SINGAPORE — Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday (July 27) there is a need to guard against elitism because it threatens to divide the inclusive society Singapore is seeking to build.
Speaking at his alma mater Raffles Institution's (RI) Homecoming event, Mr Goh said top schools must play a key role in ensuring that their students do not develop an elitist mindset and a sense of entitlement.
Mr Goh is the second recipient of the Gryphon Award, an honour given to RI's most distinguished alumni.
The first Gryphon Award was given to former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in 2011.
Mr Goh spent six years in RI in the 1950s and he recalled it to be a melting pot of Singapore's best male students from different racial and religious backgrounds, whether they were rich or poor.
He said his generation's experience was that of an open meritocracy that meant "equity and upward social mobility for most people."
However, as the society matured, Mr Goh said some stratification is inevitable and income inequality has grown over the years.
While he said it is natural and commendable for families to give their children a head start, he also cautioned against having a sense of entitlement.
Mr Goh said: "When society's brightest and most able think that they made good because they are inherently superior and entitled to their success; when they do not credit their good fortune also to birth and circumstance; when economic inequality gives rise to social immobility and a growing social distance between the winners of meritocracy and the masses; and when the winners seek to cement their membership of a social class that is distinct from, exclusive, and not representative of Singapore society — that is elitism."
Mr Goh said the solution is not to replace meritocracy,
However, the practice of meritocracy must not worsen the divide between the successful and the rest of the society.
Mr Goh said: "Those of us who have benefited disproportionately from society's investment in us owe the most to society, particularly to those who may not have had access to the same opportunities. We owe a debt to make lives better for all and not just for ourselves."
He said the government will also have to continue to intervene through policies and programmes, benefiting those whose families have fallen behind economically.
These efforts, Mr Goh said, will ensure Singapore's brand of meritocracy remains compassionate, fair and inclusive.
Mr Goh also launched the Raffles Community Initiative, which is worth more than S$500,000.
The initiative will serve as seed funding for community projects by students and alumni. CHANNEL NEWSASIA