Economic Pragmatism and the ‘Schooling’ of Girls in Singapore, pp. 13 of 21

In the late 1980s, therefore, the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological Institute took additional measures such as conducting career talks and seminars to woo female students to join engineering courses (Business Times 1988, April 7 and Straits Times, 1988, May 2). Tay Eng Soon commented that women’s reluctance to study technical subjects was depriving Singapore of much-needed technical workers and supported these efforts to recruit more women engineers (Tay, 1987). The inconsistency in gender messages in the PAP discourse is seen here for it was Tay who, while espousing the virtues of traditional femininity and the ‘natural’ role of women, was also encouraging more girls to enrol in engineering courses. An editorial in The Business Times pointed out these inconsistencies and added that exhortations alone were insufficient to persuade more girls into engineering professions. What was needed instead was for MOE to remove stereotyped depictions of male and female roles from textbooks and reconsider the policy of curriculum differentiation for boys and girls (The Business Times, April 15, 1988). This indictment of MOE policy shows up the government’s outmoded values and the inherent contradictions in its policies that had hindered the achievement of its objectives.

In 1991the MOE announced that starting from 1994, all secondary school students would have to take home economics and design and technology. The Acting Minister of State (Education), Dr Seet Ai Mee acknowledged that Singapore’s changing socio-economic norms meant that men and women would have to play complementary roles in managing the home, hence the change in curriculum. A Sunday Times editorial with a telling headline, “Enlightened at last”, criticised the MOE for its past policy (Sunday Times, 1991, July 14):

By insisting in 1984 that girls could take only home economics where they previously could choose between that and technical studies, the Education Ministry was trying to force the sexes into stereotypes that were completely out-of-date in an age when women were not only going out to work but encouraged to do so… The ministry apparently felt that one reason [for the number of unmarried graduate women] was that girls were becoming too much like boys and felt it had to rectify this by ensuring that girls did not dissipate their time on manly stuff like technical education and that they concentrate instead on learning to be good wives and mothers… The tactic was …retrograde.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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