Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam speaking at an international sociological conference held at the National University of Singapore, admitted that it will be difficult to better bridge the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ in Singapore. Singapore he said is trying to develop its human potential by focusing on early intervention in education, and by building more inclusive neighbourhoods through its public housing policies, but still social mobility is challenging.
In his speech he highlighted four strengths that Singapore had as its advantage in better addressing social mobility.
- Social mobility in Singapore is significantly higher than in other advanced economies.
- Central recruitment and training of teachers and spreading them across the public schools in the island to ensure that all schools are good schools.
- Allowing for differentiated learning within the public schools while allowing students to have the same school experience (like how express, normal, and normal-technical stream students can be in the same school).
- Housing policies like Ethnic quota policy for HDB flats, Neighbourhood Renewal Programme have ensured that everyone’s property appreciated at the same rate.
Four challenges which prevent better social mobility here were also identified.
- Those who have done well find ways to retain advantages, while disadvantages get passed on to another generation.
- Measuring students at the end of primary school and reducing exams in the early primary years.
- Broadening the ways secondary schools and tertiary institutions select their students.
- Widening the concept of meritocracy to recognise a wider range of skills and talents which makes a difference in life.
Mr Tharman said that an activist Government was required to ensure that a gulf on wealth accumulation within the population does not happen here. This is not the first the DPM has called for an activist Government. He has made that call several times since after the 2011 General Election, where a relatively large number of opposition members were elected to Parliament.