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MP Yaacob calls for middle-class Malays to help poorer families to avoid class divide

"If the Malay middle class... moves in different social circles, feels no need to go back to the community and bring back whatever they have heard, I think we have lost something,” said Professor Yaacob Ibrahim

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Singapore— Professor Yaacob Ibrahim, a Member of Parliament for Jalan Besar GRC and a former Cabinet minister, has warned of a possible class divide rising within the Malay community.

To counter this, he called upon the middle-class among the Malay community to do more to help those with lower financial means to succeed, saying, “We can’t afford for the middle class to peel apart from the entire Malay/Muslim community.”

He added, “I am not saying it is happening; I am not saying it has already happened. But I think we have to watch the dangers of that happening, and see how we can try and ward them off as much as possible.”

Professor Yaacob made these remarks on October 9 at the occasion of a dialogue on a book from the self-help group Yayasan Mendaki entitled Navigating Educational Development: Mendaki And The Malays.

The book traces the journey of the Malay community from the days before Singapore gained independence up until the present times. Published by Straits Times Press, the book was just only recently launched by the country’s President, Halimah Yacob.

Mendaki was begun in October 1982 and its mission is “To navigate, empower and position the Malay/Muslim community at the forefront of excellence,” by improving how Malay and Muslim students perform in school.

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Mendaki aims to help the bottom 30 percent, and programmes for preparing pre-school children for formal education are among its initiatives.

At present, an impressive 94 percent of the Malay students in the programmes go on to attain post-secondary education, and Malay graduates who have garnered first-class honours degrees have also increased by ten-fold in the last 10 years.

Mukhlis Abu Bakar, an Associate Professor at the National Institute of Education, said that most children who grow up in middle-class families can find resources for solving their problems.

But this may not be so easy for children from poorer families, because, “when a child of a low socio-economic status has a problem, the problem will always persist, and so that spiral of failure will always be there,” he explained.

The New Paper (TNP) quotes Professor Yaacob as saying, “If the Malay middle class… moves in different social circles, feels no need to go back to the community and bring back whatever they have heard, I think we have lost something.”

Panelist Siti Hazirah Mohamad, a research associate, pointed out the presence of an “overly-skewed representation” of young people of Malay descent as delinquents, as well as portrayals of the community as problematic.

This could cause many Malay youth from middle-class families not to want to be associated with their roots. She said,” If you feel that you got here on your own… that you are not like the rest of your community, you turn around and say: ‘Why do I need to help my community then?'”

However, the guest of honour at the event, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education as well as Social and Family Development Faishal Ibrahim, said that many professionals are making it a point to give back to their communities, which would “dilute the (gap between the) haves and have-nots, and will also bring together the spirit of contributing to the community,” he said./ TISG

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