What’s affordable, and what’s merit

Been some days since the NDR and funny how it’s been quite quiet, as though people are really accepting of it (*gasp* really?). While things will never be perfect, I think this PM is working hard to find a way forward.  So, personally I give him brownie points for effort.

I have two comments though, on housing and education.

First, affordable housing is a matter of relativity.  HDB is not bad this time round, instead of giving us chunks of facts and figures, they helped us compute: someone with such and such a salary could afford such and such a HDB flat.

But, having a home is not just buying the 4 walls with space in it.  It comes with renovation costs, utilities bills, furniture, appliances, etc etc.  Cost of living is rising, and salaries not catching up, we face greater job insecurity, and therefore may need to save more money, or spend money on skills/cert upgrading.

And what about the costs of raising families, childcare, education, eldercare etc?… “Affordability” therefore, is not so simple anymore.

Plus, “affordability” only applies to a regular family nucleus that falls neatly into HDB’s definition of ‘family’.  Families with foreign spouse for example, continue to be outside of that definition, eligible only to buy from open market or directly from HDB, a 2-room HDB flat in non-matured estates. This limits their options for affordable housing.

Well, you can say, sensitive to give subsidy to foreign spouse family leh, but fact is, you can’t love to order and if people don’t find love here, they will find foreign love.  Foreign spouses are not a bane of society if they can integrate well.  Why not work on that rather than apply a draconian restriction to HDB flats?

Second, more access to education (or desired education), ok maybe that means more opportunities. I don’t have big quarrels with banding of PSLE results, but I see the bigger question as, are there more avenues to have a good life even without chasing paper qualifications?

My dad used to say, so long as you have a pair of hands and willing to work, you won’t starve in Singapore.  Can we ensure that this continues to be true?  Will this be enough for Singaporeans? There used to be a time where, if you can’t get a degree, doesn’t matter, you can be a typist, a plumber, an electrician and still be respectable.

Today, we have so many jobs, but so many of them are not given the respect they deserve from society.  Even the educated ones like childcare teachers, nurses, admin support officers, frontline customer service…  If we indeed talk about a meritocratic nation, then we should recognise the merit of every contributor, and reward them well.

Which brings me to the subject of merit.  I hope to see the Government placing more emphasis on values, rather than tangible achievements.  Yes, it is important for a small country to achieve, and values can’t put food on the table.  But values will ensure we all continue to have food on the table, and not kill one another or trample on one another over the pie.

Because we’re small, it is all the more important we have the right values to stay united.  We must check leaders for these values, we must also check ourselves for these values.  There is some talk by the Education Minister that schools will assess students based on values.

But the devil is in the details.  We cannot assess values simply through behavioural yardsticks (e.g. how many volunteerism activity clocked, or even how well a person conducts himself).  These can be conditioned, and emphasis could be placed on the outward form rather than substance.

A person’s values is in the heart.  Authenticity is key.  I hope PM talks more about this in his future speeches.

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