"So I asked Heng Swee Keat to lead a national conversation on Our Singapore to define what sort of country we want and how we can achieve it. So please join in this national effort, think seriously about our future, contribute your ideas, work together to make it happen. In a rapidly changing world, Singapore must keep on improving because if we stand still, we’re going to fall behind."
PM Lee Hsien Loong
The word "national conversation" was mentioned only once in his entire speech but it became the buzzword of the month, something like an "open and inclusive society" was in the period after PM Lee's swearing-in speech in 2004. Twelve years on and still that phrase rings loud and true in questioning whether the PAP consulted in policies in the Casinos, CPF or COE (they do, just a matter of extent and whom).
Coincidence or not that the National Conversation is headed by the Education Minister, among the most significant policy changes to be introduced are in Education. The other signs of Education leading the national conversation were that Education Minister Heng Swee Keat and
With complaints of shortage and even substandard preschools becoming a national concern and that children are not prepared enough for Primary One, the Education ministry would look into the preschool sector. They would not nationalise it, but would watch and nudge closely, giving the sector and its schools some quality control. PCF already is striving to have its 330 childcare and kindergartens accredited by SPARK (Singapore Pre-school Accreditation Framework). There would even be a statutory board overlooking the preschool sector.
The contradiction inherent in the government sticking its nose into the preschool sector is that it would make schools more academic and as the foundation for primary school. Inevitably this would make preschool stressful. Furthermore, PCF and NTUC are the anchors already. With the talk of more preschool anchors in the industry and setting of academic standards, would that pave the way for more GLC ventures in the preschool sector at the expense of the SMEs or religious-run centres who are into preschool as play and character building? Beware of what you wish for from the government in this "national" conversation.
Talking and Listening to the Silent or the Shouters
So despite the "national conversation", not everyone can be pleased. Some wanted more government interest in the preschool sector, while others resented the intrusion, all for various valid reasons. The government listened but who did it talk and listen to in the end? What is the national conversation all about? The government listening to those who lobbied the best, shouted the loudest regardless if the interests they represented were really representative of the "national" or not.