1st Edition

Families, the State and Educational Inequality in the Singapore City-State

By Charleen Chiong Copyright 2022
    174 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    174 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Focusing on Singapore’s education system from an equity perspective, Chiong’s book describes the often unheard perspectives of socio-economically disadvantaged families in Singapore. The performance of Singaporean students on international education benchmarking tests has been widely recognised. Relatively less known is how socio-economically disadvantaged families negotiate Singapore’s highly competitive, stratifying and meritocratic system. Yet, families’ perspectives can provide crucial insight in understanding how policy is ‘lived’ and experienced, and its effects on people’s lives.

    Drawing on 72 interviews with 12 families, this book traces the development of surprisingly close, collaborative relations between the state, schools and families on Singapore’s socio-economic margins. It demonstrates that in the 'strong' state of Singapore, families’ dependency on schools and the state facilitates the internalisation of individual and familial responsibility for future success. However, these very processes can injure, and perpetuate inequality.

    The analysis presented in this book has relevance in other contexts, in times where advanced capitalist states face growing inequalities and challenging relationships between institutional authority and the wider populace. As socio-economic and educational inequalities widen, this book asks timely questions and provides recommendations on what a more equitable state-citizen compact might look like.

    The book will appeal to researchers and students who are interested in the fields of the sociology and politics of education, social policy, and Asian culture and society.

    Introduction PART I. MORNING 1. Start of the Day 2. The Ontology of Governance in Singapore PART II. NOON 3. Forming State-Family Relations: a Historical Perspective 4. Responsible Lives: Families as Pedagogic Actors 5. Dependency and the Politics of Expertise PART III. NIGHT 6. Back from Work, or the Start of it 7. The Plausibility of Responsibility Epilogue: When 'Peaceful Coexistence' is Not Enough


    Charleen Chiong adopts sociological approaches to understanding inequality and social policy problems. In line with her interests in integrating research, policy and practice, Charleen has undertaken research in academic, think-tank and public sector contexts. Her research has been published in Journal of Education Policy, Comparative Education, Families, Relationships and Societies and the British Educational Research Journal. She holds a PhD in Education from the University of Cambridge, and a Master of Science in Comparative and International Education from the University of Oxford.

    "This book challenges a major stereotype about Singapore that circulates around the world – that it is a uniformly prosperous meritocratic society. The book contests this stereotype by providing a rich ethnographic account of the everyday lives of Singapore’s socio-economically disadvantaged families, with a particular focus on the ways in which they experience and negotiate its highly competitive system of education." - Fazal Rizvi, Emeritus Professor, The University of Melbourne and The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

    "This book makes a significant contribution to the scholarship on education policy in Singapore and similar states. Through engaging the often-unheard views of disadvantaged families, this book provides a compelling account of families' lived experiences in a highly meritocratic, neoliberal-developmental state. It draws on families' perspectives to deeply analyse policy logics, including the logic of meritocracy. Chiong reaches into key policy issues relating to educational equity and meritocracy, and offers fresh ways of thinking about these issues. I commend it to scholars and practitioners interested in understanding and tackling such issues." - Saravanan Gopinathan, Academic Advisor, The HEAD Foundation

    ''There is a great deal written about Singapore and its education system which derives from the performance of its pupils on comparative tests of pupil performance that portrays it as a model of best practice for others to emulate. This book provides an insightful critical perspective through its in depth focus on the experiences of socio-emotionally disadvantaged families. It reveals how the families became dependent on the state, internalised responsibility for ensuring their children's success and how this exacerbated inequality." - Paul Morris, Professor of Comparative Education, University College London

    "Drawing on in-depth sociological research, this book vividly captures the complex relationships between the state, the family, and schooling in Singapore. Reading against the grain of normative scholarship on the state-citizen compact, Charleen Chiong offers a sensitive and grounded account of how disadvantaged families navigate educational inequalities. This is an important addition to global studies in education; a must-read for scholars and practitioners working across sociology and public policy." - Arathi Sriprakash, Professor of Education, University of Bristol

    "This book makes an exceptional and significant contribution to the academic literature on the Singapore state in more ways than one. It is an outstanding text for academics and students of educational policy and its implications for ethnic minorities and equity in general, as well for those with particular interest in Singapore educational policy. As a model approach to (educational) policy analysis, it is a text which deserves to have a significant impact on future studies of educational policy and its implications for equity and individual families." - Clive Dimmock, Professor of Professional Learning and Leadership, University of Glasgow

    "Weaving together poise, humility and critical analysis, Families, the State and Educational Inequality in the Singapore City-State is a powerful interrogation of state discourses of meritocracy and educational visions from the perspectives of socio-economically disadvantaged families. In taking up this task, Charleen Chiong illuminates a set of tensions and contradictions around policy reception and negotiation that are felt even – or especially – in the contexts of "strong" states. This book offers a great deal to scholars and researchers working in the interstices of education policy and the sociology of education." - Leonel Lim, Policy, Associate Professor, National Institute of Education, Singapore