Speeches/Interviews

September 03, 2020

Speech by Second Minister for Education, Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman, at the Debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President

Aspirations For A Fair And Equitable Society With Opportunities For All

1. Mdm Deputy Speaker, I rise in support of the motion. Today, I would like to share my aspirations for a fair and equitable society, with opportunities for all. One that is anchored by an education system that celebrates diversity, and a social support system that recognises that while we have similar ambitions, we are not all starting from the same place.

Beginnings

2. Many of my generation benefited from the broad-based social uplift that began post-independence. Our lives improved, and we experienced, first hand, Singapore's journey from third world to first. We know and believe that the Singapore story has been one of opportunity.

3. I entered the field of social work when I went to university because of my passion to help families improve their lives and enable children to do better than their parents.

4. Over the years, I have seen families with multiple and complex problems – drug addictions, divorce, domestic violence, children dropping out of school. I have seen how these and many other problems adversely affected them – yet with the right support and motivation, I have also seen how they overcame the odds and emerged stronger. Of course it was not easy. They had to work hard. We had to spend more time and resources to support and to work with them to resolve their problems. But it was all worthwhile to see how their lives transformed.

5. But there are also families where the problems appear entrenched, sometimes spanning generations. I'm sure Members of the House have met some of them. For these families, we need to support them better and sometimes differently – to walk the journey at a suitable pace and to give them hope at every step of the way, towards a better future.

6. I have sometimes asked myself – as many in the House have – what more can we do to help these families? Does our support come with too many strings attached that they retreat and do not want to seek help? Are the requirements we ask of them set too high? Indeed we must continue to seek ways to uplift our families.

7. On reflection, I believe there are two crucial ingredients required for families to seize opportunities and progress.

8. First, we must not undermine the importance of self-determination – the belief in the possibility of a brighter future, and the willingness to put in the hard work that is needed to get there. This is the spirit of our Pioneer Generation, that I've seen embodied in many of the families that I have worked with. It is also the spirit that my father had taught me, and the one that I pass on to my own children.

9. But at the same time, we know that the challenges that these families face can be significant, complex, and overwhelming. We must provide an environment that enables and empowers them, and gives them hope and opportunities to succeed. Our systems and structures need to support this. This is the second crucial ingredient.

Inequality and Social Mobility Today

10. Looking back at the last few decades, many will agree that Singapore has done fairly well to ensure broad-based opportunities for our people.

  1. We have seen the results – more have moved up and experienced middle-class standards.
    1. Over the last decade, median income has increased by 32% in real terms – a substantial increase.1
  2. Educational progression levels have also improved substantially. While only 22% of those born in the 1940s progressed to post-secondary education, 79% of those born in the 1970s did so. This has increased to well over 90% today.
  3. The increases in income and education are not only substantial but also substantive – they enable people to have more choices and resources to chart their own future.
  4. Our society has also been relatively mobile.
    1. A study by the Ministry of Finance has shown that in Singapore, about 14% of those with parents who were in the last income quintile when they were growing up, end up in the top quintile of income earners as adults. This is higher than in other developed countries like the US and Denmark2.

11. Yet as much as we want our citizens to progress together, for some, the path takes longer and is more complex to navigate. And this leads to inequality.

12. Inequality exists in all societies. The issue is how wide is the gap. Like many cities, our inequality has been relatively high, but we have put in place a progressive system of taxes and transfers to moderate it.

  1. We have kept our tax burden on our lower- and middle-income low, while providing support to ensure that they can access basic goods like housing, health care, and education.
  2. Last year, our Gini coefficient (0.398), after taxes and transfers, was at its lowest in almost two decades.

13. But reducing inequality and sustaining social mobility will get more difficult with time. This is a challenge faced by many advanced countries , not just Singapore. Many in this House have spoken about this topic. Let me assure Members of this House that this is something the Government continues to pay very close attention to.

14. Unlike in Singapore's early years, where most of us were from humble backgrounds, over time, we have done well, and many have been able to pass on the advantages to their children. This is understandable, as we all want the best for them. But across generations, those at the bottom will face increasingly unequal starting blocks.

15. This has been exacerbated by globalisation and digitalisation – which while presenting new economic opportunities, may also worsen wage dispersion, disrupt existing occupations, and threaten to leave behind those who are unable to cope in the new economy.

16. So we need to monitor, review and adapt our policies, wherever needed, to ensure that they continue to serve our needs well; and that we continue to provide the right environment for families to seize opportunities and move up in life.

17. Let me now highlight five key areas. First, investing in the fundamentals. Second, ensuring progress. Third, equalising opportunities. Fourth, building a society of equals. And fifth, preserving race relations.

Investing in Fundamentals

18. First, we must continue to invest in the fundamentals. We need to ensure that all Singaporeans, regardless of income, can continue to meet their basic needs, and achieve a reasonable standard of living.

19. How do we define "basic" and "reasonable"?

  1. These mean different things to different people – what is a necessity for one, may be a good-to-have for another.
  2. Over time, these standards – on education, healthcare, housing, transport, food – will continue to change, and our expectations of them will change too.
  3. And because there are different definitions of what is 'basic' or 'reasonable', expectations on what the Government and the community should provide also differ.

20. Despite these differences in views, and changes in expectations, it is important that we agree on the fundamentals of our social compact, and I believe we can. This includes:

  1. For our young children, it is about giving them an education that will develop their character and prepare them well as adults and lifelong learners.
  2. For our youth, it is about assurance that they can advance through a vibrant job market and pursue their passions.
  3. For the young couples, it is about the safeguards – that they can have a home to call their own and affordably raise a family.
  4. For our adults, that they can have job security and prepare sufficiently for their retirement.
  5. For our seniors, that they grow old with their loved ones beside them and with dignity.

21. We want to ensure that these are achievable goals for all Singaporeans, regardless of their background.

  1. That is why we invest heavily in education at all levels for all Singaporeans, and we set aside more resources for those from low-income families.
    1. Low-income families, including those living in HDB rental flats or receiving ComCare assistance, pay as low as $3 per month for full-day childcare at Anchor Operator preschools.
    2. They also pay zero school fees for primary, secondary, pre-University, and ITE; and receive additional support for other school expenses3.
    3. We recently enhanced bursaries for our full-time diploma and undergraduate students. The cash outlay for fees for low-income students has been brought down to $150 a year for polytechnics, and $2,000 a year for most undergraduate courses4.
    4. Our investments extend beyond school, to encourage lifelong learning. Through the SkillsFuture movement, we support our workers to re-skill and up-skill, so that they can find good jobs and seize opportunities in growth sectors in the economy.
  2. Public healthcare today is heavily subsidised – up to 80% – and those who are unable to afford their bills can apply for MediFund assistance.
  3. We have one of the highest rates of home ownership around the world, and provide significant housing subsidies – such that the majority of first-timer families can pay their mortgage instalments using CPF, with little or no cash outlay.

22. But even as we continue to invest in these fundamentals, our conversations on the kind of social compact we want must continue.

  1. There needs to be societal consensus on what is a basic and reasonable standard of living we commit to provide to all Singaporeans, bearing in mind that increases in support and benefits provided are not free, but ultimately paid for by everyone through taxes.
  2. We must remain committed to the fundamental aim of Singapore being a place where our efforts are rewarded not just in economic terms, but in the quality of life we enjoy; and a society where everyone has a place that is valued equally.

Ensuring Progress

23. Second, to achieve greater social mobility and reduce inequality in a sustainable way, we need to ensure progress for all.

  1. Relative social mobility is important, but by itself and its focus on comparison, it is always a zero-sum game, where a step forward for one is a step backwards for another. We fail to see that both can actually still be doing well and better in their own ways.
  2. Indeed, for mobility to be meaningful, we also need absolute mobility – a system where everyone is progressing together. SM Tharman has likened this to a moving escalator. If the escalator is moving up, being overtaken by someone matters less. The differences between each step is less stark. Because overall, our lives are still improving.

24. Even as we deal with the COVID-19 crisis, we must press on with our long-term commitment to build a strong and dynamic economy that can give our workers good jobs, reasonable wages, and sustained wage increases with commensurate increase in productivity and skills.

25. At the same time, we may have to accept that rapid growth may be more difficult, as our society matures.

  1. For those that grew up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, like me – we started from a low base. We saw significant improvements in our lives and made a quantum leap in a generation.
  2. We are now at a much higher base, and we may not be able to replicate the same quantum leap of improvements.
  3. Steady progress is still possible if we continue to invest in creating good jobs for our people and supporting our industries to transform and remain relevant to the world. This has taken on greater urgency given the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19.

26. In this new phase of development, can Singaporeans' aspirations continue to be met?

  1. My view is that our well-being and success should not be defined solely by the academic qualification that we possess, how much money we earn, how big our house is, or what kind of car that we drive.
  2. It is something we must define for ourselves. And we know this must evolve with successive generations based on circumstances they grow in.

Equalising Opportunity

27. Third, while we cannot ensure equal outcomes, we must strive for greater equality of opportunity.

  1. This is not just about access to education, health, and other public goods, which I spoke about earlier.
  2. But rather, that our starting point in life should not dictate our ending point, and that with hard work, ability, and ambition, we can succeed.
  3. We must strive as much as possible to level uneven starting blocks, and to provide opportunities at every stage of life.

28. The Ministry of Education has made significant moves in recent years to address this, and in the years ahead, we will continue to do more, to give all our students opportunities to excel.

Expanding Pathways

29. First, we have broadened our definition of merit – to go beyond grades and paper qualifications, to skills and ability – to allow more to access opportunities in society.

  1. We have made major changes across our education system – our PSLE scoring system, how we admit students into schools and institutes of higher learning – to recognise the diverse skills and talents of our students.

30. We are also providing multiple pathways and opportunities to cater to our students' different learning styles, abilities, and interests, and to allow them to pursue their diverse aspirations and achieve their fullest potential.

  1. A key part of this is our efforts to move beyond streaming, to full subject-based banding.

31. We have also been enhancing porosity and creating more pathways to the higher education sector.

  1. For example, through the expansion of aptitude-based admissions, including for working adults.
  2. We are also creating more pathways for young Singaporeans, including polytechnic graduates, to take up a publicly-funded degree. Our Autonomous University Cohort Participation Rate, or CPR, was 27% in 2012. This year, we expect it to increase beyond the originally planned 40%, by up to two percentage points.
  3. Over the years, the increase in our CPR has benefitted polytechnic graduates. Around one in three students admitted to our autonomous universities today are polytechnic graduates, up from one in four in 2012.
  4. On top of this 40% CPR, we also cater another 10% for working adults to upgrade to a university degree.
  5. This is real progress, far from tokenism.

32. All this is also in the spirit of the SkillsFuture movement – which represents a continuous and broad meritocracy where people can continue to learn and access new opportunities throughout life.

