Meritocracy Part 1: Is it really the fault of meritocracy? (GP Topics: Society, Inequality, Education, Singapore)

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Ah, meritocracy, the great buzzword of Singapore’s education system! But wait, is it the mastermind behind all the mischief in our unequal educational landscape? Let’s gather our magnifying glasses and delve into the hidden truths. Prepare yourselves for a thrilling investigation into the realm of privilege, opportunity, and the blame game.

In his address to Parliament on April 19, 2023, Education Minister Chan highlighted the potential pitfalls of meritocracy, acknowledging that over time, successful individuals may create exclusive social circles and pass on their wealth and privileges to their children. This “endowment effect” could result in opportunities and rewards being determined not solely by merit but also by inherited advantages. While it is important to increase inclusivity and reevaluate the system, it may be inaccurate to lay the blame solely on meritocracy.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, meritocracy is a system where individuals are assigned positions based on their abilities and achievements, rather than their background or personal characteristics. Therefore, we must question whether it is meritocracy itself that is at fault or if our system has deviated from true meritocracy.

For meritocracy to function effectively, there must be a level of equality or at least a close approximation of equal opportunities. While achieving pure meritocracy is challenging, Singapore still provides avenues for highly capable individuals to succeed. By definition, meritocracy continues to exist.

In a society devoid of meritocracy, aspirations of becoming professionals like lawyers, doctors, or accountants would be dismissed as mere fantasies. We can observe a stark example of this in India’s caste system, where individuals are assigned a predetermined social status at birth, stifling any possibility of upward mobility regardless of their talents or intelligence. However, in contemporary Singapore, the potential to achieve such professions is attainable for individuals who possess the necessary capabilities.

The challenge lies in preserving and nurturing meritocracy, allowing it to evolve with time. While Singapore remains fundamentally meritocratic, the dynamics that contribute to success have expanded, and the growing disparities in inequality have made these differences more apparent. To address these issues, substantial government intervention becomes crucial, as relying solely on the free market will not inherently foster a truly meritocratic system, akin to the concept of market failure in Economics.

For A Level GP Paper 1, students might use the definition of meritocracy to evaluate its criticisms. Many often undermine the effectiveness of meritocracy due to inequalities of society. However, if meritocracy precisely operates on the assumption of a relatively equal society, then we are able to argue for its overall effectiveness as a social leveller. 

And so, we bid adieu to the enigmatic realm of meritocracy, pondering the question: Is it the culprit behind our educational disparities? While meritocracy may not bear the entire blame, it certainly has a mischievous accomplice in the form of privilege. Fear not, for armed with quotes from wise parliamentarians and jaw-dropping stats, we march towards a fairer horizon. But hold on tight, for our journey does not end here! Brace yourselves as we venture into Part 2, where we shall explore the labyrinthine world of educational inequalities in Singapore. Get ready to dissect the alarming statistics, unravel the tales of privilege and opportunity, and confront the harsh realities faced by marginalised groups.

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