In the 1993 Principals’ Conference, a prestigious gathering of the top educators in Singapore, the Director of Education (Yip, 1993), in his keynote speech, reminded the audience that:
They must not lose sight of the fact that education is not an end in itself…. education is linked to national development…. Education in Singapore provides not only quality manpower to forge our economic wellbeing, but is itself the glue which forms the social and cultural cohesion that is so critical to our multiracial society. (p. 6)
This ideology that underlies the purpose of education in Singapore is central to any attempt to understand literacy issues in this island nation. Implied in Yip’s speech are two main features, that is, education is as much for national development and nation building as it is for individual development, and education has a pragmatic goal of ensuring economic success. These characteristics of the education system, education for economic and social survival, reflect the broader ideology of the People’s Action Party (PAP) government in Singapore. The two major expressions of this ideology have been survivalism and pragmatism, and according to Chua (1995):
The first [survivalism] creates a state of uncertainty, providing operational room for the second concept [pragmatism], which given the context, meant “doing whatever is necessary to survive,” including the acceptance of overt state intervention, even authoritarianism. (p. 37)
Although Chua (1995) went on to claim that a new ideology, communitarianism, was introduced to meet social changes that had arisen from increasing stability and economic growth in Singapore, these twin concepts remain very much a part of the ideological character of Singapore. Communitarianism, as exemplified by the establishment of a government policy on Shared Values,1 reinforces the values of pragmatism and survivalism because, among others, the document emphasises the placing of nation before community and society above self. This again serves to diminish individualism and to sanction state intervention and authority.