Time to Redefine Meritocracy?

by Patrick Liew on August 20, 2019

Time to Redefine Meritocracy?

Meritocracy should not be about winning but about leading others.

Winning is about playing a short-term zero-sum game.

Forging ahead at the expense of others, and achieving better results and leaving leaving others behind.

In short, others would have to lose for someone to win.

On the other hand, leading is about playing a positive-sum game.

It’s about leading others in the process of leading oneself.

Sharing the responsibility of helping others who do not enjoy the same position and advantage as oneself.

And producing better results while reaching out to help others raise their level of performance and achievements.

In doing so, nobody has to undergo a struggle of comparing with each other and develop an unhealthy competition to be ahead of each other.

There’s no need to tumble over each other and get stressed out to reach a lose-lose destination.

The end result of playing a positive-sum game is that both the leader and his team can accomplish more, and help to make a more positive impact on the people and environment around them.

Effective and compassionate meritocracy is about recognizing and honoring such leaders who serve a greater good.

Unfortunately, the concept of meritocracy has largely been based on students’ achievements in developing their logical and linguistic intelligences.

However, many educational researchers such as Howard Gardner have posited that there are multiple intelligences.

Case in point, moral intelligence can be more important than intelligence of the intellect.

Altruistic intelligence can be just as important as logical intelligence.

Creativity in resolving problems and innovation in developing solutions can be more important than just acquiring and reproducing content knowledge.

Helping students to discover their unique set of gifts, talents and aspirations, and be able to leverage on their strengths to contribute to their future workplaces and society can make for a better Singapore and brighter future.

If we become overly-focused on academic results, and students pursue grades at all costs and without considering for others, we may end up with social issues such as the not-in-my-backyard syndrome that we are witnessing in many corners of our communities.

To improve social mobility and increase Gini coefficient, we need to start from young by inculcating in students the importance of helping each other address these issues and to work as a team to address other social injustice.

We need to broaden our perspective of meritocracy to ensure that it becomes a more compassionate, inclusive, and effective meritocracy.

In this regard, I would like to propose that the government intervene and take a more active role in the upbringing of children from broken and disadvantaged homes.

There is a common saying: “Inequality starts at birth.”

To resolve social inequality, we need to start helping the disadvantaged early and if possible, right from birth.

Research has shown that children whose parents are unwedded, divorced or separated tend to have lower emotional and social quotients.

These and other deficiencies can affect their educational attainment and social mobility, and distort virtues of meritocracy.

For us to achieve “progress for our nation,” we need to eradicate such an inequality.

Ensure that vulnerable children are not directly or indirectly disadvantaged because of their parents’ decisions and behaviours.

In addition, we need a more concerted effort to help vulnerable children enjoy healthy growth, including targeted interventions in the areas of quality intellectual and emotional care, nutrition, health care, and pre-school education.

Provide adequate nutrition to the children and ensure proper physical development, and also social protection to support proper care and growth.

Promote a healthy childhood experience and environment so as to enhance socio-emotional, cognitive and linguistic developments.

The quality of our nation-building process depends on quality of our early childhood development for every child in Singapore, and especially for the last, the least, the lonely, and the lost.

Meritocracy should be about developing every person to his or her maximum potential in accordance with his/her talents, strengths and passions.

Helping them to pursue multiple pathways to achieve peaks of excellence that will contribute to greater good.

The purpose of meritocracy is therefore to unite and not to divide the people, and to advance their interests and not to serve any personal interests.

It is to raise the tide for all – and not for any exclusive groups – to achieve a better standard of living.



I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

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