Some things when said repeatedly begin to stay in our psyche and we start to wonder at the implication of what is said. What’s starting to bug me this time is a line I read in the Straits Times today (27 March 2012) about how the government has (finally) given Singaporeans absolute priority over Permanent Residents in primary one registration when there is balloting involved. Whilst the irony of this is worthy of comment as the change in policy is merely righting a wrong, I shall leave that aside for now.
What got to me in the ST report (which was trying to highlight some disadvantages of having fewer PR kids in the primary schools) was this paragragh:
“Beyond the concern over diversity, some school principals have also noted that PRs and foreign students compete with local students and spur them on to do better. That competition may well set in at other less sought-after neighbourhood schools which more children of PRs will now turn to. That may not be a bad outcome at all for these schools and their students.”
Doesn’t this line sound familiar? Indeed, so familiar that I recall some of our Ministers regularly telling us that having foreign “talents” here is good as they will spur our local people to work harder.
Frankly, I am sick of hearing this line of Them spurring Us on being repeated so often. Sure competition is good but competition comes from everyone regardless of Them or Us. When such lines are repeated ad nauseaum by our government and by the local media… that having PRs and Foreigners in schools/work will spur our Singaporean students/workers to work harder and do better, what is it implying? That we are not as capable or as clever as them?
If I were a local student, I might be demoralised being told this. I may start to wonder if my principal and government are telling me I am not as good as the foreign students in my class. And worse still, some local students may actually start to think that they are not as good as the PR kids and foreign students.
And just recently, there was an uproar over a shocking posting by the Director of Quality of Fairmont Hotel and Resorts Brian Tan who argued on a Facebook discussion thread that it is not the job of the government to protect the jobs of Singaporeans and commented on the poor quality of Singapore workers. “If you do that in the private sector, no company would want to move here just to hire Weak and Lazy Singaporeans,” he added.
All these comments when said again and again add up to a form of reverse discrimination. Opinions and views will be formed among Singaporeans and foreigners over time, even if incorrect, by things that are said repeatedly which imply that Singaporeans are not as good as foreigners. Personally, whilst I have many good expat friends, I have also encountered some unpleasant incidents such as with a European expat who declared to me that “Singapore will be nowhere without us expats!”
As anyone who has studied with foreign students here would attest, there are many who are not quite up to mark. There are many who can barely speak English studying at the private universities for instance. Whilst doing a degree programme, I recall having to help some classmates from other countries with class projects as they were unable to cope with them. As for expats, there are also those who are not as good as local executives. My point here is not to bash anyone but to highlight that there are smart and not so smart people in every nationality. We have our share of smart and capable local students/workers just as there are clever ones among the foreigners. And there are lazy ones too in every nationality.
But why is it we never hear the government and media saying things like PRs and foreigners can benefit and learn from Singaporeans or that Singaporeans will spur the PRs and foreigners to do even better?
We need to start asking, no, insisting that members of the local media, Ministers, Principals and Employers be more sensitive and not to discriminate against Singaporeans. There may be several good reasons to defend the policy of bringing in foreigners to live and work here. But in justifying that policy, please don’t put down our own people. Most of us have studied and worked hard to get to where we are. We are not perfect and we can certainly improve as a people, but we need encouragement and positive reinforcement too by our own people.
And seriously, if our government think that our people are lacking in some ways, perhaps they should reflect on why and how they have fostered this current generation, when there were no such complaints about us in the earlier years of Singapore’s ancient and modern history.
It hurts our feelings and it insults our intellgience and dignity when our own government calls us “daft” or stupid when we question policies or when we are told to repent if we exercise our right to vote for an alternative party. And indeed how do you nurture a smarter, thinking people if our government still holds on to the belief espoused by Lee Kuan Yew in 1987 :
“I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn’t be here today. And I say without the slightest remorse, that we wouldn’t be here, we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters – who your neighbour is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.” – Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Straits Times, 20 April 1987
To this, I say we have brains and we can think. And what we think matters. We have our skills and talents and yes, we can always be better. Just as others can motivate us, we can also inspire and spur everyone else around us.