In the past few weeks my colleagues and I have visited you in your various campuses and we are enormously gratified by the interest that many of you have shown in what we have had to say.
It was a tiring exercise but we wouldn't have it any other way for the chance to meet and chat with you was invaluable.
But as you may know the university administrations will not allow us to distribute flyers. Given the situation, the next best alternative would be for you, the students, to organise activities so that we can come to campus and speak with you.
Why do we want to do this and what are our objectives?
For years, if not decades, the PAP Government has taken from you a valuable component of your tertiary education.
While students from top universities in the UK, US and Australia are providing quality education where students have the opportunity to develop their leadership skills, here in Singapore the Government is more interested in churning out graduates for the economy. It discourages students from engaging in social and political issues so much so that your educational experience is decidedly stunted.
Your years on campus is a once-in-a-lifetime, never-to-be-repeated experience. I emphasize the word "experience" because that's what college life is. It is a time when you realize your potential and kindle the passion for learning and discovery.
It should not be a period where you are an intellectual tabula rasa, passively being filled with information.
Learning comes not just from memorisation of theories and definitions but also from the constant questioning and challenging of the status quo. Great thinkers and discoverers are never content to accept what is written in textbooks. Ideas and notions are constantly challenged. That's how academia flourishes and, more important, the reason it continues to occupy the driving seat of progress.
In today's Singapore, however, we are told repeatedly that there is only one set of answers. Dissenting opinion, including those from professors and students, are beaten down. With such a mindset, the Government has bred this I-me-mine culture where few care beyond what affects them personally. It is a system that idolizes conformity and damns diversity, a system that regulates all but inspires none.
What we should be doing is to cultivate a society where individuals rise above their self-interests and increasingly work to improve the lot around them, especially towards empowering those who find themselves disenfranchised.
In other words we need to re-discover how to care for our society.
As privileged men and women of letters, you are eminently qualified to shoulder this undertaking. Use your years in college to develop character and hone skills as future leaders, able to think critically and creatively. You should realise that your counterparts in advanced universities are taking full advantage of their opportunities.
But only you can change the course of your own lives and be the stewards of your own destiny. Quit looking and waiting for the guy next to you to take the step because chances are that he's doing the same thing.
I'd like to discuss this subject further with you and to see what all of us can do to help breathe life back into our universities and our youths. Remember the axiom: we may not be able to build the future for our youths, but we can certainly build our youths for the future.
Email me at: email@example.com. I await your response.
Chee Soon Juan
(15 Sept 2008)