Alan Soh

I am my own columnist, sharing my own thoughts and recent experiences!


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“Bridge The Gap”: A Youth Discussion On Inequality And The Class Divide In Singapore

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Yesterday morning, I attended this discussion session on inequality at *Scape Centre to expand my thinking, and to hear more in terms of perspectives of other young Singaporeans on this current hot topic. This is good because this closed-door event is not organized by any other governmental organizations, with a “government statement”. There was no media coverage. The discussion was organised under the rules of Chatham House, where all participants and speakers involved agreed that everything that has been said during this event will not be used for reporting. Hence, everyone who turned up was able to share his/her most honest insights based on observations and growing-up experiences.

I haven’t read the book titled “This Is What Inequality Looks Like”, written by Ms Teo You Yenn. I will find an opportunity to search for it to read one day.

I believe there is a certain extent of inequality in all countries, including Singapore. The crucial point, is how do we acknowledge it, tackle it as a community of Singaporeans, and take concrete actions to uplift others who are struggling to scale up in life, due to their disadvantaged backgrounds.

During break-out group discussions, I gave my own inputs, from the angle of someone who is from a low-middle family background, neighbourhood school, Normal (Academic) stream, EM2, ITE, hard-of-hearing, late mature honours degree student-to-be-next-year.

Speaking from the point-of-view of someone who went through the education system in the 1980s, I always thought MOE had a bit hand contributing to inequality among Singaporeans as they grow up. There is some degree of educational stratification, resulting from the effects of Primary 3 streaming examinations.

I guess I must be the only one who could be from a low SES (socio-economical status) background, in a room full of university students, civil servants, academics, editors, lawyers etc. Thankfully there was one media professional who understood fully what I meant because we are the same age-group! Haha..

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There was one speaker who spoke on 3 elements which are needed to beat inequality – choice, circumstance, and community.

On personal basis, I think we must always remember this – we always have a choice to decide becoming good or bad. Once in a while, it is okay to whine but to make a complaint every time is totally pointless. Developing the resilience muscle is what we need to do. A positive outlook is essential.

Being aware of own circumstances, I say, it is a life skill. Look at where you are now, with a macro view. With a calm rational mind, I believe we can strategize with a plan, and with a never-give-up attitude, we can aim to go to where we want to go. Adversity would only make us stronger.

The odds might stack up against us. In my growing-up years, I learnt that when our parents are unable to provide us with the resources we need, we should all the more think about how we can go out to get them, using our own ability.

If you can visualize it, you can achieve it definitely. The warrior mentality.

Community wise, I think it will be good to be aware of the available avenues one can turn to, for help. A community of supporting hands. To navigate smoothly through the seas of life, it matters too when it comes to whom you know.

Your inner circle of friends.

Your inner circle of influences.

Are they able to support and challenge you intellectually, to elevate you to a higher level?

I am a firm believer of positive peer influence. I often emphasize this heavily to the younger ones – You have to be selective with friends whom you mix around with. Like that saying goes, “If you want to fly like an eagle, don’t swim with the ducks!”

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The questions posed are difficult. This should spur us all to think hard about inequality in Singapore.

What kind of Singapore do we want to see in 15 or 50 years’ time?

Kudos to Clarence and Jin Yao for doing this grounds-up initiative!

My own viewpoint is that to beat inequality, it is not a matter of how fast you progress ahead of others but more of how well you improve and soar higher in life. Do bear in mind that there are some Singaporeans among us, who are late bloomers.

To tackle this issue, for a start, I think we ourselves can really start sharing our personal stories on online media platforms about how we overcome odds/challenges to beat perceived inequality on our own, to go where we want to go, to be a source of inspiration and encouragement to fellow Singaporeans who are currently struggling at their disadvantaged backgrounds, and could fall through the cracks.

And for those of us who succeed eventually, please do give back and assist those who are now in similar situations as you were before.

 

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Youth Summit

I was invited to attend this youth summit, with more than 100 other young Singaporeans coming from various backgrounds. It was jointly organised by Chong Pang Community Club and North West Community Development Council.

Students, artists, film-makers, street dancers, working adults, youth volunteers or activists on various causes, ranging from youth empowerment, animal rights, environmental movements, religious groups and voluntary welfare groups.

Behind closed doors, in different groups, we shared views on various hot-button issues such as meritocracy, foreign talents, LGBT (Lesbians/Gays/Bisexuals/Transgender), housing, population bloom, unwed mothers, disabled persons, Internal Security Act, taxes and Section 377A (Penal Code). We had a chance to have a direct conversation with Law & Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr K Shanmugam.

Held in a function room at a hotel in Orchard Road, the focus of this one-full day youth summit was on young Singaporeans because there has been a “generational change”. Mr K Shanmugam sees that the next upcoming 20 years will be very different from the last 20 years.

Yeah, since the watershed Singapore General Elections held in May last year. Being a more educated and well-travelled group of Singaporeans, we hear alot more views from the young ones these days.

I was among those who rose up to pose questions to Minister. It was a question about inclusiveness in Singapore in the next 20 years.

“Talking about building an inclusive Singapore, as an hearing-impaired young Singaporean, I do not know but just would like to hear your own view – do you see a possibility that we would have a physically disabled or hearing-impaired Member of Parliament in the next 10 or 20 years?”

I raised this question because during the earlier break-out group discussion, my group touched on the topic of “Disabled Persons”. One of the group participants reflected that there is a missing voice to be an advocate for disabled Singaporeans, as such it would be a good thing if our Parliament allows another Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) position to represent them. 

Presently Ms Denise Phua, a Member of Parliament for Moulmein-Kallang GRC, helps to speak up for these communities in Parliament.

Mr K Shanmugam responded, saying that the Singapore Government do to the best of its ability to ensure equal opportunities for all Singaporeans, be them able-bodied or physically challenged, for now and future generations. He is glad that there are many employment opportunities for physically challenged Singaporeans in the private sector and social enterprises these days. But he is unable to ensure that we would have a physically disabled Member of Parliament in Singapore one day.

“It still depends”, he said.
Thinking deeper..okay, I think I understand what he meant. 

These are my thoughts:

It is a known fact that a Member of Parliament has to be elected by the electorate.

Firstly, putting aside the physically handicap issue, it depends on political parties whether they are able to find qualified credible individuals who are knowledgeable with all the current issues/challenges faced by the special needs communities to represent them in Parliament. This point alone, should be able to address the issue of inclusiveness for disabled persons in Singapore, IF this person aspires to be an advocate for the community in the Parliament House. 

In addition, the job responsibilities that come with MP position. They are indeed taxing. This person must be able to fulfill its obligations.

Secondly, the individual’s overall character and values. Is he or she a right fit, with what political parties are looking for? Can he/she carry himself/herself well?

It is just like how an employer assess job applicants during job interviews or screening process.

Lastly, another possible factor – it depends on the opponent whom this individual is pitting himself against, during an election campaign. Does he/she have that competitive edge or X-factor over his opponent? Yes, it could be that likeability or personal charisma factor.

We shall see in future if it becomes a reality.

The search is on………….