PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Yayasan MENDAKI 40th Anniversary Celebration in conjunction with Raikan Ilmu 2022

SM Lee Hsien Loong | 1 October 2022

Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Yayasan MENDAKI 40th Anniversary Celebration in conjunction with Raikan Ilmu 2022 at NUS University Cultural Centre on 1 October 2022.


Puan Zuraidah Abdullah, Ketua Pegawai Eksekutif, Yayasan MENDAKI

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Saudara-saudari sekalian

Setinggi-tinggi tahniah kepada Yayasan MENDAKI sempena ulang tahun anda yang ke-40! Sememangnya, ini adalah satu titik pencapaian MENDAKI yang penting. Banyak yang boleh dibanggakan oleh seluruh warga kerja dan sukarelawan MENDAKI. 

MENDAKI ditubuhkan 40 tahun lalu sebagai sebuah badan bantu diri. Ia memperjuangkan peranan penting pendidikan sebagai pemangkin kemajuan masyarakat. Para pengasas MENDAKI berpegang kuat kepada prinsip, “bersatu teguh, bercerai roboh”. Mereka menggembleng masyarakat supaya bekerjasama demi mencapai misi MENDAKI, dengan individu yang berjaya turun padang membantu yang lain.

Hari ini, keadaannya jauh lebih baik. Prestasi anak-anak Melayu/Islam kita semakin meningkat. Lihat sahaja bilangan Anugerah MENDAKI yang akan disampaikan nanti. Lebih daripada 400 pelajar akan menerima anugerah masing-masing tahun ini. Jumlah ini adalah satu lonjakan besar berbanding dengan hanya segelintir penerima apabila ia mula-mula diperkenalkan. Syabas kepada semua penerima! 

Dengan tahap pendidikan yang lebih tinggi, lebih banyak peluang terbuka kepada masyarakat Melayu/Islam untuk dapatkan pekerjaan lebih baik dan lebih bermakna. Ini sekaligus membolehkan mereka membina kehidupan yang lebih makmur untuk diri sendiri dan keluarga masing-masing. Kadangkala, ada yang memandang remeh kejayaan-kejayaan ini dan menganggapnya mudah dicapai. Tetapi bagi mereka yang melalui jerih payah untuk mengecap kejayaan, mereka hargai betapa besarnya semua pencapaian ini. 

MENDAKI memainkan peranan besar dalam kemajuan masyarakat Melayu/Islam. Dengan sokongan Pemerintah, ia terus melaksanakan pelbagai program untuk menyokong masyarakat. Bukan sahaja MENDAKI, malah badan-badan Melayu/Islam lain juga memainkan peranan masing-masing. Begitu juga ramai individu yang tampil menghulurkan membantu. Ternyata, pendekatan bantu diri ini berjaya mendorong kemajuan masyarakat Melayu/Islam atas usaha anda sendiri dan membolehkan anda berasa bangga dengan apa yang dicapai.

Namun, walaupun masyarakat Melayu/Islam berjaya mencatat kemajuan besar, masih banyak lagi yang perlu diusahakan. Aspirasi dan keperluan masyarakat Melayu/Islam semakin berkembang. Tetapi pada masa yang sama, masih ada sekumpulan anggota masyarakat Melayu/Islam yang memerlukan bantuan tambahan. Kita mesti berusaha sedaya upaya untuk memastikan mereka tidak ketinggalan.

Saya yakin jika kita semua sama-sama berganding bahu, kita akan dapat saksikan kemajuan masyarakat Melayu/Islam yang jauh lebih hebat. 

Sekali lagi, tahniah kepada MENDAKI! 

Izinkan saya teruskan dalam Bahasa Inggeris.

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

Happy to be with you here today for the Yayasan MENDAKI’s 40th Anniversary Celebration. It marks an important milestone, much that everyone at MENDAKI, past and present, should be proud of.

MENDAKI’s Beginnings

MENDAKI was set up 40 years ago. At that time, the educational performance of Malay students in school was worrying. Many were unable to fulfil their potential. Too few were completing PSLE, ‘O’ levels and ‘A’ levels. Even fewer made it to university. Not surprisingly, Malay/Muslim socio-economic performance also lagged behind.

