Yesterday, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Seng talked about the importance of social mobility, and highlighted how social clustering of people from similar backgrounds is causing social inequality in Singapore today.
It is not surprising that people tend to interact with others of the same socio-economic circles. Through forming relationships or social networks with people of the same circles, people perceive themselves to be able to obtain the most benefits from one another, especially those high SES people you know. This is a mindset that has been entrenched among Singaporeans for a long long time.
This is especially the case for our education system, which has become the breeding ground for social clustering. As a child from a well-to-do family, I was sent to prestigious local schools and colleges. My membership to these schools helped me score straight ‘A’s, which allowed me to complete my university degree from a renowned overseas university. Throughout my student years, my friends were mostly students from other well-to-do families. Not surprisingly, these rich families often knew each other or had close friends from the same SES circles. I hardly had opportunities (or felt the need) to interact with people outside these circles. The only times that I encountered poverty was during the the occasional community work module in school or when I ran out pocket money from my parents.
Many parents (like mine) are unknowingly limiting the interactions of their children with people from other socio-economic circles. And this perpetuates social clustering at a very young age. These privileged children may grow up with a distorted world view, and may lack the compassion and empathy when interacting with people from a lower socio-economic circle. If left unchecked, this may result a rigid and segregated society, with each class ignoring the others or pursuing interests at the expense of others.
Social inequality is a serious issue and cannot be simply solved by implementing a policy or passing Bill. But I commend Mr Chan and the Government for attempting to tackle this issue head on. Even though there might not be a solution at the end of this Parliamentary week, this is a discussion that needs to be brought into the open and then do something about it.