Singapore—In an interview with Channel NewsAsia CNA938’s Arnold Gay and Yasmin Jonkers, Minister Indranee Rajah said that there’s a need for agencies to coordinate well together to reach those in need, and so that these individuals may access programmes more easily.
Ms Indranee, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Education, told the interviewers that this was one of the most important points that she had gleaned from the outreach sessions she had made together with social workers, social service agencies and student welfare officers.
The Minister is the chairperson of UPLIFT, an inter-agency task force whose goal is to strengthen support for under-performing students from disadvantaged families. UPLIFT is spearheaded by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and is but one of the initiatives the Government launched in order to lessen inequality and encourage social mobility.
She said that many of the agencies “have programmes that are already very good. So you don’t have to reinvent the programmes. But what we want to be able to do is connect the programmes with people who really need them.”
“Some things might fall under Ministry of National Development (MND), for housing; some might fall under Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), which is financial assistance; some specialised subsections of MSF, for example, (look into) domestic violence, etc. And then others may be in relation to MOE, for example, what’s happening in schools,” Ms Indranee added.
People who approach one agency, say the Ministry of Education, but who may also need assistance from other agencies, will receive aid in facilitating access to the initiatives of other agencies, such as the MSF.
“So once we have connected the two, then hopefully it will have a seamless bridge at the ministry level. But you also need to connect at the ground level. So that’s the second piece we’ll be working on.”
Last week, Ms Indranee discussed how the 4G leaders will address the problems of social mobility and inequality. At a conference organised by the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Social Service Research Centre on Thursday, July 18, she talked about how meritocracy in itself is not responsible for these social problems.
The minister said that the real problem is that while many endeavours have been made to make opportunities available to all, those who come from more economically disadvantaged households may have a more difficult time accessing these opportunities.
She said, “If that means that we should do away with letting people advance on merit, that we should abolish the principle of choosing the person best able and best equipped to do the job, then the answer is no, that cannot be the right approach.”
However, high achievers should not be prevented from gaining more advantages in the interest of keeping outcomes equal, she added.
“Which parent doesn’t want their child to be the best they can be? Students too have their own aspirations. Each new generation will want to reach for the greatest possible achievement for themselves. It would not be right to hold them back.”
The Minister also said that the 4G leadership team will endeavour to strengthen support in order to uplift others “to improve access to these opportunities among the less advantaged and make the most of the opportunities on offer, to bridge the shortfalls and narrow the gaps so that all can rise together – an enabling meritocracy if you will”.
This would be done through assistance initiatives in the following areas–housing, education, health, and employment.
She told listeners that the Government will continue to make sure that nobody will have the opportunities to better their lives taken away from them.
According to Ms Indranee, “We will make sure that all are enabled to take advantage of the opportunities we provide in education, skills training, housing, and other relevant areas.”
She reiterated that those who come from the lower economic strata must take full advantage of the opportunities for betterment that are offered. This means that social service agencies, individuals and communities need to work closely with lower-income families to determine the root cause of their condition.
“They range from unemployment, financial difficulties, poor health, disability, family problems, among others. Often these problems are beyond the families’ control. Their circumstances can be overwhelming, and sometimes, it is difficult for them to even reach out for help,” the Minister said.
Ms Indranee called solving the problems of inequality a matter of national interest, one that could cause deep divides in society.
“What is at stake therefore is the very nature of our society. This is not just the task of the Government. It is the task of everyone because it affects all of us,” she said./ TISG
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