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Regardless of wage, language or religion

The Edge Singapore
The Edge Singapore11/5/2018 08:00 AM GMT+08  • 4 min read
Regardless of wage, language or religion
SINGAPORE (Nov 5): In 1957, while on a beach holiday in Wales, British sociologist and disillusioned Labour Party member Michael Young bumped into an old friend, who had started a publishing house. The following year, Thames & Hudson published The Rise of
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SINGAPORE (Nov 5): In 1957, while on a beach holiday in Wales, British sociologist and disillusioned Labour Party member Michael Young bumped into an old friend, who had started a publishing house. The following year, Thames & Hudson published The Rise of the Meritocracy, Young’s futuristic satire on the state of society in the UK. The thesis warned against allowing education to engineer a new social bifurcation — between the elites in power based on the notion of merit, and the disenfranchised masses of the less-merited.

Yet, Young’s cautionary tale apparently was not heeded. And, the term “meritocracy”, or social mobility based on merit, the combination of intellectual capacity and effort, has since been embraced as a central tenet of governance in Singapore.

In an essay in The Guardian newspaper published in June 2001, six months before he passed away, Young himself lamented how his thesis has had the unintended effect of turning meritocracy into a principle of governance in the UK. He railed against how his prediction that the poor and disadvantaged would be driven further down the ladder of social progress was realised, as a consequence of an education system that effectively separated people, according to a “narrow band of values”: in other words, the streaming process that parents and pupils in Singapore know so well. “If branded at school, they are more vulnerable for later unemployment,” Young wrote. “They can easily become demoralised by being looked down on so woundingly by people who have done well for themselves.

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