Keep definition of meritocracy broad in Singapore: Education Minister

Education Minister says talent should be appreciated in multiple ways

Meritocracy in Singapore is a constant work in progress, and care should be taken to avoid its possible downsides, said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

This means keeping the definition of meritocracy broad, instead of appreciating talent in a one-dimensional way, he explained. It also means ensuring meritocracy is continuous rather than having "one high-stake exam... define anyone for life".

Mr Chan was addressing a virtual audience of about 6,000 educators at the opening of the Ministry of Education's Teachers' Conference and ExCEL Fest.

"People develop different strengths at different stages of life," he said. "We must keep enabling porosity and look out for opportunities to allow different talents to develop at different paces. Even the successful must never be complacent."

He added that those who are more privileged have a responsibility to pay it forward to those with less, for Singapore to be more inclusive.

The event is a three-day virtual conference that aims to connect teachers with the latest trends in their field and showcases award-winning innovations by schools.

In his speech, Mr Chan impressed upon teachers the importance of values that will anchor future generations as they navigate a complex world.

Meritocracy is one such value, he said. But it is also important for Singaporeans to be open and inclusive, as well as a trusted and principled people.

It is difficult for a nation of fewer than four million citizens to always have the best ideas, he said. But Singapore will have a chance to remain at the cutting edge should it remain open and connected to the world.

"Being connected to the world is not an option, but a strategy for our survival," he said.

Mr Chan also touched on keeping the education system running in a sustainable manner despite Covid-19, saying it may not be possible to return to a pre-pandemic world.

Adapting to a more complicated environment may require faster and more pervasive Covid-19 testing and isolation capabilities to ring-fence affected parts of the system while allowing the rest to operate as normally as possible, he said.