SINGAPORE: Four young Singaporeans were awarded the President’s Scholarship in a ceremony at the Istana on Thursday (Aug 15).
The recipients this year are Mr Muhammad Dhafer, Mr John Chua Je En, Mr Siow Mein Yeak, Yue and Midshipman Allison Tan Sue Min.
Mr Dhafer will pursue a liberal arts degree at Stanford University, an area of study the former Raffles Institution student believes will expose him to different fields.
“I hope to get an understanding of how data analytics and computer science can be used to improve public policy, and also to link that with areas of humanities, because I think this is a new area of public policy where we’re focusing on how technological changes will affect the way our government serves the people as well,” he said.
Serving the people is something Mr Dhafer has been doing since he was a teenager.
In secondary school, Mr Dhafer would volunteer on an ad-hoc basis. When he entered junior college, however, volunteering became a weekly undertaking for Mr Dhafer, who would tutor children at the Pertapis Children’s Home.
This, he said, was because he wanted to form a connection with the people he was helping.
“I think this is extremely important especially in community service work. Because you’re not only looking at one part of the problem, you’re looking at these people and being able to understand them is the core purpose of actually community service work. And I think that gives you a better understanding of who they are and what they value. And these are things that will help you to connect with them better,” he told CNA.
Similarly, fellow scholarship recipient Mr Chua is active in serving his community.
His first exposure to service was in the Boys’ Brigade, but he later went on to start two programmes to teach underprivileged children science and creative writing.
The experience taught him to listen with empathy and understand the needs of the people he was serving, qualities which he said will help him in his future work as a public servant.
“I think we as a public service, what we should do more is we should listen with empathy. We should inhabit the lived experiences of those that we’re serving. And we should meet their expressed needs according to what they want,” he said.
Mr Chua said that he hopes to major in either history or government when he reads liberal arts at Harvard University.
“I think the combination of these two disciplines allows me to develop complementary skillsets that will be useful for policymaking. Because history is a lot about the past, and government, a lot about the present. History is about being alive to detail and nuance, and government is very systems thinking. And history is a lot more qualitative, while government is quantitative. So I can see these skillsets being useful in policymaking,” he said.
When he graduates, he hopes to work in either the Ministry of Social and Family Development or the Manpower Ministry.
Joining Mr Dhafer and Mr Chua in receiving a Public Service Commission (PSC) scholarship is Mr Siow, who will be reading mechanical engineering at Imperial College London.
Mr Siow said that he finds fulfilment in ensuring that a designed product both works technically and fits the needs of the user.
“Engineering is good training of the heart and mind," he said of the discipline.
Meanwhile, Midshipman Tan, an SAF scholar, will read international relations in the United Kingdom and serve in the Singapore Armed Forces after graduation.
PUBLIC SERVICE "A COMPLETE DEDICATION TO THE PEOPLE AND NATION"
Speaking at the ceremony, President Halimah Yacob urged the awardees to think about how they can prepare themselves to contribute to the future public service.
“To enable the public service to be more open and receptive to the evolving needs of citizens; to help Singapore continue to forge stronger relationships with our allies amid uncertain times; to continue to be aware of the fault lines and actively promote inter-racial and cultural understanding; and to stay resolute in the face of our national challenges. Above all, how to ensure that we remain a progressive, contemporary and globalised city state but, at the same time, one that is inclusive, caring and compassionate where no one is left behind," she said.
Mdm Halimah added that the President’s Scholarship is an honour and also a responsibility, and that President’s Scholars should be leaders and role models.
“Public service goes beyond doing a job well. It is a complete dedication to the people and nation. I hope you will bring Singapore forward by shaping a cohort of future public officers through your actions, inspiring them to lead by example, to be connected to the ground and the community; and to put the needs and interests of the nation and our citizens at the core."