Equity and Meritocracy in the Singapore Education System: Can There Be a Balance?


The Republic of Singapore is a small multiracial and multicultural island-nation. While the Malays are recognized as the country's indigenous group, they make up less than 14% of the total population. The Chinese, being the dominant group, form 75%, while the Indians, at 8%, are represented as another minority group. The rest of the population comprises various ethnicities categorized as 'Others'. Because of its diversity, the government has made clear its prerogative on developing social cohesion and national identity through education. This is done by imposing a uniform curriculum for all types of institutions, using locally-oriented textbooks, and instilling in schools a sense of common purpose and direction. Over time, such enforcement of 'uniformity' across all Singapore schools' curricula has led to the convergence towards an extreme belief in meritocracy; where students' abilities are mainly differentiated based on results attained in high-stakes examinations. Unfortunately, critics have highlighted several negative outcomes resulting from the absolute "buy-in" of meritocracy. For one, socio-emotional learning is made secondary in importance to academic teaching. As a result, the nation is at risk of developing students who may be "book smart" but lack the sensibility to understand, empathize and respect. Others point to the weakness of meritocracy in the way it fails to appropriately recognize the different 'starting points' for every student's academic journey. This casts doubts on the chances of these pupils doing well in a completely meritocratic environment.

Author Information
Mohamad Shamsuri Juhari, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Paper Information
Conference: ACE2018
Stream: Education, Sustainability & Society: Social Justice, Development & Political Movements

This paper is part of the ACE2018 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon