Pritam Singh warns of ‘Two Singapores’, then proceeds to create ‘Two Singapores’ with the English language divide

pritam singh warns of two singapores then proceeds to create two singapores with the english language divide

Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh warned in Parliament of the possibility of Two Singapores emerging. Ironically, he made divisive suggestions leading to the Two Singapores he warned of. 

The WP leader suggested that applicants for PR and citizenship be made to take an English proficiency test. 

Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo responded with surprise. She expressed concerns over the potential punitive outcomes.

Who are those who may be less proficient in English then? They are likely those with legitimate family ties. These are either the foreign spouses of Singaporeans or PRs, or their dependents such as their aged parents. They could be hindered from obtaining citizenship or residency.

A Zaobao Columnist called Pritam’s suggestion shallow, a joke and non-constructive.
Applicants for PRs and citizenship have stayed and worked in Singapore for several years. The columnist said it was almost impossible for someone residing in Singapore for many years not to understand simple English terms or Singlish if Pritam is genuinely concerned with communication issues.
Often, it may be the spouses of these PRs or New Citizens who may not have a good grasp of the English language because they may have joined their loved ones in Singapore at a much later date, having stayed behind in the country of origin to settle matters or to look after the family back in the land of birth.
Will we deny the New Citizen his family in Singapore just through a mere EL grade?
The writer noted that quite several Singaporeans have married foreign spouses who may need to meet the EL standard requirements that Pritam has in mind. Will we put a further barrier to these fellow Singaporeans’ family formation?
Importantly, why would Pritam want to assess people’s loyalty to Singapore through their excellent grasp of English grammar or accurate English sentence structure? This is also equivalent to telling fellow Singaporeans who speak Singlish or pasar English that they are not true blue Singaporeans.

Expressing similar views, Mathew Mathews and Melvin Tay wrote that while English language testing for aspiring PRs and new citizens may seem like a simple fix to ensure a baseline level of integration, it implies that those who need to improve in the language cannot integrate into Singapore society.

This implication will entail reflection on the part of local-born Singaporeans, too: Does a poor command of English make some of us any less Singaporean? Indeed not, they said.
Writing for the Straits Times, Mathew Mathews and Melvin Tay said the extra barriers such bias posed for well-meaning, prospective new citizens with strong family ties here but lacking the requisite language proficiency to clear standardised testing requirements should not be underestimated either.
Such individuals can still contribute productively to or support Singapore society through their valuable tradecraft or their role in the household as the spouse or dependent of a Singaporean or another new immigrant.
The nature of integration as an ongoing process is another factor rendering one-off testing less effective at measuring propensity to integrate or encouraging new citizens to integrate. This sustained ability to integrate – a function of one’s actions, intentions and objectives – cannot be measured by tests of knowledge.

In the opinion piece published by Zaobao, the retired university professor noted that Singapore is a multi-racial and multi-religious society. While later generations of Singaporeans have gone through schools with English as the medium of instruction, there remain members of the Pioneer and Merdeka Generations whose commands of English may need to meet Pritam’s standard.

Pritam’s suggestion to make English proficiency a test of citizenship sends the message that the Pioneer and Merdeka generations – who have sacrificed much in nation-building and given up their ideals in their youthare not good enough to be citizens or even permanent residents. The suggestion has delivered a nasty slap to these older Singaporeans

As a netizen commented, “it is almost like someone decides to snob your parents ….”

Indeed, Pritam’s suggestion speaks of snobbery, elitism and discrimination

If the reason for testing for English proficiency is to ensure that a potential citizen or PR is not merely using Singapore as a stepping stone to a better place elsewhere, then the argument is flawed. One must bear in mind that those who are proficient are more mobile and therefore more likely to hop from one place to another. 

In an age where the world is fighting for talent, it is hardly helpful to make English a requirement. The English language requirement has a tinge of favouritism towards migrants from countries with solid English backgrounds, such as India and the Philippines. Great talents are always mobile and will move to where they are welcome, where the requirements for their grasp of English are less stringent.

Why would someone proficient in English be deemed more inclined to sink their roots deeper in Singapore than someone with a not-so-good mastery of the English language? This is akin to saying that someone weak in English is less integrated into our society and less Singaporean. But every year, local-born Singaporeans struggle at mastering English and even fail English at PSLE. Will we discriminate against them and hold them in an unfavourable light? 
Are these the Two Singapores that the WP and Pritam Singh envisage? An English-speaking elite and a pasar English/Singlish-speaking Singapore

We are not a monolingual English-speaking society. Our education policy is a bilingual one comprising English and the mother tongue. 

As the retired university professor asked, 30 years down the road, is it good enough for Singaporeans to speak only English

The answer is obvious. There is strength in diversity. There is strength in being multilinguistic, and the ability to speak many languages is not to be underestimated. 


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