwa Chong has that unique responsibility of advancing Chinese traditional culture, values and heritage, and to assist students in mastering their mother tongue and further reminded his listeners that this was the reason founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew introduced SAP schools in 1979.

“He wanted to revive the spirit of the old Chinese middle schools,” the prime minister said. “These values not only served the old Chinese school graduates well, but were important for the resilience and cohesion of the society.”

As a commendation, PM Lee said that Hwa Chong has not just successfully infused these values in the new generation of young Singaporeans, but has also adopted its approach for students growing up in a different era and an example of this effort is the Bicultural Studies Programme.

During the prime minister’s speech, the importance of having multicultural exchanges was underscored. “Maintaining such multicultural exchanges is critical to promoting cohesion and integration in our society,” PM Lee stated.

Hwa Chong
Starting with just around 70 students in a small building in Niven Street, Hwa Chong saw and joined in several critical events — from World War II to the fight for independence from the British in the 1950s and separation from Malaysia in 1965.

“In the turbulent 1950s and 1960s, Hwa Chong provided the backdrop for anti-colonial and anti-government struggles, and many students were affected by left-leaning thinking,” he said. “It was a time of turbulence.”

Today, the school is recognised for its high academic performance and bilingual alumni and has made a concerted effort on three fronts to continue thriving as an educational institution — high academic achievements, “special responsibility” as a SAP school, and understanding the context of society, and students’ responsibilities within it.

“You need to feel a calling to participate in community and national affairs, to contribute to the society and system that has nurtured you, and to take on leadership roles to help take Singapore forward,” PM Lee added.

However, with the invisible poverty consuming Singaporeans, the desperation brought about by homelessness, the “sealed-lips” culture subtly proliferated in mainstream society, can the new generation of Singaporeans really participate in community and national affairs? Can they really take genuine leadership roles to push Singapore forward?

That remains to be seen.