In a meritocratic, pluralistic nation such as Singapore, what does it mean for a society to be ‘fair’ and ‘inclusive’? When there is fairness, the treatment of all individuals is not predicated on indicators which are out of his control, such as race or religion. When a society is inclusive, all members benefit from progress and equality of opportunity, diversity is celebrated instead of shunned, and all individuals are allowed to participate in deciding the creation and direction of social institutions. Singapore is already quite fair and inclusive with the coexistence of diverse racial and religious groups bearing testament to its strong social fabric. That said, however, rampant allegations of micro-aggressions and a society that promotes tolerance instead of genuine acceptance suggest that it is not entirely a completely fair and inclusive one. While it is possible to strive for greater fairness and inclusiveness in Singapore, having one that is entirely equal and accepting is impossible, although this should not stop us from continually striving for one.
It is possible to have a fair and inclusive society in Singapore as government policies can aid in the creation of such a society. The importance of procedural equality has been enshrined in Singapore’s Constitution, and has been enforced through non-discriminatory policies. For instance, all individuals are treated equally in the court, with no difference in treatment on the basis of race, religion or social status. Hence, this reinforces the understanding that one’s race, religion or indeed other demarcations of social status do not exempt him from the laws of the country, thereby affirming the concept of fairness. The government has also made known its goal for an inclusive society, one where everybody is accepted, and allowed to decide the direction of the country, regardless of race or religion. It has introduced policies such as the Group Representative Constituency, which mandates that political parties are to field at least one minority candidate in the elections. This policy, which ensures some form of minority representation in Parliament, serves to reinforce the fact that all groups are included in the Singapore national fabric, and their interests will be served. The success of these policies that the Singaporean government has already enforced shows that a culture of equality and inclusivity can indeed be cultivated through the actions of the government.
It is also possible to have a fair and inclusive society in Singapore due to the availability and the quality of our educational system, which functions as an adequate leveller of social mobility. Children from the age of seven to the age of twelve are expected to go to primary school, ensuring that they are literate and have an understanding of the four most basic subjects – English, their own Mother Tongue, Math and Science. School fees are highly subsidized by the government, with most public schools charging less than a hundred Singapore dollars a year. The affordability of education is critical in ensuring a fair and inclusive society, for it equips all children with the knowledge they need to get through life with, such as the ability to read, write and count, regardless of their family background, race or religion. Education also aids in levelling the playing field, for it gives the children an equal opportunity of academic success whether they are from a wealthy or not-so-wealthy families. This often is a direct translation of the amount of effort a child puts into his studies, and so, even a child from a disadvantaged background can get into university with government or corporate scholarships. This therefore aids in creating income mobility within the population, preventing the creation of a single educated group, and hence, social segregation and exclusivity.
However, while education may be a means with which one can get out of the poverty cycle, it can also work in the opposite direction – by widening the income gap between the rich and the poor in Singapore. Richer families are easily able to afford tuition, which sets those children from those families up on a more advantageous position. The help rendered to them by their tutors make it easier for them to excel in their studies as compared to the children from poorer families that cannot afford tuition, hence widening the education disparity between the rich and the poor in Singapore. Increasingly, Singaporeans have lost faith in the education system as a leveller, as a representation of social mobility, with many criticising the fact that students in elite schools tend to hail from affluent family backgrounds, and the increased importance of social capital in Singapore. Given the fact that the education system has traditionally fed into the labour market, there are concerns that the education system only serves to perpetuate the cycle of inequality.
Lastly, it is possible to have a fair and inclusive society in Singapore through the appeal to the individual. From the age of seven, Singaporean students are made to recite the Pledge in school on a daily basis, subconsciously reminding themselves that differences in race, language, and religion does not make one more, or indeed less, of a Singaporean than anyone else. Singaporeans are taught from when they were young that everyone is equal, and this is hopefully reflected in their dealings with others in the later part of their lives. The creation of a society that welcomes all, despite their differences, can only be done through cooperation of individuals.
That said, however, it is ultimately up to individuals to practise being inclusive and non-discriminatory. While Singapore claims to have achieved a ‘harmonious and inclusive’ society, in reality, racial and religious tensions simmer beneath the surface; according to a YouGov survey, 23% of Singaporeans have experienced discrimination while renting properties. Minorities seem to be disproportionately affected, with 49% of Indians surveyed and 34% of Malays reporting such experiences. More than 80% of minorities also report the occurrence of ‘microaggressions’ in their daily lives, suggesting that even a society like Singapore which tries its best to be inclusive has a long way to go. Notwithstanding this, as long as individuals actively strive to correct their biases, the culture of fairness and inclusivity will hopefully grow stronger.
In conclusion, it is indeed possible to have a highly fair and inclusive society in Singapore, through the implementation of government policies, education, and outreach on an individual level, especially since the framework and guiding policies that have been set down by the leaders of Singapore highlights the importance of those two qualities.