33. But fundamentally, for real change to be felt, society must be ready to accept and act on broader definitions of merit. This has to be reflected in our personal choices. As students, choosing an educational path not because it is the most popular, but because it is aligned with our interests and passions. As parents, giving our children the encouragement and space to do so. And as employers, in the way we hire and recognise our workers.

Uplifting the Base

34. Second, on top of expanding opportunities and broadening merit throughout life, at the Ministry of Education, we are investing additional resources and effort to uplift the disadvantaged and help them benefit from these opportunities.

  1. We are enhancing access to quality and affordable pre-school education, to temper inequalities from the start, and lay a strong foundation for every child.
    1. By 2025, 80% of pre-schoolers will have a place in a Government-supported preschool, up from just 50% today.
    2. Children from low-income families also receive upstream support through programmes like KidSTART, which supports parents in areas such as health, social and child development.
  2. To ensure that every child can develop to their full potential, we provide more manpower, including teachers, and funding to schools with greater needs, to allow them to provide effective targeted interventions.
    1. These include programmes to support academically weaker students, as well as priority access to after-school care and subsidies for student care fees for those from disadvantaged families. Many of these programmes, such as literacy and numeracy support programmes, are conducted in smaller pull-out classes of eight to ten students, to provide more focused support for lower progress students.
    2. For students with special educational needs, we ensure that they are supported – whether they study in our mainstream schools, where they are supported by teachers trained in special needs and Allied Educators in Learning and Behavioural Support; or in our Government-funded Special Education schools, which are more customised learning environments where they can thrive.

UPLIFT

35. At the same time, we are thinking hard about how to transform the way our programmes are delivered, to ensure that we can better journey alongside those that need help, so that no one is left behind.

36. One example is UPLIFT – or the Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce.

37. Through UPLIFT, we are looking at the unique circumstances of such students and their families, and by ensuring that they get the help that they need.

38. First, we are going upstream, to strengthen support to those who show early signs of emerging issues such as irregular attendance in school.

  1. By identifying and addressing their needs early, we can build in protective factors and provide sustainable support to prevent their situation from deteriorating further.

39. Second, we are strengthening partnerships across Government, with the community, to provide wrap-around support for disadvantaged students and their families.

  1. One key initiative is the UPLIFT Community Pilot, where an UPLIFT Town-Level Coordinator works closely with disadvantaged students and their families to link them up to local community programmes and resources, such as social workers and social service agencies.

40. We will also explore expanding UPLIFT efforts to the polytechnics and ITE students.

A Society of Equals, Beyond Economics

41. Ultimately, the question is the kind of society that we want to be collectively. Just last week, I asked a few youths in my constituency about what a fair and equal society meant to them.

  1. One of them told me that she had felt looked down upon when her schoolmates found out that she was receiving financial assistance.
  2. Another shared that he felt an invisible divide between himself and some of the other university mates, because he had come from a so called "less prestigious" school.
  3. Both of them were passionate about their desire to change society, so that others would not have to feel the way as they did.
  4. This conversation left me somewhat unsettled – about how material divides can translate to social divides – yet still reassured – by the drive of our youth to better society and make a difference.

42. Ensuring opportunities in society cannot just be about systems and structures. It is also about the values that shape our actions and that define us. A society of opportunity must be undergirded by:

  1. First, egalitarianism – where we treat everyone as equals regardless of their background, with respect and dignity.
  2. Second, humility – where we recognise that our achievements in life are not just our own, but those of our families and communities that have supported us.
  3. And third, responsibility – where we care for not just ourselves, but our fellow man and our environment.

43. These values are organic, and carefully nurtured. Education has always played a critical role in the latter.

44. Through our Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) curriculum, we strive to instil in our students a strong sense of values and purpose, so that they can prepare for a dynamic future, where issues of diversity and inclusiveness may increasingly come to the fore.

  1. These values cannot be just learned within school, but also applied in life.
  2. We have revamped the CCE curriculum to go beyond the classroom. We strive to have our students internalise values into their hearts, and not just in their minds. We hope that as they go out and clean our beaches, they will come home and contribute to ensuring the cleanliness of their own neighbourhoods; or as they spend time in senior homes, that they will come home and connect with the lonely elderly in their own neighbourhoods.
  3. We want to encourage our students to engage in deeper conversations about topics such as equality and inclusivity, to relate these to real-life issues, and take concrete steps to address them and put their values into action.
  4. This is really the heart of our education system.

Preserving Race Relations

45. What is core to building a fair and equitable society is to strengthen our racial and religious harmony, and our multicultural ethos.

46. We all want the ideals of a "race-blind" society, one where there is no racial prejudice and discrimination in our attitudes and practices, including in the way we treat one another, and select people for jobs.

47. But we must not confuse this with being blind to the genuine differences and contexts across races, neither should we ignore or underestimate the severe and sometimes unintended negative consequences that can easily occur with unrestrained comments on race relations and related issues.

48. It is in this spirit of respect for all races, social cohesion, nationhood, and togetherness, that I want to reiterate several fundamental principles that I hope we will continue to agree on.

49. First, to be an inclusive society, we must accept that there are differences across races, and approach these differences constructively.

  1. These could be differences in cultural traditions and practices, emphasis on priorities and what matters more in life, but also the specific community problems or issues that members of a race group find that they have to grapple with, and require dedicated attention and assistance.
  2. An inclusive Singapore must recognise, appreciate, understand, and accommodate these differences; and allow this positive sense of racial identity to exist and develop, and have a comprehensive set of policies and community initiatives, including self-help groups, to address and be part of a larger ecosystem that provides help and solves problems effectively and with empathy.

