Share on:

Singapore’s social stratification may be inevitable, but not insurmountable

Professor of sociology Tan Ern Ser believes there are solutions beyond policy that can move the meter.

Much has been said recently about the increasing class divide in Singapore. Underscoring the urgency of the issue, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a parliamentary address in May: “When groups are predominantly formed along socio-economic status– whether one is rich or poor – it is the start of stratification and that will poison society over time.” Social stability will be at risk.

According to Tan Ern Ser, associate professor of sociology at the National University of Singapore, a society that practises meritocracy might strive to provide equal opportunities, but, over time, will see “unequal outcomes”. Children growing up in middle- and upper- class families, for example, have a network they can learn from and tap into for opportunities, says Tan, giving them an ever-increasing head start over a few generations.

(RELATED: Why adaptability and creativity are more important than ever in an age of disruption)

Efforts to level the playing field have been put into motion. Kidstart, an initiative led by the Early Childhood Development Agency, sees the likes of social workers and educators providing holistic support to the young from low-income families. Over 1,000 children are expected to benefit from this pilot programme.

Beyond activating policy levers, Tan believes in nurturing community spirit to a point where “doing things for one another becomes something that is almost natural”. A spontaneous sense of volunteerism born out of goodwill will benefit those who need help along the way.

(RELATED: What does it take to drive change in society?)