Economic Pragmatism and the ‘Schooling’ of Girls in Singapore, pp. 7 of 21

This speech emphasised the dual role expected of Singapore women––that of wage-earner, labelled as an asset because of its economic value, and homemaker, which by implication, was not an asset because of its perceived non-monetary nature. In the same speech, Barker went on to emphasise that the government had made it a policy not to discriminate against girls and had provided equal opportunities for all in education with the expectation that girls would contribute to economic growth. The maintenance of such a policy of equal opportunities, however, was dependent on continued economic prosperity and should not be taken for granted. This shows that to the political leaders, girls’ education was not provided as a basic human right but as an investment for the future. In return for education, girls had to play their part to actively participate in the labour force and contribute towards sustaining national development. As pointed out by Puroshotam, the “gift” of education came with strings attached.

The increasing emphasis on technical education was made a formal policy in 1968 when Ong Pang Boon, the Minister for Education, announced a re-structuring of the secondary school system to include technical subjects in the curriculum. Technical studies became compulsory for all boys and for fifty per cent of girls in the lower secondary forms (Ong, 1968). Following this announcement, the MOE embarked on a publicity campaign to convince parents and girls of the advantages of technical education. This took the form of speeches explaining how girls are suited for technical careers and the organization of career guidance seminars for girls, for example (Ong, 1968):

There is no reason why a woman should not handle a machine as efficiently as a man. Indeed in operations which require precision, women may outperform men

Career guidance notes were sent to parents stressing that girls were suited for technical education. Toh Chin Chye, the Minister for Science and Technology, stressed that ‘Womanpower’ was required to meet the labour shortage caused by rapid industrialization (Straits Times, 1971, 12 March).

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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