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4G team to create opportunities at every stage of life for all: Indranee

Media: The Straits Times

It is also trying to make sure the disadvantaged can make the most of diverse paths opened up

Rei Kurohi

To tackle inequality in its current form, Singapore's fourth-generation (4G) leadership will not just strengthen support for those who have less, but also strive to create opportunities for all citizens at every stage of their life.

Apart from creating diverse and rewarding paths, the 4G team is also seeking to address a critical issue: How to make sure the disadvantaged can make the most of the opportunities that are created?

Second Minister for Education and Finance Indranee Rajah yesterday set out how the 4G team will address inequality and ensure social mobility, even as she acknowledged that the issue has been around since Singapore became independent.

"Singapore must always be a society of opportunities for all, throughout life, where everyone can progress irrespective of the starting point," she said at the National University of Singapore's Social Service Research Centre Conference.

Flagging that society could fracture in the face of widening inequalities, she said: "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."

Inequality and social mobility have been in the spotlight in recent years. In March, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said inequality needs to be tackled on multiple fronts.

Yesterday, Ms Indranee said tackling inequality and social mobility, which have been concerns since 1965, is a "fundamental tenet of achieving a fair and just society".

The nature of the problem has also changed. In the early years, the base starting point for the majority of Singaporeans was very low.

But while the country's economic progress has created prosperity for many, it has also meant that their children started with even greater advantages over those at the bottom end of the spectrum.

Advancements in technology also threaten to deepen the divide between higher-skilled and lower-skilled workers, who risk being shut off from new opportunities.

These trends and tendencies pose new challenges that did not exist in earlier decades, she noted. "Left unchecked, they will cause less advantaged Singaporeans to be left behind and feel that opportunities available can only be accessed by a privileged few," she added.

The 4G team's approach, she said, is not to do away with meritocracy, which some have blamed, or cap the top, but to uplift the bottom by improving access to opportunities among the less advantaged.

She added: "In tandem with this, there must be multiple pathways for achievement, success and careers to ensure continuing social mobility."

Ms Indranee detailed various government assistance schemes, such as enhancing subsidies for childcare, and increasing the qualifying cap and raising the annual maximum payout for the Workfare Income Supplement. The 4G leaders will share more in the coming months on strengthening support for the disadvantaged, she said.

But it was important to offer opportunities for all at every stage of life, she added. "The Government will strive to ensure that no one, no matter the conditions of his or her birth, will be denied the opportunities to improve the conditions of their life."

In the area of education, this entails giving every child a good pre-school education, developing children's strengths during their schooling years and allowing them to succeed through different trajectories.

The opportunities would also be available in the working years to deepen skills and support displaced workers, she added.

The key was to bridge gaps to ensure that those for whom opportunities were created could seize them.

So, to help under-performing students from disadvantaged families and address issues like long-term absenteeism and the environment outside schools, there was a need to involve multiple agencies, ministries, self-help groups and even rope in families and community, she said.

"When the community is involved, it works two ways: It strengthens the ecosystem of care and support for disadvantaged students and, at the same time, offers people an avenue to give back."