“World politics disrupted: ‘The era of mutually assured destruction has given way to one of mutually assured disruption.” So goes a tweet by the St Gallen Symposium on 24 February. Disruption was the theme of this year’s gathering at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland, one of the world’s leading business schools.
The St. Gallen Symposium is a student-run global forum that has been creating healthy debates on relevant topics for nearly 50 years – between generations, disciplines and cultures.
This year, Singapore’s Education Minister, Ong Ye Kung, was a panel guest discussing the topic: “Politics in a disrupted world.”
The other two panellists were Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen, and the Swiss Federal Councillor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann.
Politics, Mr Ong told the audience, is about giving people a better life.
“And that has to do with employment and education, (helping people find) a sense of self even in a very globalised world,” the minister said.
The education system needs to go hand in hand with the structure of the economy, so that those who graduate will have the required skills in the current age where disruption is the norm, he explained.
He said that Singapore has managed to keep the graduate unemployment rate low, compared to other Asian countries, because the Government has kept the proportion of graduates in a cohort at about 30 per cent to 40 per cent, while the rest took up vocational training for future employment in various industries.
This is in line with the intention that young people could become craftsmen in more fields.
“Today, there is a strong emphasis on skills, and there is a logic to that,” Mr Ong said. “Information and knowledge are all on the Internet. You can Google everything in the world, but skills – you get from experience, you can’t Google for skills.”
When pressed by the moderator about Singapore’s SkillsFuture scheme, Mr Ong said it was an example of how the Government here was encouraging people to learn new skills.
This goes to what he had said earlier, that politics is about giving people a better life.
And through education and acquiring new and relevant skills, where a person is later able to find a job and improve his life, this would help address one of the key challenges in governance: building a social compact between the people and the political elites.
During the discussion, a “live” poll was being run at the same time, asking the audience the question: “Which political skill-set is needed the most in times of disruption?”
Adaptability came tops with 51% of the vote, followed by Responsiveness (31%) and Decisiveness (18%).
Mr Ong said all three skills-set were important, but he added another, to laughter from the audience.
“I would say all three (qualities) are extremely important, if I were to just add one more, politicians today must have a sense of humour.”
Politics, he added, is not a disruptor “but can be a stabiliser even as we have big upheavals that we are expecting.”
“Through politics, society can say no, that we want a balance,” he explained. “That is what I think is the wisdom of politics and democracy. Have a check and balance, so that we can achieve happiness.”