Things We’re Told About Singapore
Our government tells us a lot of things. They also do not tell us a lot of things, but that’s besides the point.
The point is, certain rhetoric that is uttered over and over again, and thoughtlessly repeated by commoners like us, does hold some truth.
However, many of it just isn’t true. Here are 8 propaganda believed and circulated by Singaporeans that aren’t true:
1. Singlish Is Bad
“If we carry on using Singlish, the logical final outcome is that we, too, will develop our own type of pidgin English, spoken only by three million Singaporeans, which the rest of the world will find quaint but incomprehensible”
– Mr Goh Chok Tong, 1999 National Day Rally speech
Indeed, the government has always blamed Singlish for Singaporean’s deteriorating proficiency in English.
I am sure we all understand that such a drop in English standards would compromise Singapore’s ability to communicate with the world, which in turn would have disastrous effects across all spheres. What we don’t understand is how Singlish is responsible for this drop in English standards — there is simply no correlation.
Someone who speaks Singlish will also be able to speak proper English, and someone who speaks poor English may not even speak Singlish. Hence, discouraging Singlish is not necessary.
Instead, the ability to code switch between proper English and Singlish is key.
Moreover, Singlish has also proven to be a crucial thread in the weave that is the Singaporean identity. It’s a common lingo that has been built up over years, and one that everybody who calls themselves Singaporeans is familiar with.
Such a valuable piece of our identity should certainly not be labelled as bad.
2. All Schools Are Good Schools
We pride ourselves on being a meritocratic society, so here’s the definition of meritocracy, from dictionary.com:
With schools being harshly subjected to rankings, and the term “elite schools” being thrown around, it’s no secret that nobody views all schools equally.
Parents fight tooth and nail to get their child into the “best” primary school, which is really just based on said school’s performance in the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE)
Ironically, the banding of students and schools itself — while a clear feature of meritocracy — already makes it impossible for every school to be a good school.
Of course, we understand where our government is coming from. With the Ministry of Education’s definition of “good” (as seen from the screengrab of the ministry’s site below), all schools have the potential to become a good school.
Unfortunately, on-the-ground sentiment shows that parents still prioritise cold, hard academic grades over anything else.
The fact that 70% of parents send their children to tuition is further testament of the fact that kiasuism promotes the ranking of schools.
So perhaps the propaganda should paraphrase George Orwell in his novel Animal Farm — all schools are good schools, but some schools are better than others.
Until parents are truly as happy to send their children to Bukit Purmei Secondary School as they would be to send them to Raffles Institution, Raffles Girls School or Anglo-Chinese School, we won’t say that every school is a good school.
3. Singapore Is Clean
All Singaporeans are aware of the fact that our country looks clean.
All Singaporeans also know that our clean streets are not the product of our efforts, but the work of our cleaners who work tirelessly round the clock to ensure the ugly side of our streets remain hidden.
Cue, the true colours of Singaporeans, manifested in the form of dirty streets:
In fact, it seems like we can’t even take good care of the area that we live in.
It’s about time Singaporeans start taking ownership of their own streets and clean up after themselves.
Remember, we will never truly be the clean city we claim to be if we litter like nobody’s business, only to realise it was our business all along. #cleanedtoclean
4. Singapore Is Green
Singapore is green? Literally, yes.
Figuratively, not so much.
While the government is aggressively rolling out initiatives to keep Singapore an environmentally friendly city, such as the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, Singaporeans are (arguably) doing the reverse — albeit not intentionally.
According to non-governmental organisation Zero Waste SG, Singaporeans as a whole use about 2.5 billion plastic bags a year. In 2013, the total amount of waste generated by Singaporeans hit a record high of 7.85 million tonnes. That’s heavier than the great pyramid of Giza (It weighs 6.5 million tonnes).
That also amounts to a whopping total of approximately 35,714,285 merlions. Basically, it’s a lot.
For a country whose government claims is a “green city” and which, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the greenest city in Asia, we are not so green after all. We sure do have a long way to go.
5. All Races Are Treated Equally
“I think we have come a long way. It’s not a Chinese or Malay or an Indian nation. Everybody has his place, everybody is equal. Treated equally, equal standing, equal rights and status.”
– Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia in 2016.
PM Lee went on to elaborate:
This doesn’t come as a surprise to most of us. But, do we really treat all races equally?
Treating all races equally seems to be limited to Singapore citizens only — some of us definitely treat our foreign workers as a grade lower, no matter what race they are.
We’ve all heard of employers who treat their domestic helpers badly — from forcing them to wait outside a restaurant as the family eats to violating their privacy by installing “maid cameras”, or even denying them of an off day.
The Independent UK reported that in 2014 alone, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) Singapore has helped 750 domestic workers, and noted 97 cases of physical abuse, 19 cases of sexual harassment and 333 cases of verbal/psychological abuse.
And it’s not just domestic helpers who are subjected to such treatment.
Foreign workers also face severe discrimination from Singaporeans, especially in the online sphere. AsiaOne reported in 2012 on the existence of anti-foreigner threads online.
Local content creator SGAG even compiled a list of mean posts on social media and presented them to foreign workers. See the reactions of these foreign workers who got insulted in their face, below:
“Just go back to your country” is also not an uncommon phrase we often see being thrown around, and such insults often stem from Singaporeans’ annoyance at the actions of foreign workers, which in turn are a result of lack of understanding of each others’ culture and circumstances.
For instance, the common complaint that foreign workers speak too loudly on public transport can be resolved by understanding the fact that foreign workers who work in construction sites need to speak loudly to communicate and prevent accidents from happening.