Malay/Muslim leaders, such as Dr Ahmad bin Mohamed Mattar, Mr Sidek Saniff and the late Haji Ridzwan bin Haji Dzafir, saw the urgent need to do more to uplift the community. They recognised that education was a critical enabler for the community’s progress because good education opens doors to better jobs and careers, and therefore higher incomes, better homes and more fulfilling lives, and in turn, enables people to create a more conducive environment to raise children, to help their kids fulfil their potential, and enjoy better opportunities in the next generation. In 1982, the community leaders convened the MENDAKI Education Congress, gathering Malay/Muslim organisations and the community to discuss means to improve educational levels of Malays in Singapore. This resulted in the launch of MENDAKI, with its strong focus on education.

But uplifting an entire community is no easy task. Mr Lee Kuan Yew officiated the MENDAKI Education Congress. He emphasised three points:

First, do not just focus on the top end – those going to university but strive to raise education levels broadly across the board – preschools, primary and secondary schools, polytechnics and ITEs because this would help the entire community to move forward.

Second, mobilise volunteers and rally the community to contribute and to serve – volunteers from within the Malay/Muslim community. People who better understand the needs of the community and provide a tremendous psychological boost to those whom they help. This goes a long way to augment Government’s support.

Third, all these efforts would take much “stamina and perseverance”. It would be many years before the results show. Because there was no quick fix, MENDAKI had to resist the temptation to go for quick and achievable goals.

Progress of the Malay/Muslim Community

The Malay/Muslim community heeded Mr Lee’s advice. Today, after 40 years of hard work, its state of education has enormously advanced. In the early 1980s, only about half of every Malay student-cohort passed their ‘O’ levels. Today, not everyone pursues the ‘O’ level track, but 99% of every Malay student cohort complete at least the 10 years of education and the vast majority (>90%) move on to complete post-secondary studies. Malay university graduates have also increased dramatically. Back then, only 0.4% of Malays aged 25 years and above had degrees. This proportion has since increased by many fold, to over 10%. I am very glad that we will presenting awards to more than 100 outstanding Malay/Muslim students later. By international standards, our Malay students are doing well too. The most recent PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) survey results from 2018 – which includes countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and China – show that our Malay students have outperformed the OECD average in mathematics, and are comparable in reading and science. Most importantly, mindsets have shifted. Parents understand the importance of education and support their children in their learning. Children look forward to picking up new knowledge and improving themselves. This improvement in education outcomes has enabled the Malay/Muslim community to achieve the social and economic success it has today. They are earning higher incomes and enjoying better living standards. They are making significant contributions all across our society including as doctors, biomedical researchers, IT engineers, artists, lawyers, and soldiers, to name a few. Sometimes, people forget and take this state of affairs for granted, especially the younger ones who did not experience the way things were. But those who have travelled this journey and helped to make this happen, they know how much effort this took, and why it is a great achievement that the Malay/Muslim community, and indeed all Singaporeans, should be proud of.

MENDAKI played a big part in this success. With support from the government, MENDAKI has implemented a wide range of programmes, such as KelasMatematika (KMM) and the MENDAKI Tuition Scheme, for students across all levels, from preschool to university. It has also launched initiatives that go beyond school E.g. mentorship and career advisory programmes or the annual Raikan Ilmu month, that celebrates the spirit of lifelong learning. The festival eventis now in its 4th year. Glad to be launching this year’s Raikan Ilmu month later – over 40 events and learning activities for all age groups, for people from all walks of life.

Of course, MENDAKI did not do this alone. MENDAKI works closely with MUIS and PA MESRA in the M³ framework, to drive various programmes. E.g. Project DIAN@M3, to provide home-based intervention for young children in public rental flats. Many other Malay/Muslim organisations, also contribute to the community’s progress. E.g. AMP Singapore, Young Women Muslim Association (PPIS), Jamiyah, Malay Youth Literary Association (4PM), and the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SMCCI). Some working together with MENDAKI, others are in friendly competition with MENDAKI to deliver better programmes and to reach out to more people.  At the same time, our schools and teachers partner closely with parents to educate and nurture children and improve educational outcomes across the board, for all ability levels and regardless of ethnic groups. Everyone – organisations, individuals, community, and the government – worked towards the same goal. 

