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Dr. Denise Lai Chua

Panel Moderator

Founder and Managing Director

Centre for Applied Practice in Education

DR DENISE LAI CHUA was, between 1997 and 2018, the founder and Managing Director of the Wee Care Group Singapore, a company that provided both early childhood and early intervention programmes including preschool inclusion for children with additional learning needs.

An experienced and highly-skilled early childhood practitioner and leader, Denise now heads up the Centre for Applied Practice in Education (CAPE) in Hong Kong and Singapore where she and her fellow consultants train and support teachers and parents throughout Asia.

She is a Doctor in Education, an International Behaviour Analyst (IBA)™, and a Birkman Certified Professional (BCP). Her book, "Preschool in the Wilderness", is an evocative autoethnography about preschool teaching in Singapore in the 1990s and 2000s. Denise's other areas of research interest include social justice, power and politics in education, child and language development, Applied Behaviour Analysis, and a Theory of Mind.

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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