Ideas from the floor

Tackle inequality by tweaking education and housing policies

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) estimated that fewer than half of the students from Raffles Institution and Raffles Girls' School (right) now come from "non-elite" primary schools, compared with about two-thirds some 30 years ago. He called on the Educa
Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) estimated that fewer than half of the students from Raffles Institution and Raffles Girls' School (above) now come from "non-elite" primary schools, compared with about two-thirds some 30 years ago. He called on the Education Ministry to make public such statistics.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

In her President's Address on Monday last week, Madam Halimah Yacob called for bold changes to help Singapore thrive in a different future. Yesterday, MPs weighed in with their suggestions, with many touching on the need to tackle inequality and help Singaporeans get ready for the future economy.

The ideas came thick and fast from MPs yesterday on how to narrow social divides in Singapore. They looked mostly to education and housing policies to solve the problem during the debate on the President's Address.

For Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC), the solution lies in encouraging more mixing in "elite" schools, some of which he said are becoming more homogeneous.

He suggested that every principal of a "non-elite" primary school should be allowed to nominate one deserving student from the school to enter a top secondary school.

Fewer than half of the students from Raffles Institution and Raffles Girls' School now come from "non-elite" primary schools, he estimates, compared with about two-thirds some 30 years ago, calling on the Education Ministry to make public such statistics. He did not elaborate on how he arrived at this estimate.

"The concern is that 'the haves', with their connections and advantages, get more and more economic, social and cultural capital, while 'the have-nots' struggle to even get a leg in the game, even if they work hard from the start," he said, asking if Singapore was truly meritocratic.

Elaborating on his idea, he said the student nominated should be one with the right intellect, temperament and potential, although he might not have been able to make the qualifying PSLE grade due to his disadvantaged background.

Another idea, by Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) involves de-emphasising academic excellence. She suggested a student's performance in the school's values-in-action programme should be considered as part of the standard school admission criteria. The programme is aimed at helping students develop into socially responsible citizens.

Recognising a student's contribution to the community and the country could help reduce emphasis on the socio-economic background, she said.

Mr Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC) also suggested tapping the values-in-action programme to encourage collaboration between students of "elite" and "non-elite" schools, to help Singaporeans forge friendships across social divides.

Mr Chen Show Mao (Aljunied GRC), meanwhile, suggested teaching conversational Malay at the primary school level, saying that it can help promote interaction and cultural exchange among the different communities here.

Tweaking housing policies could also help to address the issue of inequality, the MPs suggested.

Mr Ang said developers of private housing estates near MRT stations should be required to maintain a direct passageway between the station and nearby public estates, noting that existing policy sometimes means private housing blocks this link.

Ms Chan said the Housing Board could also directly rent out selected older flats with 45 years' lease or less to those who need interim housing but do not qualify as low-income. This will help those who may have fallen on hard times and need to rebuild their lives, she added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2018, with the headline 'Tackle inequality by tweaking education and housing policies'. Print Edition | Subscribe