Economic Pragmatism and the ‘Schooling’ of Girls in Singapore, pp. 6 of 21

In post-independent Singapore economic development was of critical urgency. With the loss of the Malaysian hinterland its viability as an independent nation was in great doubt. At that juncture, the PAP government attempted to re-define the role of women by emphasising the need for women’s participation in national development. Pursuant to the decision to develop an industrial economy, educational policy focused on providing technical education for more students and channelling school leavers into blue-collar jobs so as to meet the need for skilled labour to support the rapid industrialisation programme. In 1966, for example, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew emphasised the need to review the secondary curriculum to align it to meeting Singapore’s economic needs. He exhorted parents to prepare their children for occupations in industries and not to insist on white-collar jobs for them (Lee, 1966):

Mr Lee said that Singapore gave equal opportunities to all for education, irrespective of whether parents were rich or poor… But parents who preferred to educate their children for white-collar jobs should realize that their children stood a better chance in life if they were given a technical education.

By the late 1960s, girls were exhorted to be like boys and pursue technical subjects in order to be prepared to participate in an industrial economy. In a speech at St Margaret’s Secondary School’s annual speech and prize-giving day, E.W. Barker, the Minister for Law and National Development, told girls of the future role they had to play (Straits Times, 1968, July 27):

If you want equality of treatment with boys, you too must prepare yourselves for the change-over to technical and vocational education. For obvious reasons we cannot let all the boys go to the technical institutions and leave all the girls in the academic schools. In other words, you girls have to work as hard as the boys, and become not just good housewives but economic assets as well [Emphasis added.]

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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