Monday 29 July 2013

Meritocracy works but beware of elitism: ESM Goh Chok Tong

Top schools can help ensure bright students avoid having a sense of entitlement, he says
By Goh Chin Lian, The Sunday Times, 28 Jul 2013

The danger of Singapore's best and brightest young people thinking they are naturally superior and entitled to their success worries Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.

Singapore needs to guard against such elitism in schools, public institutions or society at large, because it can divide the inclusive society the country is trying to build, he said yesterday.

To guard against that, he recommended sticking with meritocracy, which has served the country well. But there is a need to adapt and strengthen meritocracy to ensure everyone in society benefits.

"What we need is to get the successful to understand that they have a responsibility to help the less fortunate and less able with compassion," he said. They can do this through cash donations, sharing skills and knowledge, and serving the country.

At the same time, the Government needs to continue to help families that have fallen behind, through its policies and programmes, he added.

"Together, these efforts will ensure that our brand of meritocracy remains compassionate, that it is fair and inclusive for all - not just those who are lucky in their backgrounds or genetic endowments."

He was speaking at the 190th anniversary dinner of his alma mater, Raffles Institution, which honoured him with the Gryphon Award for distinguished alumni. It is named after the mythical creature on the school crest.

He is the second recipient after former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in 2011, who had urged RI then to maintain its longstanding traditions of meritocracy and multiculturism.

Mr Goh made a similar call yesterday, saying: "Our top schools, including RI, must play a key role in ensuring that elitism and a sense of entitlement do not creep into the minds of their students.

"Those of us who have benefited disproportionately from society's investment in us owe the most to society, particularly to those who may not have had access to the same opportunities. We owe a debt to make lives better for all, and not just for ourselves."

Recalling his schooldays more than half a century ago when RI was in Bras Basah, Mr Goh, 72, said it was then a melting pot of the best male pupils from primary schools all over Singapore, boys of different races and religions, rich and poor.

Like him, most were poor or from lower-income homes, and meritocracy worked for them, leading them into the top boys' school.

But as society matured and became more stratified, families who had done well could give their children a head start.

"It is not surprising that many who have not done so well see meritocracy as a system that is biased towards those with better resources, and one which impairs their social mobility," he said.

He recalled that as far as 30 years ago, Singapore's leaders recognised such downsides of meritocracy.

He had listened in as then PM Lee, in a discussion with Dutch economist Albert Winsemius and then labour MP Devan Nair, argued that ideally and philosophically, all wealth should revert to the state on the owner's death so that each successive generation would start on an equal footing, and success would depend on hard work and ability, not inherited wealth.

But that idea was impractical, Mr Goh recalled.

Instead, the Government has tried to level the playing field by putting more resources into education, including pre-schools, and giving financial aid to needy students.

Mr Goh also launched a Raffles Community Initiative to provide seed money for students, alumni and parents to do community projects locally and in the region.

Beware of elitism

"When society's brightest and most able think that they made good because they are inherently superior and entitled to their success; when they do not credit their good fortune also to birth and circumstance; when economic inequality gives rise to social immobility and a growing social distance between the winners of meritocracy and the masses; and when the winners seek to cement their membership of a social class that is distinct from, exclusive, and not representative of Singapore society - that is elitism."

- MR GOH, in his speech last night

Adapt, strengthen meritocracy

"We must adapt and strengthen our practice of meritocracy to ensure that it continues to benefit the whole of society, and not just those who are bright and able. The solution is not to hold back the able or pull down those who have succeeded. Nor is it to replace meritocracy with another system - there is no better and fairer alternative."


'Medisave, Edusave reflect ESM's care for Singaporeans'
By Goh Chin Lian, The Sunday Times, 28 Jul 2013

Two entrenched schemes are testimony to the deep concern Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has for the welfare of Singaporeans, said Professor Tan Ser Kiat, president of the Singapore Medical Council.

These are Medisave and Edusave.

Medisave, introduced in 1984 when Mr Goh was Second Minister for Health, is a national medical savings scheme in which people set aside part of their income to meet future hospitalisation, day surgery and outpatient expenses.

Reading a citation last night for Mr Goh's award from his alma mater, Raffles Institution (RI), to honour his contributions to society, Prof Tan called Medisave a "revolutionary and innovative concept" in Singapore's health-care financing co-payment policy.

In setting up Edusave to fund enrichment activities for children, Mr Goh "tried to ensure a level playing field for all", he noted.

Edusave was introduced in 1993, and two years later, Edusave Merit Bursaries were given to bright but needy students.

When Mr Goh was Singapore's Prime Minister between 1990 and 2004, he brought a "new leadership style that was more inclusive, consultative and open and ensured that policies are made with inputs from all sectors of society", Prof Tan noted.

Mr Goh's humility and caring nature were legendary, added the orthopaedic surgeon, citing an incident during a visit the then-PM made to his clinic in the late 1990s.

They had heard a loud noise and saw Mr Goh's security officer had fainted and cut himself on the lip.

Mr Goh helped him up, arranged for him to be admitted to hospital and accompanied him to the ward to ensure he was taken care of, Prof Tan recalled.

And a few weeks ago, he added, Mr Goh helped raise about $800,000 for Canossaville Children's Home that had taken in two orphans from his ward in Marine Parade GRC.

These were among the highlights of the citation, underlining a point raised by RI principal Lim Lai Cheng in her speech at the school's 190th anniversary dinner.

She said she wished to see in all Rafflesians "a heart of gratitude instead of a sense of entitlement", and a sense of social responsibility at the core of a Raffles education.

Mr Goh, in his speech later, urged Singaporeans to guard against elitism and give back to society.

His call resonated with Rafflesians like Dr Lim Kuo-Yi, 44, chief executive officer of Infocomm Investments, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore's venture capital arm.

Dr Lim, from the class of 1987, mentors students in entrepreneurship: "I truly believe in entrepreneurship being the tool to ensure success, regardless of background."

Another Rafflesian, Mr Colin Low, 37, director of business development at Frasers Hospitality, said he and a few school mates got their class of 1992 together last year to raise $30,000 for RI, specially for needy students.

Current and former politicians at the dinner also shared Mr Goh's social concerns.

Workers' Party MP Png Eng Huat, 51, from the class of 1977, encouraged students to help in his Hougang ward to give back to society. He believes integration should start at a young age, in schools: "That's the best time to weed out elitism."

Former presidential candidate and MP Tan Cheng Bock, 73 - whom Mr Goh described in his speech as one who "stood for the underdog and still does" - returned the compliment, saying his "good friend" is a genuine person who cares for Singapore.

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