The Government was urged yesterday to make pre-school education compulsory as the move would give Malay/Muslim children a good start in life.
Teacher Mazli Said, 38, who made the call, said Malay parents tend to leave their children with the grandparents instead of putting them in childcare centres or kindergartens.
"We need to instil in them the spirit that Malay/ Muslims can succeed from an early age, and the importance of studying," he said at a session of Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) yesterday.
The dialogue was organised by Malay daily newspaper Berita Harian and attended by 40 professionals, students, housewives and retirees as well as Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is in charge of the OSC effort.
Mr Mazli's call for a good pre-school education was taken up by several of them, who said it would level the playing field as few Malay families could afford top kindergartens.
Another major concern centres on employment.
The preference shown by foreign bosses in hiring their countrymen over locals was highlighted by several people, while others pointed to the scarcity of Malays in the higher echelons of the public sector and the military.
Engineering student Syamil Maulod, 22, asked: "Can there be greater transparency in the Government and other sectors on why Malays are not seen that much at higher levels?"
The struggle many Singaporeans face in buying an HDB flat was no less felt among Malays, said some participants.
Responding at the end of the four-hour session, Mr Heng said that 99 per cent of Singaporean children attend pre-school, including most Malay children.
While it is important to encourage pre-school education, it is also necessary to make sure students do well at every level of education, and that every school is a good school, he added.
"There is no silver bullet in education. We just have to work hard, put in the effort at every stage, and at every stage encourage (the children)."
Mr Heng also noted that the issue of Malay representation in the civil service and military had been previously addressed in Parliament.
"What we should focus on is really how do we continue to raise the educational standards as well as qualifications, and encourage lifelong learning so that every community, regardless of race, can continue to build deep skills and, in turn, access better opportunities," he said.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.