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Background Information

Meritocracy - Definition & Some Examples

    Meritocracy is a system of government based on rule by ability (merit) rather than by wealth or social position. “Merit” means roughly intelligence plus effort. One implication is that whatever level in society a citizen reaches is held to be what such an individual deserves. Meritocratic can also sometimes be used to describe a government, or other body, that stresses formal education and competence despite other features (e.g. ancestry or sex).

    Most systems of government contain some meritocratic elements; for instance, elected officials usually hire expert advisers to help formulate policies. Some would suggest that the military ranking system is perhaps the closest meritocratic organization which can easily be found. Pure meritocracies, however, are virtually unknown.

Meritocracy in Singapore

    Among modern nation-states, perhaps the Republic of Singapore comes closest to being a pure Meritocracy, with its emphasis on identifying and grooming bright young citizens for positions of leadership. There is also a strong emphasis on academic credentials; these are seen as objective measures of both intelligence and effort.

In short,meritocracy is a central political concept in Singapore and is also one of the messages in National Education:

We must uphold meritocracy and incorruptibility.
        This means opportunity for all, according to their ability and effort.

Multiracialism as well as meritocracy is the two founding principles of the Government and education plays a major role in upholding these principles and promoting national cohesion.

    Singapore is a densely populated nation state, about 647 square kilometres in size. Our forefathers came as early immigrants in search of a better life. They came from a great diversity of racial and cultural backgrounds from various parts of Asia, Southeast Asia and beyond. Singapore's population is broadly grouped into four major ethnic communities: Chinese, Malay, Indian and the Eurasians and others, roughly in the proportions of 75:15:7:3. There are four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. English is the language for government and business transactions, as well as being commonly used as the language of inter-racial communication. In everyday life, people interact with fellow citizens of different racial backgrounds at work and at play; Singaporeans live in ethnically mixed housing estates and neighbourhoods, and their children attend racially integrated schools.

    Within a system of meritocracy, people have equal opportunities to learn, achieve and excel. While there is considerable mixing of the races in the public domain, the different communities maintain their own language, culture and customs. The analogy of four overlapping circles is useful in describing inter-racial relations in Singapore. In the overlapping area, Singaporeans share common experiences, a common language, that is, English, and have equal access to opportunities. Where the circles do not overlap, each community maintains its own language, culture, and customs. This emphasis on multiracialism and meritocracy has helped to build multiracial harmony out of diversity in Singapore, and fuelled economic development.

    A unified national education system provides equal opportunities for each student to learn and to achieve his or her potential. Meritocracy recognises and rewards everyone who works hard and excels. Meritocracy is highly compatible with the multiracial model of society, as its very essence lies in allowing all races to advance in whatever field, solely on the basis of achievement, merit and hard work. On a more practical level, meritocracy is also the best means to maximize the different capacities of a population. This really suits Singapore's needs best, given its small population size and the lack of natural resources.