50. Second, from our own individual experiences, as well as psychological research, we know that there is in fact no inherent contradiction for an individual to have both a strong racial identity and a strong Singaporean identity.

  1. To be truly Singaporean does not at all mean that we must forgo or dilute our racial identity, or pretend that we are not of a particular race, or can't see the race of a fellow Singaporean.
  2. On the contrary, to be truly Singaporean is to understand and respect these race differences.
  3. So, having the CMIO framework does not make us less Singaporean, and doing away with it does not mean we will become more Singaporean either.

51. This leads to my third point.

  1. We need to be aware and respect differences. This common attitude has contributed to the richness of Singapore's culture, and did not mask the race groups as if races and their differences don't exist.
  2. Our policies, practices and public discussions must avoid playing up or misunderstanding ethnic differences, as well as not deny or mask genuine differences.

52. Finally, how we discuss issues about race publicly and push the boundaries of dialogue will evolve with time, but we must always remember to put in concerted effort to be inclusive, especially when we interact in common spaces, and build mutual understanding.

  1. The underlying value and guiding principle must be mutual respect for differences and strengthening social cohesion.

53. Mdm Deputy Speaker, being born both a Singaporean and a Malay in the year of independence and growing up in multicultural Singapore, I have a strong sense of identity as both a Singaporean and a Malay at the same time, and I am proud to be a Malay Singaporean – and I believe, and I speak for many in my Malay community. We are proud of our rich Malay culture and our beautiful Malay language. Now, allow me to now speak in my Malay language.

54. Puan Timbalan Speaker, untuk membina sebuah masyarakat yang adil dan saksama, semua pihak perlu memainkan peranan. Selain daripada Pemerintah, masyarakat kita juga memainkan peranan yang penting. Saya akan bincangkan tiga perkara yang kita perlukan untuk Memperkukuhkan Teras Masyarakat kita.

[Mdm Deputy Speaker, to build a fairer and equal more equitable society requires everyone to play a part. Apart from the Government, our communities also play a key role. I will now discuss three areas that we will require to Strengthen our Community's Core.]

Memperkukuh Teras Masyarakat

[Strengthening the Community's Core]

Kepimpinan agama

[Religious leadership]

55. Pertama, Kepimpinan Agama. Tahun lalu, semasa lawatan rasmi Menteri Masagos ke Mesir, Imam Besar Al Azhar dan Mufti Besar Mesir telah berkongsi pandangan mereka bahawa masyarakat Melayu/Islam Singapura merupakan model sebuah masyarakat Islam minoriti yang berjaya hidup dan berfungsi dalam masyarakat majmuk. Ini kerana masyarakat Islam kita hidup bersama secara berharmoni dengan masyarakat lain di Singapura. Pelawat asing yang lain juga takjub akan kemudahan-kemudahan moden di masjid-masjid kita yang mereka lihat dan adanya MUIS, sebuah badan berkanun, untuk menjaga keperluan agama dan pembangunan masyarakat.

[First, religious leadership. Last year during Minister Masagos' official visit to Egypt, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar and the Grand Mufti of Egypt shared their views that our Malay/Muslim community was a model of success of a successful minority Muslim community living and functioning in a plural society. This is because our Muslim community lived harmoniously with other communities in Singapore. Other foreign visitors have marvelled at the modern facilities in our mosques and at Muis, a Statutory Board, to oversee the religious needs and development of the community.]

  1. Apa yang kita miliki ini tidak seperti di negara-negara lain, di mana terdapat jurang budaya antara kaum, dengan masyarakat minoriti yang terpinggir, dan seringkali peluang sosio-ekonomi dan harapan untuk berjaya amat berbeza dengan masyarakat lain.

    [What we have is not always the case in other countries, where there are cultural gulfs between races, where minorities may be marginalised, and oftentimes, socio-economic opportunities and the hope to succeed differs with other communities.]

  2. Kejayaan kita terhasil setelah lebih daripada 55 tahun; terbentuk daripada jerih payah serta hasrat bersama untuk mengecapi keharmonian kaum dan agama; disokong oleh dasar-dasar yang mungkin kurang popular tetapi diperlukan. Setiap masyarakat memahami betapa pentingnya mengutamakan perkara ini, berbanding keperluan individu mereka sendiri dan bersedia untuk membuat penyesuaian; dan ada kalanya, pengorbanan.

    [It is a result of over 55 years of painstaking effort and belief in the common desired outcome of racial and religious harmony, supported by policies that may not be popular but necessary. Every community understands the importance of placing this above their individual needs and are prepared to make adjustments and at times, sacrifices.]

  3. Masyarakat Melayu/Islam kita juga telah memainkan peranan kami dalam hal ini. Kita komited membina sebuah Masyarakat Gemilang, membentuk jati diri yang progresif dalam negara Singapura yang majmuk dan kontemporari.

    [The Malay/Muslim community has also played its part. We have been committed to building a Community of Success, forging a progressive identity in a plural and contemporary Singapore.]

  4. Seperti penganut agama lain, umat Islam bebas mengamalkan kepercayaan agama dan kebiasaan kami. Walau bagaimanapun, mengekalkan keharmonian kaum dan agama memerlukan usaha berterusan dalam pelbagai aspek, dari setiap masyarakat. Kita perlu cepat menyesuaikan diri dengan isu dan cabaran yang berubah-ubah dalam kita mengekalkan keharmonian ini. Hubungan antara agama dan kaum bersifat dinamik, dan berkembang dari masa ke masa. Hubungan ini mudah dipengaruhi trend serantau dan global, yang boleh mewujudkan garis sesar, atau fault lines. Garis sesar ini mudah dieksploitasi anasir dalaman dan luaran, jika kita tidak berwaspada atau berhati-hati.

