SGM Murni is a daycare centre and is part of a nonprofit organisation that aims to provide children and families car services regardless of race, language or religion. The daycare takes care of a large group of children from a variety of ethnicities for long hours due to their parents working being at work during these hours. The time spent away from their parents can sometimes be difficult for the children so SGM Murni implements programs that are free of cultural and gender bias yet develops each child’s capability as a unique individual who develops at their own rate. All of which is done in a supportive and safe environment.
With the wider context of Singapore as a country, SGM Murni is a small organisation that demonstrates a much larger issue. While the government here has improved benefits for Singaporeans immensely, there are still socioeconomic inequalities: dismally, Singapore ranked 149 out of 157 on an inequality index. The mainstream narrative around inequality is one of race and Chinese-superiority, but new studies imply that the most pressing disparity is economic. In 2015, Singapore was ranked the world’s most expensive city to live in for the fifth year in a row; and while there is substantial growth in GDP, this does not necessarily translate to an increased standard of living for everyone. In reality, only Singapore’s wealthiest 20% saw improvement in that regard.
These inequalities are exacerbated by the popular Southeast Asian idea of a ‘meritocracy’ on which Singaporean society is based. A meritocracy is a system in which merit (translates to academic proficiency) determines success. On paper, this sounds great: the most capable will govern and have influence. But in reality, it perpetuates socioeconomic inequalities. Singapore is a society with intense academic competition – and immense pressure is put on young students to excel, as it will determine future careers and success. And while the Singaporean public schooling system is very impressive compared to other countries in the region, there are flaws. Namely, the intra-country disparity. An OECD report found that while disadvantaged Singaporean students excelled in the global rankings, they were far behind their fellow peers who had privileged access to better resources. As with many systems, therefore, the meritocratic approach really only exacerbates the pre-existing imbalances. It is meant to level the playing field for everyone, but when some people start at a systematic disadvantage, it is ineffective in this respect.
The ministry of education has taken some steps to provide better schooling: new daycare centres that are funded by the government are beginning to pop up around the country – but these often lack diversity and the strong emphasis on character that the non-profits like SGM Murni have. Enrolment for the ministry of education kindergartens has increased 15-fold since 2014 – and it is putting daycare centres at risk, which are more expensive and difficult to maintain. But the new MOE kindergartens also lack some of the community cultural awareness. SGM Murni is a daycare centre, but it also remains open until very late, providing a place for parents to drop their children while they work (because they are perhaps economically disadvantaged). This suggests that there are wider issues with inequality and housing. I’m sure we have all seen it ourselves: students working in cafes, libraries, restaurants – HDB flats are an excellent way to reduce homelessness and maximise space by building upwards, but they tend to be filled with lower-income families and are small and cramped.
Clearly, there are bigger issues here than just teaching gymnastics to young children. It is important that we understand the context in which we are organising our service – and it is equally as important that we take the time to learn about our service partners. We live very different lives from these kids, and the point of service is not to just show up each week and engage with them. To make a difference, albeit, on a small scale, we must want to.
For more information, check out our sources document for different issues pertaining to our services: