There is a need to review the Special Assistance Plan (SAP) school system in Singapore, given that the scheme seems to “propagating some sort of a class divide” among the society, said Progress Singapore Party (PSP) member Terence Soon in the Young Democrats Inter-Party Forum.
Young Democrats, the youth arm of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), hosted the forum via Facebook on 10 Apr, featuring Mr Soon from PSP, Min Cheong from SDP, Charles Yeo from Reform Party (RP), and Elijah Tay from the Red Dot United (RDU) as the forum panels.
During the forum, the panels were asked about the policies that they would like to push forward should they become politicians in the future.
Mr Soon, who contested in Tanjong Pagar GRC in last year’s general election (GE), pointed out that the SAP school system only benefits the Chinese community.
SAP was introduced in 1979 to preserve the “best Chinese-stream schools” that cater to “bilingual students who were inculcated with traditional Chinese values”. There are 26 SAP schools in total – 15 primary schools and 11 secondary schools.
Being a former student of an SAP school himself, Mr Soon noted that the scheme could lead to a social class division, adding that the Chinese have more education privileges compared to the other races in Singapore.
“The education system in a way is propagating some sort of a class divide already. So is it time for a review of this SAP school system, I believe it is,” said the 31-year-old pilot.
“The MOE [Ministry of Education] said that every school is a good school. Really? Maybe the Minister can take the lead and send his child to a neighbourhood school and then I will really believe.”
Mr Soon opined that some parents prefer to send their children to Hwa Chong Institution because it is an “elite school”.
“If you say, ‘I live in Bukit Timah, so I send my kids to Hwa Chong because of the distance’. No, you send your kids to Hwa Chong because it’s an elite school, and because you’re one of the elites, that’s why you send your kids there,” he added.
Mr Soon believes that “a lot” of the systems and policies need to be reviewed in order to start “negate the class divide” in the country.
“The overarching theme here is unity, you want to talk about uniting the people. But how can you be united when you are already divided from your very baseline,” he remarked.
“Vast majority of senior leadership in the PAP and Govt are from Raffles, Hwa Chong,” says RP’s Charles Yeo
Mr Yeo, chairman of the RP, noted that the “definition of an SAP school is inherently racist”, given that the vast majority of the senior leadership in the ruling party People’s Action Party (PAP) and the Government graduated from Raffles and Hwa Chong institutions.
“The vast majority of PSA scholars, senior government officials come from these two schools. Regarding Hwa Chong, which is an SAP School, the vast majority of its students are Chinese. These are not rocket science,” he said.
Mr Yeo, a 31-year-old lawyer, contested in Ang Mo Kio GRC in the GE last year. However, he shared in the forum that he does not regard himself as a politician, but rather a “political activist”.
Citing activist Jolovan Wham as an example, he noted that a political activist defined as someone who “engages in civil disobedience to defy the laws of his time”.
“We must admit that the SAP school system is inherently racist, which is an important point that should be debated in the future,” said Mr Yeo.
“I have personally experienced transphobia in school”, says Elijah Tay from RDU
RDU’s youngest member at just 19 years old, Elijah Tay, observed that there are “a lot of social justice issues” in the SAP school where she graduated from, which are “very intersectional”.
A large demographic of the student population there was the Chinese, she noted, pointing out that those with “higher class” would have “higher privileges”, which have led to “ignorance” within the student body as well as at the staff level.
“I feel that apart from the opportunities that are reserved for the Chinese people, because of the level of ignorance and the general sense of close-mindedness, there’s also an impact on student welfare in itself.
“Because of the perpetuation of a lot of these more privileged mindsets as in there’s a lack of understanding towards racism and homophobia,” said Ms Tay.
It was reported earlier that three individuals have been arrested outside of the MOE building at Buona Vista at about 5.30 pm on 26 January for holding and participating in a public assembly without a permit.
The placards held by the individuals, some of which read “#FIX SCHOOLS NOT STUDENTS” and “trans students will not be erased”, are made in connection to the recent saga involving the MOE, in which a transgender student alleged that the Ministry had interfered with her hormone replacement therapy.
RDU said in the footnote section of its statement, dated 28 January, that Ms Tay was among the individuals involved in the protest case.
“With the recent things about trans policies that have transpired in the civil society, I have personally experienced transphobia in school,” she said.
Ms Tay shared that she was once called out in a lecture with “three quarters” of her cohort, during which the teacher made “a rather insensitive comment” about her looks.
“But that time she was a rather respected staff member in school, I respected her myself as well, so I felt like there wasn’t any staff member that I could speak to about this incident,” she added.
Ms Tay eventually told the school about the incident, but she was told that it “wasn’t discrimination”.
“I talked to some of my friends afterwards and they did find it very like, ‘Harr.. why did she make that statement? It’s a bit like offensive, a bit insensitive.’ But the large student population didn’t feel that way or at least they didn’t vocally express that.
“I remember after she made the comment, the whole lecture theatre just fell silent. So I was like, okay, I guess people did feel that it was a little off but we didn’t know how to put it into words at that point in time,” she said.
Ms Tay highlighted that the incident has shown that there is “a severe lack of policies” in place to protect disenfranchised students in school.
“I feel that the SAP system such that there is a congregation of privileged students perpetuates that because there is a lack of space to cultivate that social awareness as well, which perpetuates the problems that the lack of inclusive policies course,” she added.
“There are so many lines of division across race, income,” says SDP’s Min Cheong
SDP’s member Ms Cheong, who contested in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC in last year’s GE, shared that she was from the Methodist Girls’ School (MGS).
She recalled having a classmate who “couldn’t afford to eat anything but two packets of instant noodles a day”, causing some of her classmates to pull together “some cash” for the student. But the story was “unheard of” in MGS.
Ms Cheong observed that everyone there is at least “upper-middle class”, adding that most of the parents are Chinese.
“So I can see how this definitely a disconnect between the aspiration, or at least some kind of aspiration, to be more equal and credible. And also, the fact that there are so many lines of division, across race, income and class categories,” she noted.
Commenting on Ms Tay’s incident at school, Ms Cheong said that the teacher might not find the comment insensitive, adding that there is a lack of discussion in society about these issues.
“There are a lot of conversations that take place in-person or on the internet that end up sounding quite insensitive and it’s because people aren’t exposed to different views,” she added.
Ms Cheong continued, “There might have been some people who shared your views and thought it was a bit insensitive or offensive, but no one spoke up and that’s typical of Singapore in society.”