Country Listing

Singapore Table of Contents


Education and Singaporean Identity

More clearly than any other social institution, the school system expressed the distinctive vision of Singapore's leadership, with its stress on merit, competition, technology, and international standards, and its rejection of special privileges for any group. Singaporeans of all ethnic groups and classes came together in the schools, and the education system affected almost every family in significant and profound ways. Most of the domestic political issues of the country, such as the relations between ethnic groups, the competition for elite status, the plans for the future security of the nation and its people, and the distribution of scarce resources were reflected in the schools and in education policy. Many of the settled education policies of the 1980s, such as the use of English as the medium of instruction, the conversion of formerly Malay or Chinese or Anglican missionary schools to standard government schools, or the attempted combination of open access with strict examinations, were the result of long-standing political disputes and controversy. In the determination of families and parents that their children should succeed in school, and in the universally acknowledged ranking of primary and secondary schools and the struggle to enroll children in those schools that achieved the best examination results, families expressed their distinctive values and goals. The struggle for achievement in the schools, which often included tutoring by parents or enrollment of young children in special private supplementary schools to prepare for crucial examinations, also demonstrated the system of social stratification and the struggle for mobility that characterized the modern society. It was in the schools, more than in any other institution, that the abstract values of multiracialism and of Singaporean identity were given concrete form.

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The Information Division of the Ministry of Communications and Information produces useful and informative annual volumes and monthly journals, such as Singapore 1988, Singapore Facts and Pictures 1988, Mirror, and the Singapore Bulletin. The Department of Sociology of the National University of Singapore and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies both publish social science and historical research on Singapore's society. Maurice Freedman's Chinese Family and Marriage in Singapore and Judith Djamour's Malay Kinship and Marriage in Singapore, both based on field research conducted in 1949-50, provide a baseline for assessing subsequent social change. Cheng Lim-Keak's Social Change and the Chinese in Singapore analyzes the associations and economic organization of the Chinese-speaking community, a topic not covered in government reports. Janet W. Salaff's State and Family in Singapore, which concentrates on Chinese families, and Tania Li's Malays in Singapore both analyze family structure in the context of economic growth and modernization. Although somewhat dated, the essays in Singapore: Society in Transition, edited by Riaz Hassan, provide a good introduction to major aspects of Singapore society. Some of the flavor of life in Singapore is conveyed in Tan Kok Seng's autobiographical Son of Singapore and in the fiction of Philip Jeyaretnam, such as First Loves and Raffles Place Ragtime. The Far Eastern Economic Review regularly covers events and trends in Singapore, sometimes illuminating topics such as religious change that are not treated in official publications. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1989