Economic Pragmatism and the ‘Schooling’ of Girls in Singapore, pp. 3 of 21

Singapore women’s continued struggle for coherence in their gender roles and the evidence of the statistics showing continued gender disparity contradict liberal feminism’s claim that education is key to helping women achieve equal status with men and raise serious questions about the extent to which women in Singapore are emancipated and empowered as a result of their increased access to education. The school is one of the more significant agents of socialisation, besides the state, family, peers, and the mass media and schools act as ideological state apparatuses that transmit the desired knowledge, ideologies, values and attitudes necessary for an individual to become a contributing member of society. In Singapore, schools play a very critical role in the transmission of a state-sanctioned gender ideology. This is key to understanding why women in Singapore continue to hold certain conservative gender beliefs and stereotypes. Education, which is purportedly important in raising the status of women, may in fact be entrapping them by socialising them to preserve the status quo of patriarchal relations (Leach, 1998). Hegemonic discourses by the state and in the school curriculum serve to perpetuate the status quo by influencing the structures within which people think, making it difficult or impossible for them to conceive of things in any other way and thereby causing them to behave in ways accepted by society (Paechter, 1998). In this way, girls in school are socialised to accept their roles in society. For example, state discourse in Singapore on the economic imperative of both men and women to contribute to Singapore’s national survival was seen as indisputable common sense and hence radically altered women’s roles in society. At the same time, state discourse and school policies continued, for a long time, to emphasise the importance of maintaining patriarchy in Singapore, thus contributing to society’s continued perception of women as subordinate to men.

This paper raises questions concerning the motivation of the government in according equal opportunities of education to women as well as the role of schooling in perpetuating the state’s gender ideology.  This paper  highlights and discusses some key state discourses and education policies to provide  insight into the motives behind the PAP moves to provide equal opportunities for women in Singapore and the gender ideology that is transmitted in these hegemonic discourses. In the process, it will be seen that the state’s discourse may have appeared inconsistent but its gender ideology remained consistently conservative for a long time and education policies reflected and transmitted this ideology.

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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