    Like all other religious groups, Muslims are free to practice their religious beliefs and customs. However, maintaining our racial and religious harmony requires continuous effort on all fronts and by every community. We need to adapt quickly to evolving issues and challenges as we maintain harmony. Interfaith and inter racial relations, are dynamic and evolve over time. These can be influenced by a regional and global trends, creating fault lines which can easily be exploited by internal and external elements, if we are not cautious or careful.

  5. Untuk membantu masyarakat kita mengharungi isu-isu seperti ini, Muis telah mewujudkan visi Identiti Muslim Singapura, yang melakarkan 10 ciri seorang Muslim Singapura. Visi beserta ciri-ciri telah membimbing kita, sebuah masyarakat minoriti Islam dalam masyarakat berbilang budaya, menggalakkan kita untuk menjadi progresif, mudah menyesuaikan diri dan inklusif dalam amalan kehidupan beragama kita serta hidup harmoni dalam masyarakat Singapura yang majmuk.

    [To help our community navigate through such issues, Muis envisioned the Singapore Muslim Identity, which details the 10 desired attributes of Singaporean Muslims. This vision and its attributes have guided us, a minority Muslim community in a multicultural society, encouraging us to be progressive, adaptive and inclusive in our practice of Islamic religious life and live harmoniously in Singapore's multiracial and multireligious society.]

56. Kehidupan bersama kadangkala boleh menimbulkan perbezaan pendapat, walaupun tujuan kita baik. Kita perlu menghuraikan isu-isu sukar ini secara sensitif menerusi dialog yang membina mengenai perbezaan kita, dan pada masa yang sama, memelihara perpaduan sosial yang menyatukan kita sebagai warganegara Singapura.

[Living together can sometimes give rise to disagreements, despite our best intentions. We must manage these difficult conversations sensitively, via constructive dialogue on our differences while preserving the social cohesion that binds us together as Singaporeans.]

57. Kita memerlukan teras kepimpinan agama yang kukuh, yang boleh membantu masyarakat kita mengharungi isu-isu sensitif seperti ini. Encik Fahmi Aliman bertanyakan tentang kepentingan melengkapkan para pemimpin agama masa depan kita dengan kemahiran yang sesuai agar mereka dapat memberi bimbingan yang padat kepada masyarakat dalam konteks negara kita yang unik ini. Itulah sebabnya saya mempengerusikan Jawatankuasa Asatizah Masa Depan, atau COFA, pada tahun lalu. COFA ditugaskan untuk mentransformasikan sektor agama, bagi memastikan guru-guru agama masa depan kita bergerak seiring dengan perkembangan terkini dalam bidang sains, demografi setempat, dan isu-isu sosio-ekonomi dan kesannya terhadap masyarakat. Ini agar mereka boleh memimpin dan membimbing dengan yakin dan berwibawa .

[We need a strong religious leadership core, who can help the Malay/Muslim community navigate through these sensitive issues. Mr Fahmi Aliman raised the importance of equipping our future religious leaders with the right skills, to guide the community in our unique society. That is why I chaired the Committee on Future Asatizah, or COFA, last year. COFA looks into transforming the religious sector, to ensure that our religious teachers keep pace with the latest developments in science, in our demographics and socio-economic issues, and its effect to the community. This enables them to lead and guide competently and confidently.]

  1. Sebagai contoh, asatizah kita menunjukkan sikap optimis dan progresif semasa pandemik COVID-19 ini.

    [For example, our asatizah demonstrated their optimistic and progressive attitude during this COVID-19 pandemic.]

    1. Kemunculan COVID-19 bermakna kita tidak dapat ke masjid atau menghadiri kelas-kelas agama secara bersemuka. Sesetengah asatizah yang lebih muda, terutamanya mereka dalam Rangkaian Belia Asatizah, telah melakukan usaha pendekatan yang meluas di media sosial. Asatizah yang lain yang berusia lebih lanjut dengan segera mempertingkatkan diri mereka dan mempelajari kemahiran digital baharu supaya mereka boleh menjalankan khutbah dan kelas-kelas agama dalam talian, dan memastikan masyarakat kita dapat terus memperolehi kandungan agama yang mereka perlukan.

      [The advent of COVID-19 meant that we could no longer go to the mosque or attend face-to-face religious classes. Some of our younger asatizah, particularly in the Asatizah Youth Network, had already been doing extensive engagements on social media. The rest of our older asatizah were quick to upgrade themselves and pick up new digital skills, so that they could conduct online sermons and classes, to ensure continuous access to religious content for our community.]

    2. Pejabat Mufti dan asatizah kanan kita pula, telah bekerjasama dengan pakar perubatan, menunjukkan keyakinan dan kepimpinan mereka dalam mengeluarkan garis pandu kepada masyarakat berkaitan isu-isu seperti penggantungan solat Jumaat di masjid dan penangguhan ibadah Haji tahun ini. Walaupun ini semua merupakan keputusan-keputusan yang sukar, saya bersyukur kerana kepimpinan agama kita mengambil tindakan yang awal dan tegas.

      [The Office of the Mufti and our senior asatizah worked with medical professionals, demonstrating their confidence and leadership in issuing religious guidance on issues such as the suspension of Friday prayers in the mosques and deferring this year's Haj pilgrimage. Even though these were difficult decisions, and I am grateful that our religious leadership took early and decisive action.]

