Publication Details

Tan, A. & Konza, D. M. (2006). Being special in a meritocracy: the role of special education in Singapore. International Journal of Diversity in Organisations, Communities and Nations, 6 (3), 111-117.


For more than three decades the education system in Singapore, based on the mantra of meritocracy, has been successful in steering the island state towards high achievement. A strong political will has framed the educational policy as an investment for a productive and cohesive society in an internationally competitive context. Education is considered to be a powerful tool by which the integration of culturally different racial groups is facilitated. In the education of children with special needs, Singapore currently shares similar provisions with countries such as the United States, Britain and Australia. Besides special schools, there is provision for inclusion in the mainstream schools. However, critics have pointed out that the expectation to adapt to the mainstream environment where the benchmark is scholastic achievements has made it difficult for children with special needs to be successful learners. This paper will explore the issue of including special education in the portfolio of social capital investment through an examination of the limitations of the current implementation of inclusion in Singapore. It will put forward the argument that inclusive education is not just about social justice, but it could be a means to forge connectedness and foster social wellbeing and character building in all students. The paper will call for an expansion of the role of special education in the light of nation building. It will argue that the pragmatism that has served Singapore so well in past decades of development might continue to ensure that special education is harnessed and viewed as an integral component of the social cohesion equation to meet the challenges ahead.

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