SINGAPORE: When Gabriel Michael Wong, 17, was summoned to the principal’s office earlier this year, he thought he was in trouble.
The Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College East student did not expect to be invited to join the REACH supervisory panel, which helps to shape the direction and activities of the government outreach unit.
This is the first time that the panel will have 15 student representatives, 10 more than the previous panel. In addition to undergraduates from the autonomous universities, the new panel will have students from ITE colleges, polytechnics and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
Gabriel, the youngest panel member, said he wants to bring to the panel’s attention concerns his peers have about finding jobs due to the economic impact of COVID-19, among other things.
“I think that’s a challenge that we face – coming out from school with no work experience, will we be able to find a job?” he said.
On engaging the young, he said the conversation needs to be a “two-way street”, so that people know they are being heard, and that something will be done after they provide feedback.
The panel also includes, as in previous terms, representatives from the business community, labour unions, grassroots organisations and the professions. They will serve a two-year term from Oct 1.
Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran said the composition of the panel is “critical” because it should embody the diversity in Singapore society.
“In thinking about emerging stronger and going beyond COVID-19, we need to engage in a two-way process,” said the minister at a ceremony to appreciate outgoing panel members and formally appoint the new members.
“One the one hand, there are priorities that the Government has identified but at the same time to engage with more citizens to understand what their concerns are, and what are the issues that they would like to address.”
Despite COVID-19, REACH has engaged 56,000 people this year, said Mr Iswaran.
REACH’S 35TH ANNIVERSARY
New REACH chairman Tan Kiat How said the agency has evolved over the years since it began as the Feedback Unit 35 years ago.
The pandemic accelerated its move online to social media, e-listening points and to engagements using video conferencing app Zoom and messaging app WhatsApp.
It will also try its best to reach out to more segments of the society, he said.
“It’s not just about doing surveys and getting data but understanding what drives sentiments and anxieties (of citizens), and what we can do about it,” he said. “That’s the important part of REACH work, reaching out to every segment of our society.”
Mr Tan, who is also Minister of State for National Development and in the Prime Minister's Office, said REACH will have three deputy chairs.
Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam will lead REACH’s engagement with community and interest groups, while Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth as well as Social and Family Development Eric Chua will oversee youth engagement. Labour MP and NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay has been tasked to expand outreach to professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).
Along with Mr Tan, the three deputy chairs are part of the expanded eighth supervisory panel, which now has 39 members. Twelve members have been re-appointed while 27 are new.
In line with the Singapore Together movement, REACH youth panel members will have opportunities to run ground-up engagement initiatives with REACH's support, it said.
Another new student member, Mr Mohammed Aizam Abdul Rahman, 22, said he would like to be a bridge between young people from the ground to the Government for future policy making.
“I think that, especially with COVID-19 … taking into account the voices of youth and understanding what it is that we want to see in the future can play an important part in shaping the future of Singapore,” said the Nanyang Polytechnic business student.