LKY: Vision for Singapore was a place where “everybody will have his place: equal; language, culture, religion”. 

By July 15, 2022Current

TL;DR – Singapore cannot abandon meritocracy despite its downsides, but can make it more open and compassionate. 

Singapore was founded on meritocracy that defined her success today. From the very beginning, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s vision for Singapore was of a multiracial meritocracy, “not a Malay nation, not a Chinese nation, not an Indian nation” but a place where “everybody will have his place: equal; language, culture, religion”. We have embraced the notion of meritocracy since Day One.

Today meritocracy is still the key principle in Singapore. One area that meritocracy is practised, is in Singapore’s education system. In the last few years, the faith in meritocracy in Singapore has weakened – some believe it’s due to its association with elitism. But one thing for sure, is that it has not failed. As DPM Lawrence Wong launched Forward Singapore, he said that Singapore cannot abandon meritocracy despite its downsides, but can make it “more open and compassionate”.

A more open and compassionate meritocracy

In Singapore, we practise meritocracy through our education system. Giving our next generation the best possible headstart through various initiatives. Take KidSTART for example. As a national programme, KidSTART empowers low-income families to build strong foundations for their children and foster positive child development outcomes by supporting caregivers with guidance on child development and monitoring the developmental progress of children from birth onwards. To bolster the Labour Movement’s efforts in supporting working families in Singapore, NTUC First Campus also embarked on a journey of humble beginnings with the establishment of childcare centres in 1977 under the brand of NTUC Childcare.

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But at the end of the day, it is hard to avoid the advantages that privileged parents can pass on to their next generation. What else can we do to ensure that our people can have the opportunities to move up the social ladder then?

A Continuous Meritocracy

The Future of Work has arrived much sooner than anticipated. With a high-tech future of work, Singapore’s adult education system has come under the spotlight. At The Straits Times Education Forum earlier this year, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said Singapore must gear up to retrain about half a million adult learners each year. Now, when was the last time you upgraded your skills?

“The Republic needs to be a continuous meritocracy where everyone is given opportunities to progress.” Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam at a forum in 2012.


Training is a luxury?

For many, time is a precious commodity. Can employers play a part to push for upgrading in skills relevant to job and business transformation, by carving out time for employee training? It may just be well worth it! When workers pick up skills that can help them do their work better, and be rewarded for better productivity, it can create win-win outcomes.

Enter the company training committees (CTCs), one of the initiatives launched in April 2019 by the NTUC to support workers in achieving better work prospects through company training. To date, more than 800 firms have formed CTCs with NTUC, benefiting countless workers!

“It is good that our company gave us the opportunity to reskill ourselves. Any course that you take, will become a skill that you can take with you. No matter what, it will make a difference in your life – and it will be a good difference.,” Adda Wong, 44, senior engineer at Panasonic Appliances R&D Center

Our lower-wage workers are not left behind. The Progressive Wage Model (PWM) helps to increase wages of workers through upgrading skills and improving productivity. Within the next two years, progressive wages will cover most lower-wage resident workers in Singapore.

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Forward Singapore – What are YOUR aspirations for Singapore?

As Mr Terence Ho, Associate Professor in Practice at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy shared, “Forward Singapore comes at an opportune moment for citizens from different walks of life to express their aspirations for Singapore, including the kind of meritocracy we would like to see take root here, and what we are willing to do to achieve it.”

Singapore has embraced the concept of meritocracy since Day One. To achieve “continuous meritocracy”, will we, as workers, take more initiative to upgrade our skills amidst our busy schedules? Are we willing to accept paying more (be it for services, or tax contributions), if needed, to better the lives of the vulnerable amongst us?


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