by Edward Nicholas Ong
If Minister Lawrence Wong’s speech at the recent IPS-RSIS forum is indicative of the Government’s stance going forward, it is deeply worrying.
In essence, this way forward would be none too different from existing policies, which have been proven to be inadequate at best, and even harmful at worst, as shown from the furore which sparked this forum in the first place.
It is ironic that Mr Wong defended segregationist policies such as SAP schools with the rationale of preserving our “cultural roots” and our vernaculars, when this government is the same one which inherited assimilationist policies.
If the Government is as sincere about preserving these, then should it not seek to mitigate the harm of forcing Mandarin upon those of Chinese descent? I know a Nyonya friend whose parents desired to have her learn Malay as a second language, but were denied in favour of Mandarin.
How then can Mr Wong, as a representative of the Government, be as shameless as to proclaim that no one in Singapore is denied their cultural roots?
And speaking of our vernaculars, what of the fact that our TRUE vernaculars isn’t even Mandarin? Heck, my grandparents and their parents before them didn’t speak a lick of it, despite being “Chinese”! A fortiori, would my true vernacular not be Hokkien?
Coming from a SAP school myself, I have seen first-hand how segregationist the environment can be, and how harmful this can be upon growing schoolchildren’s Singaporean identity. There were many instances in which rude or insensitive comments about our brethren of different ethnicities were tolerated.
Even if the Government has a legitimate reason in continuing to operate SAP schools, it is clear that the citizenship education in these schools is sorely lacking.
Alas, this reason the Government does not have. Mr Wong also spoke about how there are programmes in a few schools to promote higher proficiencies in Malay and Tamil.
Would this not be applicable, mutatis mutandis, to the perceived need to deepen Chinese students’ bicultural heritage? Why should they be ringfenced into SAP schools where only those of the same ethnicity are present?
On the PAP’s long-held stance that Singapore is not yet ready for a non-Chinese prime minister, Mr Wong attributed this to recognising realities on the ground. However, he is part of a government which is
elected to GOVERN.
This means preserving our national values without fear or favour. While there may be ground sentiments which abhor the idea of a non-Chinese PM, these sentiments are deeply un-Singaporean.
As such, is it not the Government’s job to speak out against them, and even act to stamp them out with concrete action? This is what I would expect of a government which is truly committed to what we hold dear as a nation.
In fact, would the Workers’ Party’s improved performance in the most recent General Election, despite having a non-Chinese leader at the helm and the popular Chinese former leader stepping aside, prove that the Government is wrong in its assessment of ground sentiments?
Finally, Mr Wong also spoke about treating Singaporeans who fall short of our national values as fellow citizens, and refraining from shouting them down. This can only be agreeable to a certain extent. If their values are that contrary to what ours are as a nation, should they even deserve to be Singaporean?
Is it not justifiable to censure them, so that we as a society are not misled as to what being Singaporean is truly about? If anything, an unwillingness to censure these individuals is necessarily the mark of a government which has lost the decisiveness of its predecessors
It is time that we stop bending backwards for those who are not committed to our national values. The Government must take the first step, with the mandate it has been granted not just to enact policies, but also to lead society in the way in which it should be headed.
This is an opinion piece from a member of the public, and does not reflect TOC’s position on any matter.