Is being a meritocratic state necessarily good for Singapore? Is Singapore able to thrive if we adopt the egalitarian philosophical belief not unlike Finland?

1. State of Affairs


In Finland, one pays dearly for taxes but its people do not need to worry about many basic necessities such as health care, education, retirement and  unemployment. All these services are free. In short, it is a welfare state.  This is due to they subscribe to the egalitarian philosophical belief that all people are fundamentally equal and deserves equal treatment regardless of gender, religion, economic status and political beliefs.


Singapore, on the hand, does not adopt this policy as it may cause issues such as unfair entitlement and dependency among its people. At this point of writing, Finland’s unemployment rate stands at 9.1% while Singapore stands at 1.9%. Thus, Singapore believes in meritocracy where a society is governed by people selected according to merit and it is possible for one to work his/her way out of poverty as long as they are diligent. Thus, while we pay for lower taxes, we have to pay for our medical expenses, living and many others. While our government tries to buffer the cost by introducing CPF and other aid schemes, it is a struggle for the middle-class, those who fall through the gaps and in the lower income bracket due to the rising costs of living. This cause immense pressure for Singaporeans to depend on their children to do well so that they can maintain the current lifestyle or to do better in the future.

If we take a look at the Maslow’s Hierachy, you can see Finland pretty well cover the top 3 basics for a human being while there are many in Singapore who is still struggling with this:

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The Maslow’s Hierarchy – the bottom two basic needs are fulfilled by Finland

How does it translate to Education?

Egalitarian Approach

With the egalitarian approach, people do not have to worry about basic needs as listed in the Maslow Hierachy.Their safety, security and physiological needs have already been met and thus, they are free to explore the higher ones such as love and belonging and such. With these needs satisfied, education in Finland is viewed primarily as a public effort serving a public purpose. There are several benefits for this:

  • No stress for a child to meet academic demands and parental pressure upon them as their future needs do not fall upon their shoulders.
  • Lots of time to learn through trial-and-error, which research have shown that it is very beneficial for learning. This allows Finnish teachers to check through their thought processes. Correct answers are secondary. Thus, Finnish children generally experience more positive emotions towards life.
  • The only mandatory standardised test is taken when children are 16 years old. By that time, their self-regulation in emotions will be stronger than when they are younger.
  • Perseverance in learning is easily sustained as there is no need to get the answers right the first time round

In fact, such importance that they place on meeting these needs that every school have a welfare team which attends to the children of the school. It is a team headed by the principal and consists of the school social worker, school psychologist, school nurse, study counsellor, special education teacher.

Meritocratic Approach

With the meritocratic approach in Singapore, the only way to ensure that one receives merit is to conduct constant standardised testing throughout the child’s education so that they can be identified. This creates the mentality that success in life seems to depend on almost every result that they child receive. Education here is viewed as a private effort leading to individual good as compared to the common goal of public education in Finland. While it helps those who have put in much effort and are determined to help themselves, there are some issues with this approach:

  • Learning is stressful as teachers ultimately end up rushing through the syllabus to meet exam requirements
  • Answers are expected to be correct the first time round if possible so that they can go on to the next topic. This results in teachers assessing learning by checking if the answers are correct instead of focusing on the thought processes.
  • Students who are unable to catch up with the system are suitably demoralised and go through a range of emotions ranging from disappontment to self-defeat.

Check out the next post: 2. Education Models