The Key to Achieving Social Mobility

The spirit of continued progress is Singapore’s hallmark. We strive to build a better future, where every one of us, regardless of our circumstances and backgrounds, have access to equal opportunities and can lead meaningful lives.

In the recent President’s Address in Parliament, social mobility was featured as a central theme – how to help the underprivileged and less advantaged to move up and have a better life.

The ministers spoke on this theme extensively in Parliament, reinforcing the government’s commitment to create opportunities for our people and increasing social mobility. A number of public policies are already in place to encourage social mobility and more will be done.

At the heart of this is the fact that as Singaporeans, we care for one another. We want our people to do well. As Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat put it, bringing out the best in our people is not just about helping Singaporeans perform better in school or make a living. Rather, it is about supporting Singaporeans in our pursuit of a good life.

Importance of Education

The key to better social mobility is education. Education imparts knowledge and skills. This unlocks the doors to better jobs, better pay and career advancement. It is education that will help our children succeed. It gives them the best chance to navigate the future and helps them be the best they can be.

In Parliament, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung shared a Finance Ministry’s study: 14% of those with parents who were in the lowest income quintile when they were growing up, managed to move up to the top quintile of income earners as adults in their early thirties. Through education, Singaporeans can improve the quality of their lives, in as little as one generation.

Early Intervention

We must, therefore, start our children on their educational journey as early as possible, and in a way that helps them to enjoy learning and to make learning a lifelong attitude. Pre-school is therefore important, as it provides the foundation for not only Maths, Science and language but also social skills.

Family Support

Family support is very important. When I speak to those who have dropped out of school or have come out of jail, a common reason for their predicament is because they felt that they did not have a strong loving and encouraging environment at home. This prompted them to look for affirmation and acceptance elsewhere – often falling into bad company as a result.

Providing a structured environment for children’s study is also important. For instance, setting aside time with the television off to allow children to do their homework signals to the children and the whole family that education is a top priority. It also allows them to concentrate and focus.

Children who come from supportive and caring environments with sustained and parental involvement and support are more likely to become confident and well-adjusted students who do well in school and later in life.

Lifelong Learning

Social mobility is strengthened through lifelong learning. While formal schooling provides the initial foundation, living goes beyond the classroom and must continue for life. With technology changing things quickly, we too must be able to stay ahead by having a mind-set that is ready and willing to learn new things and adapt.

Thiruvalluvar’s wise saying is: “The wealth which never declines is not riches but learning”. This is the philosophy behind the SkillsFuture movement and job programmes like Adapt & Grow. These are intended to help individuals to acquire new and deep skills throughout their life. It is about helping individuals find their strengths and talents and channel them to pursue growth areas which best match these strengths and talents.


How our children fare as adults and how meaningful their lives will be, is dependent on how much we cultivate in them the importance of education and the support we provide them. As a nation, we care about our children and their future. This is the reason why we put so much emphasis on education and social mobility – we want every child to fulfil their fullest potential, to give every child the opportunity to succeed, and to nurture each one into a successful and confident adult, irrespective of a starting point.

This is an excerpt from a monthly column where pertinent themes and concerns relating to the Indian community are discussed by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Law, Second Minister for Finance and Second Minister for Education and President, SINDA.