One man's prioritisation is another's discrimination

~ By Tan Kin Lian ~

I read about the priority scheme for Primary 1 registration with mixed feelings. While I am happy for Singapore citizens who get priority over permanent residents (PRs), I have empathy for the latter as they will now be discriminated against. Of course, the PRs enjoy not having to serve National Service, but there is a saying "two wrongs does not make a right".

Generally, all forms of discrimination are bad and should be avoided. Discrimination is negative and leaves a bad taste among the people who are discriminated against. Where possible, it should be avoided or kept under the radar – so that it does not become a hot issue.

In our National Pledge, we aspire to build a society based on "equality and justice" – and our society includes permanent residents and foreign workers who deserve to be treated equally and justly, as much as possible.

I support one type of discrimination based on income, i.e. higher-income earners should pay a larger share of their income through taxation. I also support the levy that has to be paid to employ foreign workers, and would extend this levy to permanent residents, if this is deemed as necessary.

Apart from the difference in taxation and levy, I prefer that all residents in Singapore be treated equally and justly on their access to education and healthcare. We do not want to see a foreign worker denied of basic treatment because he or she is not insured for any reason, such as being temporarily out of work.

For the same reason, I do not like the "means testing" that is being applied by the hospitals on citizens. Why impose this burden on the hospital workers to explain to a citizen why he or she should get a higher or lower level of subsidy based on the type of house they live in?

Let me now deal with the issue at hand – the limited places in primary schools of top choice. The root of this problem is the competitive environment, even before a child goes into primary school. It is unfair that some people can get access to better schools compared to others – I find this to be another form of unfair discrimination.

I can understand the concern of parents who want their children to do well but a discriminatory and self-centred system is not good for our society.

Almost 60 years ago, I attended a primary school near my home. It was a neighbourhood school that attracted students who lived nearby. There was no need for the parents to worry about arranging a school bus or to drive their children to school. Most students walked to the school and walked home after school. They fared well in life – some become doctors, actuaries and top civil servants.

The discriminatory practices adopted in our government policies over the past five decades have brought us to the present day situation. While we have some positive aspects in our society, including our economic well-being and high quality of infrastructure, we also have the negative impacts such as the relatively poor quality of work-life balance, high cost of living, widening income gap and low birth rate. Do we really want to continue this trend? 

I feel strongly that we need to adhere to the key pillars of equality and justice so that a better society can be built for the people of Singapore.


Image Source: Channel NewsAsia