Fortunately, all is not lost — there are still Singaporeans who treat foreign workers as they should be treated.
Ultimately, this discrimination needs to stop. Just because they are not citizens doesn’t mean they are not deserving of respect. We need to remember that they are not lesser beings simply because they work for us, do menial jobs we do not want to do, and act differently.
For a country that preaches racial equality, it’s about time we practice what we preach, non-selectively.
6. We Are Inclusive
In October 2015, PM Lee attended the Purple Parade, which supports people with special needs, and stated that Singapore is building an inclusive society where everyone can contribute, according to Channel NewsAsia.
Yet, despite a growing LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) movement on the ground, the government still refuses to accept the community, as evidenced by the presence of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which states that gay sex is illegal.
When asked by the BBC if the government would consider repealing Article 377A,PM Lee said that Singapore society is not ready for the statute to be repealed.
PM Lee is not entirely wrong — there are conservative religious groups who make their disdain for gay people known.
Think: Campaign We Wear White. If you’re confused, Mr Lawrence Khong, chairman of LoveSingapore, which oversees a network of 100 churches, encouraged anyone who supported “pro natural family values” in Singapore to wear white on the Pink Dot weekend as a symbol of resistance against the LGBT community/a counter to Pink Dot.
Just last year, Pastor Yang Tuck Yoong slammed Pink Dot’s promotional video and accused it of normalising same-sex relationships, dubbing it “deceptive”.
And just this week, the National Council of Churches Singapore released a warning about “unnecessary” LGBT representation in the movie Beauty And The Beast, even though we don’t think any of them had watched the movie and knew just what the “gay moment” in it would be like.
However, such opposition does not justify the keeping of Section 377A. Repealing it would not change the status quo and affect any of the aforementioned groups in any way — it’s just silly to think that there will suddenly be more gay people when the section is gone. Straight people don’t just decide to turn gay overnight after a legal statue is removed.
However, keeping Section 377A does a lot of harm to people who are LGBT. Mr Scott Teng, a gay man, told The Huffington Post that the law is like “holding a gun to a person’s head, but saying, ‘oh, we’ll never pull the trigger.’ That’s the case here. You always wonder — at what point will the trigger be pulled?”.
He further asserts that laws like this would encourage marginalisation, claiming that “it gives people the justification to treat you as a lesser Singaporean, as a lesser human being,”.
His words ring true to many LGBT people in Singapore, as can be seen in the video below:
7. Holistic Education Is Coming
According to Channel NewsAsia, in a Parliament session in January 2013, then Education Minister Heng Swee Kiat proclaimed that education in Singapore must focus on “developing the whole person”.
It is less about content knowledge, as content will have to be re-learnt and even un-learnt during one’s lifetime…Developing the whole child must first begin with instilling the right character and values. We must adopt a student-centric, values-driven approach.
Even PM Lee agrees, as he contended at the 100th Anniversary Dinner to commemorate the founding of Monfort Schools:
We need to build character and inculcate strong values in our children… and provide them with a broad range of experiences and encourage their interest in non-academic areas.
To top that off, MOE rolled out many initiatives to back their words up. Think: The Edusave Character Award, Community Involvement Programme, replacement of PSLE aggregate scores with broad scoring bands, etc.
Yet, despite MOE’s efforts, holistic education doesn’t seem like an attainable goal anytime soon. Ask any stressed-out student or kiasu parent if they care about non-academic lessons in school, and the answer would probably be “no”.
Don’t get us wrong, students would look to these lessons to destress, but the reality is that non-academic subjects such as Physical Education or Art are often viewed as less important, evidenced by the fact that they are replaced by academic lessons when examinations draw near.
The truth is, in spite of the government’s best efforts, the mindset on the ground is simply not going to change in the near future. As a nation that draws on its people as valuable resources, paper qualifications has always been viewed as an important tool in this rat race of securing employment, as it is a simple, straightforward way to gauge the ability of people.
No parent would want their child to gain a bad footing in the working world, and to prevent that, they want to make sure said child is able to secure good paper qualifications.
8. Men And Women Are Equal
According to the The Straits Times, a 2014 United Nations report stated that Singapore is the top Asian nation for gender equality.
Yet, there is more gender inequality than meets the eye. Apart from the obviousness of girls not being required to serve national service, and the lack of female politicians compared with male politicians arguments, gender inequality seeps into the everyday lives of Singaporeans, especially in the workplace.
Generally, women earn less than men across all jobs, except for jobs related to clerical or support work, according to the 2014 Labour Force Statistics.
Furthermore, there are more men than women in senior management positions — in 2013, a mere 8.3% of Singapore Exchange-listed companies had women on their boards, according to BoardAgender. For a better perspective, Western countries like the United States and Australia have double our percentage.
Ultimately, childcare remains a responsibility largely thought of as woman’s in conservative Singapore, making it more difficult for women to climb up the ladder to more career success, as compared to their male counterparts.
As that’s not to mention that there are still cases of shocking sexism that occasionally rear their heads. Read our story about a sexist caller to radio station 987 FM.
The only way that men and women are equal, unfortunately, is that they both experience sexism. Read our story on sexism that affects both men and women.
Practicising What We Preach
At the end of the day, these propaganda statements represent ideals or expectations we should all work towards. Even for “Singlish Is Bad”, it just represents a desire for us to speak good English.
But such ideals are always hard to achieve, and unfortunately we aren’t there yet.
As the saying goes, knowing the problem is the first step to solving it — let’s all work hard towards our goals.