Saturday, September 02, 2006

Post No. 83: Interpreting The Results Of The National Youth Survey

Last week, the results of the 2nd National Youth Survey, conducted by the National Youth Council, which surveyed 1504 local youths (Singaporean citizens and PRs) aged from 15 to 29 years old about their attitudes towards various issues were released.

According to the survey, while 85% of the respondents felt comfortable working with and being neighbours of foreigners, only 63% agreed that Singapore should encourage foreigners to become citizens. Also, it was reported that, improving from the 43.5% of the 2003 National Youth Survey, 54% of the respondents agreed with the statement of “I am very proud to be a Singaporean”. In addition, the results shown that in response to the statement of “I know a lot about other races”, 41.6% of the Chinese respondents, 58% of the Malay respondents and 66/9% of the Indian respondents agreed with the statement, while, on average, 47% of all the respondents agreed with the statement.

Well, perhaps I am asking for too much but it seems to me that that there is a lack of critical evaluation & interpretation of the statistics above. I mean, yes, it may be a good sign that 85% of local youths (or at least 85% of the 1504 youths surveyed) felt comfortable working with and being neighbours of foreigners but what about the 15% whom do not feel comfortable? Why do they not feel comfortable? Are their discomfort backed up by justifiable and reasonable reasons or are their discomfort based on something more visceral? Could it even be perhaps a case of xenophobia?

Also, there was a lack of explanation as to why there is a significant discrepancy of 22% between those who felt comfortable with foreigners and those whom agreed that Singapore should encourage foreigners to become citizens. In fact, there was no attempt to explain why 37% of the respondents did not agree with Singapore encouraging more foreigners to become citizens.

Unfortunately, despite deciding to ask local youths about their attitudes to foreigners in Singapore, the National Youth Council, it seems, did not think it important to ask why the youths responded the way they did and thus, we can only guess at the reasons. Well, seeing how PM Lee has, in his recent National Day Rally speech, pointed out that Singapore need to attract more foreign talent to come to Singapore and become citizens, I think it will be imperative for us to look at why 37% of local youths disagreed that Singapore should encourage more foreigners to become Singaporean citizens.

That aside, while I agree with Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, that it is a good sign that there was an increase of 10.5% for respondents who agreed with the statement of “I am very proud to be a Singaporean” and that this perhaps a sign of a stronger sense of national identity in local youths, I also question why is it that 46% of the respondents did not agree with the statement. What is it that is stopping this significant minority from agreeing with the statement? And what can be done to remedy this situation? Well, I have always been better at asking questions than at answering them and thus, I will not attempt to provide any answers to the questions I have asked above. Instead, I will leave you all to think about them.

In addition, I also find it worrying that, on average, only 47% of the respondents agreed with the statement of “I know a lot about other races”, despite Singapore’s claim of multiracialism and its ongoing & past significant efforts to foster better relations amongst the different races found here in Singapore. Yes, it may be argued that since the result of 47% is based on subjective responses of the respondents to a statement and not on some objective test, this 47% may perhaps be an underestimation of the actual situation, considering that people may actually know more about other races than they think they do. However, such an argument cuts both ways, since it can also be argued that the result of 47% is an overestimation of the actual situation as people may actually know less than what they think they do. Thus, putting aside quibbles over its accuracy, the 47% remains worryingly.

Furthermore, if one examined the statistics more closely, one would most probably notice that the percentage of Chinese respondents (41.6%) who agreed with the statement of “I know a lot about other races” is, in comparison with the percentages of the other 2 groups of respondents (58.4% & 66.9% for the Malays and Indians respectively), quite low. In fact, the percentage is lower than the average percentage! Why is this so? Could it be because that the local Chinese youths, being in the “dominant ethnic group” in Singapore, do not feel the need to step out of their “comfort zone” to learn more about the other races found here in Singapore? Or could it be just because that since the other races, besides the Chinese, are statistically smaller in number, the local Chinese youths have greater difficulties to learn more other races, even if they wanted to? Hopefully, for Singapore’s sake, the reason behind such a phenomenon is the latter and not the former.

In the end, I would just like to say that while statistics can tell us a lot, they do not always give us the complete picture. Also, statistics are not of much use if we do not critically evaluate and interpret them.

1 comment:

ted said...

Interesting post. One thing to note about this study is that this is a survey questionnaire, thus the scope for detailed answers to your many questions are probably quite limited in many ways already.

I just wonder who they commisioned to do this survey. Heh, will be nice to know.

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