Thursday 30 January 2014

Avoid making meritocracy a dirty word, says Heng Swee Keat - Singapore Perspectives 2014

By Siau Ming En, TODAY, 29 Jan 2014

Society must avoid making meritocracy a “dirty word”, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat as he discussed the subject of social mobility at a conference yesterday.

The minister was responding to a question on how Singapore could build an open and compassionate meritocracy at the Singapore Perspectives conference, organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS)

“I think it’s important that in Singapore, meritocracy does not become a dirty word,” said Mr Heng.

Whether in schools or in the workplace, he said maintaining a system of selection that was based on a person’s performance and ability was “the right thing to do”. Every effort, however, should be made to help everyone “ride the wave of globalisation” and assistance should be provided to those who needed it so no one gets left behind, said Mr Heng.

He also noted the “special place” that the national language of Malay has in society here.

“I think in many of our schools, for instance, quite a number of students now take conversational Malay in the schools. And what we need to do is find more opportunities for them to learn,” he said.

During the dialogue, IPS Senior Research Fellow Dr Gillian Koh asked if a good pre-school education or the use of education platforms would help Singapore keep a healthy rate of social mobility. Mr Heng said even a first-rate pre-school system was not the “magic bullet” to ensuring social mobility. Nevertheless, he said all areas of education could be enhanced, from pre-schools to higher institutes of learning.

“(We need) to recognise that there are broader forces of work for the economy that we need to take care of. And unless we continue to restructure the economy, unless we continue to create good jobs, a good education system by itself does not solve the problem,” he said.

The education minister also said he was considering introducing computer programming in schools, not to make everyone a “programming geek”, but to help Singapore harness the impact of technology. Looking forward, former Aljunied MP Zainul Abidin Rasheed also asked Mr Heng how Singapore could balance politics, contest and consensus in a way that would help it continue to be a success story in the next five to 10 years. Mr Heng said while a greater contest sharpened the ability to deliver policies, he noted that it does not necessarily lead to “better results” for the society.

“Being able to work together, being able to take the country forward should not be a matter of just contest among political parties. I think it should be a collective effort, it should not necessarily be (an) antagonistic contest, (so) that we are able to harness the creative energy of people to solve any challenges,” said the minister.

3 in 10 see prejudice based on nationality being more widespread
But most feel that bias in all aspects has not increased, survey shows
By Maryam Mokhtar And Tham Yuen-c, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2014

WHEN it comes to prejudice, some 32.1 per cent of Singapore residents see prejudice based on nationality as being more widespread than five years ago, a survey found.

This type of prejudice is also more prevalent than that based on race, religion, language, gender or age.

These were the findings, released yesterday, of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), which surveyed over 4,000 Singapore residents in a study of race, language and religion here.

Other parts of this survey were released last year.

The latest results, presented at the IPS Singapore Perspectives 2014 conference, shed some light on the differences between various groups in Singapore and how they have changed over the years.

The results showed a growing divide between those who are born here, and those who are born elsewhere, even though racial and religious tensions have smoothened and most feel that prejudice across the board has not increased.

While 94 per cent of respondents said they were comfortable working for a boss who is a Singapore-born Chinese, that number fell to 74 per cent for a boss who is a new citizen from China.

There was a similar result for foreign-born Malays and Indians.

Those born here are also less comfortable with new citizens in personal and social settings, even if they are of the same race, the survey found.

Singapore-born Chinese have greater affinity to Singapore-born Malays and Indians compared to Chinese from China, for example, said IPS director Janadas Devan.

The findings give warning to the rising levels of anti-foreigner sentiment here, he said, with the anger such as that directed recently at British wealth manager Anton Casey "frightful".

"Hatred of the foreigner, xenophobia, is re-shaping the politics of many developed countries, including in Europe and Scandinavia, where we are seeing the growth of extreme right, sometimes neo-fascist, parties. Do not assume this cannot happen here," he said.

As such there is a need to better integrate foreigners into society while retaining the country's Singaporean identity, he added.

IPS senior research fellow Mathew Mathews, who headed the survey, said younger and more educated respondents feel these differences more acutely as they are "more sensitised" and exposed to these differences online.

Singaporeans also expect the Government to manage the issue of immigration in the "well-orchestrated" manner as it has done with race and religion, he said, and want results quickly.

But it is more difficult to do so today with more platforms such as social media for different voices to be heard, he noted.

The survey also found that while most feel that Singapore is free from racial and religious tension, some want the Government to do more to address issues of discrimination against minorities.

