12 February 2015
Recent debates on meritocracy have invited questions on what Singapore regards as ‘merit’. There seems to be agreement to expand our understanding of the term to promote more equitability. Several concepts have emerged reflecting how meritocracy is evolving in the Singapore context, such as ‘compassionate meritocracy’, ‘trickle up meritocracy’ and ‘meritocracy through life’.
The 50th anniversary of independence is an opportune time for Singaporeans to deliberate what they understand of the country today and its driving forces, including the idea of meritocracy. Described as a national doxa by some, or a set of core values and discourses taken as truth, meritocracy has been justified as a practice rewarding the hardworking and deserving with economic success and social mobility. The practice of meritocracy is said to have provided equal opportunities to all in a non-discriminatory manner, in Singapore’s multicultural society.
Recent debates, however, have highlighted the side-effects associated with meritocracy in Singapore, which include a widening income gap and elitism. These issues raised largely revolve around how the term ‘merit’ – defined as a quality an individual possesses that is worthy of reward – should be understood and whether the effects of meritocracy are congruent with Singapore’s desire to be an inclusive society. In this regard, these discussions illustrate how Singapore may be undergoing a subtle shift towards more equitability. While meritocracy has benefited Singapore thus far, it is now appears to be evolving according to Singapore’s changing milieu.
…Nur Diyanah Binte Anwar is a Research Analyst with the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS), a unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.
CENS / Online
Last updated on 01/12/2015