Economic Pragmatism and the ‘Schooling’ of Girls in Singapore, pp. 8 of 21

A second critical need in newly independent Singapore was social cohesion and creating a sense of national identity which became more urgent in the wake of the racial riots that preceded Singapore’s exit from Malaysia. Educational policy laid stress on building a national identity in the young and on inculcating social discipline and developing a rugged society. Physical education was emphasised as children of both sexes were encouraged to participate in sports and games and efforts were made to encourage schools of different language media to participate in joint activities. A number of sports and games such as athletics, netball and basketball were available to girls who were encouraged to be as physically active and rugged as the boys. In 1968, the MOE  revised the school curriculum to provide more time for students’ participation in extra-curricular activities. The stress was on producing a new generation of youths who were “rugged, vigorous, intelligent and capable, endowed with a strong sense of patriotism, possessing a high standard of education.” (The Straits Times, 1968, January 2).[ii] The discourse and educational thrust of the period thus challenged traditional feminine ideology of passivity, docility and submission. Instead, girls were encouraged to be active, rugged and tough––like boys––and to participate in physical education and extra-curricular activities.

In 1975, it was announced that all secondary schools with an enrolment of more than 1,000 students were required to have NCC and NPCC units of boys and girls, the intention being to give every boy and girl a chance to join a unit (Straits Times, 1975, April 15). Girls were also encouraged to participate in physically and mentally demanding courses such as those conducted by the Outward Bound School (Straits Times, 1969, August 5). These MOE policies were aligned to the overall governmental push for a “rugged society”. Lee Kuan Yew recalled in his memoirs (Lee, 2000):

We set up national cadet corps and national police cadet corps in all secondary schools so that parents would identify the army and police with their sons and daughters… We also had to improve the physical condition of our young by getting them to participate in sports and physical activity of all kinds, and to develop a taste for adventure and strenuous, thrilling activities that were not without danger to themselves.

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

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!