Economic Pragmatism and the ‘Schooling’ of Girls in Singapore, pp. 5 of 21

In terms of education policy, The Report of the All-Party Committee on Chinese Education which supported the principles of universal education and equal educational opportunities for all children was central to the PAP’s education platform in the 1959 election (PAP, 1959a, p. 10). Education served a twofold function – for economic progress and social cohesion. The leaders saw the key role to be played by schools and teachers in cultivating social and national values. In 1959, this was considered crucial because of the immigrant, pluralistic and potentially divisive nature of Singapore society. Education was important for producing the necessary manpower for Singapore’s economic progress. In The Tasks Ahead, the PAP’s 1959 election manifesto, education was described as the “spring source of the nation” (PAP, 1959b, p. 2). It was made clear that “education had to be considered in relation to our political and social needs. There cannot be education for education’s sake, like art for art’s sake. Education must serve a purpose” (PAP, 1959, pp. 1-2). That purpose was nation-building––not just inculcating the young to be loyal citizens, but also equipping them with the necessary technical skills to contribute to national development.

Upon assumption of power in Singapore in 1959, the main focus of the PAP government was on rapid expansion of educational facilities in keeping with their election promise of providing universal education for all in Singapore. A non-discriminatory policy towards girls was pursued. At that time, economic and political survival was critical as was maintaining harmony in the multi-racial society and developing national identity. To achieve this, the Ministry of Education (MOE) placed special attention on promoting extra-curricular activities (ECA) in schools. In terms of opportunities for ECA, there was also no discrimination against girls. Their participation in uniformed groups such as Girl Guides, Army Cadets (later re-named National Cadet Corps or NCC) and Police Cadet Corps (later renamed National Police Cadet Corps or NPCC) was encouraged. As early as 1964, for example, the first girls’ units of the PCC were formed in Raffles Girls’ Secondary School and Sang Nila Utama Malay Secondary School (Teow & Wijeysingha, 2000, p. 32). The meetings, parades, camps and other outdoor activities of the uniformed groups were intended to cultivate desirable character traits, discipline and leadership among the members as well as to promote physical development (Ministry of Education, 1966, p. 14). To promote greater participation in such uniformed groups, a system of accreditation for ECA was introduced for entry into pre-university classes.

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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