by Bertha Henson
ST carried a splendid interview with DPM Tharman Shamugaratnam today.
Here are some key points: He said that no, we should not use reserves, but the G is willing to see if more of the income generated by the reserves can be used to fund social policies. Right now, that’s capped at half of income.
Also, he said that there has been no U-turn on foreign worker policy, but it’s not going to be tightened further too. It will be capped at one-third of workforce.
What’s more interesting than the newspoints is how he strove to build new concepts around all themes. Like meritocracy.
He said: “We’ve got to be a broader meritocracy recognising different strengths and different individuals, but also a continuous meritocracy where it doesn’t matter so much what happened when you’re in Sec 4 or JC 2 or when you finish your polytechnic or ITE (course), but what happens after that.”
“We are a meritocracy that’s still a bit too much defined by what happened in your school years or your post-secondary years.”
Mr Tharman, a former education minister, observed that the education system has created two groups of students.
One group know their strengths, but are not “sufficiently aware of their weaknesses, and not sufficiently aware of the strengths of others”.
The other group have not done as well in school and are “very aware of what they didn’t achieve, but not enough of them have discovered their strengths”.
That is true.
An academic caste system appears to have developed over the years. This is based on whether you come from the right schools and therefore, mix with the right people. It is a system that is being and will be perpetuated by the way alumni have priority in enrolling their children in those right schools.
In the National Conversation on education, this “academic caste” is something to think about even as we strive to eliminate the stress from the examination system and work towards a more holistic view of what sort of students we want to build. According to ST, some participants had asked that even brand name schools offer all academic courses, to break down social barriers and encourage mixing. It’s something to consider.
It is also clear that the smart ones know they are smart and this leads to a sense of entitlement: that better grades and coming from the best schools is something that others should respect and reward – for as long as possible. Perhaps, this is why a Robert Half survey reported today talked about the Gen Y worker who wants everything “now”.
Another concept Mr Tharman raised was about the role of the People’s Action Party Government – that it should be dominant but not dominating. Sounds good. But it takes two hands to clap. Even if the G decides to reduce its presence in some sectors, you can bet that some people will still insist that it eliminates all ills and be responsible for all aspects of life here.
What’s even more interesting is what he said about the political system.
He said that part of a healthy political system is to have a “decent opposition in Parliament and outside”. Pretty odd for a member of the ruling party to say something like this. He will be in a pickle if he was asked to define “decent presence”. A decent presence that will force the PAP to be just dominant, but not dominating?
He also said that the trend towards having smaller GRCs can be “moved a little further” in the same direction. So three-member GRCs or more single-seat wards? Seems this can be viewed two ways: the PAP G no longer thinks that big GRCs will benefit its electoral chances (witness Aljunied GRC) and might well be a bane. Or is it a way to build a decent opposition presence in Parliament? Can’t be.
Looks like the PAP has decided to bite the bullet and acknowledge that it can’t have all the seats in Parliament and wants to seek some kind of accommodation with its critics.
In fact, DPM Tharman’s comments on social media are astoundingly accommodating: “It is a plus that you have social media because a lot more people are involved in commenting and thinking about issues but it’s got to evolve further, so that it matures and you’ve got a more even-handed disposition. We also have to evolve to a situation where absurd or speculative claims do not propagate so easily and get bought into and circulated so breezily, even by the intelligentsia. The social media can be critical of Government and probably always will be. It’s a useful check. But people have to be a lot more sceptical about what’s put out there as well.”