Student Leaders’ Dialogue Session with New Zealand Prime Minister Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern
On 16 November 2018, a group of student leaders – Kim Tyan Wei Maisy (5C22), Cheng Hsin Yue (5C31), Chua Tong Xin (5C31), Adam Seah Jun Hui (5C35), Chong Hui Faith Claudette (5C41) and Ng Yun See Marie (5C41) – had the privilege to represent Dunman High School in attending a dialogue session with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Organised by the New Zealand High Commission and hosted at Raffles Institution, the dialogue session sought to engage the Prime Minister with youth leaders on the issue of youth leadership and future challenges.
To begin the session, Prime Minister Ardern asked participants to think about their ideal career, comparing it with what we would most likely do realistically. She noted that these were often two starkly different outcomes – and echoed this discrepancy with her personal anecdote about how she never intended to become a politician, let alone a prime minister. She used her background story to encourage participants to seize valuable opportunities, acknowledging that her decision to accept the chance to lead the youth wing of her political party sparked her political career. Whereas PM Ardern observed that typical politicians in her country were often aggressive in rhetoric, she was resolute in keeping her own personality, identity and values even when she became a parliamentarian; kindness was a core value in her journey thus far. To conclude her opening remarks, PM Ardern likewise called upon youth to adopt their own style of leadership rather than conforming to social norms, while focusing on their strengths and not weaknesses.
Many participants sought to field questions to PM Ardern over a wide range of topics ranging from her own personal experiences to global developments. Through her responses, she gave the audience a window into her own personal life, such as how she first got a taste of campaigning when she ran for a leadership position at her high school, running on a promise to advocate for allowing female students to wear trousers as part of their uniform. PM Ardern also shared how she balanced her responsibilities as a prime minister and as a mother. Being one of the few female world leaders and only the second to give birth while in office, PM Ardern called for the political scene to be more appealing for women, allowing them to have a say in politics while raising a family.
Adam was fortunate to be able to pose a question to PM Ardern, asking her to share her insights on intergovernmental cooperation on national security. She responded that governments needed a dual-layered approach on bolstering the security of our regions against the threat of terrorism: preventing social isolation and self-radicalisation on a domestic level; and promoting mutual cooperation on an international level through the creation of an inclusive environment. Conversations between participants and her also ensued on pertinent issues such as youth loneliness in the age of technology, the preservation of fading indigenous languages, the global refugee crisis and the role of small states in a superpower-dominated international stage.
Through this dialogue session, Dunmanian student leaders have been inspired by the leadership of PM Ardern and gained a broader perspective on challenges that both Singapore and New Zealand face. They hope to apply these lessons in carrying out their responsibilities as student leaders in school.