We had many activities over these few days, such as cultural performance rehearsal, student dialogue, outdoor activities and even a trip to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.
The student dialogue consisted of five issues which centered around socio-economic problems, such as youth employment or the lack of it, income disparity and inclusion of foreigners. This student dialogue reminded me of the important role of the government and how much its domestic policy could affect the fate of the country.
Admittedly, all countries face different constraints and hold different beliefs. They all also differ in terms of their geopolitical situation and extent of said problems currently affecting the country. For instance, both China and Singapore face the same issue of a widening income gap. However, the extent of which is happening in China is far more severe than Singapore. But as we consider the various constraints both countries face in tackling this issue, we notice that the huge population and large land area of governance, for instance, are constraints the Chinese government has to work around in order to solve this issue.
More notably, not one socio-economic problem is isolated. We see that the way to increase the income of the bottom tier of earners is to raise their education level. In theory, education is indeed a “social leveler” and is one of the most efficient way to “escape the poverty cycle”. A closer inspection reveals that this solution actually brings about more problems. For instance, a more educated workforce means greater rural-urban migration, causing strains in the rural workforce, for instance in the agriculture industry. In the urban areas, there will be more qualified workers searching for suitable jobs. This pushes down the real wages of workers as supply is high due to increased competition for jobs. Apart from this, other situation which is potentially linked to the said solution includes congestion in the city, increased housing prices and competition for amenities. A more educated population also means a shortened childbearing spans for females and trends across most MEDCs have shown declining birth rates over the years. To solve one socio-economic problem, the country might instead be introducing other issues and setting itself up for future problems.
In essence, the student dialogue reinforced the notion that no one issue is obsoleted. Governments have to find the most optimal solution which brings about the least repercussions, for every solution definitely brings about ramifications. But through careful planning and countering foreseen issues through farsighted responses, it is in the hope that governments could, on one hand, attempt to reduce the extent of the existing issue, and on the other, reduce the impact of impending problems.
The summit has been amazing so far and I look forward to having fun over the next few days!
Bryan Tan (Hwachong Institution, Singapore)