I was kindly invited to the Prime Minister’s Forum With REACH Contributors, held on March 27, 2010 at The Grassroots Club. The event was quite a casual one, with the forum chaired by REACH Chairman Dr. Amy Khor and fronted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Community Development Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. Here are some thoughts I gleaned from the session.
The concern over Astroturf is a valid one; maybe not so during the AWARE saga, but most certainly in terms of mounting false grassroots campaign with regard to soaring housing prices. However, as I establish in an upcoming article, if the Government is genuinely concerned over false pressure groups lobbying for personal gains, it could fight fire with fire – as the then Presidential candidate Barack Obama did with FightTheSmears.com – and address the bogus claims head-on.
What should not happen, in my opinion, is to discount genuine discourse and opinions online particularly if they may be critical of certain policies or programmes. This is especially true of individuals who have rejected anonymity and have provided valuable, constructive criticisms despite sessions not being vis-à-vis. The Prime Minister sees REACH as a viable platform; but he should recognise many other online avenues that are equally – if not more – rewarding and effective.
I posed a question on income inequality; specifically on how I thought help measures were present – though some contend that they are woefully insufficient – but the challenge was to reach out to individuals who might have fallen through the cracks and struggle in terms of even comprehending the help they are entitled to. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who might be of old age and possibly illiterate: without the appropriate assistance, how can you understand this plethora of supposed schemes for application?
I do agree that focusing on the figures for inequality should not be the focus (the Carlos Slim reference was quite a side-step), and we should be looking at helping the less-privileged and those who may be struggling. Our current welfare programme might deter free-riders, but my stand is that generalisations should not be thrown when it comes to welfare schemes. Case-by-case handling – which means greater work on the ground by politicians – should be the way to go, since no single policy umbrella will cover or insure every single individual.
Advice For Low Income Households: Education, Education, Education
Again, every household has its own set of problems; hence, it is of paramount importance that grassroots leaders – aside from the organising of field-trips and engagement programmes – help identify these groups that might be struggling for whatever reason. Dr. Vivian did establish that many programmes are in place; but why be content with the status quo when we can look into ways of extending the social safety net for all Singaporeans?
Fair enough, Prime Minister Lee did make the excellent point that under no circumstances should a child’s education be compromised. Education is the best way out of a poverty cycle. If that is the case, perhaps the Ministry of Education (MOE) – with individual institutions – could look into more ways of enhancing current financial assistance schemes so that less-privileged students do not lose out at the starting line.
“What Is The Government Going To Do About It?”
Over the years, so much has been said about apathy and lethargy of Singaporean students when it comes to political and socio-economic issues, that there has to come a day when they would ask: “wait a moment, is this entirely my fault”?
As I have contended before, it is high time for political education to be made available to students in institutions, and expose them to an assortment of knowledge and information so as to root them. Clearly, the current National Education package – conveniently dismissed by many students as mere propaganda – does not cover the breadth and depth when it comes to discussing pertinent political and socio-economic issues. Before we blame students for not being self-organising and committed to American grassroots activities such as the development of movements and publication of newsletters, we should ask ourselves if the current environment provides sufficient incentives for students to be involved at all.
Or are they too stifled?
Bilingualism And Mother Tongues
Prime Minister Lee basically commented on: i) increasing the oral component in terms of examination requirements, ii) commending teachers for updating and adjusting methods and standards, such as the more active usage of the Internet, and iii) a current committee of Mother Tongue specialists to review the processes.
These remarks are quite in tandem with what I had previously shared: that with the plethora of new methodologies, a review committee is desired to analyse and determine whether the efforts have been beneficial or not. More importantly, besides making teaching-learning more engaging and interactive, it is crucial to contextualise the teaching such that they can be productively used outside school. Therefore, increasing the oral component has evolved into a necessity, not a choice.