Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Singapore government dodges Malay education issue again

Contrary to popular perception, Singapore does actually have a working Parliament, in which ministers are occasionally asked questions, some of which are not plants or attempts to crawl up the arse of a minister.

In Parliament yesterday, one such incident occurred, when Zaqy Mohamed, vice-chairman of the ruling People's Action Party's youth wing and an ethnic Malay MP, asked the education minister what was being done about the persistent educational under-performance of Malay students compared to Singaporeans of other ethnic backgrounds.

The problem is a serious and persistent one. Figures from the Education Ministry show that while Singaporean exam results have increased across the board over the last decade, the stark disparities between the city-state's main three ethnic groups remain.

In 2008, just 59.3% of Malay students achieved 5 passes at O-level, the exams taken by 15 and 16-year-olds, compared to 86.2% of Chinese and 73% of Indians.

The disparity, which appears to be particularly sharp when it comes to Maths and Science, seems embedded from a young age. While 89.6% of Chinese and 72.9% of Indian kids taking the Primary School Leaving Examination achieved A*-C grades in Maths, only 56.3% of Malay kids managed the same feat.

The only area where Malay students seem to come out on top, according to the government figures, is in terms of mother-tongue ability. 98.6% of Malay students taking the PSLE achieve an A*-C in their mother-tongue exam compared to 98.4% of Chinese and 96.7% of Indians.

But despite the clear message of this data, the government, which tiptoes around racial issues because of fears of ethnic disharmony, does not appear willing to confront the problem.

In response to Zaqy's question, the education minister Ng Eng Hen said only that the performance by Malay students had been "stable" over the last decade, with some improvements in Malay and English.

While Zaqy wanted to know "what more can be done to help Malay students progress at the same rate, if not better, compared to their peers from the other race groups", Ng offered only vague platitudes, as he side-stepped the issue.

"Parents and families, of all races, can support students by ensuring that they attend school regularly, motivating them to work hard, and adopting good habits like reading widely," the minister said. "Community and self-help groups can also help families deal with problem issues related to finances, jobs and relationships, in order to create a more supportive home environment."

In other words: nothing to do with me, mate.

It's not surprising to see the government dodging this intractable and controversial issue again. The question is whether the PAP's seeming indifference is motivated more by its over-arching self-help philosophy or by the fact that a Chinese-dominated party in a Chinese-dominated nation is not too bothered by the underperformance of the Malay minority.


  1. Looks to me this Zaqy bugger is not very bright.
    Has he forgotten the dear leader's wisdom, whereby intelligence is mainly decided by genes ?

    Instead of badgering MOE to help Malay students improve their grades in maths and science, Zaqy can kickstart improvement to the gene pool by getting Malay graduates to mate. And of course with the dear leader as mentor to the Malay gene pool program.

    After one generation, Zaqy may get the last laugh i.e. if he lives long enough.

  2. The answer is simple.

    The education system with its kindergartens which teach Chinese, SAP schools, Gifted Education Programs that are only open to certain races because they are contained in Chinese schools etc are all part of Singapore's official education policy by providing state support for Chinese children from a very early age. This is meant as a counterbalance to the Malaysian policy which provides affirmative action to Malays in Malaysia.

    If Malays only needed "education and hard work", then Singapore taxpayers of all races could save huge amounts of money by stopping subsidies to kindergartens that teach only Chinese, SAP schools, special scholarships for childen from China etc etc

    Lily Zubaidah Rahim has documented this very well in her work "The Singapore Dilemma" in which she shows how when adjustments are made for socio-economic status, Malay children do just as well as Chinese when given the opportunities

  3. I would be interested to see what hard evidence you have that the Singapore government only supports Chinese children. And you are sorely mistaken if you say schools with GEP are only open to Chinese children. Schools with the GEP include: Henry Park School, Rosyth, Raffles Girl's schools, none of which are SAP. Whilst there is definitely support for the Chinese language in the form of SAP schools, you would be foolish if you did not try to connect with the next superpower of the world.

    I fail to see the logic in your second paragraph. What is the connection between education/hard work for Malays and subsidies for schools? In the first place let's see your proof that the government only subsidises Chinese children. Don't tell me the government does not help fund Mendaki too.

    Without a doubt, a Malay child of the same socio economic status would do just as well as any other child. And that is why, the important thing is to address the social situation of a significant proportion of Malays, ie why the proportion of dysfunctional families, with no idea about priorities in life, remains highest among Malays. There is an urgent need to sort these families out, and to convince them of the absolute necessity of a good education for their children.

  4. /// The question is whether the PAP's seeming indifference is motivated more by its over-arching self-help philosophy or by the fact that a Chinese-dominated party in a Chinese-dominated nation is not too bothered by the underperformance of the Malay minority. ///

    I think this is a bit rich. Assuming you have a kid whom you expect to do well in school. Despite doing more for this kid than you did for your other kids, this one still underperform. Mind you, you have done more for this one kid than your other kids. What would you do?

