PM Lee Hsien Loong delivered his National Day Rally speech on 20 August 2017 at the Institute of Technical Education College Central. He spoke in Malay and Chinese, followed by English. Here is the transcript of the Chinese speech in full. For the video with English dub and sign language interpretation, please scroll down to the bottom of the page.
National Day Rally 2017 Chinese Speech (with English Dub + Sign Language)
English translation of Chinese speech
My fellow Singaporeans, good evening!
This year, we celebrate our 52nd National Day. As in our early nation-building years, we have many urgent issues to deal with: e.g. terrorism, international relations, and our economy. The Government is managing these issues carefully and calmly, and we hope the people will support us and work with us.
I know you are concerned about our economy and jobs. Our economy remains strong. We expect it to grow by around 2.5% this year, higher than last year. It is even more encouraging to see our economic transformation making progress and our productivity improving. Higher productivity is key to better jobs and better pay. But our economic transformation is not complete, and more needs to be done. Some Singaporeans, including PMETs, have lost their jobs. We are helping them retrain, look for new jobs and start again. Minister Lim Swee Say has been doing endless dialogues, encouraging people to use various Government schemes to help themselves. This is one of his Kopi Talks.
Government has also provided businesses with a variety of support schemes to help them upgrade and enter new markets. One of the beneficiaries is “Lao Ban Soya Bean Curd”. With the help of IE Singapore, Lao Ban started Xiao Ban in Vietnam. Lao Ban and Xiao Ban are both equally delicious and popular. I believe that so long as the Government, people and industries work together, our economy will continue to grow steadily, we will open new frontiers and we will create good job opportunities for all.
Our economic performance is an immediate priority because it directly affects our livelihood. However, to maintain our prosperity and stability over the long run, we also need to look at a number of long-term issues.
So tonight, I would like to speak on three topics to prepare ourselves for the future:
a. Preschool – because we want to give every child a strong start in life.
b. Diabetes – because it is a growing problem, and will be a burden to the individual and society.
c. Smart Nation – because we want to use IT to create opportunities and improve the lives of all.
First, let me tell you how we will improve preschool education. We will focus on three aspects: First, increase preschool places. Second, improve the quality of preschool education and give children a good bilingual foundation. Third, improve the quality of preschool teachers and make the profession attractive.
Our primary objective is to provide children of all family backgrounds, especially those from less well-to-do families, with a good preschool education so that they start well and are able to fulfil their potential. Between birth and 6 years of age, children learn and develop rapidly. Their brains are like sponges, absorbing quickly what they see, hear and feel. We need to catch that window of development, and expose young children to language, art, music. At the same time, let them interact with their peers, learn to care for each other and manage their emotions.
Studies have shown that the best window for a child to learn a language is before 3 years of age. Young children are particularly sensitive to sounds and words, and pick them up quickly. Adults too can learn languages, but it is not easy for them. For example, if you learnt Mandarin as an adult, you may not be able to discern its four tones, and will likely mispronounce. And if you mispronounce Chinese words, you may end up making a faux pas. For example, a student who says he wants to “ask” the teacher a question but mispronounces the character, might end up saying he wants to “smell” the teacher instead, or even worse, “kiss” her. To have clear pronunciation, you need to start young
My mother’s experience illustrates this. She only learnt Chinese during the Second World War, when she was already in her 20s. She could understand and speak quite well, yet she seldom spoke in Mandarin. It was only many years later that I found out why she did not speak Mandarin often. It was because a friend had once told her that she spoke Mandarin with an English accent. Perhaps my mother was a bit embarrassed, so she seldom spoke Mandarin. My parents were serious about mother tongue education. When I was 3 years old, I was sent to Nanyang Kindergarten. They hoped that by immersing me in a Mandarin-speaking environment from young, I would gain a strong foundation in Chinese. Under the guidance of teachers, I had a happy experience learning Chinese. But there was no Hanyu Pinyin then, so my Mandarin has a Nanyang accent. I only started to use Hanyu Pinyin about 10 years ago.
And although I had attended Chinese schools, getting the right pronunciation is still not easy for me. I still mispronounce sometimes. Learning a language as an adult is not easy!
Both my own and my parents’ experience show that we need to start young to learn a language well. Therefore, we have decided to strengthen bilingual education from preschool. Nowadays, many parents speak English at home and seldom use mother tongues. Schools, especially preschools, have come to play a greater role in teaching mother tongues.
Given the many benefits of preschool education, Government will invest in preschools and comprehensively upgrade the sector. Five years ago, annual government spending on preschool education was half of what we spend today. Five years from now, the annual government spending on preschool education will double again. This shows the importance and commitment the Government places on preschool education.
With this financial support, we hope to make government-funded preschools as good as government-funded primary and secondary schools. This way, children from all socio-economic backgrounds will have an equal chance to compete and excel, and eventually contribute to society, and we will make sure that preschools remain affordable. With our children receiving such good care from birth, I hope our young parents will be encouraged to have more babies!
Second, I would like to talk about diabetes which is becoming a prevalent problem.
After listening to my National Day Message, many wondered why the PM should talk about diabetes at the National Day Rally? My answer: It is precisely because you are not worried, that I am worried. It is precisely because many people do not take diabetes seriously, that it has become a serious problem.
The number of people who have diabetes is on the rise. We all know of family members or friends who have diabetes. In fact, 3 in 10 Singaporeans over the age of 60 have it. Once you get diabetes, the consequences can be severe if the disease is not controlled.
Diabetes can lead to blindness, heart failure, kidney failure. Some may need amputation to save their lives. Indeed, an average of about 1,200 diabetics undergo amputation every year in Singapore. We could well be the world champions.
