SINGAPORE - The Malay/Muslim community in Singapore has made great progress but must now aim higher and go further, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday.
He noted that the aspirations and needs of the community have grown, but a segment of the community still has difficulties, resulting in much work for self-help group Yayasan Mendaki to do.
Speaking at Mendaki's 40th anniversary celebration, PM Lee laid out three areas for the organisation to focus on - early childhood support, resolving family issues and social problems, and promoting lifelong education among workers.
Noting that these efforts would require resources, he announced that the Government will be supporting Mendaki's plans to raise $40 million to improve existing programmes and implement new schemes.
It will match funds raised by Mendaki dollar for dollar, up to $20 million, meaning that Mendaki has to raise only $20 million by itself to reach its $40 million target.
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli, who is also Mendaki chairman, said that he was very confident that Mendaki would be able to raise the $20 million within a year because many small- to medium-sized enterprises and local firms had already come forward to donate.
At least $14 million has been raised by donations so far, and the process is ongoing.
PM Lee said Mendaki's mission to uplift the community through education remains relevant and important, but in today's context, it has to interpret education more broadly.
"Mendaki needs to extend support to begin earlier in early childhood, as it is critical that we give our children, especially those from disadvantaged families, a good start in life," he said.
It also needs to work with disadvantaged families to help resolve family issues and social problems, so that children from such families can grow up and learn under more supportive circumstances.
Some families still struggle with issues like broken families and drug abuse, resulting in troubles over maintaining a stable living and breaking out from the poverty cycle, he noted.
The organisation also needs to promote lifelong education among workers, to enable them to stay employable, take up new opportunities and thrive in a rapidly evolving economy, said PM Lee.
In his speech at the celebrations at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) University Cultural Centre, PM Lee said that the landscape for the Malay/Muslim community has drastically improved over the years.
PM Lee noted that in the early 1980s, only about half of every Malay student cohort passed their “O” levels.
Today, though not everyone pursues the “O” level track, 99 per cent of every Malay student cohort completes at least 10 years of education and over 90 per cent complete post-secondary studies.
He added that there are also now more Malay university graduates, with only 0.4 per cent of Malays aged over 25 back then with degrees, to over 10 per cent now.
Students from the community are also doing better in school, he said, noting the large number of Anugerah Mendaki awards given out on Saturday.
There are 480 recipients at the award ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday. The awards are given out annually to Singaporean Muslim students who have done exceptionally well in national examinations from primary school to university level.
PM Lee said mindsets have also shifted, as parents understand the importance of education and supporting their children in learning, while children look forward to improving themselves.
"This improvement in education outcomes has enabled the Malay/Muslim community to achieve the social and economic success it has today," he added.
Members of the community have also made significant contributions across society, including as doctors, biomedical researchers, IT engineers, artistes, lawyers and soldiers, PM Lee said.
He noted that Mendaki has played a big part in this success, along with other Malay/Muslim organisations and many individuals who have also stepped up to help.
But Mendaki added an "essential ingredient", as it mobilised the energies and passion of volunteers and spurred other groups to pitch in.
On Saturday, Mendaki also recognised three individuals who have contributed significantly to the Malay/Muslim community in education and lifelong learning for at least 20 years with a new award.
The recipients of the Anugerah Sanjungan Budi (Distinguished Service Award) are Mr Haider Mohamedally Sithawalla, Mr Sallim Abdul Kadir and Dr Sharifah Mariam Aljunied.
Mr Haider, 89, executive director of KSP Investments, was formerly a deputy chairman of Mendaki Holdings from 2003 to 2005, and was also chairman of Mendaki's Education Trust Fund from 2002 to 2019, and a former Singapore High Commissioner to Mauritius, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
Mr Sallim, 68, chairman of Industrial and Services Cooperative Society, has been a board member of Mendaki since 2004. He has contributed to the management and distribution of the Malay/Muslim Community Development Fund and directed efforts to raise funds for the Education Trust Fund, which supports low-income Muslim students.
Dr Mariam, 56, an adjunct associate professor at the psychology department of NUS, has been a long-time volunteer with Mendaki, in particular in the development of Tiga M, which enhances numeracy and literacy among pre-schoolers. The programme has been delivered to more than 6,500 parents and children since 2018.
Of the progress made by the community, Dr Mariam said what stood out most was that many activists and volunteers with Mendaki were once recipients of its schemes.
She said: "The hand that was at one point receiving, is now the hand that is giving. It speaks tremendously of the spirit of the community."