Why are students on handouts in a city of billionaires?

April 14, 2014
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

The Singapore Democrats are giving out the Mohd Isa Bursary Award and are calling for applications. The criterion we set was stringent: Only students from families with household per capita income of $450 or less would qualify.$CUT$

In other words, to be eligible a family of four cannot have a combined monthly income exceeding $1,800. Given that Singapore is one of the most expensive places – if not the most expensive place – in the world to live in, it is unimaginable for a family to subsist on $1,800 per month.

And yet, many of the applications we received are from families whose monthly income is less than $1,800. One of the families, for example, comprise father (sole bread winner as a techinician), mother, three school-going children and an elderly grandmother. Household income – $1,186 per month.

Another application consists of a family of four with two primary-school level children. The father, also the sole bread winner, works as an administrator earning $1,400 a month.

While we boast of being the richest country with the greatest concentration of millionaires and the highest paid ministers in the world, we still have families in desperate financial need.

The poverty affects children who, being from poor families, cannot afford the expensive private tuition and enrichment classes that richer families can. In this cut-throat education environment where tuition is a necessity, needy students usually fall behind in their classroom performance and go into the lower streams.

When they get out of school, they end up getting low-paid jobs which, in turn, affect their own children thereby perpetuating a vicious cycle and maintaining a permanent layer of underclass.

Many of the children born into poor families also suffer from poor nutrition with their mothers not receiving adequate pre- and post-natal care. This affects a child’s development in later years.

The SDP is working to alleviate this problem by helping children from poor families with bursaries ($500 for secondary school and $300 for primary school students). We are giving out these awards to enhance their educational opportunities so that they can compete more fairly in school.

But, as a political party, there’s an even more important objective for us. We are working to get into Parliament so that we can affect policy-making and reduce the social and income divide in Singapore – much of which stems from PAP’s education policies.

Singapore needs a minimum wage law, amongst other measures, so that household incomes of the working poor can be raised and their children need not depend on handouts to have a decent education.

The current education system is elitist, creating a divided society which is ultimately unsustainable. It is unwise to continue lavishing state resources on the elite as Mr Lee Kuan Yew has ordered (read Lee Kuan Yew, Wee Shu Min and Anton Casey) as this will only lead to economic and social instability in the longer-term.

Education is the most effective tool to level up society and should be used to give all our citizens a fair start in life. It must not be used by the political elite to maintain class divide.

To this end, the SDP has drawn up an alternative education policy paper which we will launch in the near future.