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Malay community ‘can’t afford’ class divide: Yaacob

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Yaacob: Middle-class Malays must do more to help lower-income families succeed

There is a risk of a class divide emerging in the Malay community, says Professor Yaacob Ibrahim, stressing that those in the middle class can do more to help the rest succeed.

"We can't afford for the middle class to peel apart from the entire Malay/Muslim community," said the MP for Jalan Besar GRC, a former Cabinet minister.

"I am not saying it is happening; I am not saying it has already happened. But I think we have to watch the dangers of that happening, and see how we can try and ward them off as much as possible."

Prof Yaacob was speaking at a dialogue on self-help group Yayasan Mendaki's latest book on Wednesday evening.

The 200-page book, Navigating Educational Development: Mendaki And The Malays, chronicles the Malay community's journey through education from Singapore's pre-independent days to the present.

The book, which took nearly two years to put together, was published by Straits Times Press and launched by President Halimah Yacob last Saturday.

Mendaki was set up in 1982 to improve the educational performance of Malay/Muslim students.

Its programmes target the bottom 30 per cent, and include schemes to prepare pre-school children for formal education.

Now, 94 per cent of each year's cohort of Malay students progress to post-secondary education. The number of Malay graduates with first- class honours degrees has also grown ten-fold in the last decade.


Associate Professor Mukhlis Abu Bakar of the National Institute of Education noted that children from middle-class families are typically able to tap resources to help solve their problems.

"But when a child of a low socio-economic status has a problem, the problem will always persist, and so that spiral of failure will always be there," he said.

Prof Yaacob added: "If the Malay middle class... move in different social circles, feel no need to go back to the community and bring back whatever they have heard, I think we have lost something."

There is also an "overly-skewed representation" of Malay youth as delinquents and the community as problematic, added research associate Siti Hazirah Mohamad, who was also on the panel.

The result is that young middle-class Malays may not want to be associated with their community, she said.

More professionals, however, are coming forward to give back to the community, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education as well as Social and Family Development Faishal Ibrahim, who was guest of honour at the event.

"These will dilute the (gap between the) haves and have-nots, and will also bring together the spirit of contributing to the community," he added.