Non-profit calls for independent body to monitor and promote social mobility in S’pore

Findings from a survey ran by non-profit organisation Access Singapore showed public perceptions of a widening class divide. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - A non-profit organisation has called for an independent commission to be set up to monitor and promote social mobility in Singapore after findings from a survey it ran showed public perceptions of a widening class divide.

The commission should be empowered to look at issues like diversity in the civil service and the potential of closed inner circles in the highest levels of government, said Access Singapore in a report published in August.

The survey report said the independent social mobility commission should look beyond proposing recommendations and should also function as an advisory body for coordination between government agencies to ensure solutions are effectively implemented.

It said: “It will also provide policymakers with grassroots-level information to validate policy effectiveness...

“We envisage this proposed social mobility commission to work closely in collaboration with four ministries working on social mobility... the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, and the Ministry of Education.”

Access Singapore, which was set up in 2019, is a non-profit organisation focusing on social mobility that provides career exposure opportunities to disadvantaged students.

The survey was run by an artificial intelligence crowdsourcing firm known as OPPi. It polled 201 people on their perceptions of how social mobility interacts with institutions such as schools.

About 72 per cent of respondents found that some sectors in Singapore are harder for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds to get into than others, while 15 per cent disagreed. The remaining 13 per cent were undecided.

The report added that respondents perceived law, medicine and finance to be three sectors with the highest barriers for disadvantaged people to enter.

Respondents said these sectors typically require students to obtain expensive, specialised degrees, and the need for professional qualifications in these fields limits access to them.

The report said: “More worryingly, a significant majority of respondents believed that ‘connections’ or social networks were key to a successful start in the three sectors.”

The survey also found that 72 per cent thought it is getting harder for children from low- to middle-income families to get ahead in Singapore based on ability alone. Fifteen per cent disagreed, while the remaining 13 per cent were undecided.

Respondents agreed that children from higher-income families had access to more resources than those from low- to middle-income families, which allowed them to succeed.

The report said many respondents believed that low- to middle-income families lack connections and reliable networks.

Some respondents also brought up the daily obstacles that such families struggle with.

The report said: “This demonstrates that even if low- and middle-income families were to be provided with resources and opportunities, it would be insufficient as this profile of students struggle with a multitude of disadvantages that are not simply remedied by the provision of resources and opportunities.”

Access Singapore’s executive director, Mr Clarence Ching, announced on Friday at the National Gallery Singapore that the non-profit will launch a separate biennial survey on the changing definition of success in Singapore.

It also launched a booklet containing the stories of 25 Singaporeans who found unconventional paths to success.

He was speaking at a dialogue on changing definitions of success attended by Education Minister Chan Chun Sing.

Known as the Success Indicator Survey, the survey will be based on 12 themes, including academic success, balance, and being a positive influence on the community.

The themes were based on the results of an outreach exercise involving more than 2,000 people aged between 15 and 25.

Friday’s dialogue, called #WeWriteOurRules: Redefining Success, had 120 participants from across various industries, including a mix of students and working adults.

The participants spent some time discussing their personal definitions of success with one another before having an open dialogue with Mr Chan.

Mr Chan asked the crowd for their thoughts on why success should be pursued in the first place, saying: “What if we were to look at success not in terms of our achievements but our contributions?”

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