Workers’ Party member Yee Jenn Jong urged Education Minister Ong Ye Kung to look at his own ministry after the ruling party politician said the Government has to understand the people’s concerns.
The WP member said this will help the ministry better engage the concerns of citizens who are confronted with difficulties. He was referring to the recent PSLE results slip saga.
In a Facebook post published on Thursday (Dec 5), Mr Yee wrote: “I think the Education Minister can look at his own ministry to see how it can better engage when uncomfortable issues crop up, such as the recent issue of withholding the official PSLE certificate to a student over unpaid fees.”
Asserting that MOE’s response makes it “sound arrogant and that it sees those with different views as troublemakers,” Mr Yee said the ministry should have used the opportunity to “take a hard look at it rather than be so swiftly defensive,” especially when the policy caused a large segment of people to be uncomfortable.
“There are many learning points in this case, especially in how schools can proactively engage with students and parents over unpaid fees and why they did not seek financial assistance. They can also engage with social work agencies to explore families situations further.
“Sometimes, something that is a “longstanding policy” may not always be right and should be examined thoroughly,” he added.
Speaking at a gala dinner to commemorate the 65th anniversary of Singapore Polytechnic on Tuesday (Dec 3), Mr Ong said the Government has to always engage the people to understand their concerns so that future generations of Singaporeans can remain hopeful.
He asserted that the leaders in Singapore have changed their governing style to go beyond working for Singaporeans to working with them.
Citing ideas on education reforms coming from the public, Mr Ong said there are many policy proposals that would benefit the people.
He, however, cautioned, “In the nature of a consultative process, the decision will go against the opinions of some, and there will be a perception that the Government did not actually listen to them.
“But I think this problem is unavoidable. As Government, we just have to be sincere about it and do our best to explain how we came to the decision, and get better at it over time.”
MOE’s long-standing practice of withholding exam results slips over unpaid school fees emerged last week.
A Facebook post describing the plight of a needy student who could not collect her PSLE result slip due to fee arrears of $156 went viral.
MOE asserted that the issue was ‘not about recovering the money’.
It said it was about the principle that Singaporeans should not ignore the duty to pay a small fee since the cost of education is almost entirely publicly funded. It also called the intentions of the persons who highlighted the issues on social media into question.
Singaporeans responding to MOE’s statement urged the authority not to punish children for their family’s financial situations, insisting it is not a fair practice just because it is a “long-standing” one. Mr Ong has yet to make a public statement on his ministry’s policy.
On Mr Ong’s remarks about how feedback is vital to policy proposals, Mr Yee pointed out, “This thing about seeking feedback from the public to improve policies has been said for a long time and it often comes down to whether issues on the ground really gets transmitted in the right way to the top.
“There are committees and they often filter information such that only feedback they are comfortable with, get to the people at the top. And the people at the top often do not want to get down to the ground to see problems for themselves, relying on reports that come back to them.
“Top civil servants get rotated very often, staying in a post for usually 3-4 years. Our system does not reward risk-taking and those at the top who have fast-tracked their way up would not want to risk pushing for policies that will take years to see results or are too difficult to see through in the short time they have.”
Mr Yee also called on Mr Ong to be more encompassing of divergent views. Referring to the Minister’s criticism of playwright Alfian Sa’at, the WP politician said, “Perhaps the Minister himself can also be more encompassing of people with divergent views, such as poet Alfian Sa’at whom he, in Professor Tommy Koh’s words, “demonised” and called to question his loyalty to Singapore.
“Being consultative, engaging with people, understanding their concerns; sure these are important. That is what a government should be doing all along. Let’s put them into real action, even when they call into question “longstanding” practices or disagree with the government.”
"For future generations of Singaporeans to remain hopeful about the country, the Government has to always engage the…