  5. the Q above is best resolved if you apply LKY's scheme.

    amongst his 3 kids, LHL is a dud. but with LKY holding his hands, under performance becomes non issue.......

    so the key to under performing kids is their parents,
    i.e. status and wealth.

    ps: the gene theory did not quite work out for the famiLee

  6. If Malay children with good social background do as well as others, then it is because they would have been encouraged to work hard. And the parents would be supporting them and tutoring them in school work. Not like dysfunctional families where it is common for the child to play truant and watch TV the whole day. There is no escape from hard work. In Malaysia, poorly achieving Malay students have scholarships and coveted courses foisted upon them. Getting something for nothing means that in many cases they fail to appreciate the largesse subsidised by Malaysian minorities. Perhaps they just do not have the necessary foundation. They do poorly in University. The university lowers its standards to pass them. And so Malaysian universities are now routinely ranked outside the top 2 hundred universities in the world. And the graduates who have 'graduated' are not fit to be employed. In Singapore, except for certain institutions such as the military, opportunities are more equal than in most other countries. You only have to look across the causeway for a comparison.

  7. "In 2008, just 59.3% of Malay students achieved 5 passes at O-level, the exams taken by 15 and 16-year-olds, compared to 86.2% of Chinese and 73% of Indians."

    The Singaporean Indians are doing very well. Why?

  8. "The Singaporean Indians are doing very well. Why? "

    You are so right!

    Nathan, Jayakumar, Tharman, Shanmugam, Vivian, Davinder, etc, etc are well placed to provide you the clues.

  9. Thanks for all the comments. It's not easy to respond to all your points individually as you're all anonymous but I guess that's one of the downsides of writing about Singapore - no-one wants to go on the record.

    I agree that it appears that the govt would have little to gain by keeping Malay kids down. My charge was more that the govt was sweeping the issue under the carpet rather than confronting it.

    But there are those who believe that the govt is trying to keep down the Malay population, out of lingering fears of a Malay/Malaysian "fifth column".

    They point to the significantly higher birth rate among Malay Singaporeans and the govt's apparent preference for immigrants from the People's Republic of China as signs of a govt trying to maintain the dominance of ethnic Chinese in Singapore.

  10. 89.6% of Chinese and 72.9% of Indian kids taking the Primary School Leaving Examination achieved A*-C grades in Maths, only 56.3% of Malay kids managed the same feat.

    Is high in-breeding i.e. intermarriage among first cousins the cause of the poor Maths scores of that particular ethnic group?

  11. You fail to note the considerable improvements that the Malays have made over the years. It is true they still lag behind Chinese and Indian Kids, but this is no fault of the government. The Singapore government has in fact gone over and above to help the Malays. Please be fair when fairness is due.

    My own analysis of the situation is this: Chinese and Indian parents place a huge emphasis on education and their kids have to spend all their free time studying. Malay families have different priorities and attitudes to education, and do not place as much emphasis on it, hence they study less. The net result is self explanatory.

    Ben, I've noticed that your articles are consistently denigrating Singapore, as if you have an axe to grind. If there is a problem in the system, a good reporter should definitely write about it. After all, it makes good news. But a good reporter should also be as objective as possible. Please realize that Singapore is not a perfect place and has many flaws but it also has many good things too.

  12. Ben is just doing a job which the MSM in Spore is not doing. LOL

    Whatever org. Ben works for, one thing is certain, the ranking of 154th is a really tough act to beat. LOL

  13. Fair enough that he gives his alternative view but with his standard of reporting, he has a long way to go if he wants to be well known.

  14. You mean well known and respected like the AWSJ and The Economist. LOL

    No worries Ben, you're doing fine,
    worry only when those from PAP praise you to heaven. LOL

  15. I think "opposition class" is a better term than "fifth column." Many PAP policies are designed (or have the happy effect) of preventing the creation or empowerment of an opposition class.

    The racial housing restrictions prevent the formation of race-defined opposition wards. The scholarship programs incentivize the academically gifted to work for the government or a GSE. The legal community -- an incubator of politicians in most advanced societies -- is emasculated. The "white horse" program fast-tracks the sons of loyal families into top Armed Forces positions. The anti-sodomy and public order laws prevent the gay rights movement from becoming overtly political. And the import of compliant "foreign talent" makes it difficult for ordinary Singaporeans to advance in the private sector (because a bloc of educated Singaporeans who are not beholden to the government could become dangerous for the PAP).

    Harry Lee has systematically destroyed or co-opted the sectors of society from which a charismatic opponent could arise.

  16. Thanks for your support chualeehoong.

    Righteous - I challenge you to provide evidence of your accusations: that my coverage consistently denigrates Singapore and that I have an axe to grind.

    There is certainly a lot to admire about Singapore, Singaporeans and the Singapore government.

    But, as with any country, there are problems. I believe that in Singapore, as elsewhere, the best way to deal with such problems is to confront them head on, rather than merely sweeping them under the carpet.

  17. Dear Ben,

    The list of articles that you've written can be found here:

    I'll let the readers decide whether my view is correct or not...

    That way you benefit too. More clicks to your articles.

    Anyway some constructive thoughts: I agree sweeping it under the carpet is not a good thing, and I view your role in the alternative media in providing a different view as very important. I definitely appreciate seeing articles that the traditional media in Singapore refuses to print. But I personally think you should be more balanced in your reporting. If not, you'll just be like 'them' but on the different side.

    Best wishes,