Education Minister Ong Ye Kung

Stop wasting time dwelling on past successes

There we go again. Every time, someone from the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) led government makes a statement or gives an interview about any particular government policy, it always has to begin with how well that particular policy has worked. Minister for Education, Mr Ong Ye Kung (Ong), is no exception to that self-praise policy. When talking about the “systematic unfairness” that exists in Singapore, he insists that this systematic unfairness “stems from the success — not failure — of government policies.” 

Policies are not static, they need to change depending on what the circumstances are at a given point in time. At this point in time, there is increasing concern from the public that the government’s existing policies may be perpetuating inequality. Why can’t Ong just focus on this? Why is there a need to bring up the past yet again and stress that it is because the government’s past policies have worked well? The past is in the past! How can you progress if you keep focusing on the past? The issue that needs to be dealt with is the rising inequality. The past is irrelevant! Why bring it up unless the purpose is to once again to beat the public with the gratitude stick? Why so defensive? No one is saying that the past policies didn’t work. What we are saying is that they are not working now.

Ong is fixated on the issue of meritocracy. While meritocracy is an important part of social mobility, it is vital to acknowledge and accept that meritocracy does not work if there is no equality to begin with. Meritocracy is premised on the belief that we all have an equal opportunity to success. What it does not recognise is its limitations when the playing field is far from even.

I understand that complete equality is a pipe dream and likely impossible. That said, we must still aspire to build a society that provides equal opportunities to all (as far as possible that is). At this point in time, society is getting increasingly divided, with the privileged half completely ignorant of how the not so privileged half actually live. Until we bridge that divide, there cannot be equal opportunity and without equal opportunity, meritocracy is but an illusion.

The first step to correcting any inequality is to acknowledge that our current policies are not working as effectively as we would have hoped. This should be the focus. Stop wasting time dwelling on past successes.