'Study in local schools, stay in HDB estates'

SINGAPORE - About 50 Indian Singaporeans and expatriates, along with their spouses and SINDA facilitators, came together on July 13 to participate in the lively dialogue session, Our Singapore Conversation.

These participants, however, were no ordinary people. They were a diverse group of Indian business leaders, among whom were lawyers, consultants, businessmen and people in the finance industry.

The dialogue session was organised by self-help group Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) and the Indian Business-Leaders' Roundtable (IBR).

Also present at the session were Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah.

The main idea for the dialogue session was to get suggestions from these business leaders on how to nurture integration between the locals and the newly arrived.

Some suggestions thrown from the floor include encouraging the expatriates to live in the public housing estates instead of the private enclaves and to opt to send their children to local schools instead of international ones.

Law Asia chairman Paul Supramaniam, a member of the IBR, was one of the participants. He told tabla! that the session with the other business leaders and the ministers was not only insightful but also served as an avenue for them to reach out to those at the ground level.

"I observed that two common themes were brought out through the session. One was that of belonging to Singapore and integrating the newcomers and the locals. The other was how business leaders, whether local or newly arrived, can give back to society," he said.

The other issues discussed during the session included social inequality and how the better-off Indian expatriates could help the local community. There were also suggestions on getting the children involved in integration.

"When you talk about sense of belonging, it's about anchoring yourself in one place. This usually happens among the second generation, who would feel more for a particular place," said Mr K.V. Rao, managing director of Trust Energy, a subsidiary of Tata Power.

"While Indian expat children go to the international schools, what we suggested during the session, was that the government can ask these schools to conduct programmes about Singapore's history and its struggles, otherwise the children would know very little about the country they are growing up in," said Mr Rao, who added that it would be ideal if the expat children enrol in the local schools.

The IBR was set up in 2011 to allow senior Indian business leaders to network and share ideas.

Said SINDA's chief executive officer T. Raja Segar: "Many roundtable members want to give back to the community but may not know where their skills and resources are best used. Dialogues like the Our Singapore Conversation guide them to do just that."

jamunas@sph.com.sg

Get a copy of tabla! for more stories.