58. Yang penting ialah kepimpinan – iaitu keupayaan untuk mempertimbangkan dan membuat keputusan yang terbaik, walaupun tidak popular dan mungkin sukar diterima oleh beberapa segmen masyarakat, tetapi harus dilakukan demi kemaslahatan masyarakat yang lebih luas dan untuk negara. Asatizah kita membuat keputusan sedemikian kerana mereka faham akan konteks penularan virus di sini. Kami tahu bahawa pihak berkuasa keagamaan di negara-negara lain membuat keputusan yang sama dalam bulan-bulan berikutnya. Pandemik COVID-19 membangkitkan cabaran yang tidak pernah wujud sebelum ini. Justeru itu, asatizah masa depan kita akan berdepan dengan dilema serta cabaran yang belum pernah wujud sebelum ini dan mereka perlu bersedia meningkatkan ilmu dalam bidang-bidang baru serta mengunakan kaedah segar dalam memberikan kepimpinan dan bimbingan kepada anggota masyarakat dalam dunia yang pesat berubah dan tidak menentu.

[The essence of leadership is the ability to make sound and well-considered decisions, even if they are unpopular and are difficult to be accepted by some segments, but should be done in the interest of the larger community and for the country. Our asatizah made these decisions as they understood the context of virus transmission in Singapore. We are also aware that religious authorities in other countries, made the similar decisions, in the months that followed. The COVID-19 pandemic posed unprecedented challenges. Therefore, our future asatizah will face unprecedented dilemmas and challenges, and would need to be ready to equip themselves with knowledge in new areas, as well as adopt new methods in providing leadership and guidance to members of the community, in a fast-changing and uncertain world.]

Aspirasi untuk berjaya – membantu golongan yang mudah terjejas mempertingkatkan diri

[Aspirations for success – helping the vulnerable level up]

59. Perkara kedua, ialah usaha membantu golongan yang mudah terjejas untuk mengejar aspirasi kejayaan. Masyarakat kita telah mencatatkan prestasi yang membanggakan sepanjang beberapa dekad yang lalu – misalannya kini lebih 90 peratus dalam setiap kohort anak Melayu meraih pendidikan posmenengah; bilangan mereka yang meraih kepujian kelas pertama peringkat Sarjana Muda telah meningkat 10 kali ganda dalam masa 7 tahun; satu dalam setiap tiga pekerja kita adalah pekerja PMET.

[Secondly, efforts to help the vulnerable to achieve their aspirations. Our community has done well over the past decades – for example, now more than 90 percent of Malay students in each cohort attained post-secondary education; the number of those who attained first class honours multiplied 10 times in 7 years; one in three of our workers are in PMET jobs.]

60. Walau bagaimanapun, masih terdapat mereka yang dibebani pelbagai cabaran sosial – memberi kesan negatif kepada pertumbuhan dan potensi anak-anak mereka. Kami akan terus membantu mereka. Bagi anak-anak daripada keluarga-keluarga ini, kami akan memperkukuhkan sokongan kami melalui UPLIFT, kelolaan Kementerian Pendidikan (MOE) dengan kerjasama Kementerian Pembangunan Sosial dan Keluarga (MSF).

[However, there are still those who are saddled with multiple social challenges – impacting adversely on their children's growth and potential. We will continue to help them. For children of these families, we will strengthen our support through UPLIFT, managed by the Ministry of Education (MOE), in collaboration with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).]

  1. Melalui UPLIFT, kami akan mendekati anak-anak yang menunjukkan tanda-tanda awal bermasalah seperti tidak datang ke sekolah secara tetap.

    [Through UPLIFT, we will approach children who show early signs of emerging issues, such as not irregular attendance.]

  2. Kami juga akan mengukuhkan kerjasama antara Pemerintah, dengan masyarakat untuk menggembleng tenaga dan sumber dan menyediakan bantuan menyeluruh kepada para pelajar-pelajar ini serta kepada keluarga mereka.

    [We will also strengthen partnerships across Government, and with the community, to mobilise energy and resources and provide comprehensive support for students and their families.]

  3. Kami faham cabaran keluarga-keluarga ini. Ramai menghadapi cabaran sosial. Mereka tertungkus-lumus berusaha untuk memenuhi keperluan asas mereka. Seringkali, mereka tidak berupaya memikirkan isu jangka panjang, seperti pendidikan, meningkatkan kemahiran dan perancangan kewangan. Kehidupan mereka bergantung kepada gaji yang diterima dari sebulan ke sebulan. COVID-19 merumitkan lagi keadaan mereka dan menjadikannya lebih sukar.

    [We understand the challenges of these families. Many face social challenges. They have worked hard to ensure that their basic needs are taken care of. Often, they are unable to contemplate longer-term issues, such as education, upskilling and financial planning. They live from paycheck to paycheck, and COVID-19 have only made the situation more challenging.]

  4. Saya sering diberitahu tentang dilema mereka – ramai yang bertugas secara bebas seperti sebagai penghantar makanan. Pendapatan mereka agak lumayan. Saya diberitahu kalau mereke bekerja keras, mereka boleh mendapat pendapatan bulanan $2,500 secara tunai . Waktu kerja panjang dari pagi hingga larut malam. Tetapi sebenarnya mereka kerugian dan kehilangan banyak faedah berbanding dengan pekerjaan tetap - seperti sumbangan CPF majikan sebanyak 17%, cuti bergaji sekurang-kurangnya 14 hari setahun, cuti sakit sebanyak 60 hari setahun termasuk jika perlu rawatan hospital), dan peluang kerjaya yang lebih baik, walaupun membawa pulang ke rumah, gaji yang lebih rendah. Masalah utama untuk mereka, tak ada kerja, tak ada gaji, seperti kalau mereka jatuh sakit. Risikonya amat tinggi untuk mereka, keluarga mereka dan ekonomi mereka. Ini pertimbangan yang sukar bagi keluarga-keluarga tersebut – sama ada mereka boleh melunaskan bil-bil, atau menyokong pendidikan anak-anak mereka serta keperluan jangka panjang yang lain.

