The government believes in enabling careers in arts and sports, and though it will take some time for Singaporeans to change the current mindset, they will, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) Lawrence Wong. His comments came in response to several questions about the pursuit of non-conventional careers, which were posed at the inaugural edition of the "National Conversations series on 28 July, themed "Our Aspirations, Our Home.
About 120 young alumni attended the NUS Office of Alumni Relations event, several of whom highlighted their concerns regarding Singapore's reputation as a "tuition nation, one which did not inspire the pursuit of non-academic careers.
Among the challenges Singapore faces in making non-conventional careers tenable are its small market size, which makes these jobs less commercially viable, and the need to change mindsets of both parents and educators. The government, through the Ministry of Education (MOE), had already "sent the message down, quipped Mr Wong, who is also Second Minister for Communications and Information.
"As we make these pathways more viable, more attractive, which we are, both in the arts and sports, I think young people's perceptions will change. And…most importantly, parents' perceptions will change, said Mr Wong.
Mr Wong said that the government supported Team Singapore athletes in a few ways, such as providing them a monthly allowance to train full-time before major Games; establishing a network of companies that could hire athletes after their sporting career; and promoting Team Singapore athletes so as to build up their following, which in turn improves their chances of corporate sponsorships.
Another main topic that emerged from the discussion was the Singaporean identity. Mr Wong said Singapore was unique in that its diverse population could coexist and relate to each other. Singaporeans have been able to retain their roots, although there is space for overlapping identities. And, amidst that overlap, they can expand the common ground they share.
"That's something that we should regard in a very precious way because it's truly a very remarkable achievement, not to be taken for granted because…it can easily deteriorate and decay but if we keep it the way it is and strengthen it, this precious achievement can get even better and stronger over time, he emphasised, with regards to Singapore's racial harmony.
Part of the reason for such successful integration was the policy of ensuring a mix of ethnic groups in public housing estates, he explained.
A member of the audience asked how Singapore's culture could be curated so that it does not absorb the negative aspects of other cultures. Mr Wong remarked that it was more a question of instilling the right values ' which starts at school, and even preschool. The government has been encouraging the inculcation of good values through initiatives such as MOE's Values in Action, and MCCY's volunteerism and community service programmes.
To cap off the evening, Mr Wong addressed moderator NUS Students' Union Alumni President Mr Soh Yi Da's question on the Minister's Singapore Dream for the next 50 years. Mr Wong said he hopes that Singapore would continue to be a fair and just society, maintaining the ideals of social mobility, equal opportunity and meritocracy; as well as being an inclusive society, where everyone has a sense of belonging.