Giving an update to the media on the government’s “SG Together” movement on Monday (30 Dec), Minister in Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Education, Indranee Rajah said that the movement represents an evolution of the way the Government has been doing things. She said that it will become part and parcel of the way the government engages with citizens.
“Going forward… everything that we do that impacts on citizens, and depending on the nature of the things, will involve some form of citizen engagement,” she added. “The 4G leaders are very conscious of the fact that it is not just about being in government. You are elected by the people…(and) Singaporeans must have the ability to have a say and shape our future.”
The movement was launched by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in June last year in an attempt to connect and engage with citizens so as to help shape policies.
So far, a Citizens’ Workgroup is being set up to explore ways to reduce the use of single-use plastics, and a Community Link-Uplift collaboration is being launched to better support children from low-income families.
Working with Singaporeans and community groups has also changed the Government’s viewpoints and approaches to certain issues. She said that, for example, engagement sessions with social service agencies have informed the new approach of her Education Ministry and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) towards helping disadvantaged children, by better coordinating the available social services.
Ms Indranee leads the inter-agency Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce (Uplift) that was set up in 2018, which aims to help children from disadvantaged homes level up.
Uplift can work with school, charities and neighbours in the children’s estate to sustain the efforts, she said.
It can tap its network of partners to find out if there are any alternative solutions to help the disadvantaged children.
For instance, one school offers free transport for students at risk of long-term school absenteeism, she noted. Uplift can also link the child up with charities that can give the child tuition, she added.
MOE questions people intending to help but not in govt’s task forces
As much as Ms Indranee is trying to engage citizens to help the disadvantaged children, her Education Ministry publicly questioned social activist Gilbert Goh two months ago, when he tried to help a disadvantaged family to pay for unpaid school fees so that their child can get back the original copy of Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) result slip (‘MOE says Gilbert Goh trying to call into question intention and values of the ministry‘).
Mr Goh who is the founder of Transitioning.org – a support site for the unemployed, made a Facebook post highlighting the plight of a student whose original PSLE result slip was withheld by MOE, as her parents had incurred $156 in unpaid school fees. Eventually, a kind member of the public paid the school fees for the student so that she can get her original PSLE result slip.
MOE hit back saying that it has a “long-standing practice” of withholding the original copy of PSLE results slip if school fees are not paid. It told Yahoo! News Singapore on 26 Nov that the real aim of doing so “stems from the underlying principle that notwithstanding the fact that the cost of education is almost entirely publicly funded, we should still play our part in paying a small fee, and it is not right to ignore that obligation, however small it is”.
“Further, students from lower-income families can apply for financial assistance that covers their miscellaneous fees, uniforms, textbooks, transport and school meals. If it is about money then the easier solution would be to reduce subsidies and financial assistance,” MOE defended itself.
MOE said the parents of the student in question had not settled the miscellaneous school fees for two years in spite of several reminders. Additionally, her parents has also not applied for any financial assistance, which the ministry said “would have covered all the costs”.
Then, MOE accused Mr Goh of “trying to call into question the intention and values of the MOE” with the Facebook post. MOE said, “Our educators, parents and members of public will have to decide whether the MOE’s action is fair and educationally sound, and what the lesson of this teachable moment for our children is.”
Online, netizens were not amused. They rebutted MOE saying that many low income families are not literate and are not aware of the many confusing government schemes available. Many opined that rather then accusing Mr Goh of having ulterior motives, perhaps MOE should thank people like Mr Goh for surfacing such cases which apparently fell through the crack.
MOE should find out why the PSLE student had owed 2 years of school fees, netizens said. Did the school even bother to find out why the family didn’t pay school fees for the 2 years in the first place?
Instead of taking an antagonistic approach, perhaps Ms Indranee should invite Mr Goh into her Uplift Task Force so as to better help the disadvantaged families?