But MENDAKI added one essential ingredient. It mobilised the energies and passion of volunteers. It demonstrated the value of self-help and community involvement in addressing specific issues within the community. It spurred other groups also to pitch in and tackle different aspects of the challenge. It instilled pride and confidence, as the community succeeded through its own efforts. Because of MENDAKI’s pioneering example, the other communities (Chinese, Indians, and Eurasians) later established similar Self-Help Groups such as SINDA, CDAC, and the Eurasian Association. These too have done good work, working with their respective communities, and also cooperating with one another to pool resources and do joint projects.

Glad that MENDAKI will be presenting the inaugural Anugerah Sanjungan Budi later to individuals who have partnered it closely to promote education and lifelong learning. Congratulations to our award recipients! Hope this award will spur like-minded individuals to step forward, to serve the community and serve Singapore.

Charting the Way Forward

While the Malay/Muslim community has made great progress, we must now aim higher and go further. The aspirations and needs of the community have grown. Students at every ability level want to do better, and we must support them to do so, not just those at the top end. Education now extends to lifelong learning because Malay/Muslim workers are also affected by broader changes in the economy and job market, particularly the less qualified older workers who are at the greatest risk. At the same time, a segment of the community is still having difficulties. Some are from broken families, and others are affected by drug abuse. Many end up living in rental flats, and struggle to maintain a stable living. Their children grow up in unconducive home environments, have learning difficulties, and thus fall behind their peers in school from an early age. These families need help not just with their children’s studies, but also to overcome social and economic deficits that will make it hard for their children to break out from a cycle of poverty. There are such families amongst other communities too, but Malay/Muslims are over-represented among such families, and this is cause for concern. Therefore, there is much work that MENDAKI has to do.

MENDAKI’s mission to uplift the community through education remains relevant and important. But in today’s context, MENDAKI must interpret education more broadly. First, MENDAKI needs to extend support to begin earlier, in early childhood. It is critical that we give our children, especially those from disadvantaged families, a good start in life. MENDAKI’s efforts here will complement national initiatives, such as KidSTART, which also focus on the first years of life. Second, MENDAKI needs to work with disadvantaged families to help resolve their family issues and social problems so that children from such families can grow up and learn under more supportive circumstances. This calls for social and even individual interventions, and is where MENDAKI’s volunteers, counsellors and mentors working with these families have the advantage, and can make the biggest difference. Third, MENDAKI needs to promote lifelong education amongst our workers to enable them to stay employable, to take up new opportunities and thrive in a rapidly growing and changing economy.

I am therefore glad that MENDAKI is looking out for new ideas to fulfil its expanded mission and further improve education and lifelong learning outcomes. Next week, MENDAKI is holding its inaugural Masyarakat Gemilang Conference. It will be a platform for community leaders, professionals, and youths to come together to discuss the issues faced by the community, to come up with fresh ideas, and recommit themselves to the continuing patient work that has helped the community to come so far.

All these ideas and projects will require resources. MENDAKI has announced that to mark its 40th Anniversary, it intends to raise $40 million. This will enable it to improve existing programmes and implement new schemes that make a difference to the community. The Government supports this effort. It will match the funds raised by MENDAKI, dollar for dollar, up to $20 million. So if MENDAKI can raise $20 million through its own efforts, it can reach the $40 million target. Glad that several donors have already stepped forward. At the same time, happy that those beyond the Malay/Muslim community are also contributing. I encourage those with the means to support MENDAKI in this endeavour.


The Malay/Muslim community in Singapore has done much to uplift itself over the years. MENDAKI has played an important role in this story. I am confident that MENDAKI and the community will continue to strive to excel, and continue achieving greater heights for many years to come.

Congratulations again to all the Anugerah MENDAKI winners today.

I wish everyone at MENDAKI a Happy 40th anniversary! Thank you very much. Terima kasih.