Your Letters

Recalibrate policies to address growing divide

The article by Opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong (Inequality is a threat - name it, and face it; Feb 18) said we should "face it, name it and unpack what contributes to inequality", but despite our best intentions, Singapore has never worked towards an egalitarian society.

Let us look at one factor that has directly contributed to social stratification in Singapore.

Since the 1960s, the education system has been used to mould an elite group by focusing on utilitarian disciplines while channelling others into less prestigious vocations. Chinese students enjoyed an added advantage through the creation of Special Assistance Plan schools, which were implemented in 1979 and accepted the top 8 per cent of Chinese performers in the PSLE.

However, similar Malay or Indian schools were not created, thereby being inconsistent with our spirit of multiculturalism, which in theory accorded equal status to all ethnic groups, and created the fear of an intellectually superior "Chinese Singapore".

This growing divide was accelerated with the introduction of independent and autonomous schools, which had more freedom to plan their curriculum and activities beyond the constraints of the Ministry of Education.

Even when awarding scholarships, there is an alarming gap between scholarship holders who are ethnic Chinese and others. Interestingly, it never occurred to us that a quota could be applied - similar to the racial distribution in HDB estates so as to prevent enclaves and social segregation.

It is ironic that after so many years of social engineering, we are only now waking up to this reality. Unless we recalibrate our policies in the next few years, our society will fracture.

Patrick Sagaram

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 25, 2018, with the headline 'Recalibrate policies to address growing divide'. Print Edition | Subscribe