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Dr. Tan Ern Ser


Associate Professor
Academic Adviser, Social Lab

Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

Dr TAN Ern Ser has an abiding interest in studying poverty; family; and social stratification and mobility. During his teenage and early-twenties years, he lived in a HDB one-room, rental flat in Jalan Kukoh.

He is Associate Professor, Department of Sociology; Academic Convener, Singapore Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences; and Academic Adviser, Social Lab, Institute of Policy Studies, at the National University of Singapore. He received his PhD from Cornell University, USA.

He is author of “Does Class Matter?” (2004, World Scientific), “Class and Social Orientations” (2015, IPS), “Public Housing and Social Mixing” (2020, UN-Habitat), and a co-author of “Social Capital in Singapore” (2021, Routledge).

He chairs the Research Advisory Panel, HDB. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 2013.

Presentation Topic and Synopsis

Forging a Compassionate Meritocracy for Students with Special Needs

In Singapore, meritocracy is widely regarded as a “core principle of governance… and close as anything gets to being a national ideology” (Low, 2014). However, this has led to problems such as the creation of an elite class and a wide socioeconomic gap between those who have achieved and those who presumably have not.

In response to these problems, local political leaders have suggested that Singapore might benefit from a more nuanced iteration of meritocracy. For instance, the notion of a “compassionate meritocracy” was first espoused in 2013 by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. It was recently mentioned again in June 2022 by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the Forward Singapore Exercise.

However, what does a “compassionate meritocracy” really mean and importantly, how might this benefit students with special needs? The accomplishments of these students will invariably differ from more traditional conceptions of merit. Furthermore, is it even possible for a meritocracy to be compassionate, and have we considered other alternatives (such as egalitarianism) sufficiently?

Join us at this panel discussion where we will hear from a group of thoughtful and experienced experts, teachers and parents on their views and perspectives of how we could begin to define an inclusive working model of a compassionate meritocracy for all Singapore students.

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