    [I am often told about their dilemma – many who are self-employed and do food deliveries. Their income is attractive. I was told that if they work hard, they can earn as much as $2,500 a month, in cash. The hours are long, from morning until late at night. However, they are at a disadvantage and lose a lot of benefits, compared to those who take on permanent employment – such as employer's CPF contribution as much as 17%, paid leave of at least 14 days, sick leave as much as 60 days, including hospitalization leave, and better career opportunities, even though with a lower take-home pay. The risk is high. This is a real trade-off for them, their family and their economy – whether they can pay the bills, or support their children's education and other longer-term needs.]

  5. Saya faham ini bukanlah suatu perkara yang mudah untuk mereka untuk mereka. Tetapi saya bimbang jika keluarga-keluarga ini meneruskan kehidupan seperti sekarang ini.

    [I understand these trade-offs are never easy. But I worry if these families continue with this trajectory.]

  6. Tetapi, jika kita bersatu sebagai sebuah masyarakat, kita dapat bantu meringankan tekanan-tekanan ini untuk warga semasyarakat dan senegara kita; memberi kestabilan kepada mereka dan bekerjasama untuk melakarkan masa depan yang lebih cerah untuk anak-anak mereka.

    [But if we rally together as a community, we can help relieve some of these pressures for fellow members of our community and citizens; to stabilise them and work together to chart a brighter future for their children.]

Semangat bantu diri – Pertubuhan-pertubuhan Melayu/Islam + M3 + SG Teguh Bersatu

[Spirit of self-help – Malay/Muslim Organisations + M3 + SG Teguh Bersatu]

61. Aspek ketiga yang kita perlu perkuatkan ialah semangat bantu diri kita, dengan institusi-institusi yang kukuh seperti M3 (Mendaki, MUIS, dan Mesra) dan badan-badan Melayu/Islam lain yang berkhidmat untuk masyarakat – terutamanya dalam membantu mempertingkatkan keluarga-keluarga yang mudah terjejas.

[The third aspect that we need to strengthen is our spirit of self-help, with strong institutions like M3 (Mendaki, MUIS, and Mesra) and other Malay/Muslim organisations serving the community – particularly helping to uplift vulnerable families.]

  1. Di bawah inisiatif M3, program seperti Bersamamu menyokong pasangan yang bakal dan baru berkahwin untuk membina keluarga yang kukuh. Sukarelawan masyarakat bertindak sebagai "responder pertama perkahwinan" untuk memberikan nasihat perkahwinan yang asas kepada pasangan-pasangan Melayu/Islam yang mudah terjejas. Dengan sokongan yang lebih menyeluruh, pasangan-pasangan ini boleh mendapat bimbingan dan sokongan awal apabila mereka berhadapan dengan pelbagai cabaran.

    [Under the M3 initiative, the Bersamamu programme supports soon-to-wed and newly-wed couples to start strong families. Community volunteers act as "marital first responders" to provide basic marriage advice to vulnerable Malay/Muslim couples. With a more comprehensive wrap-around care, these couples will have access to guidance and support early as they meet various challenges.]

  2. Kami juga akan memastikan masyarakat kita dapat peluang untuk meningkatkan daya kerja mereka. Oleh itu, seiring dengan gerakan SkillsFuture nasional, kita menubuhkan Pasukan Bertindak SG Teguh Bersatu untuk menyokong mereka yang terjejas oleh COVID-19. SG Teguh Bersatu yang terdiri daripada Mendaki SENSE, Dewan Perniagaan dan Perusahaan Melayu Singapura atau DPPMS, dan pertubuhan Melayu/Islam lain, serta NTUC berusaha menggalakkan masyarakat kita mempelajari kemahiran baru dan meningkatkan daya kerja mereka, membina daya tahan dan memberi bantuan kepada masyarakat.

    [We will also ensure our community access available opportunities to improve their employability. Thus, to complement the national SkillsFuture movement, the community set up the SG Teguh Bersatu Taskforce, to support those affected by COVID-19. The Taskforce which comprises Mendaki SENSE, the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry or SMCCI, and other Malay/Muslim Organisations, as well as NTUC, aim to encourage Malay/Muslims to reskill and upskill to enhance their employability, build resilience and provide assistance to the community.]

  3. Sebagai contoh, Mendaki SENSE menganjurkan pameran kerjaya maya JUMP dan menawarkan lebih 3,000 peluang pekerjaan dalam pelbagai sektor. Lebih 10,000 permohonan pekerjaan telah diterima dan selama ini seramai 603 pemohon telah berjaya ditempatkan.

    [For example, Mendaki SENSE organised the JUMP virtual career fair which offered more than 3,000 job vacancies across various sectors. More than 10,000 job applications have been received and 603 job seekers have been successfully placed into jobs thus far.]

  4. KURNIA@WGS merupakan satu lagi inisiatif yang menunjukkan kekuatan masyarakat kita – dengan lapan pertubuhan Melayu/Islam berganding bahu membantu keluarga untuk mendapatkan bantuan di WGS dengan konsep pusat bantu diri sehenti.

