Singapore focusing on education, inclusiveness amid challenges

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat. (Reuters pic)

SINGAPORE: Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said the city-state is focusing on education and forging an inclusive society in the face of global trends such as widening inequality and political polarisation.

The nation of 5.6 million people has been stepping up efforts to address inequality, exacerbated by technological advancement. It’s investing more in education, especially for preschoolers, and also encouraging lifelong learning.

“Our response has been to ensure that our economic and social policies go hand in hand, so that our people can work for reward, and be rewarded for work,” Heng said in a speech at the Singapore Summit late Friday. “Jobs and skills will continue to change, faster than before. So we are building an ecosystem where workers can pick up new skills, at every stage of life.”

Heavily trade-reliant, Singapore has been struggling with a plunge in exports due the U.S.-China trade war, as well as a manufacturing slump. The nation’s economic growth slowed to just 0.1% year-on-year in the second quarter, with the government slashing its full-year expansion forecast to near zero.

Heng, who also serves as finance minister, said Singapore has benefited from its decision to invest its reserves for rainy days. Under the country’s constitution, the government can use as much as 50% of the net returns from the investment of its reserves.

“Today, this income from our reserves is our largest source of revenue, more than any single category of taxes,” he said.

In a wide-ranging speech, Heng also urged business leaders to take on greater social responsibility, especially in areas such as gender equality, environmental sustainability and promoting education and health care.

“Fundamentally, doing well and doing good need not be contradictory.”