Economic Pragmatism and the ‘Schooling’ of Girls in Singapore


Women in Singapore today are considered by many to be modern, liberated and progressive.  They have been accorded many opportunities for education and employment since the 1960s and appear to have made great strides in many areas of economic and social life in Singapore. An official survey outlined women’s socio-economic and educational achievements in Singapore between 1987 and 1997 thus (Department of Statistics, 1998, p.1):

Along with Singapore’s economic progress, women in Singapore have achieved significant improvements in various aspects of their life.  Their educational level is almost on par with men, they participate actively in economic and social activities, and they have access to good health care and live longer lives. Concomitant with these changes is the marked improvement in the status of women in Singapore society.

Indeed, since the People’s Action Party (PAP) was elected into power, Singapore women have made great strides in the socio-economic arena as a result of the ruling party’s policy of equal opportunities. Between the years 1959 and 2010, the educational profile of the female population has improved markedly. Women’s literacy rate rose significantly from a mere 34% in 1957 to 93.8% by the year 2010 (Singapore, 1964 & Department of Statistics, 2012). The mean years of schooling for girls more than doubled from 4.6 in 1980 to 9.7 in 2010 (Department of Statistics, 2012). The increase in the number of years of schooling means that most girls were going on to secondary and even tertiary education. By the year 2010, approximately 93.6% of females aged 15–24 years and 93% aged 25–34 years had received at least a secondary education.[i] Women’s economic position has improved significantly as a result of education and their greater participation in the workforce. The female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) rose to 58.6% in 2014 from a mere 21.6% in 1957 (Singapore, 1964, p. 80; Ministry of Social & Family Development Research Room, 2015). The financial position of women has also been enhanced over the years as a result of a significant increase in the income of females. The median monthly income of women rose from $2,863 in 2010 to $3,518 in 2014 (Ministry of Social and Family Development Research Room, 2015). Based on these statistics, it looks like access to modern education and job opportunities has empowered many Singapore women. For many in Singapore, gender issues are not significant areas of concern because the ruling party’s declared policy of equal opportunities has allowed women to achieve much in society.

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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