    [KURNIA@WGS is yet another initiative that demonstrates the strength of our community – with eight Malay/Muslim organisations working hand in hand to help families seeking help at WGS through a self-service concept.]

62. Pandemik COVID-19 telah mengakibatkan ramai dalam masyarakat kita yang terjejas teruk. Ramai yang hilang pekerjaan dan ekonomi semakin muram.

[The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on many within our community. People are losing their jobs and the economy is increasingly bleak.]

  1. Tetapi dengan segera kita telah menggembleng tenaga sebagai satu masyarakat bagi menggerakkan sumber-sumber kita untuk membantu satu sama lain. Misalnya,

    [But we quickly banded together to as a community to mobilise our resources to help one another.]

    1. Dengan sumbangan masyarakat, Muis melaksanakan Dana Sokongan Muis COVID-19 bagi membantu mereka yang menghadapi kesukaran kewangan yang meruncing akibat pandemik ini. Muis telahmenerima sebanyak 7,700 permohonan sepanjang tempoh permohonan.

      [With the support of community contributions, Muis administered the COVID-19 Muis Support Fund to support those within the community who face severe financial hardships due to the pandemic. Muis has received over 7,700 applications throughout the application period.]

    2. Mendaki pula telah memperuntukkan $1.9 juta bagi menyokong, antara lain, Pembelajaran di Rumah atau Home Based Learning bagi para pelajar dengan meminjamkan komputer riba, dan menyediakan elaun sementara kepada pelajar-pelajar ITE yang kehilangan pekerjaan sambilan atau jika pendapatan keluarga mereka terjejas di tengah-tengah pandemik ini.

      [MENDAKI has allocated $1.9 million to support, among other things, students' Home-Based Learning by leasing laptops, and providing interim allowance to ITE students who have lost their part-time jobs or if their families had income loss amid the pandemic.]

63. Usaha-usaha ini menunjukkan kekuatan masyarakat Melayu Singapura membantu diri sendiri dengan kerjasama dan semangat utuh setiap anggota. Kami berkembang dengan lebih teguh lagi sebagai sebuah Masyarakat Gemilang – yang menyesuaikan diri dan bersatu padu dalam menghadapi apa jua cabaran, di samping menyumbang kepada kebaikan bersama Singapura. Inilah impak dan kesesuaian prinsip bantu diri masyarakat kita – mencari huraian kepada masalah dan cabaran sesama kita dalam masa yang sama menyumbang kepada pembangunan negara. Usaha-usaha ini menonjolkan semangat gerakan Singapura Bersama, atau SGTogether di mana rakyat Singapura bekerjasama dengan Pemerintah untuk memiliki, membentuk dan bertindak demi masa depan kita bersama.

[Taken together, these efforts demonstrate the strength of the Singapore Malay community in being self-reliant, while working together with the perseverance of every member of the community. Through this, we grow stronger as a Community of Success – one that is confident adaptable and stands united in overcoming and adapting to face any challenges we may face to achieve the longer-term outcomes, while contributing to the common good of Singapore. This is the impact when we are self-reliant – we are able to find solutions to problems and challenges we face while contributing to the development of the nation. These efforts exemplify the spirit of the Singapore Together movement, where Singaporeans partner with the government, to own, shape and act on our shared future together.]

64. Madam Deputy Speaker, allow me to conclude in English.

Creating a Fair and Equitable Society

65. Mdm Deputy Speaker, I started my speech today by talking about how the Singapore story has been one of opportunity. It has allowed us, many of us, from humble beginnings to not only do well today but also do good to uplift others.

66. But like many advanced societies, inequality and social mobility is a challenge, and the path ahead will not be an easy one.

67. We will need to decide how to define the basic commitment that we will provide all citizens, what our aspirations are for ourselves and for our society, and how best to get there.

68. We will have to make difficult trade-offs, in how we allocate limited resources among competing needs, and balance across conflicting objectives.

69. We will need courage to make tough decisions, boldness to change the status quo, and humility, to listen to feedback and suggestions to improve.

70. Above all, we must continue to put the interests of Singapore and the well-being of Singaporeans first. We will need to build an environment that supports us to seize opportunities, but also equips us with what behavioural science calls "psychological capital" – the self-efficacy, optimism, hope and resilience – that we need to adapt and emerge stronger and better.

71. The crux of this is harnessing the diversity on which Singapore has been built, and how we have thrived all these years. This diversity has enabled us to not only be competitive in the world, but also colourful as a nation. Our success in creating a society where people of different backgrounds live harmoniously must be translated into our education system, workplace, and indeed, our society, where what makes us different individually makes us stronger as a nation.

72. Mdm Deputy Speaker, I support the motion.

Footnotes
  1. I.e., from around $2,900 to $4,600 (in nominal terms), or a 32% increase in real terms.
  2. Comparable figures are 7.5% for the US and 11.7% for Denmark. Figures are generally based on the incomes of young adults (late 20s to early 30s). For Singapore, they refer to the cohorts who reached 30 years of age between 2008 and 2012 (that is, born between 1978 and 1982). Source: MOF.
  3. MOE Financial Assistance Scheme is extended to students from households with Gross Monthly Household Income (GHI) ≤ $2,750, or Gross Monthly Household Per Capita Income (PCHI) ≤ $690.
  4. Students from households with GHI ≤ $2,750 or PCHI ≤ $690 will have a cash outlay of around $150 (polytechnic) and $2,000 (most undergraduate courses) a year after bursaries. MOE provides bursaries for polytechnic/undergraduate courses to students from households up to GHI ≤ $9,000 or PCHI ≤ $2,250.