Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered the 2017 National Day rally on August 20th, highlighting three key areas that the nation will be focusing on moving forward. We take a look at these points and put forward plausible reasons why they were addressed above other (pressing) issues.
1. A focus on strengthening pre-school education
Mention was made to leveling the playing field for pre-primary school education, regardless of economic background. Projected budgets will double over the next five years, with considerable increases in the number of places in pre-schools and the strengthening of talent among teachers and carers in the industry. The bar will be raised when it comes to education providers in this space, and steps will be taken to provide clearer career paths as well as competitive salaries that will in turn attract talent to these positions.
The PM highlighted the fact that a child’s education begins before proper school-going age, where children are more adept at certain skills such as picking up languages (in the first three years). The attention paid to this particular area is justified, as this is the period in a child’s life where they form the groundwork for key emotional and social skills that are vital for functioning within society. One could go so far as to say that these formative years are the most important ones – proper foundations lead to a much more fluid education journey.
2. Concerns with Diabetes: Sugar-tax and Beyond
When The Straits Times published the three key areas of focus on the morning of the rally, this one stood out and surprised many.
To stress the seriousness of the issue, PM Lee provided rather alarming statistics. For those over 60, two-and-a-half Chinese, five Malays and six Indians out of every ten will develop the disease. Apart from advising regular medical check ups and workouts, he also spoke of highly subsidized medical screenings for those above 40. He made personal reference to his own experiences, like taking medical tests twice a year and often choosing to take the stairs instead of the lift. He also endeared the audience further by speaking about his late father in respect to good food choices.
The rally paid considerable attention to the topic of sugar – both in the form of soft drinks as well as carbohydrate consumption. Steps will be taken to encourage the food industry to offer healthier options such as making brown rice and salads more affordable to the general public. He also raised the possibility of introducing a sugar tax (if proven effective) such as those implemented in Brunei and Mexico, which would act as a deterrent for over-consumption.
Diabetes IS a great concern in Singapore (and on a global scale) for several reasons. As of 2015, Singapore had the 2nd highest proportion of diabetics in any developed country – a statistic not commonly spoken about. This adds immense financial strain on the government as well as upon the individuals that contract the disease. This excludes the massive productivity losses that businesses and employees both suffer as a result of the disease.
3. Our Smart Nation initiative: Time to step-up
This one was the most likely to be addressed out of the three points – and for extremely valid reasons. Aside from mentioning that the city has all the right ingredients to reach Smart Nation status, our PM also conceded that we are considerably slow to adopt electronic payments (this can be due to a myriad of reasons that we won’t go into here) with China leading the way. Our existing platforms don’t speak to each other efficiently, which explains why majority of transactions here are still carried out with cash and cheques.
The PM also shared the different ways in which the country would adopt (or already has adopted) cashless payments in the near future. Examples of these are unified point-of-sales terminals as well as a new parking app that will get rid of the present systems.
PM Lee’s sense of urgency in this area is extremely pertinent to the development of our nation during the next few decades. Technology has to be the main driver that harnesses the power of networks, data and info-comm technologies. Ultimately, it is the technology sphere that will create economic opportunities and strengthen our community, which are some of the main reasons behind the introduction of the Smart Nation initiative in the first place. With the world becoming more and more open to both cyber security and terrorism threats, it is critical that we – as a nation – strengthen our adoption of technology considerably to keep up with the times and protect ourselves against external threats.
And there we have it, three crucial areas that deserve more attention than they usually get. Hopefully, we can all take the necessary steps to reduce our chances of falling victim to any of them.