Monday, January 23, 2006

Is there a potential "time bomb" being perpetuated in our current system?

Jan 22, 2006
GRCs, housing ethnic quotas must stay

WP manifesto shows a failure to understand what makes inter-racialism work here, says Khaw

HEALTH Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday criticised the Workers' Party for wanting to do away with group representation constituencies (GRCs) and the ethnic quota for buying HDB flats.

Both policies, he said, were instrumental in maintaining racial harmony here.

Answering a question about racism at the Annual Conference of Feedback Groups, he said he was 'aghast' after reading the Workers' Party manifesto.

'It shows a failure to understand what makes inter-racialism work in Singapore and why we are different from the rest of the world,' he said.

In its 52-page manifesto released last week, the opposition party listed a raft of proposals on policy areas from public housing to defence.

It also called for constituencies to be based on geographical areas instead of GRCs and wanted to scrap the current ethnic restrictions on housing - arguing that they were not needed as Singapore had already attained 'a level of multi-racial integration'.

GRCs - electoral groups of at least three MPs, which must include at least one member of a minority race - were first started in 1988 to maintain a multi-racial representation in Parliament.

The housing ethnic quota tries to ensure a more even spread of races in public estates, by restricting the proportion of flats that can be owned by different races in a neighbourhood or block.

For example, Chinese residents can own no more than 84 per cent of units in a neighbourhood and Malays 22 per cent.

Mr Khaw said the racial harmony Singapore now enjoys is 'not accidental', but the result of '40 years of serious policies put in place'.

Why else, he asked rhetorically, would Singapore change its Constitution to create GRCs, but to ensure non-Chinese will be represented in Parliament? Why else would Singapore form IRCCs (inter-racial confidence circles) after Sept 11?

As for housing ethnic quotas, Mr Khaw said he knew they were unpopular but stressed that they were here to stay.

'For us as MPs, we know every few weeks there will be somebody who comes forward saying please abolish the quota. And we just got to keep on saying sorry, ethnic quota is not negotiable,' he said. Abolishing it would cause 'happiness for a very short period'. But what would happen after that, he asked.

'Suddenly your whole block will be Chinese block, Indian block, Malay block. Then the next thing after that is a Chinese school or Indian school because schools tend to be in the neighbourhood. [Emphasis added] And then you polarise.'

On the WP call to scrap GRCs and housing ethnic quotas, he said: 'If you want to destroy that, think three times. Maybe think 30 times. General Election after General Election, we must always remind people of these things. It is what makes inter-racialism work in Singapore. Let's not alter that.'

Since “time bombs” are in fashion currently, I would also like to alert Dr Ng and Dr Khaw of a potential “time bomb” that is being perpetuated in our system which might eventually threaten our multi-racial society.

A lot of you might be wondering what the potential “time bomb” is.

My answer is: “The educational system, especially the SAP school system.”

The “Chinese schools and Indian” situation mention by Dr Khaw Boon Wan is already present in Singapore.

I was formally a SAP school student, I can very confidently tell everyone that in a SAP school there isn’t much opportunity to mix with other ethnic groups as there are virtually no Malay and Indian students in the school. I believe the situation would be very similar in most other SAP schools.

In fact I can say that is it entirely possible to go through our educational system without mixing with any other racial group. Sound impossible? How about me giving an example?

Chinese parents send their children to Chinese primary schools like Mahabodhi, Tao Nan, Nanyang girls, SCGS, many of these children will go on to the SAP schools.

When these children went on to JCs, there is a high possibility that they might still lack the opportunities to mix with Singaporeans of other racial group as there is a tendency for JCs to group student from the ethnic minorities into the same class so as to make it more convenient to hold 2nd language lessons. If they go to JCs like HCJC or IP schools like Dunman High, which are basically an extension of SAP schools, then they will have very limited chances of mixing and studying with Singaporean students of other ethnic groups.

As for our universities, it is an open-secret that there isn’t much ethnic diversity in our undergraduate population. This problem might be more acute in NTU than in NUS and SMU.

Hence if Dr Ng and Dr Khaw are really very concern about racial harmony in Singapore, I suggest that they 1st look into our educational system rather than focusing on the housing quota as nowadays most Singaporeans interact much more with their schoolmates than their neighbours.


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