Among the Malay and the Indian respondents, 40.8 per cent and 33.6 per cent respectively said that the Government should give preferential treatment to minority races, a larger number than those who disagreed.

But more than half of the Chinese respondents said they disagreed with preferential treatment for minorities.

The more educated were also more likely to disagree with preferential treatment.

More university-educated respondents of each race do not want preferential treatment given to minorities, than those who do.

Preserving common space about 'goodwill, give and take'
By Maryam Mokhtar, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2014

MINISTER of State Sim Ann yesterday said preserving the common space in a diverse society like Singapore's can be an "untidy business", characterised more by goodwill and give and take than rules of consistency and logic.

On the Government's role in protecting this space, she said she had been asked if there was indeed a "pushback" from other groups whenever one community asked for special accommodation.

While the junior minister in the ministries for Education and Communications and Information did not mention the tudung, her remarks at yesterday's IPS seminar come three days after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's closed-door dialogue with Malay-Muslim community leaders on the issue.

Ms Sim compared the common space shared by Singaporeans of difference races and religions, to a village square ringed by houses.

Each family may make small changes or extensions to their houses that jut into the square. Each change in and of itself does not hurt their neighbours, she said, but as more families make similar requests, "the village decides to regularise the practice for fairness".

"After a vigorous and exhausting debate, the village comes up with a complex set of rules on how much of the square each family is entitled to. Eventually there is no square left," she said.

During the discussion that followed, former senior minister of state Zainul Abidin Rasheed said he was concerned about how well the Chinese here understand Malays and their religion, Islam, and how well the rest understand the changing profile of the Chinese and their religions, and "emerging Christians".

He also wondered about people's understanding of Malaysia's race relations issues and how that might impact Singapore.

Ms Sim said Mr Zainul's question underscored the difficulty in truly understanding any other group, "but we must try".

In a separate discussion later, National University of Singapore professor Chua Beng Huat spoke about the problems he faced as a sociologist in understanding what the Malay community really feels when their sentiments are "mediated by community leaders that are already hand-picked".

On last Saturday's closed-door dialogue on the tudung issue between PM Lee and a group of Malay-Muslim community leaders, he said: "How are we expected to understand how the Malays feel if we are not part of that closed door?"

He said that if the issue of the tudung or Islamic headscarf was a national issue, "it is not just up to the Malay community to resolve, but for all of us to resolve, and to do that we need to learn to handle differences publicly".

Ms Sim also responded to Nominated MP Janice Koh who said the arts space was fast becoming an "empty space" due to the Government's over-regulation.

Ms Sim said no government would want to over-regulate this particular sector. But she added that "the sentiments and the emotions are... so fraught, potentially sometimes highly charged... that it takes a lot of serious thought and a lot of application of empathy in order to be able create... that particular safe space".

Singaporeans against sex outside marriage: Poll finding
By Tham Yuen-c, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2014

SINGAPORE remains a largely conservative society in which extra-marital sex and having a child out of wedlock are still frowned on, according to a survey.

Eight in 10 of the residents polled said extra-marital affairs are almost always wrong while seven out of 10 felt the same way about getting pregnant before marriage.

Slightly more than half, or 56.4 per cent, also say sex should come after marriage.

"Overall, as you can see, Singaporeans are fairly conservative in their outlook to such issues," said senior research fellow Mathew Mathews of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS).

This finding on social morality is part of a wider IPS survey on race, language and religion. Dr Mathews is the survey's principal investigator.

Released yesterday, the survey polled more than 4,000 Singapore residents.

They were asked to indicate how they feel on a range of social issues by choosing whether it is "not wrong most of the time or not wrong at all", "only wrong sometimes" or "always wrong or almost always wrong".

Their responses indicate there may be a wider acceptance of living with a partner before marriage, as fewer than half (44 per cent) say it is almost always wrong.

Similarly, with divorce: 43 per cent feel it is just wrong.

On the other hand, relatively few accept homosexual relations between adults: Almost 80 per cent say no-no to it.

Also, 73 per cent are not in favour of gay marriage.

But on gay couples adopting a child, a relatively smaller proportion - 61 per cent - say it is almost always wrong.

On gambling, about seven out of 10 are against it.

Dr Mathews said it could be read as a response to "excessive gambling, not some kind of once-in-a-while social gambling". Seeing the effect of excessive gambling on families, "there's a stronger aversion to gambling", he added.


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