MP Cheng Li Hui shared a story with me. During one of her house visits, she met a male resident who is diabetic. He is about 40 years old, with a daughter in primary school. The resident told Li Hui that he was going to have a foot amputated the following week. His daughter and family members, as well as Li Hui, were worried. He would need to be looked after by his family and the quality of their life would drop significantly. His ability to work, and consequently the family’s income, would be affected. We must watch out for diabetes and not ignore it.
Diabetes has become prevalent and serious for a number of reasons. First, many assume that only the elderly will develop diabetes. The early symptoms of diabetes are not evident, so some do not know they have diabetes. And some who are unwell, avoid the doctor because they are afraid of receiving bad news. But we should treat the disease early. So please don’t be afraid of seeing the doctor. You should see the doctor quickly, follow the doctor’s advice, adjust your lifestyle and eating habits, and take your medication regularly.
I have two suggestions: First, please go for regular health check-ups. MOH has asked me to tell you about their special offer. Starting from next month, you can have a health check-up for only $5, if you are above 40 years old. The full cost of the test is over $100, so this is a big discount. If you want a better offer, then come down for check-ups organised by the grassroots. They will check if you have any of the “three highs” – high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol. Second, we should develop a healthy lifestyle from young. Maintain a balanced diet. As the Chinese saying goes, the way to a good life starts with what we eat. In Chinese medicine, food can also be used as medicine for treatment. We should also watch our weight and exercise regularly
By taking care of ourselves, we can lead healthy and fulfilling lives!
My third topic is Smart Nation. What is Smart Nation? When we talk about Smart Nation, we think about computers, the internet, advanced technology and gadgets the young play with. In actual fact, Smart Nation is about using IT to benefit everyone, regardless of age. In particular, IT can improve the daily lives of the elderly.
Let me give an example of how IT can improve the safety of seniors who live alone. Nowadays, there are many elderly couples or singles who live alone. Their families worry if something should happen to them. For example, they may have a fall, or feel unwell and cannot get up from bed. Nobody would know and provide help in time. This is where IT can help. We can install smart sensors in their homes. As you can see in this illustration, sensors can be placed at doors in every room. The sensors can detect the motion of the seniors at home, and “learn” the daily pattern of the seniors’ movements. For example, when they get out of bed to prepare breakfast, when they leave the house, and when they return from lunch to take a nap, etc.
If the sensors fail to detect any motion for these expected activities, family members can be alerted, and this will give family members peace of mind. The seniors also do not have to worry that their privacy being invaded, for these sensors are not surveillance CCTVs. HDB is trialling such sensors. One beneficiary of the pilot is Mdm Leow. One day, Mdm Leow’s son received an alert for the sensors had not detected any motion in the house, suggesting something may be amiss. The son tried to call Mdm Leow, but could not reach her. So he rushed home, and found his mother sick in bed. He managed to rush her to the doctor in time.
In these ways, IT can improve our daily lives and benefit everyone. IT can also create job opportunities for you -- even if you are not an IT expert, even if you are a senior. Let me give you an example. Those who work in the CBD may have noticed a sprightly lady, cruising around making food deliveries. She is Mdm Teo Yoke Lan. She is 70 years old, a bit older than me, and full of energy. She learned to use IT to make her work easier. Her customers admire her. They call her “Wonder Woman”. She was on TV recently. Let’s take a look.
We should learn from her optimism and enthusiasm, her “can do” spirit of life-long learning. Mdm Teo seized the opportunities that IT presents, and is able to make a living and keep fit at the same time. If she can do it, people younger than her can do it too.
Even if you are not Wonder Woman, you too can master IT. For example, you can start by learning how to read newspapers on the iPad. If you are long-sighted like me, you can zoom in on the iPad for better reading. And your fingers would not be covered in ink. You can hold the newspapers (bào zhǐ) in one hand, and eat a bun (bāo zi) in the other. Use both hands at the same time [Pun on mandarin pronunciation]. IT can improve our lives in many other aspects. It is never too late to learn, and use IT to make our lives more convenient, safe and fun.
In Singapore, we have the right conditions to become a Smart Nation. Our internet coverage is wide, and connection speed is fast. Our education’s focus on mathematics, engineering and technical studies has helped to nurture many techies. A number of them are overseas.
Last year, I visited San Francisco and met Singaporeans in the IT industry there. Many of them are young, and quite a few had studied in the US. After they graduated, they started their own businesses or worked in big IT firms in the US. I shared with them our plans to make Singapore a Smart Nation, and asked them to return to Singapore to help us make it happen. One of them is Ms Gillian Tee.
She had been overseas for 15 years, and established a successful start-up in San Francisco. But recently, she returned home because her mom was getting older and needed Gillian to spend time with her, and look after her. Gillian noticed that there were many seniors like her mother in Singapore, who needed to be taken care of. So Gillian co-founded a company – Homage.
The company made use of IT to match a pool of care-givers with seniors who needed help. Just as taxi or car apps match drivers with passengers, Homage’s website and app match care-givers who are available with seniors who need their services. The caregivers may be students or trained nurses. Homage is doing well because it has managed to use IT to match demand with supply. I hope that more companies and government agencies will learn from Homage in using IT to improve lives.
After 52 years, Singapore has developed. Together, we have built a beautiful home. Parents work hard to give their children the best opportunities. The children do their best to seize these opportunities. Many succeed, at home or abroad. The greatest joy of parents is to see their children have successful careers, and yet be by their side. They are touched when their children who have ventured overseas for many years return home for they still cherish and call Singapore home.
I see this strong Singapore spirit in our youth. They are knowledgeable, ambitious and courageous. They can hold their own anywhere, and love their families and their country. I believe they can lead us forward, and build a better Singapore.