Having concluded the “Bridge the Gap” youth discussion on inequality and the class divide in Singapore in mid-July last year – and hence, in very overdue fashion – here is the executive summary and some accompanying thoughts.
Speaker perspectives: Key themes articulated by the eight guest speakers – anchored by the frequent references to “demand for distribution”, “achievement gap”, and “inequality and happiness” – include: (a) What is meant by “inequality”, given the socio-economic and political implications, has to be specified; (b) The social experience of inequality is important; and (c) Balance policies and community efforts. Of particular importance, to me, was the social or lived experience of inequality, because it is tied to the more general problem of excluding the low-income and disadvantaged from these conversations.
Group discussion: Key themes from the small group discussions among participants, during the second segment, include: (a) The roles or responsibilities of the middle-class, in the context of how they could be involved; (b) Education was emphasised, especially pre-school education, with concerns that children or adolescents from low-income families may be disproportionately disadvantaged; and (c) The social experience of inequality, with the phrases “social mixing”, “social”, and “perception” frequently used.
“More questions to questions”: Together with the question-and-answer data, we had a broader set of questions:
– How should inequality be understood and defined, more precisely?
– What is the social experience of inequality, and how should it be shared and communicated?
– When crafting solutions, what is the balance between government policies and community efforts, and what is the role of the middle-class? And to what extent is the focus on education – as a problem and a solution – justified (especially if sources of inequality stem from economic or labour policies, and that the education system is mitigating some of these effects instead)?
– Operationally (in terms of the discussion): How do we engage participants of more diverse backgrounds? How should individuals from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds be included?
Even more questions to questions: In addition to the broad questions about definitions of inequality and the class divide (including how they are operationalised and measured) and the social experience of inequality (which should be solicited, first-hand, from the perspectives and experiences of the low-income and disadvantaged, and if needed the individuals providing support and assistance), more specific feedback from participants yielded interesting insights in terms of philosophical assumptions, the structure of the programme and the choice of speakers, as well as the overall programme. I summarised some of the ones which stood out to me, again in the form of guiding questions:
– When balancing government policies and community efforts, what are the motivations for community efforts? And if community service or volunteerism is perceived as part of the solution, then its diversity and opportunities can be highlighted.
– What are the components (or the sub-topics) of the (complex) inequality and class divide problem? And how can we better understand the inequality and class divide problem, before considering policy recommendations or solutions?
– Relatedly, before jumping into the recommendations or solutions, how do we facilitate the sharing of perspectives and experiences, especially among Singaporeans of different demographic and socio-economic backgrounds?
– Other questions, summarised from a very thoughtful feedback: First, the complexity of the inequality and class divide issue; second, incorporating voices of the low-income and disadvantaged; third, the diversity of lived experiences, epistemology, and mental frameworks or perceptions of society; fourth, facilitating cognitive dissonance and challenging or nudging Singaporeans to go beyond the mental frameworks they are familiar with; and fifth, advocacy and organising around young active volunteers.