As more people head to Asia in search of opportunities, are young Singaporeans well-equipped to handle the increasingly stiff competition?

That was the question that Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah posed to 540 students yesterday at the opening ceremony of the annual Pre-University Seminar.

In her opening address, Ms Indranee outlined some key challenges confronting the younger generation.

As the centre of economic gravity shifts from the West to the East, more will be heading to the region to look for work. "In Australia, a White Paper was published and the paper asked Australians to look to Asia. They will be competing with you as well. Will you be ready for it?" she asked.

Singapore's youth unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the world at 6.7 per cent, she noted. In Finland, the figure is 22 per cent. "People often refer to the Scandinavian model of education, which is good. But what is often not mentioned is their high levels of youth unemployment," she said.

But as the Singapore population ages, the job market may not grow at the same pace, she pointed out. "By 2030, (Singapore's population) will be an inverted pyramid. If you have fewer people paying taxes and the economy gets too small, there is no dynamism for jobs to grow and that is going to affect you."

Young Singaporeans must also learn to adapt to social changes brought on by developments such as globalisation. "For the countries that allow people to come in and work, there is a sudden influx of talent... but too much, too fast can lead to problems. This is felt in Singapore, but it is not just us, but also UK and Europe and many parts of the world."

The seminar, co-organised by the Education Ministry and Nanyang Junior College this year, was attended by students from pre-university institutions, including the junior colleges and polytechnics.

Following the opening address, students quizzed Ms Indranee on a wide range of topics in a question-and-answer session that lasted about an hour.

The issues raised ranged from broader ones such as building a more inclusive society, to hot topics such as the recent ruling by the Media Development Authority (MDA) which required news websites to be individually licensed.

Nanyang Junior College student Joel Yew, 17, asked if the MDA move suggested that the Government was clamping down on free speech.

"The only thing the new regulation will do is to bring the online sites onto the same programme as the traditional print media," said Ms Indranee.

Another student from Victoria JC asked if the culture of standardised testing was a main factor impeding reforms to the education system.

"I think there is room for dialogue between the educators and parents, so slowly but surely, the teaching methods are changing," said Ms Indranee.

For instance, the Education Ministry has introduced the concept of letting young children learn through play, even though some parents still prefer rote learning, she noted.

The seminar will last four days, and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat will be at the closing ceremony on Thursday.