Bridging class divide

Reduce income gap, ensure good social mix in schools

Singapore, like other societies, has to live with the strains and stresses caused by divisions.

Since independence, we have steadfastly promoted "community cohesion" through proactively managing the diversities in race, language and religion among the population.

The more potent, more embedded, but "quieter" division our society will face in the future will be that of social class (Study finds evidence of class divide in Singapore; Dec 29, 2017).

Disparities in wealth, if allowed to increase, would put cohesion at risk.

Average Singaporeans do not seem to realise how wide the gap between the rich and the poor has become, as we tend to associate only with people who are like us economically.

One solution is to have national conversations across the income divide, so that Singaporeans will understand and support policies to help one another.

We should reconsider the merits of having a minimum wage. Singaporeans generally work hard to get a better life, but for some, it is not possible any more.

Employers may argue that they cannot afford to pay higher wages but, often, their profitability indicates otherwise.

We should also tax the rich more, but at a reasonable rate. Taxation itself will not address the income gap but the funds raised can be put into programmes to narrow the gap.

Meaningful interaction among social classes can break down stereotypes and prejudice, but it is an uphill task. Such interaction must go beyond surface friendliness.

Sports and hobbies are deemed a more suitable medium for such interactions.

The most effective strategy to address the class divide is to facilitate "cross-class" friendships among the young, especially secondary and tertiary students.

I firmly believe that increasing the social mix within schools boosts the performance of disadvantaged students without any negative effect on the overall performance.

We should examine how our merit-based school system could be tweaked to ensure a better mix of students within each school.

We should set quantifiable goals for schools to narrow performance gaps between the disadvantaged children and others.

A good school is one that can deliver this socially desirable goal.

Edmund Lam (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2018, with the headline 'Reduce income gap, ensure good social mix in schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe