We need to guard against elitism: ESM Goh

ESM Goh Chok Tong launches the Raffles Community Initiative at the RI Homecoming dinner along with RI principal, Lim Lai Cheng (left) and Chairman of the RI Board of Governors, Professor Tan Ser Kiat (right). The initiative will serve as seed funding for community projects by students and alumni. (Photo courtesy of Raffles Institution)

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong warned of the dangers of elitism on Saturday evening, saying that it “threatens to divide the inclusive society that we seek to build”.
In order to guard against elitism, ESM Goh said that the practice of meritocracy must not widen the gap between the successful and the rest of society.
Speaking at a Raffles Institution (RI) Homecoming dinner for alumni, ESM Goh talked about adapting and strengthening Singapore’s brand of meritocracy into what he termed “compassionate meritocracy”.
“What we need is to get the successful to understand that they have a responsibility to help the less fortunate and less able with compassion, to give back to society through financial donations, sharing of their skills and knowledge and spending time to help others do better, and to serve the country.”
“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,” added the RI alumnus.

"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," he said.

He also challenged RI to look within and ask itself if it was still an inclusive meritocratic institution.

"The RI I grew up in was an inclusive institution. Its students came from primary schools all over. Malays, Indians, Eurasians, Chinese; Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Christians, free-thinkers; rich, middle-class and poor students: we were all there, rubbing shoulders in and outside the classrooms. RI was indeed a melting pot of Singapore’s best male students," said ESM Goh, who spent six years in the institution.

"RI helped shape Singapore society through its inclusive meritocracy and secular outlook…But going forward, and as our society matures and stratifies, would RI remain an inclusive meritocratic institution? Or are the seeds of elitism already being planted within its walls?" he questioned.

This is also why the government has progressively built up the education system by upgrading schools, ITEs and Polytechnics and expanded university places to "level the playing field", he said. It's also why the government is now developing the pre-school education system for those who cannot afford the expensive privately-run pre-schools.
He also reassured that the government will continue to give equal opportunity for those who are financially disadvantaged.
This, he says, will ensure that Singapore’s brand of meritocracy remains compassionate, fair and inclusive for all.
ESM Goh was awarded the Gryphon Award at the dinner, an award in honour of illustrious Rafflesians who have made significant contributions to our community and nation.