‘Bridges and Ladders’: The Paradox of Equity in Excellence in Singapore Schools

  • Dennis KwekEmail author
  • Rifhan Miller
  • Maria Manzon
Part of the Education Innovation Series book series (EDIN)


While Singapore’s education system has achieved excellence especially in terms of international educational assessments, the issue of equity remains underexplored and contentious. This chapter examines the interplay of equity and excellence in Singapore’s secondary schools. It showcases best practices of differentiated schooling in pursuit of equity and the tensions that arise between inclusion and differentiation in the system. Drawing on Fraser’s (Scales of justice: reimagining political space in a globalising world. Polity Press, Cambridge, 2008) framework for understanding social justice, we distinguish three distinct types of injustices – socio-economic, political and cultural/symbolic – with corresponding forms of justice, redistributive, recognitive and representational, to resolve them. We then explore the Singapore education system that comprises a ‘bridges and ladders’ model of highly differentiated schooling. We examine three case studies of schools which exhibit, in microcosm, the tensions between equity and excellence in Singapore more broadly. They comprise a madrasah, a specialised school and an elite school. Through these case studies, we explore the pedagogical, sociocultural and systemic approaches that can affirm, transform or enhance equity and excellence in Singapore secondary schools. We argue that the ‘bridges and ladders’ model, through its increased educational choices and differentiated schooling experiences, paradoxically increases equity and excellence while simultaneously exacerbating injustices and inequity. We situate the implications of educational equity and excellence in the continued political discourses of ‘equity needs economic growth’, meritocracy and educational choice. Finally, we propose a rethinking of the Singapore model to enhance the pursuit of equity for all.



This chapter was made possible via funding from the research project ‘OER 7/13 MEM: Asian pedagogies: Investigating Singapore as a microcosm’, funded by the Office of Education Research (OER), National Institute of Education (NIE), Singapore.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Institute of EducationNanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore
  2. 2.Department of International Education and Lifelong LearningThe Education University of Hong KongHong KongHong Kong

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