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Use our privilege to lift the less fortunate

Associate Professor Teo You Yenn argues that the "the design of systems, not people's individual tastes and preferences, explains the lack of social mixing" (Lack of social mixing is a symptom of inequality, not a cause; June 7).

I clearly remember my time in the army, where for the first time, I met and worked with many people from vocational institutions such as the Institute of Technical Education and the polytechnics.

But it hurts to see that some of the men I worked with are now working as waiters, private-hire drivers, and supermarket packers. This is not to criticise any of these jobs, but it is a cruel reflection of how little our society values people with such educational backgrounds.

In many ways, I was blessed that I grew up in a family that could afford to invest money in my education. Studying in an "elite" school turned that small advantage into a huge one.

But when I heard the stories of many of the men I worked with, I realised that not all had this privilege.

It pained me to hear many of my friends from school discussing which university course to study, whereas one man I worked with was figuring out how to stop loan sharks from harassing his family.

I am in university now because the education system valued my ability to do maths, English, Chinese and science well.

But did it value my friend from the army, who had the emotional resilience to handle difficult problems from a young age?

It is easy to criticise the Singapore education system for sorting quickly, narrowly and rigidly. But when our only resource is our people, we need to do so to maintain our competitiveness in the world.

What can you and I do?

First, we can start by showing genuine appreciation to those we often take for granted - such as security guards, cleaners or cashiers. Let us begin by recognising the important, though understated, roles they play in our society.

Second, we can volunteer in charities. Volunteering gives us the chance to touch lives, allowing us to live lives of contribution, not just of consumption.

Last, we can mentor others. For those from less fortunate backgrounds, the value of having a mentor who can guide and walk with them through life is priceless.

Systems rarely change overnight. But with our collective efforts, we can slowly build a stronger community, unseparated by class, background or position.

John Lim Le Sheng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 17, 2018, with the headline 'Use our privilege to lift the less fortunate'. Print Edition | Subscribe